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Thursday, September 17, 2020

‘Host’ Filmmakers Rob Savage and Jed Shepherd Break Down the Many Horror Projects Coming Next [Interview]

Host has already become something of a cultural phenomenon, finding favorable reviews in multiple major publications, building an army of devoted fans, or HOSTages, and contributing a much needed breath of fresh air to the scorched hellscape that is the 2020 zeitgeist. And it has only been six weeks since its release.

Shudder premiered the film on July 30, and so began a discourse that monopolized Twitter feeds and called into question the very mechanics of modern horror filmmaking. Host raised the bar to unimaginable heights, tapping into a vein of support we were not fully aware of and asking the question: in a world wrought by pandemic limitations, just what exactly is possible with a little ingenuity?

Now, the team that brought you Host has ended the call. They are leaving the house and taking to the streets, so-to-speak.

Director Rob Savage and co-writer Jed Shepherd break down their plans for their next wave of films, what they are doing with their increased budgets following the coveted Blumhouse deal and the possibility of helming a Marvel property or…Star Wars Horror?

They also drop some suggestions about viewing Host in a new way that could possibly reveal even more Easter eggs.

What is the next thing that will be coming out?

Rob: The next thing, we’re going to do one of our Blum movies first. We’re already in preproduction on that. The first movie is going to be shooting soon. We’re hoping to keep the energy from Host up and be diving into it pretty quickly. It’s set present day, in this weirdness that we’re in at the moment. And if Host was kind of our lockdown movie, about the claustrophobia of lockdown, this new movie is about the horror of going back outside, back into an unsafe world and the fear of other people and how we reconcile that while, you know, the danger is still present and the virus is still out there. It’s not a virus movie and it’s not a pandemic movie but it plays on that kind of paranoia and uncomfortable atmosphere that you have whenever you go outside these days and see other people.

Jed: And also, it includes the fact that after Host we’re confident in, kind of, our scares and that we want to bring our scares to the next level as well. So, in my mind, it’s scarier than Host and more ambitions, a lot more ambitious, in fact. And so much fun.

Rob: Yeah, there’s some stuff in here, that if we pull it off, it’s gonna blow peoples’ heads off.

Jed: Yeah. No one’s seen this kind of stuff on film before. So, yeah. If we pull it off, it’ll be amazing.

Rob: And if not, we’ll just pretend it never happened.

Are there any other story elements that we can squeeze out of you or are you sworn to secrecy at this point?

Rob: We want to keep a lot of it under wraps. Why don’t we tell you some of the movies we’ve been watching as reference, just as some little puzzle pieces, I guess. This isn’t giving it away. House of the Devil (Ti West 2009) and The Innkeepers (Ti West 2011). Ti West’s movies are big influences on this one. Impetigore (Joko Anwar 2020) is a reference. What else can we say, Jed, without giving anything away?

Jed: The only ones on my mind are, kind of, a bit too on the nose. Just the fact that we’re outside now. It’s not an inside movie anymore. It’s an outside movie. And it’s about how the world outside is a lot scarier than the safety of your home.

Rob: It Follows (David Robert Mitchell 2015) is a reference. I mean, every time you go outside and see another person walking toward you it feels like It Follows in this weird world, we’re in at the moment. So, It Follows is definitely a reference, and the paranoia of that. I think that’s all we can say about that one. The good thing is, we’re already in the thick of it and hopefully it’ll be out sooner rather than later. We really want this next one to land with the same relevance that Host did. While we may never be able to replicate the kind of, zeitgeist that Host tapped into, I think we want this to be out while people are still living this weird reality. Because it’s very much about this paranoia we’re all living with.

Jed: I can say that this film is an idea we had pre-lockdown as well. It’s kind of been gestating in our head for quite a long time. So, this isn’t just a reaction to Host. This is one that we’ve wanted to do for a while.

Rob: Yeah, we’ve just kind of adapted it to the current situation.

So, have you started principal photography yet or is it still in pre-production?

Rob: We’re just in prep at the moment.

Do you have a tentative idea when you will begin?

Rob: No, we haven’t got a date yet. We’re really hoping to be shooting—well, principal photography will be wrapped before the end of the year. We’ll say that. I don’t want to pin down a date yet because it’s in flux at the moment. We’re hoping to be shooting really soon.

What about the budget? Is that something you can speak on?

Rob: It’s several times Host and even more times the scares for that money.

Jed: I like that. Ten times the scares, ten times the cost.

Rob: More than ten times.

Jed: Yeah.

You’re living out every filmmaker’s dream right now. I’m sure it’s been fun but crazy. How have you managed dealing with that [chaos]?

Jed: It’s still very surreal for us. If you think about it, Host was only five, six weeks ago. It’s gone topsy-turvy ever since.

Rob: Yeah. It has and it hasn’t been crazy. We’ve been getting a lot more emails, and a lot more people are trying to reach out. There’s that kind of frenzy. But at the same time, London’s still only tentatively opening up. So, we’ve had a couple of screenings at the BFI. We’re having a wider cinema release later this year, but we’ve had our first, kind of, cinema screenings with an audience which was real, kind of—you know, that was one of the moments when it really hit me. Because a lot of it feels slightly detached because you’re looking at the response on your laptop sitting at home just like we made the movie. You know, we made the movie in lockdown and we’re still in a partial state of lockdown. It’s been great.  I kind of don’t want to sit in this, kind of, self-congratulation for too long. I’d rather just start shooting the next one. Because like Jed said, it’s something that if Host would’ve never come along, we would have wanted to make this movie anyway. So, I don’t want to be too reactive to the response that Host got. We’re just letting our gut lead the way and making movies that we would want to go and see.

Jed: For me, there’s so many different emotions, really. Because it’s—every day it’s so exciting because we don’t really know what’s going to happen. Something cool happens nearly every day since it’s come out. And again, we didn’t expect the reaction it got, so we did not prepare for it in the slightest. I’m still in a little bit of disbelief about the whole thing. So, I don’t think I’ve actually correctly responded to the reaction yet, and I think I won’t for a little while because we’re too busy with other projects. But at some point, it’s going to hit me that, oh my god, Host is this absolute juggernaut that just barreled through, like, quarantine. Yeah, it’s really hard to put into words because I don’t quite understand it myself.

Rob: I think it will be an interesting one to see how long it lasts as well. Whether it’s something that people are talking about next year, or a few years from now, if it remains part of the, kind of, conversation of modern horror and modern found footage. I mean, that would be just a dream come true. But it remains to be seen, I guess.

I think that was one of the really brilliant things about it. It didn’t rely on quarantine. It’s very much its own thing apart from quarantine and has a very high rewatch value.

Rob: When we were developing it, that was something that we were actively trying to do is make a movie you could stick on with a bunch of friends’round at your house, you know, five years from now with no context and it would still just be a fun, rollercoaster horror movie.

Jed: I’m all about what the audience are thinking of, and this next one—if we put the audience through a rollercoaster on Host, this is like putting them through a rocket launch. I feel like the scares are ridiculous. We’re gonna put people in hospital. Even just reading it, I was like, this is next level, this is crazy. Like, how are we allowed to do this? But yeah. I’m just very excited, as you can tell.

What about the prison movie?

We’re working with a great writer, Teresa Sutherland on the script for that at the moment. That’s an idea that me and Jed came up with over a pint in Deptford where we both live, a few months ago, I guess. Close to the beginning of the year. We spent a long time very carefully choosing which writer to work with on the project. You know, it’s really picking up momentum now, obviously, off the back of Host. It’s an idea we’re really excited about. Basically, all of our conversations, and most of them happen in the pub, it all stems from “what movies would we want to see?” And that’s really the question we keep asking ourselves. And we’d never seen a prison break horror movie since, I don’t know Prison (Renny Harlin, 1987), back in the early 90s, or whenever that was. And that’s not even a prison break movie, really, is it? I just love prison break movies, we both do, and to combine that with a supernatural horror trope sounded like something—I mean, we’re always looking for those ideas that when we come up with them we’re like, “fuck, how has nobody else done that?” The best horror ideas we come up with, they make us kind of paranoid because we live in fear that somebody else is going to do them before we do.

Jed: And it’s a women-in-prison movie too. How many women-in-prison breakout movies have you seen that’s supernatural? None? I liked when it was announced as The Conjuring behind bars, which I think is a really good description of it. I think it’s decent.

Rob: I think there’s an element to that movie that sets it apart from anything else we’re doing that we haven’t talked about yet. That’s all I’ll say, but it’s very unique in terms of the movies on our slate. We’re really excited to be working with Theresa. She wrote this incredible script for a movie called The Wind (Emma Tammi, 2018), which I think has just come on Shudder. It’s a kind of western ghost story. The movie is really good, but her script is absolutely brilliant and lyrical, and she’s an incredible talent, so we’re really excited to be working with her on that.

Do you have a title for that film yet?

Rob: Not yet. We haven’t got something quite yet. We’re throwing around a few.

Jed: Tentatively Sex and the City 3, but we’ll see how it goes—I’m joking.

So, what about the Sam Raimi project?

Rob: That one we’re crazy excited about. We both grew up on Sam’s movies. He’s just totally fundamental to our involvement in the film industry at all. Neither of us would be here if it wasn’t for Evil Dead 2. It’s been and continues to be an absolute dream kinda working with Sam on that one.

Jed: What I love about it mostly, is the fact he’s still so excited about cool story ideas. His eyes light up when someone comes up with—we’ve been doing these Zoom table reads with him and when something cool happens in the story he gets excited like he’s a little kid. I love seeing that.

Rob: And that specifically, of all our ideas, I think that one we’re the most paranoid about because it’s the most simple and potentially iconic. What can I say? I think it’s potentially the most intense of all of our movies. One of the interesting things about Host—a lot of these projects we were developing before Host. Then Host came out and we were able to announce the Sam Raimi movie and all this kind of stuff, so it seems like these came off the back of Host, but the Sam Raimi movie, we’ve been developing for about a year after he saw our short films Salt and Girl In Touch. The interesting thing is, I think, looking at Host, is there’s so much of Sam’s influence in Host. A lot of what he’s taught us made its way into the development of Host.

Is there anything you can say about it without giving anything away?

Jed: Can we say the location?

Rob: It mostly takes place in a single location. It’s not quite a real-time movie, but it takes place in a very condensed timeframe and has that real-time feel to it. I say that, similar to Host, it’s supernatural horror, but in a way that you haven’t seen before.

Jed: If you can imagine, obviously it’s Host with the help of Sam Raimi, if you can imagine what that looks like together. Instead of just being influenced by him with Host, we’ve got him for this one.

Rob: Yeah, having his brain on it is an amazing gift to horror filmmakers.

What about being this closely Marvel adjacent through Sam?

Jed: I don’t know what I’m allowed to say. I was quizzing Sam about some projects that he’s on and he almost told me, but he backed off at the last second. That’s the beauty of Sam. He can help people on their way up as well as doing the biggest movies in the entire world and he still has that same energy he had on the first day of Evil Dead. Like, you can see in those documentary clips all over YouTube of how excited he was when he was a kid, basically. He is still like that now. It’s great to see and been an inspiration to both of us. I think [on IMDb] it still says “rumored” against—whatever film you’re talking about, which I—I have no idea.

Is that something that you guys would have an interest in? Writing and possibly directing anything to do with Marvel at some point?

Rob: For me, the conditions would have to be right, I think. What I’m really loving right now is we’ve got the freedom to self-generate ideas and, you know, for people to be wanting to see these movies that are just coming straight from our heads and we’re able to put our stamp on or have a good amount of control over. To me, that’s the dream rather than doing something on the biggest scale possible but being just a small cog in a big machine. I’m very happy to keep making our projects, and, honestly, that’s what really excites me at the moment. And if, hopefully, through continued success on those projects, if there was a bigger project that could offer the same level of collaboration that we have on this project then sure, you know, I’d love to work on a bigger canvas. But, for me, the main goal is to feel creative and engaged, and on these projects, that’s not a problem at all.

Jed: For me, I’d straight up sell out to do a Spiderman movie. No, but like Rob said, if we had control of the character—and it’s probably best if it was a smaller character that nobody really thinks about and we were able to develop that in a way that was to our liking, then that would probably be interesting to us. Or there’s a lot of horror-adjacent characters, especially in the DC universe, which would probably fit quite well. Again, the control there would be with the studios more than with little’ole us. It would just get a little bit annoying to see your projects fall apart because of interference.

Yeah, you see that happen a lot with superhero movies.

Jed: Now a Star Wars movie, sign me up. A Star Wars movie, hell yeah.

Rob: We should do a Star Wars horror movie.

Jed: We could do like a road movie. On tour with the cantina band.

Rob: That’s cool. You do Green Room but with the cantina band.

Jed: Yes! Oh my god, that would be great.

Rob: That’s crazy. Yeah, okay, that’s your answer.

I feel like I’m listening to history being made right now. Ten years from now when the Star Wars Cantina Horror flick is in theaters—

Rob: Ten years?

Jed: That’s too far away.

Rob: No. I would be ten months. Greenlight us now, we’ll have it ready by Christmas.

Jed: The best thing for us is to do our own stuff and create it from scratch, build our own universe.

What about anything beyond the first Blumhouse film?

Rob: Yeah, we’ve got the first two in mind. We’re hoping to shoot those back to back if that’s a possibility. The second one, I think, is the closest—and I’m going to eat these words later—the closest to a slam dunk we’ve ever come up with. It’s just a great idea we’ve been wanting to do forever. It’s a brilliant mythology that’s really terrifying and opens up a whole—it’s a whole different, kind of, supernatural horror that we’ve never done before in any of our projects. I’m really excited. From a visual point-of-view, I’m really excited by it. From a conceptual point-of-view, I think it’s something that’s gonna really catch on. The best-case scenario, it becomes iconic; worst case scenario, we fuck it up and no one sees it. But it’s got the possibility. The bones are there.

Jed: The beauty is, we know other people are interested in this particular subject, but we’re going to be the first ones out the gates.

