It was interesting to see that the screenplay was written by Ben Garant, who is best known for his work in the field of comedy. This seems like an unusual project for him to work on. Did you work with him a lot during production?
Kevin Greutert: The script was in really good shape when I received it. There were some things that we had to rewrite, both crafting characters and making some things just possible to do because we didn’t have the resources to pull off some scenes as they were written, so we worked on it in that regard together. He was shooting Hell Baby in New Orleans at the same time that we were making this, so unfortunately he was not on the set at the time. He’s an amazing person and nothing like his character from Reno 911 (laughs).
This is an idea that he’d been kicking around in his head for many years because he grew up in the South and spent a lot of time in Louisiana and really wanted to make a traditional Southern Gothic story. He had the idea about a woman who was forced to return to a land that she thought she had escaped, and I think he did a great job. You would never guess that it’s a comedy film writer because the movie’s not campy or comedic at all. It’s funny when the characters are funny, but it’s certainly not a comedy.
Jessabelle takes place in Louisiana, but it was actually filmed in North Carolina. Was it tough making North Carolina look like Louisiana?
Kevin Greutert: No it really wasn’t. We spent a week or two scouting Louisiana before we made the film and we did find some amazing houses, but it’s not an easy place to film only in the sense that there are so many movies that are going down there. There’s a competition for crews and resources and that sort of thing, so in the course of scouting Louisiana we said let’s just check out North Carolina as an option. They also have a good tax incentive which was essential to making this film. Once we were in North Carolina we were like holy moly, these swamps are even cooler. I love the cypress swamp and we wound up finding a plantation house that had never been filmed. It doesn’t look like the plantation house of any film that I had ever seen. So it wasn’t hard at all to make it look like Louisiana in my opinion. We put up a few signs that say now entering such and such parish, and when we were there I don’t think anybody would get that we shot anywhere but Louisiana.
The movie opens with a horrific car accident, and it’s the kind of car accident we have seen a lot of movies do recently, where a truck slams into the side of a car. What was it like setting up that shot and editing it?
Kevin Greutert: Well I agree with you that that’s a camera angle that has been done before. All I can say in my defense is that if you knew everything that we shot that day, including the couple leaving the apartment and the car crash, it would probably blow your mind that the filmmaker could shoot that much, because it was a giant day.
I had a different perspective; I wanted to shoot the car crash entirely over the hood through the windshield to the two characters and show the truck flatten their car laterally from the side. That angle just proved to be too ambitious that day, so it was little bit of a last-minute decision to do it from her perspective. I think it’s still very effective though. Every time I sat with an audience watching the movie there’s a huge gasp and sometimes even applause.
Jessie’s mother in the movie uses tarot cards in a video. I don’t know too much about tarot cards, but every time I see people use them in a movie or in real life, the readings never seem to end on a good note.
Kevin Greutert: (Laughs) Well you’re right, but it is a horror movie and not a new age film (laughs). The experience I’ve had with tarot cards is that it’s really a matter of the person doing the reading. There were different things that the cards signified, but in this movie and in life the tarot card reader calls upon their own innate abilities as a medium or a fortune teller and they’ll find a narrative using their powers, if such things really exist, and even more so their imagination. I think in this story you can tell that Jesse’s mother on these long-lost videos is a very imaginative person. Make what you will of that.