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Director Scott Derrickson Breaks Down His Entire Career, From Marvel To The Black Phone [Exclusive Interview]

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Let’s start with “Hellraiser: Inferno.” That was your feature directorial debut. One thing I noticed in looking this up is that’s one of those movies in that franchise that’s had a major resurgence. That’s one people point out to you now like, “Hey, this is an underrated ‘Hellraiser’ movie.” Have you noticed that? Or how do you feel about that, looking back at it now?

Oh yeah, it was a film that didn’t get mentioned for 20 years and now people will bring it up quite often. It’s surprising.

You’ve had a lot of experience since then. But what would you go back and tell the Scott Derrickson of the past right before he was about to head into that experience? What advice would you give younger you?

I’d give myself the advice that I give all young filMMAkers. I think it’s a lesson that I learned in part on that movie, which is that your movie can never be better than your lead performance. Not that I think Craig Sheffer gave a bad performance, but I think there was a lot more to be done with that performance that could have made that movie better. There’s a lot of interesting filMMAking in it considering how low the budget was. It was a direct-to-DVD movie and was intended to be that. But the script, I think, was better than the movie that I made. I think part of that reason was that I had not given as much attention to the nuances of the performance as I did to the complexity of what I was trying to pull off cinematically as a director.

It’s a lesson that a lot of filMMAkers — and especially film students — learn the hard way, which is that no matter how good your movie is, no matter how interesting the visuals are, and even how good your story is, the ceiling for the quality of any motion picture is the performances of the lead characters. I think there was more to be gotten out of that movie if I had given more attention to it. But I also think it could have been scarier. I think there were certain things that I hadn’t really learned yet about suspense and how to maintain it. I think those would be the two things I’d probably try to talk to myself in the past about if I could.

I’m guessing from the way you talked about the performance there, has that impacted the way you cast ever since? Or is it just more the way you handle performers during the filming process?

I consider performances the most important thing in every film I’ve made since then. I think everything that I’ve done since then, I’ve cast it very deliberately and I’ve been fortunate to be able to get really great actors. I did “[The Exorcism of] Emily Rose,” which I’m sure we’ll talk about, getting Jennifer Carpenter. I looked hard to find somebody as good as her for that role, and I had Oscar-nominated actors in the other roles.

But I think the real point is that I had some theater experience in college. We certainly learned a lot about acting as a full-time writer, and that just became my focus from that point forward — that performances are paramount. They’re the most important thing, even when you’re making a genre film.

Let’s talk about “Emily Rose” for a second. It made $150 million worldwide on a $19 million budget. I think any studio today, if you offered them those terms, they would jump at it. There was a quote of yours in an interview with Kevin Smith from back then, if you may allow me. It said, “I told my attorney the next time you’re negotiating my net profit for a movie, ask for a sandwich instead.”

I believe it was a ham sandwich. I think I specified ham sandwich.

It was a ham sandwich. You are correct. I left out the word ham. For people that maybe aren’t as familiar with the industry, can you talk about that? Because I think for most people, that would sound like success, but that quote speaks to the level at which, maybe from a filMMAker’s participation in that success, not so much.

There’s two kinds of participation that you can have, and that’s net profit participation and gross profit participation. A form of gross profit participation is what’s called cash break participation. Cash break is where you have the amount of the price of the movie, and you have the cost of the movie, and you have the cost of marketing, and that’s the cash break. After that, you’re into profits. If you have gross participation, generally you start to participate in a percentage of everything that’s made after that cash break. If you have what’s called first-dollar gross, then you can just open your browser, see how much money the movie made over the weekend, and you know exactly how much of that you’re going to get.

Yeah, and that’s exceptionally rare. Guys like [Christopher] Nolan get that. Tom Cruise.

That’s very rare. Net profit is something that is defined by the studios in very creative ways. It sounds good. I think I had a 5% net profit participation in “Emily Rose.” Like you said, the movie cost 19, it made I think $75 million domestic and about $150 million worldwide, and it is not considered a net profit movie. So there are stories of one or two movies that I’ve heard of that got into net profits.

I don’t know a lot about it, I don’t know exactly how it works. It just seems ridiculous to me that we negotiated that amount and it didn’t apply. But we audited the studio and everything was done according to the rules. So nobody was doing anything shady as far as the bookkeeping goes. But I do know that part of what they do is their net profit definitions have to do with I think their fiscal years or their overall net profits as a company. Because the majority of movies don’t make money. Most movies lose money, and at the major studios, they count on their biggest hits to offset the losses of the movies that don’t make money.

So when you have a movie like “Emily Rose,” it was a big hit and made that studio a lot of money. It was also compensating for movies that didn’t do so well. That’s how that works, as I understand it.

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