Rob: And nobody’s gonna do it quite like us. I think we’ve got a take on it that nobody else would come at it this way.

Jed: And like Rob said, it’s one where I’m comfortable in saying it’s probably going be a slam dunk in terms of awareness in the particular subject. Therefore, hopefully that will convert to people watching it.

Rob: Well, we’ve got to make sure it’s good, too. That’s the only hurdle.

Jed: Yeah.

Rob: Yeah.

Jed: But like, we did with Host. If we just make sure that we like it, then I think that’s half the battle.

Speaking of Host. Where are we on the Easter Egg percentage?

Jed: Because it’s so rewatchable, I don’t want to give any of the game away, but I will say that at some point, you will see a making of documentary type thing where you’ll maybe have some insight into that. But until then, I think people should just keep rewatching as much as possible.

Rob: I think it’s safe to say that there may be over 50 percent now. There’s big some big ones picked up on.

Jed: The biggest one still hasn’t been found which blows my mind.

The single biggest one?

Jed: Yeah, there’s something really, really big that people haven’t found yet.

Rob: You’ll bang your head against the table when you figure out what it is. It’s kind of right there in everyone’s face.

Any hint?

Jed: Just that in the first five or ten minutes you’ll—

Rob: Before Seylan comes into the conversation. All the tools you’ll need to kind of unlock everything that happens for the rest of the movie, or the entirety of the movie, is in that first ten minutes before they even start the séance. There’s some fun movie references in there as well, that people haven’t spotted yet.

Jed: One thing I think, one of the other big things, actually I haven’t see people get this, and I’m not gonna say—but the whole thing about whose fault it is, I think Rob has done in working with our sound guy has—because it’s all about sound as well, and sound design—I think Rob has given a lot of clues in terms of the sound, and kind of given people a direction, where to look, trying to look for whose fault this is.

Rob: Or what the backstory is there. I think we’ve said too much.

Jed: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I haven’t seen anyone kind of figure that out yet, but sound is a real important thing. Watching it on the big screen at the BFI, and I think it’s because you [Rob] to pump the sound up a little bit higher, that it was very obvious to me.

That’s a pretty good clue. I think that will change the way people check out the film.

Jed: Headphones. I always recommend headphones when watching it.

Rob: Yeah. Tell’em sound mix is—amazing.

I’m sure people will be excited to find that out and have a new viewing experience.

Jed: That actually does give you a completely different perspective on the whole thing, once you know about that [sound design].

I’m sure you’ve been asked this a million times, but did you ever expect it to turn out the way that it did?

Rob: We knew that we were happy with it. But I think, and partly because it was being released on Shudder, which is, you know, a horror specific platform, we thought that our audience would mainly be horror fans—and we made this for horror fans, we’re horror fans ourselves. We made the movie we thought horror fans would want to see, ourselves included. I personally thought there might be a slightly, condescending response from non-horror fans. Because our main goal for this movie was just to make something that is a fun, scary rollercoaster ride, and a lot of times those movies get a slightly sniffy response, especially here in the UK. We’re quite used to horror being dismissed. So, it’s been really amazing that outside of the horror community it’s been such a great response, and obviously within the horror community it’s been incredible. And even the most hardened horror fans, you know, we got them with a few of our scares or they’ve been sharing it around.

Jed: For me, again, we didn’t expect it at all, so I’m still finding it really hard to kind of come to terms with the fact that we made something quite universal and isn’t just watched by die-hard horror fans but, it’s crossed into the mainstream. We’ve been covered in mainstream press. Here in the UK we were on terrestrial main TV, on the BBC news, breakfast news. When people are eating their cornflakes, me and Rob pop up—

Rob: Talking about a horror film. It’s crazy.

Jed: And then we were on ITV news, which is one of the main channels. The six o’clock on ITV is the main news. They talk about Corona [virus] and stuff like that. Then you get, “and two filmmakers from South London.” And then you get Rob making his cupboards explode on live TV. It’s just so crazy.

Rob: Yeah, I’ve been known to prank newscasters with my exploding cupboards.

I’m sure Shudder loves that.

Rob: You know, hats off to them. They were the only company, of many we pitched Host to—they were the only one of many that really listened to us and trusted us even though we didn’t even have a treatment at that point. We just had a little couple of lines pitch. It’s absolutely their faith in us as filmmakers that set all of this in motion. So, we can’t thank them enough.

Jed: And we want to work with them again in the future on something. We just got to find the right project.

Rob: Yeah. In a heartbeat.

Is there anything else that the fans would be interested in?

Rob: We can’t announce anything more, but we can announce that there is more. There’s one project in particular, which is a TV project, that is maybe the most exciting thing that we’re working on. We can’t announce the details of it yet, but there is plenty—there is plenty more. Okay. I think we’ve definitely said too much now. 

Host is now streaming on Shudder. 


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