If you’ve ever taken a ghost tour in New Orleans, chances are you’ve made a stop at the LaLaurie Mansion, which is the site of the atrocious behaviors of socialite Delphine LaLaurie, who tortured and murdered slaves on the now-infamous property. As it turns out, the LaLaurie Mansion is set to be the centerpiece for an upcoming horror project which will be written by veteran scribes Carey and Chad Hayes, and while in Park City for the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, this writer had the opportunity to speak with one of the producers for the project, Doug McKay, who gave us some insights into what we can expect from the upcoming film.
Great to speak with you, Doug. I’m familiar with the LaLaurie Mansion, as I toured it years ago on a ghost tour, and it was extremely creepy. What can you tell us about what’s already in the works for this film project that involves this property?
Doug McKay: It's a really interesting project that we're doing and our partners on it are the Hayes brothers, who are the writers behind The Conjuring franchise, and we're really, really excited about it. Definitely one of the cool things is the notoriety that the house has. We've been to the house and when you're there in the evening, you look outside and there's eight or ten of these different ghost tour groups going on every evening. The house is just surrounded by people, as if there were an event going on there or something, but there isn't an event, it's just people there to look at the house and hear the stories. It's exciting to see how much interest there is in the house already. You feel like that is just going to grow as word of the movie spreads.
Obviously, there are the real-life horrors that happened with this house and there's also making a movie and trying to find the right narrative that will thrill audiences. Is that a big challenge for you guys going into this, balancing those real-life elements versus finding ways to also scare the pants off of viewers?
Doug McKay: Well, Chad and Carey are as good as it gets, in my opinion, when it comes to not just picking out what the scares would be, but to actually getting them on the page and working them out effectively. There is certainly a lot of that going on. While we're keeping the storyline under wraps, also I should mention that we are obviously starting with a single movie, but the goal of this in the initial design of it and the hope is that it would become a franchise, because Chad and Carey are experts at creating universes and have come into this process with a lot of really great ideas with how to establish this as the first film in a whole series of films.
In any case, like I said, they are masters of creating scares, but at the same time, you're doing a whole lot of research about things that have gone on in that house, from the time of Madame LaLaurie and really, just the whole history of the house, which is really pretty fascinating and macabre when you get into it and start digging [into] it. We've done a couple of research trips with them down there already and stayed in the house, too. And while I can't comment on the storyline that we're going with, I can say that we're really doing our homework.
Wow. So, you guys actually stayed in that house?
Doug McKay: Oh, yes. We've done a couple of these research trips. I'll tell you how this all started. This began with my partner in Faster Horse Pictures, Cindy Bond, and I having a conversation with Michael Whalen, who is a colleague and a friend of ours and he actually owns the LaLaurie Mansion. It's not his primary residence, but he owns it. We were having a conversation and Michael said, "We should really develop a movie about my house," which we thought was just a fantastic idea.
Right after that conversation, Cindy said, "Do you know who we should call? I've been friends for about 20 years with the Hayes brothers." I didn't even know she knew the Hayes brothers, but I was like, "That's a fantastic idea," so she called them, they called her back probably 20 minutes later, and she started telling them the story of the LaLaurie Mansion and they cut her off just moments later and said, "Are you kidding me? We know all about this thing. We've been on the ghost tours, we know exactly what you're talking about. We've been obsessed with this house for years."
Within two hours of the very first conversation we ever had about doing a movie about this, we had the creative team together and within a week, we were all down there in New Orleans staying at the mansion and doing research. We've been on a couple of those trips so far and interestingly, Chad and Carey are down at the house, staying at the house right now writing the script.
I feel like there are some really interesting things to explore here, in terms of the things that went on in that house versus the kind of things that are happening today. I was curious if that was something you guys are going to explore with your story at all?
Doug McKay: Well, I mean, it's a big deal to us that, of course, what's been so fascinating and engaging about the house to people and terrifying over the years and the reason there's still so much interest in it is because of all the things that went on there. It's like I said before, it's a very important element of this to us, the true story element of things that have gone on there over the years, so we are doing everything that we can research-wise to learn and be familiar with that as much as possible.
Again, like I said, I can't comment on the story that we're going with, but we are paying close attention to the history. I agree with you that there is going to be a lot of relevance to today in the film as well. When we get to a point where I can talk about the storyline, I can elaborate on that, but yeah, I think this is a movie that will appeal to contemporary audiences while also having, what should I say, honoring the true story of what went on in that house at the same time.
Are you guys hoping to get this into production before the end of this year, then?
Doug McKay: Ideally, we'd get it into production before the end of the year. We spent a lot of time together with the brothers developing the story that we want to tell, in developing what it would look like as it branches out into a franchise. That has been a great process and it's gone very well, and now they're actually doing the writing of the script.
At the same time, we want to take our time and make sure we're meeting this the right way because it is such a great story, I think it's possible that we could get it into production later this year. We don't have a commitment date in mind yet as a start date. I think that's very possible, but it's going to be a judgment made on what's best for the film.
You mentioned that you guys are wanting to turn this into a franchise. So, when you're doing something like that, where you’re hoping this kickstarts something bigger, is there a challenge that comes with focusing on the minute details that obviously you want to work into this film, but then also serving this overall purpose of a franchise and hopefully more films in the future?
Doug McKay: Yeah, absolutely. This has been a fascinating learning process for me as well because it's not every day you get to work closely with a writing team who has so successfully done this in the past. I think that they are experts at identifying material that, first of all, has the legs necessary to be expanded into a franchise.
I feel like a lot of properties that ended up being independent sequels or spinoffs or what have you, is that it feels like that was thought of after the fact. It's the more rare exception, such as the Marvel movies or something like that, where you know they had his grand plan in mind in the beginning. I think that's a rarity. I think that's what we have here and what the brothers have identified in this property. There is a lot of care and attention to making this first story just as great as it can be, while at the same time setting the stage for expansion.
In case you missed it, visit our online hub for more live coverage of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival!