How to Write a (Really Scary) Screenplay: Chad and Carey Hayes Discuss The Conjuring 2

For most believers, “Christian” and “horror movie” do not go together. “Christian” movies typically focus on the Good News of Christ, on love and forgiveness, and on the healing power of faith—not normally things one associates with a horror film. However, twin brother screenwriting team Chad and Carey Hayes see no across-the-board, insurmountable contradiction between strong faith and scary movies. In fact, faith plays a real role the brothers’ writing process.

Conjurin 2 Poster“I pray every day,” Chad says. “Most of all I pray for no interference, [that is] anything that might interfere with a really great story.” The brothers say they do not believe in coincidence, but believe that God hears them and answers when they ask for Him to “open the doors that should be open, and close the doors that should be shut.” Sometimes on set or during the writing process, they will wonder why something is not working out. They will try again, try different things, and then suddenly realize that perhaps God is shutting that particular door, just as they asked.

The brothers’ faith also enhances their commitment to truth. Both The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 are based on true stories. The writers prefer to focus on real-world stories because “people can research them, look them up, and understand why we felt compelled to tell this story.” While some structural details must change to condense a six-year experience into a two-hour film, Carey and Chad make a conscious effort to “stay true to the spirit of the story.”

After seeing The Conjuring, the story of husband and wife paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, the real Lorraine Warren came to the Hayes brothers and said “You got my Eddy right.” The Hayeses felt honored by such a complement to the veracity of the film; however, almost as affirming was the knowledge that they could genuinely be “on the same side” as the Warrens. Ed and Lorraine use faith as their “biggest tool,” which makes the stories of The Conjuring and its sequel even more exciting for the Hayes brothers to tell.

Conjuring 2 Screenshot 2Even though The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 have legitimate Christian messages, the Hayes brothers know that horror movies are not for everyone—children in particular. “Movies have ratings for reasons. But if [a movie like The Conjuring] becomes a good teaching tool for you as a parent, then bring your kids to see it. You know what your kid can handle.” The morals of The Conjuring movies actually include trusting in the ultimate power of God and faith, and a caution against “messing with” the dark side.

Carey and Chad Hayes have been writing together since they were sixteen years old, and work terrifically as a team. The first thing they do, of course, is find (or create) a story they want to tell. “We develop a story that we can tell from the beginning to the end,” Carey says. Once they have found something worthy of being heard, the brothers “arbitrarily” assign different acts of the story to each other and write them. Then, they “flip” the acts and “rewrite each other” back and forth until they are both happy with the product.

The brothers know and understand each other well, and if either of them does not like what the other has written, they express their thoughts, fix the screenplay, and move on. “There’s not much ego involved,” Carey says. After explaining their process, Chad laughed and admitted “I don’t know how people write by themselves, actually.”

To anyone wishing to break into the screenwriting business, Chad and Carey Hayes have one major piece of advice:  READ SCRIPTS! Find something you like and identify with, and figure out why it works. The brothers majored in business economics as undergraduates and “have never taken a writing class,” Carey says. “We just read every script we could get our hands on.” They checked out scripts from libraries and when they found one they really liked, they tried to figure out what made it so great.

Conjuring 2 Scrennshot 3When asked about screenplays they found especially influential, Chad mentioned James Cameron as “a great technical writer,” one who is “so descriptive.” Screenplays are more than just scripts, just dialogue, the brothers note. A good screenplay will not just say “The Indians attacked the fort,” Chad explains. “It tells how, and how many, and who fought back.”

From hopeful amateurs to respected professionals, Carey and Chad Hayes have found a way to channel their passion and faith into telling great stories—whether of the horror genre or not. Their next script, The Crucifixion, is currently being filmed, with the third installment of Journey to the Center of the Earth announced for 2017.

The Conjuring 2 opens June 10 from New Line Cinema.

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