This week sees the release of the supernatural shocker We Are Still Here which marks the directorial debut of publicist, producer and screenwriter Ted Geoghegan. Written and directed by Geoghegan and produced by Travis Stevens under his Snowfort Pictures banner the film follows Barbara Crampton (Sun Choke, You’re Next) and Andrew Sensenig (Upstream Colour) as Anne and Paul, a married couple who move into a remote house after recently losing their son in a tragic accident.
It’s not long before Anne starts to get the sensation that the spirit of her dead son has followed them to their new home so the couple call out for the help of Jacob and May Lewis (Larry Fessenden and Lisa Marie), a New Age couple who ultimately discover something much more sinister than any of them could ever have imagined.
With We Are Still Here all set to hit cinemas and VOD this Friday, June 5, SCREAM’s Howard Gorman caught up with Ted Geoghegan to find out why he fell so much in love with this project that he decided it was the perfect opportunity to make his first mark as a director.
SCREAM: You’ve been a publicist and screenwriter for quite a while so what was it about this specific film that urged you to direct it?
Ted Geoghegan: I have been a producer and writer for about 15 years now and then I started working in publicity about 5 years ago, shortly after I moved to New York City. So I started writing this script with a friend, who is a filmmaker, and we were writing it with the idea that we were going to do our own version of Lucio Fulci’s The House by the Cemetery, which is a movie that we both quite love. I think we got through one or two drafts and I realised I was falling in love with the script with all these characters, the setting and everything about it. I said to my friend, “You always have a lot of projects going on. Do you mind if I take this project around and see if I could secure financing to make it?” My buddy, who’s a rather prolific director said, “Well sure! Go for it and let me know what happens.” So I took the script around to a few people and ultimately to Travis Stevens at Snowfort Pictures and Travis then brought it to Dark Sky Films and they stepped aboard as financiers and very quickly we were shooting the movie.
Having worked in the film industry for fifteen years was it a fairly simple step directing your first movie?
It was certainly a learning experience. I can’t deny that it was certainly new to me, especially given my cast who had all worked with some of the great directors of our times and times past. But I really feel it was my work as a publicist that made me the most ready to be a director because I’ve been around directors all the time and I’m seeing their stories over and over and learning what works for them and what doesn’t and I’m seeing what their strengths and their weaknesses are. As the years went by as a publicist I felt like, even though my heart is also very much in writing and producing, directing was something I wanted to give a shot.
This is true. I sent the script to Barbara very early on. I had actually written the role of Anne for Barbara in the hope that somehow she would be able to play that role and I had also written the role of Jacob for Larry Fessenden. Both Barbara and Larry are very close friends of mine and I had thought that if this is my first time directing a movie it would be a hell of a lot easier if I’ve got a few friends on set, especially talented friends. So I sent the script to both Barbara and Larry and told them I very much wanted them to be involved in the movie if I could ever secure the financing. Both of them were completely keen on it and liked the script a lot and thankfully it came together fairly easily. Barbara has been a champion of the film since day one and I don’t know what I would do in the film industry without her.
Something I particularly appreciated was the fact you went for more veteran actors rather than the typical thirty year old couple moving away as they grieve the loss of a child. What inspired your decision to use a predominantly older cast?
Well I grew up with a lot of genre films that starred older people and I always found that very reassuring and, in a way, I found it very warming to see older people confronted by the unreal. In the case of my film the four leads are all in their fifties and they are all world weary people who seem to completely understand the reality they live in but they all end up confronted by something they didn’t expect or realise exists. I just find that concept so thrilling. I’ve always thought things like, “Do you know what’s more exciting than my sister meeting a ghost? It’s my grandmother meeting a ghost.” This is because as the years go by we become more complacent with the reality that we believe exists and by one’s fifties you really think you’ve got a grasp of what the world is. To then be confronted by ghosts and darkness under the house and all these other unbelievably kooky, scary, strange things I think it makes a much more exciting story. I often relate it back to the film The Changeling starring George C. Scott which is very similarly paced and also features a 53 year-old man facing off against a ghost. I think part of what makes that film so chilling is to have George C. Scott lay it so bare and so terrified of the events going on around him as this strong middle-aged man. I think there’s something really powerful there and I can’t imagine The Changeling would be half as intense if it starred an 18 year old guy.
Being a publicist it must have crossed your mind that maybe having an older cast could limit the audience you might reach.
