Gavin Schmitt Interviews Director Ted Geoghegan
In 2000, Ted Geoghegan co-wrote German director Andreas Schnaas’ first English-language film, “Demonium”, and followed it with numerous genre features in Europe and The United States. He founded his own production company in 2007, producing one short film and three features under its banner.
Ted has written about genre films for a number of online and print publications, and has been featured as an expert on slasher and exploitation cinema. He also happens to be a publicist for films, meaning he has worked both sides of the industry.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Ted shortly before “We Are Still Here” was released on June 5, 2015.
GS: I bet screening at South by Southwest was surreal. Have you come back to reality yet?
TG: Not even close. (laughs) I’m trying to keep very busy with the various jobs I have, not the least of which is promoting the movie. I’m feeling like once this film is out and available for mass consumption, I’ll definitely be able to breathe a lot easily. Until then, it feels like this ominous thing on the horizon that is waiting to finally drop. The response at SXSW was very positive, and people seem to “get” what we were going for. It’s a very non-traditional film and it does some things that I feel like films have not done for thirty years. I’m very grateful people checking it out are getting that and it’s hitting the right audience. Those who grew up wandering the aisles of a video store will say, “Oh my, this feels like a visit from an old friend. A movie I would have rented in 1982.”
GS: Let’s start at the beginning. How did a kid from Montana end up getting involved in the German gore movement?
TG: When I was in college, I was at the University of Montana. I was working on a book about unknown horror directors. This was pre-Internet, or early Internet days. So I went out and found some awful Geocities websites that these filmmakers had, and reached out to them and asked if they wanted to take part in the book. One person I reached out to was Andreas Schnaas, who made the “Violent Shit” movies in the 1980s. You know, just atrocious, shot-on-video splatter. Even though I don’t necessarily understand the content, I admired the heart that went into it. So I reached out and he was really moved that someone wanted to write about him, because nobody had. We hit it off, and I wrote a biography for him for the book. Not long after, he contacted me and said he was doing his first film in English and wanted a co-writer. I agreed, and had a great time doing it. I went to Europe for the production, and while I was there I met other “movers and shakers” in the underground splatter scene like Timo Rose. I got along with these guys and felt like I was amongst my people. Over the years they’ve called on me to work on various projects of theirs. I’m pretty much the first American to get involved in that German underground scene. I haven’t worked in it in years now, but still keep up with them and what they’re doing. It’s very Troma-esque… I might not like the content all the time, but I love the dedication they have, and nothing is ever going to break them.
GS: In other interviews, you’ve referenced “The Changeling”. Was this a touchstone while writing the script?
TG: “The Changeling” (affiliate link) is a film that I quite like, I think it’s very powerful. But the biggest influence “The Changeling” had on my movie is that it had a 53-year old man fighting a ghost. That’s something you don’t see these days. All horror films, or a wide majority of them, star these studly young CW guys and buxom ladies. Teens or twentysomethings. I missed the kind of films I had growing up, with adults making adult decisions. I think about it like this: I wonder what it would be like if my younger sister saw a ghost, and then what it would be like if my parents — people in their 60s — saw a ghost. It’s something they spent their whole life convincing themselves didn’t exist. So that lends itself to drama and suspense, when you have people who are smarter, wiser, more world-weary… and they are thrown into this craziness. I quite love that. My four leads in the film are all in their 50s. The town patriarch is in his 80s. There’s something great about having people so wise and carrying such gravitas in your film. It’s better than a bunch of kids. Not to say I don’t love a film with a bunch of kids running around and getting knocked off, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do for my first film.
GS: While writing, the script was actually intended for another director, Richard Griffin. Can you elaborate on that?
TG: I co-wrote his film, “The Disco Exorcist”, a few years ago. He’s based out of the Northeast, like myself, and makes exploitation films. He’s a big fan of Fulci’s “House by the Cemetery”, as am I, and he had brought up the idea of writing a new version of “House by the Cemetery”. I thought that was thrilling. And after a draft or two I started loving it so much I asked him if I could shop it around and try to make it myself. Richard is a very prolific director and makes multiple films a year, so he was like, “Yeah, dude, I have more than enough to keep me busy. Good luck.” He still gets a story concept credit, because he thought of the “House by the Cemetery” idea. I don’t even know if he’s seen the film yet, but I certainly hope he enjoys it when he does.
GS: For casting, was it important to get some horror icons attached or was that more of a coincidence?
TG: I had written a role expressly for Barbara Crampton and a role for Larry Fessenden, both of whom are good friends of mine. I figured if this was going to be my first film as director, I would need to have friends by my side. Especially talented friends. They both were very important for me to have in the film. Everyone else was cast through traditional means. Producer Travis Stevens and I had both seen Andrew Sensenig in “Upstream Color” and thought he was amazing, so we reached out to his management. Lisa Marie and Monte Markham were cast traditionally. I grew up having a crush on Lisa Marie in “Mars Attacks!” and “Ed Wood” and “Sleepy Hollow”. I knew Monte from “Airport ’77” and great films of the 70s, as well as being the sheriff on “Baywatch”. It was an unbelievable group of people to have in a freezing house with me in Rochester.
GS: With Barbara Crampton, you had been friends for a couple years before shooting started. Was she collaborative on Anne, the role you wrote for her?
TG: She brought a lot to the role. She’s a mother, and she’s said a lot of how she reacts in the film is how she would react if she lost her own children. Early on she’s got these puffy red eyes and her nose is all pink and it looks like she’s been crying her eyes out for hours and hours. Introducing a character like that is sort of a bold move, and I don’t know if I would have necessarily gone for that initially. But when I started speaking to Barbara and she said she wanted to give it her all, show the emotion, you can’t say no to that. She just went for it on some of these takes and it’s really powerful stuff. The film is really subdued. We had to be careful to walk that line between over-the-top and really quiet, and get somewhere in the middle. I was aiming for 1970s melodrama, which I’m a huge fan of. The characters are never winking at the audience. They are taking it completely seriously, and yet there’s a certain amount of happiness for the audience, like you’re in on a joke, if you will.
GS: Larry Fessenden has said, perhaps jokingly, that many of his lines were cut. When it came to editing, was it a matter of pacing, or were other considerations involved?
TG: Larry had a few lines cut, but it wasn’t actually that many. When we shot the film, we shot a lot, but we wanted a film that was really tight. The finished film is 84 minutes and that’s what I wanted. I did not want to take two hours to tell the story. I wanted it brisk. Where that statement probably comes from is that we shot a lot, knowing in advance it would be trimmed to something that would be tight.
GS: The reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, with one notable exception. Consequence of Sound wrote that the film is “crammed with characters we don’t care too much about”, and singled out Lisa Marie. Tell me why they’re wrong.
TG: I could never tell a critic that he or she is wrong, because it’s all a matter of one’s opinion. While that critic did not care for those characters, I care very greatly for them and I hope that others will, too. I tried to make a film that focused very heavily on people with real human problems who convey real human emotions. If one can’t get behind real human characters with real human emotions, I don’t know what else to tell them. But I personally love my cast and my characters. They’re all the type of people I’d like to hang out with.