Together with Paul McGhie, the director of a British found footage horror flick “Webcast”, we discussed what makes cults so goddamn scary and how hard to be an indie filmmaker in 2019.
Paul McGhie’s “Webcast” tells the story of two aspiring newbies of the filmmakers world. Their challenge is to direct a debuting documentary feature. The peculiar house in their suburban neighbourhood becomes the topic of this debut. However, soon strange things begin to happen that all seem correlated with people visiting the house.
Much in the vibe of the new wave of cult-themed horror flick, “Webcast” uses the found footage concept to tell a blood-curdling story of a “cult next door“. “Webcast” makes the most out of its tiny budget, using a para-documentary style to create a dense atmosphere. Just like the two protagonists, the audience members turn into peeping toms, observing the house from windows. The film’s fright power lies in that awfully close vicinity of these haunted people.
Also, in this freakin’ mask.
I reached out to the Paul to have a chat about “Webcast” inspirations, the state of horror in 2019 and what films would he suggest to a film buff like me.
Cultural Hater: Cults have been shown in many way in horror films. People wearing animals masks, transforming their bodies, summoning demons etc. “Webcast” has surprised me by drawing a card I didn’t know before – a cult next door. How did you come up with that idea? Is there any story behind it?
Paul McGhie: I suppose it comes from a few places. Firstly, my love for three films in particular – Rear Window (1954), The Wickerman (1973) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968). I also wrote the script a few years after the Josef Fritzel story came to light. His wife always claimed she didn’t know what he was doing in the basement and it made me wonder about what we accept as reasonable behaviour from people we see everyday. Are there things we shrug off because we think it’s better not to pry? Better for our own survival or theirs?
I wanted to put my characters in a situation where they were forced into reassessing that behaviour. Their inaction – however natural it is in such a baffling situation, that’s just thrown upon them – pushes them to wonder if they did the right thing. And even worse, they get to review it over and over again.
I guess there is really something in never really knowing people, but we build a level of trust where things are acceptable until they are not. And then often it’s a case of whether we caught those warning signs in time, before any damage is done. Sadly that’s not always the case. It all seems more appropriate in the time of #MeToo, but I wrote this before that. I definitely think we are now living through a time when calling out inappropriate behaviour is far more supported than ever before.
Cultural Hater: Working in a very limited space helped you to create an airless, confined atmosphere in the film (most of the scenes take place in closed rooms). Was it difficult to work in such a small space, with – for the most part – only two actors?
Paul McGhie: No, I think all restrictions make you think on your feet and often think more creatively about how you are going to achieve the mood and feel of the story you want to tell.
Everything on this film was limited. The whole film cost approx. $10,000/£8000 and that was from my pocket over the space of five years – I worked that out to be about one Starbucks coffee a day for five years – felt less painful that way!
Resources always played a huge part on this film. It was often a case of what can we use for free if we ask nicely – locations, people’s time etc. British houses are quite small, but when you grow up in one, you don’t really feel confined by it – again, you make the most of it. So the crew was never more than three or four people when shooting and apart from the larger cast scenes, there was probably never more than four people (including our two leads) in a scene we were shooting.
But I used those restrictions as a challenge too. When I wrote scenes that required a large cast, it was to challenge whether that was possible on such a small budget in such small places. And we always achieved it, because people were so supportive. So I think we just brushed off those difficulties – and even embraced them. I always wanted that suffocating feeling to play a significant part of the film and so the locations were perfect for that.
“I think all restrictions make you think on your feet and often think more creatively about how you are going to achieve the mood and feel of the story you want to tell.”Paul McGhie, director of “Webcast”
Cultural Hater: The cult was your imagination or is there an inspiration behind it too?
Paul McGhie: Ha, you never know you’re in a cult until it’s too late, right? Same with making one up I guess. I never saw them as a cult, but as followers of a morphed old world religion. But it is a cult, that’s for sure.