It certainly was a thought that I had at one point but it really came down to my own memories of horror films. When I was exploring the genre in the early ’80s and I was a pre-teen I was never put off by a horror film that starred an adult because it was a horror film and THAT was the important part. Of course I love a good Friday the 13th starring a bunch of hot and horny topless teenagers and that’s a lot of fun, but there’d be hell to pay if I ever passed up the opportunity to experience a good ghost story or a good slasher film just because it had a more mature cast. I’m very grateful that my producers had my back on that and they really believed that same concept. I think that is integral to We Are Still Here.
The other star of the film is obviously the setting. What made you decide to go for this location and specifically in the bleak midwinter?
Well I had actually written it to take place in the autumn in a lonely old house on the hill and we discovered very quickly that it would be even more powerful if it was set in the winter in that old house on the hill. The area that we shot the film in, Upstate New York, was just buried under snow so, of course, there are all the analogies to The Shining and The Thing but we wanted to take full advantage of this strange and somewhat foreign landscape to horror movies. The truth is that there aren’t actually a lot of snowbound horror movies. Not only that, there aren’t a lot of snowbound horror films set almost completely during the day like this film. So the house and everything surrounding it all fell very quickly into place once we arrived in Upstate New York and we realised that this was the proper setting for the film.
I did a small amount of research but I did want to leave that up to Barbara. I welcomed her interest in speaking to these people and seeing what sort of insight into this circumstance they could give her. Then I worked with her experiences to try to craft the proper roles. I had done enough research to know how parents react when their children are taken from them. In the case of Anne, she shuts down and becomes this emotional introvert whereas her husband Paul just kind of wants to move away from it all thinking it will be fine if they go somewhere else. I wanted to play off those two very differing responses to a loss but I welcomed any sort of input the two actors wanted to give.
And Travis Stevens was on set pretty much the whole shoot I believe.
Travis is as hands on as a producer can be. He was not only on set the whole time but also usually sitting right next to me at the video monitor as everything unrolled in front of us. He cares very deeply about every project he puts the Snowfort Pictures logo on which I think is also why Snowfort has such a wonderful reputation these days as the films they put out really are the top notch genre films coming out. Travis will NOT be distant from the set. He wants to make sure everything is running smoothly, that the director is allowed to pursue his or her vision and that everyone is going to be creating the best film they could possibly create. You could not ask for a better producer and I am so hopeful I am able to work with him again on another project.
I know you weren’t trying to create a throwback or homage movie but something that interested me is that your DP Karim Hussain used the new Red Dragon camera but applied all manner of antique lenses to give the film a classic look.
Yeah, we were very intent on not using any digital filters because we didn’t want to give it those silly grindhouse filters and make it look like worn 16mm film. We wanted the film to feel very authentic. We certainly wanted the film to feel modern in a lot of ways: We didn’t want to compromise the HD, we didn’t want to compromise the cinematography and we wanted to make sure that we got the full use out of the new Red Dragon. That said, when Karim came on board he brought with him both his amazing expertise and his infamous case of antique lenses. Once he popped these lenses over the Red Dragon they just brought the images to life like I never thought they would.
We would slide on some of these lenses and it would feel like we were being transported back to the ’70s but we still had that HD clarity and we still had those amazing colours but there’s just something about real glass that changed everything. I believe a lot of those lenses were from Russia from the ’50s and they really transformed the film. A lot of the look and feel of the film is all down to Karim. He just has such an astute eye for things like that that your average DP just isn’t going to have. If you look at Hobo With a Shotgun, which he also shot, it’s the most authentic Troma movie that Troma never made. It was shot in a way that evoked that exact time period absolutely perfectly and I think it’s down to Karim’s eye for colours, angles and knowing exactly what the cinematographers of those eras did to achieve those looks. I wouldn’t say he mimics them but I think he lands those perfectly.
So you’ve completed your directorial debut, are you ready to do another one?
Yes I am! I would be totally game to direct something else and I certainly hope it happens sooner rather than later. I have a few concepts that I am very excited about and I hope that I’ll be able to move forward with one of them in the not too distant future. But if those don’t fall into place right away I’m still looking forward to continuing writing, hopefully some producing and I’ll keep doing PR as well. I feel very grateful and very humbled to be involved in the film industry in any capacity and I’m just the kind of guy who believes that if I can make a dollar working in this crazy field I am forever grateful. I can’t think of any job in the film world that I wouldn’t jump at the chance to be part of.
Thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it.
Yeah, it was a lot of fun. Thank you and I appreciate it too. Talk to you again real soon.
We’d like to thank Ted for speaking to us about the film and we’ll leave you with a brand new trailer:
Be sure to keep up to date with We Are Still Here on the official website: