This weekend marks the final days of the 2017 Dances With Film festival being held at the Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. Later tonight, director Adam Ripp’s supernaturally themed thriller Devil’s Whisper will be enjoying its world premiere at the historic cinema.
Ripp is no stranger to the world of indie filmmaking, as he’s produced movies like Joe Lynch’s Everly and Gambit, and has both directed and produced in the world of television. His newest project follows a teenager named Alex (Luca Oriel) who crosses paths with a mysterious box containing a demonic presence, and he mistakenly unleashes the sinister spirit, which wreaks havoc on Alex’s life and forces him to confront the evil that looks to consume his very soul.
During our interview, Ripp discussed the inspiration behind his approach to Devil’s Whisper, finding Oriel for his lead, and more.
I would love to hear about what inspired this story, because we've seen possession movies before, especially within the confines of the catholic religion. But you've framed this story in a very personal way that I don't think we've really seen before. It was really refreshing to see something different, so congratulations.
Adam Ripp: Yeah, I was kind of excited about the idea of exploring how often do we meet a teenager who aspires to go into the priesthood, or wants to follow a professional path in any religion. The more I thought about it, it was interesting to me because I was like, "You know what, every kid I know and every parent that I know that has a kid, everybody wants to be a baseball player, or go into sports." And I just thought of going the opposite route, because I thought that there has to be kids out there, kids who have faith, and I thought that would be interesting to explore.
Part of this film was obviously a demonic possession story, but a lot of those films have been done. For, me it didn't start out trying to do a psychological horror film or a thriller, it started out with wanting to find a way to tell a story about traumatic child abuse and childhood trauma. And I found that the horror genre is a really great place to be able to explore these themes. Demonic possession as a specific sub-genre seemed like the perfect way to tell the story.
I know that you've directed before and I know you've been busy producing things for years and years, as well as keeping a lot fingers in a lot of different facets of filmmaking, too. Did those experiences help give you some perspective, and help you prepare, coming into this project?
Adam Ripp: Yeah, actually it all did. But also, I come at it from being a genre fan. I fell in love with horror as such a little kid, and seeing Halloween for the first time. I was lucky enough to live in the Hollywood Hills, and my piano teacher was the teacher for Nick Castle’s son, the son of the man who played “The Shape” in the original Halloween. When I found that out, I was like, "Oh, my God. I have to get his autograph." Nick had never given an autograph at that point either, and I still have it framed to this day. And he also went on to become a director.
So directing is my passion, and that's what I grew up wanting to do. Making films over the last several years as a producer was amazing, and I continue to always learn about the whole process of each film, and so all of these experiences were absolutely such a great help in helping me to step back into directing. Part of me is like, "Oh, man, I should have done this a long time ago." But I do think this was the right time, my frustrations with the industry just fueled me, and it's been the greatest process to get back into being a director. I'm not going anywhere, this is my love.
At the forefront of Devil’s Whisper is Luca’s character, Alex, because there's so much of this movie that rides on him. Can you talk about working with him and what you saw in him initially to take on the role of Alex?
Adam Ripp: Yeah, it was tough because in performances from my actors, I demand truth. I demand pure honesty and I want them to be able to go very deep, and that requires an actor with confidence and with guts to be able to go to that place. It was tough because we had a very low budget on this film, the conditions were going to be less than ideal. I wanted a Latino American family, and so it was very important to me to find a younger Latino American actor. And I saw a lot of actors, and nobody could go there, really. Then finally Luca came in, and he did his scene and I was really, really impressed by him. I gave him a little bit of a directorial adjustment, and said, "Okay, let's do it again." He kind of took a moment and said, "Excuse me," and he left, he walked out of the room.
So, we’re sitting around chatting and five minutes goes by, and then 10 minutes goes by, and I'm thinking like, "Oh, maybe he's using the restroom." Then another 10 minutes goes by, and it's like, "Oh, maybe he's just thinking about my direction," and after 30 minutes we called his agent, and said, "We're worried about him. Did we say anything or do anything to offend him?" Then, all of a sudden, I hear this kind of muffled music, and I look and I see Luca stalking us in the hall, and he's got his ear buds in and his iPhone going. He's got this determined and focused look on his face, where he was not making eye contact with me, and I turn to the casting director assistant and, "Start the camera. Start the camera." He comes in, throws down his shit, and I said, "Action," and he just blew us away. He was just 18 years old, too, when he got the part.
In terms of the box itself, did you do any sort of research into the mythology behind it? The idea of the box itself, where it has no openings, and yet there was something inside, was so interesting and different. I'm curious if that was based on anything in particular, or if that was just a really cool idea you guys had?
Adam Ripp: The box was so important to me. I did do research, as much research as I could do online, about how you would trap a demon. The look of the box itself, I was thinking what kind of wood would somebody use for this? I realized that it would have to be ancient and it would be biblical. I looked up the wood that was supposedly used when Noah built the ark, and then I started researching the look of that wood, and I shared it with my production design team, and that’s the direction they took.
It turned out to be a pretty amazing looking, and having that kind of detail was really important to me. Here's a fun story in relation to the size of the box. My production design team comes to me and said, "Well, how big do you want this to be?" I'm a huge Disneyland fan, and I have this thing that I got as a kid from Disneyland, it's a Haunted Mansion box. It has this secret little thing that you move around all these puzzle pieces that you can't quite see, but if you get them right, you're able to open up this box. I kind of gave them the dimensions of that Disneyland Haunted Mansion box, and they based the dimensions of our demon box on that. So that was a fun nod to my own childhood.