I read a lot about old religions in Britain, the worship of nature and sacrifice. One actor who we really wanted to work with explained to us how as a child she had lived with the chief witch of Great Britain and that he had ‘laid hands’ upon her head and spoken in tongues. That was fascinating to hear about. Sadly, she could not commit to the project. But apart from those general themes you can find anywhere, it all comes from my imagination and my story-writing partner Chris Shaw.
There’s definite inspiration from a Steven Weinberg quote (which I heard via Christopher Hitchins) “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil – that takes religion.” I guess it doesn’t mater what religion that may be. Also, the banality of true evil was a theme I really wanted to convey. Real horror doesn’t require a poltergeist. It just needs to look indifferent as it does cruel things.
Cultural Hater: I really liked the last part in the dark corridor, beneath the cult’s house. Was it a kind of portal, a place in between worlds?
Paul McGhie: No, it’s not a portal, although visual trickery made it so (I think the basement is shot in about four different locations). But it’s meant to represent a physical place that exists beneath the suburban setting.
“The banality of true evil was a theme I really wanted to convey. Real horror doesn’t require a poltergeist. It just needs to look indifferent as it does cruel things.”Paul McGhie, director of “Webcast”
Cultural Hater: Found footage has been greatly utilized over the last decades – do you think viewers still feel the urge to watch such horror movies?
Paul McGhie: I think found footage has a hard time as a sub-genre. There’s a lot of pre-conceived ideas from a broader audience of filmgoers when you tell them they are about to watch a found footage film. Like every genre out there, there are different degrees of success and execution of such movies. If there are filmmakers making these kind of movies because they think it’s easier than other forms of filmmaking, then the film is going to be terrible. Frankly, there are many examples of that, but all good films start with clear and simple stories.
And just like any other genre, the best found footage films have these elements. There’s an audience for that too. “Webcast” recently played at the Unnamed Footage Festival in San Francisco – and that was the perfect place for it. The audience was prepared for what they were watching and the response was fantastic.
Cultural Hater: This audience loved it, but in a more general look, is it difficult to surprise horror fans these days?
Paul McGhie: Well, the challenge of any filmmaker should be to meet the expectations of the audience and then spin them around, flip them on their head and show them something they were’t expecting – that surpasses all expectations. That’s true of any film in any genre and what separates great films from the ones we forget about it.
Cultural Hater: Could you tell me a little bit more about working in the independent British filmmaking scene? Is it hard to the right people for the project, financing etc.?
Paul McGhie: So my next project will teach me about financing because this one I did with my own money, but that was to see if it was possible. The next challenge is can I write something other would financially invest in and to what cost will that affect the film I make? I think nowadays the independent British filmmaking scene is a lot like anywhere else in the world. We are all connected by the web and so it’s a lot easier than it was before to get stuff out there.
The drawback is that there’s a lot of competition. You have to be committed to what you want to do. There are benefits in that Britain is known for it’s filmmaking and it doesn’t take too long to find people who may support you – but you have to show them how committed you are. You have to prove you can put in the hours to be good enough for them to take notice. Its a cliche but so true – hard work, discipline, commitment, it takes all of that to just get you into the right place at the right time. And that’s an on-going journey – I’m not done with it. In fact, I’ve never known it to be truer than right now, having just put out my first feature.
Cultural Hater: As a horror movie director, you must love some horror movies.
Paul McGhie: So, I love a lot of the classics, as I mentioned earlier – three films inspired Webcast predominately – Rear Window, The Wickerman (1973) and Rosemary’s Baby.
But my initial inspiration was “The Blair Witch Project”. It was the film that made me understand that I could do this. That story above all will produce a great movie. Others? The original “Halloween”, “The Evil Dead”, those two in particular scarred me for life as a kid – and made me want to make films like them. Of the new stuff? “Hereditary” stayed in my head for days on end, that’s always a good sign of something that works.
“Webcast” is available on Amazon Prime.
Are you into topics of cults and stuff? Read about other horror movies about occultism.