EXCLUSIVE: James Wan has closed a big two-pronged deal with New Line Cinema. He will return to direct The Conjuring 2, with shooting to begin next summer. In addition, the hit-making Australian who had a major hand in launching the Saw and Insidious franchises and The Conjuring and most recently Annabelle, has made a first-look producing deal with the Warner Bros-based film label. The directing deal follows New Line taking The Conjuring sequel off its October 23, 2015 slot and moving it to 2016, which gives Wan time to promote the film he just finished, Fast & Furious 7. Universal releases that film April 3, 2015 after moving it from summer 2014 following the tragic death of star Paul Walker.
At New Line, Wan will develop and produce modest budget films in the science fiction, horror, and comedy genres through his Atomic Monster production banner. The overall deal comes after the latest hit for New Line, Annabelle, which Wan produced. It’s the only filmmaker deal that New Line has with a director, and the hope of the Warner Bros label is that this leads to Wan continuing to grow as a filmmaker there. Universal had options on Wan for more Fast & Furious installments and that studio allowed him to go direct The Conjuring 2 as his next film. No final decisions have been made about Wan’s involvement in future installments of Universal’s street racing film series, I’m told.
“We had a great experience with James on The Conjuring, and we give him a lot of credit for that movie working so well,” said New Line president/COO Toby Emmerich. “He worked on the screenplay and came to the table with very inventive things that were not in the script and cast it fantastically well. Add to that his work in producing Annabelle, and he is one of the masters of the genre and we’re happy to have him. You go through the list of possible directors of The Conjuring sequel, and his is the name you stop at, which is why we tried so hard to make this work.”
Wan has kept a relatively low profile for a filmmaker whose resume is stocked with low-budget films that became massive global hits. That began with directing Saw and producing six sequels that have collectively grossed around $871 million worldwide. Budget on the first was $1.2 million, with the rest of them averaging $10 million and the final 3D effort topping out at $20 million. He then co-created and directed the first two installments of Insidious. The first cost $1.5 million and grossed $97 million worldwide, and the $5 million sequel grossed $161.9 million. He is producing the third installment, which is being directed by Leigh Whannell, with whom Wan partnered in hatching both the Insidious and Saw franchises.
He was a hands-on producer on Annabelle — even sketching the scary title doll after an original attempt to secure Raggedy Ann was understandably rebuffed — and that $6.5 million budget film has so far grossed $166 million worldwide and should vastly better that mark by the time it is done scaring up business through Halloween.
“It was during the editing of Fast & Furious 7 that my brain started sparking ideas for The Conjuring sequel,” Wan said. “Taking a break from horror has allowed me to be creatively rejuvenated. I’m excited to tell the story of the next case-file of Ed & Lorraine Warren and expand on this world we’ve created.”
The overall deal is for producing, but Emmerich said the studio sees him as an emerging major filmmaker and they hope he will grow in that capacity on the Warner Bros lot. “New Line has always been a big believer in great filmmakers emerging from the horror genre, and he has the potential to grow like Frank Darabont did, from writing A Nightmare On Elm Street 3 to writing and directing The Shawshank Redemption,” Emmerich told me. “James will make an important movie for New Line and Warner Bros or DC, and that is definitely part of the plan, and a reason for bringing him into the family. He’s the only overall director with a deal here, because we see him as a class of one.”
As for his goals with the producing deal, Wan said his hope is to “continue the successful and creative partnership with the studio, and to produce projects that excite me from across all genres of film — thriller, sci-fi, action, comedy, horror. I look forward to collaborating with young and passionate filmmakers — actors, writers, directors, designers — to produce films that connect with today’s audiences.”
His deal was made by Paradigm, Stacey Testro International and attorney David Fox.