I recently had the pleasure of interviewing filmmaker Daniel Farrands for his new film The Amityville Murders. Over the years Farrands has been attached to projects such as Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, several horror documentaries including History’s Mysteries – Amityville: The Haunting and History’s Mysteries – Amityville Horror or Hoax. Farrands newest film, The Amityville Murders releases today to the digital world and to theaters. Also, Farrands wrote and directed the upcoming film The Haunting of Sharon Tate which will release in theaters and VOD on April 5th.
Not only is Farrands a director with a highly perceptive eye for storytelling and detail he’s also a human “Wikipedia” of Amityville knowledge, pretty much a historian of all that is Amityville. Most importantly Farrands is a person who cares deeply about Amityville and the people involved.
This was an extremely informative and fun conversation and I hope that you all enjoy it as much as I did.
Daniel Farrands Interview
Daniel Farrands: Hey Ryan.
Ryan T. Cusick: Hey Dan, how are you doing?
DF: I am doing well, how are you?
RTC: I very well. Thank you so much for speaking with me today.
DF: Thank you.
RTC: I am sure fifteen minutes will not be enough time for me, I am a big Amityville fan.
DF: Well, let’s start.
RTC: We’ll dive right into it. I have always wondered, when and how did you get associated with the whole Amityville phenomena? I know you did the two documentaries back in 01 for the History Channel and recently Amityville, I believe The Awakening correct? With Bella Thorne.
DF: I was a producer on that, yup. So yeah, my interest in Amityville predates the documentary. It was funny because it was a game I was playing, you know that game “would you ever?”
RTC: Yeah [Laughs]
DF: “Would I ever” spend the night in the Amityville house alone? – “Hell No.” And that was the thing that got me saying, “Well what happened to the family?” It was very terrifying when I was a kid, I grew up with these and I saw one, two, and three and even the terrible straight to video films. I was just curious as to what happened with the family. I didn’t even know much about the murders. So I kinda just started researching it and through the research, the documentary was born and through that, I began a close relationship with the Lutz family. Through that we ended up putting together a couple of deals to try and do another movie, The Awakening is what resulted, not the movie I had envisioned.
DF: That is the beginning of it all and frankly what else interested me was the Defeo Murders and how that might have happened. The movie that we made [The Amityville Murders] is that I wanted to portray from three different perspectives. One was Ronald Defeo Jr, was he a victim of his father’s horrific abuse? Was he a drug addict who was out of control? Maybe a combination of all three was there some sort of dark malevolent force within the house that drove him to do these horrific things. You almost have to think that it had to have been all three. How do you explain that the family never moved from their beds? The first gunshot goes off – I would have jumped out the window! None of them moved, they just laid there. They weren’t tied down, there was no silence, there were no drugs in their system, how the hell could something like that happen? Not only the family but the whole neighborhood? It was a Marlin hunting rifle being fired seven times in the middle of the night in this little bedroom community with the houses right next to each other.
RTC: No, there has been way too many stories. Even if he did tell the truth we would never know.
DF: Yeah, you’ll never know. So I could really only look at it through that lens of “what do I remember? What can I bring to this? That’s what I attempted to do.
RTC: I think that you did a wonderful job with the film, I saw it at ScreamFest back in October.
DF: Oh cool!
RTC: I was the one that taped the video for iHororr for the Q&A you guys did.
DF: oh nice, yeah very cool I remember. Great, and people have watched it.
RTC: Yes, quite a bit they have.
DF: That was a great night, I am glad that you saw it at ScreamFest because I think that is the best is ever going to look or sound. That was such a great theatre [The Chinese] such a great venue to show it in.
RTC: Most definitely was. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, I was in Hawaii the day before and I had told my wife I would go home early if I had to, I am not missing this thing.
DF: [Laughs] Well I hope we didn’t didn’t disappoint you.
RTC: No, no, it was great! You did a wonderful job giving the story girth. We all know the ending, you knew the ending. I am sure that it had its challenges were there a lot? Or did it just flow?
DF: Yes, it all had to kind of flow from my own perspective. Yes, I had a lot of research. Yes, there are scenes and there is dialogue in the movie right out of the trials and transcripts. You know the father saying, “I have a devil on my back” about Butch, he said that about him. I wanted to make sure we got some of those familiar, for those who know the story, have researched the story, I wanted to make sure we got some of those pieces in there. With that being said I had to tell a story with a limited budget, very limited crew, very limited time frame and to be able to tell that in a way that still brought it all together. I think that was the challenge. Taking all of these pieces of reality, my own perception of that reality, as well as the difficult things – special effects and wrangling the cast that you want, making sure that it wall works with everyone’s schedule it was just a lot of moving pieces. I have to give a lot of credit to my producer to Lucas Jarach and Eric Brenner both producers who really hold out a lot of things for me. I had a long wish list of things that I wanted to accomplish. On a very limited budget, they did their best to give me what I needed, they were really collaborative that way and that doesn’t always happen. A lot of times on a film you feel that you are being dictated on what you can and can’t do, and they never really stood in my way. With that being said we had a budget and we couldn’t build the entire house, I would have loved to. We built part of the house. The set itself was remarkable if you walked into it was astounding because you felt like you were in the house, in 1974. There was the red carpet going up the stairs, my good friend Scottie would I met when I did the documentary came in and designed the entire foyer floor. So if you look at the floor in the movie it is an identical replica tile that was on the floor of the real house. We replicated the family portrait.
RTC: Yes, I did recognize that.
DF: I wanted the cast to feel like, “Oh my God this is it.” Like we are here. A nod to the second movie, I was very excited when Diane Franklin agreed to do the movie, as the mother.
RTC: Yeah, that was wow! [speechless] What a good call that was! And Burt Young, yeah, just Wow!
DF: Thank you. For having Diane in there. She didn’t want to just be given the role. But once she came in and did the audition, done! She was perfect.
RTC: It seems like that is one of the most important roles she will ever do. You can tell it really meant a lot to her.
DF: It did, she really cares deeply about the film. She is very grateful for this experience. She got out of acting for a while, she had a family, as many people do, you step out of it. I think it reinvigorated her creatively to go back and to start playing other roles. Now she is a mature woman she can play those parts, she’s not the naive girl anymore. I think that she enjoys that, it was fun having her on set. Maybe it was like when they brought back the original Star Wars cast for episode 7 and that was the legacy of it all. I think having her and having Burt felt like we had THAT for Amityville. We had a little bit of legacy players around us and it made us all more excited, it made us all want to do better.
RTC: Definitely, and when I found out that they were attached to the film it made we want to see this film even more! I knew you were attached and that is a good thing. This is something personally I hold dear to my heart, I am a big Amityville fan. I used to go on the message boards years ago, I remember seeing names on the boards like Ric Osuna, Scottie Gee.
DF: Oh wow.
RTC: I remember all those names. [Laughs]
DF: Scottie he’s the one that made the floor in the movie!
RTC: Wow, you know I had a feeling that may have been the same one.
DF: It is, it is.
RTC: When your documentaries came out it was groundbreaking for me. I had never been exposed to anything except for ‘High Hopes’ the book, you know, little stuff like that.
DF: Right, which is great. A fantastic book I think very accurate. Again a lot of things, the dynamic of the family, I remember looking back at ‘High Hopes’ and wondering how were they? I know Harvey Aronson that had co-written the book with prosecutor Sullivan had talked about how he [Butch Senior] had punched the mother [Louise] in the face when she was doing laundry, and she went flying down the stairs and he went right back to eating his dinner.
RTC: Yeah, just like it was nothing.
DF: It is just the craziness of it all. You just imagine living in this like …
RTC: …Chaotic household.
DF: This weird chaotic storm of constant fear, or violence, or the threat of violence. To me, it was just a human tragedy and something that anyone could relate to. This could have been anyone’s family in a way. We’ve all had conflicts in our family, this was just taken to the ultimate…
DF: I think the Lutz’s story certainly gave it sort of the sensational perspective and I don’t disbelieve them, actually. I don’t think they made it up for a hoax, they experienced something…
RTC: ..Something, yeah.
DF: Kind of knowing them as I did over years, having that experience changed them completely, as a family and individuals. They were never the same people and were deeply affected by the experience they had there [112 Ocean Avenue]. I can’t explain why it hasn’t happened to another family [giggles], although when I went and did the documentary I can tell you there were neighbors that came out and said, “people aren’t going to say this on camera, but stuff still happens there…”
DF: …”there are some weird things about the house.”
RTC: Very, very interesting.
DF: One guy was very nice, actually. He’s in the documentary briefly. He’s kind of like one of those man on the street interviews. He came out, he saw us out in the neighborhood. He goes, “oh you must be doing a movie on the house.” He was really friendly, he was just raking his lawn or something and he came over. Before he went on camera he told us that he had gone to a couple parties, he actually knew Butch. He told us that one time he [Butch] tried to run over his girlfriend’s dog. He told us that the had gone to a party there [112 Ocean Avenue] after all the publicity he goes, “I was changing in one of the rooms and I saw this dark figure walk by and there was nobody upstairs.”
RTC: Wow, that is crazy, that is CRAZY!
DF: He wouldn’t say it on camera. He’s like, “my neighbors will hate me.”
RTC: Yeah, for sure!
DF: He told us that “everyone kind of whispers about it.” Maybe they’re having fun with it because it is so famous, I don’t know. You gotta kind of wonder.
RTC: Have you been in the house before?
DF: Nope. I was never in it. I shot some documentary footage, B role in front of it. I was actually told by George himself that if I went into the house that he would never speak to me again.
RTC: There you go.
DF: And he wasn’t kidding. He was that serious. He’s like “you won’t be the same person coming out of there and I don’t want anything to do with you. If I find out that you’ve been in the house we’re done.”
RTC: Fair enough.
DF: He was pretty serious about this stuff. And we always sorta made a joke – If he [Geroge Lutz] had made a hoax he should have done better financially.
DF: He lived a pretty modest life. He didn’t quite drop it how people think. A lot of people got rich off of it but not the Lutzes. You saw them in my documentary, they sat there side by side many years after the divorce. She was really sick at the time. You know, they had nothing to gain from telling this again. We didn’t pay them a bunch of money to do it, it was like a little appearance fee but there was no profit in it for them. There was really no motivation for them to continue this “big lie” had it been that. And it was interesting in the documentary the people that come across as sort of the people with an angle were the ones that said hoax. They were the ones that were sour grapes over the whole thing. “Oh, I wanted to make a book.” “My husband was supposed to be an investigator in that house.”
RTC: Was that Kaplan’s wife?
DF: Kaplan, yesss. There was a lot of anger from those people. I just got the sense that they were the ones with the agenda it wasn’t the other way around.
RTC: At the end of your film [The Amityville Murders] you brought the Lutz family in and it sent chills down my spine. You had a hint of the original score in there, which was great when they came into the doorway. Do you think that you’ll make a true remake to the Lutz family’s encounter?
DF: You know, I don’t know that is a tuff one because it is a rights issue. Their story of the 28 days in the house are owned by MGM so they really own that piece of it. In terms of what happened to them later, there has been some talk about wanting to do something down the road. Maybe a TV show, something that follows what kind of
RTC: Really? Didn’t he play Butch in a documentary of some sort?
DF: In my documentary, he played Butch and in this one, he played Lee – George Lutz. In real life George Lutz had given him his lighter, he was a chain smoker – and he was actually holding that lighter when we shot the scene.
RTC: Wow! Very cool! [Laughs]
DF: Again, I think we did things with as much respect as we could. I remember there was an energy on the set that day when the Lutz’s were in the doorway with the real estate lady comes up and that is really what she said to them, “this is how the other half of Amityville lives, let me show you.” That is exactly what the realtor said to them when they entered that house. So again I tried to pull from the history and the true story as much as I could, with the little fly landing on the window, that was a little nod as well. I wanted to make a movie that felt like it was paying homage to the past but also telling it from a different perspective.
RTC: You did a very good job and I thoroughly enjoyed it and thank you so much!
DF: Thank you, I appreciate that so much.
RTC: And I can’t wait to see what else you have for us.
DF: Thanks, well we have The Haunting of Sharon Tate coming up in April so hopefully we can talk about that as well.
RTC: I would love to. Thank you again and have a great day!
Check Out ‘The Amityville Murders’ Q&A From The ScreamFest Film Festival & The Trailer Below!