Directing your first feature film can be daunting. It’s so easy to not quite now what you’re getting into, and even easier to put out a very flawed debut. As a horror (and film in general) fan though, there is nothing better than being able to witness the birth or a true genre auteur, one that hits the scene hard, giving viewers a feature debut that not only is sufficient, but QUITE excellent at the same time. Filmmaker Ted Geoghegan has been a friend of Icons of Fright’s for quite some time, leading back to the NY days of the site, and it’s our absolute pleasure and honor to champion his debut, WE ARE STILL HERE, as much as we can, not because he’s a friend, but because as horror fans, we now have a brand new voice on par with West, Fessenden, and other filmmakers who have made quite the names for themselves in the genre, all while being original and refreshing filmmakers.
Geoghegan and I had a chat recently about WE ARE STILL HERE, as well as other topics, including inspirations and so on. Read on, and as always, enjoy!
What caught me off guard from the very beginning about WE ARE STILL HERE is how at times, it’s both a completely original breath of fresh air genre film, but also a complete love letter to a lot of the films I grew up just adoring, like the films of Fulci and even as you’ve recently stated, the films of Stuart Gordon. I’m curious about the film, and what inspired you to take THIS one on?
I’ve written a lot of stuff, and I’ve produced a decent amount of things, and while writing this script, I had originally written it for someone else to direct. In doing that, I just kind of started to fall in love with it, it felt so outside anything else. I tend to lean more toward slashers and more exploitative stuff, so to do a film that was more subdued and very adult, I just got very stoked. I went to the guy who I had originally come up with it with, and said, “I know you’re very busy and have a lot of stuff on your plate, would you mind if I took this and shopped it around, and possibly directed it on my own?”, and he said, “Yeah, sure”. He had a lot of projects on his plate, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. I brought it to Travis Stevens at Snowfort Pictures, who in turn brought it to Dark Sky Films, who stepped on as financiers, and we shot the damn thing!
When the film was first announced and I saw that Travis was producing it, I was excited because he’s known for taking a film and a filmmaker and just running with the idea, and letting the filmmaker realize their vision. How was it working with a producer like Stevens on pretty much your feature debut?
I can’t think of a better person to make your first film with, than Travis. He does have quite the reputation right now, for taking first time filmmakers or filmmakers who have perhaps never had that big hit before, and help them create something that’s genuinely special and something that truly hasn’t been done before. That’s exactly what he did on this project, he really pushed me into making this film as strong as it could possibly be. The majority of the greatest things in the film are thanks to him. He’s a very hand on producer, always on set and standing directly next to his director and watching the footage as it’s being created. I think that’s amazing. I find it incredible that a producer can love his projects THAT much, that he wants to be actively involved in every single thing that his name is on. I also think that’s why Snowfort Pictures has that reputation it does, for making great films, because I don’t think every other company has someone THAT dedicated to every single project they put out.
You received a LOT of acclaim right from the first screening of the film, people calling it “Masterful” and various other accolades. As a first time director and someone who made such an odd and strange throwback horror film, was that at all overwhelming at first?
It was very nerve-wracking and equally exciting, to have a film that was so warmly received at its world premiere. I had no idea what the response was going to be, as I had only shown it to some close friends and industry pals before revealing it to the world. The film is purposely an odd duck and I mean that in a very positive way, because I can’t think of a single film that I love that ISN’T odd. I was very hopeful at SXSW and the continuing festivals that it has been playing at for the past couple of months, that people would understand what we were going for, with the film. I had hoped that they would embrace it the same way I had embraced it from day one while writing it. It’s very melodramatic and paced in a very specific way that a lot of films today really aren’t paced. It allows the audience to know the characters a little better and become a part of the environment a little better, and kind of opens up the ability to kind of breathe easier while watching the film. I feel like so many movies are paced at such a breakneck speed these days that it kind of overwhelms you with what you’re seeing, so this one allows you to breathe and almost question what you’re seeing…I mean, the film is filled with FAR more questions than answers, so the idea is that when it ends, you’ll smile and nod and say, “wow, that was a neat film, but I’m still trying to process it”. So many films today give you every single thing, tie up every single plot, and kind of leave you with nothing, but my goal was to have a film where people would walk away and ask, “That was the end?, Did I learn everything?”.
I’m VERY interested in the casting of the film. EVERY single cast member just kills it, and I already loved everything I had seen that Larry Fessenden had either acted in or directed but man, that scene with Larry in your film BLOWS ME AWAY every single time I watch it. Did you write with anyone in mind, or did you find them all just through the casting process?
The roles of Anne and of Jacob were both written FOR Barbara (Crampton) and Larry (Fessenden). Both of them are very good friends of mine, and when I was writing it, that’s just who I always imagined in those roles. As luck would have it, as we moved into production, the producers were very keen on both of them. I think it’s unfortunate how underused Fessenden is in films.
Oh yeah, definitely.
He has his little cameo in things and that’s about it. I think he’s deserving of as many roles as people can throw at him. I think he’s always been sensationally good, and I really wanted to give him a part that he could really sink his teeth into. I think the role might not be exactly who Larry is as a person, but someone that Larry knows and I love that.
I’m a big fan of films that begin with some form of tragedy, making you have to go on journeys with their characters. So with your film, it was great to see this couple having to kind of start over to deal with their loss. Was that always a starting point for you?
From day one, that’s exactly what was in there. The very first scene is them just driving down the road and they’re completely crushed, two people that are almost literally falling apart. They’re just so damaged that the whole movie is about whether these people can possibly ever be repaired.
The design of the spirits (or ghosts) really impressed me. Did you always have that particular look in mind, or did that come up during the special effects planning?
I always had them in mind as being somewhat reminiscent of Captain Blake in John Carpenter’s THE FOG. That was definitely one of the many things I had the FX team focus on. I loved the idea of the ghosts being solid matter, again, somewhat similar to the ghosts in THE FOG. They can appear and disappear, but they can also tear you to ribbons. I never felt that you needed floating or them to be see-through to know they were ghosts, as long as it was established in the world that they were ghosts.
I absolutely loved the score for the film. Did you always plan on working with Wojciech Golczewski (LATE PHASES, CITY STATE)? his work is incredible.
He actually came on fairly late in the game. He’s immensely talented and came to the project thanks to Dark Sky, because he had done LATE PHASES for them. They were VERY pleased with what he had done on that, so I began to listen to some of his pieces online and found them to be amazingly hypnotic. I thought he just had this beautiful sound that I wanted to be a part of this project. As we started the compositions, what struck me the most was how minimal his score was. It almost comes off like sound design at times, when you don’t know if you’re listening to music or just the sounds that the house is making. It’s amazing and it’s crazy how much work goes into making it sound like nothing is there. He’s so skilled that once we layed down that scene and decided it needed to be silent, he was still able to create music that still made it feel silent.
I’ve made it no secret how much I absolutely adored the film, and I’m curious, with how well received it’s been already, what’s next? How do you followup WE ARE STILL HERE?
That’s a good question. I’m going to keep doing what I always do. I’m going to keep writing and producing and being a publicist, and hopefully I’ll be able to direct again. I’ve got a couple of projects I’m working on that I’m not sure which one will come to fruition first, but whichever one it is, I’m very adamant about it being a complete 180 from WE ARE STILL HERE.