In a special interview we caught up with director Johannes Roberts about his latest film called (yes you guessed it) The Other Side of the Door, which is at the cinemas NOW!!
HM: Firstly, Johannes, thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
HM: For ‘The Other Side of the Door’, which warped part of your brain the idea come from?
JR: From the left warped part of my brain. It came from a mixture of things. Discovering this real village in India called Bhangra. It’s totally abandoned, nobody knows what happened to the inhabitants, and it’s fenced off with signs on the outside of the village saying don’t enter this place after sunset. I just thought that was a crazy story. So that sort of started the ball rolling in my head. Then obviously it has a lot of Stephen King influences, some influences of The Monkey’s Paw and old fashioned ghost stories.
HM: Do you think India’s the new hotbed for horror?
HM: Do you think India’s the new hotbed for horror?
JR: I don’t know if it’s the new hotbed for horror, but I wanted a fresh place to explore. I just thought that for an audience to see a story that is, in a sense is a familiar ghost story, but in a fresh way, is a very scary thing.
HM: Are there any underlining horror films from India that you’ve discovered that you think need to be promoted more?
JR: You know I haven’t seen any actually. There are some Indian ghost stories but their sensibility of horror is very…it’s not like the J horror thing where you’re like ‘oh wow there is a whole world of really scary movies that has yet to be [seen]’. They’re quite camp and silly. Hopefully [we’re at] the sort of forefront of it maybe.
HM: If you had to choose one, writing or directing, which would you choose and why?
JR: Directing. It’s a funny thing, creating the stories is what fires me. To say this sounds horrendously pretentious, but I would, in my mind, think of myself as a story teller. So the two things are kind of intrinsically linked together but I would never write for someone else. I couldn’t think of anything worse, or more boring. I only write for myself. Directing is just a lot of fun. Writing, coming up with the ideas is cool but then it’s a real slog. Directing you are king of the hill and it’s kind of cool.
HM: Did you envisage Sarah Wayne Callies as the role of Maria when you wrote the film?
JR: She was, oddly, physically exactly what I had seen, but I hadn’t had a particular actress in mind. Except I tend to I always seem to invasion Jenny Agutter in everything, but that’s just me. Sorry Jenny.
Fox or someone, I think the Casting director Michael Hawthorne, mentioned [Sarah] and I was like, ‘yes of course I love the walking dead’ and, it was a perfect fit, and then we chatted and we just got on. I’m not very Hollywood and she is. She’s just down to earth, and just really rolled up her sleeves and took that. It was a tricky role. She had to go very dark with it, and it’s sort of really quite emotionally draining, heart breaking kind of role. Then also you have to play the horror side, and then also [it’s] in this strange crazy world. For English people India is one thing, but for Americans it’s a real far far far away world. For us we obviously have quite strong links. But yes, she was great.
HR: Storage 24 was a great success; did you expect it? What has been keeping you busy since then?
JR: Hahaha said no one ever! Obviously writing, replying to fan letters for the three people that watched Storage 24. It just takes time you know? It has been 4 years! Actually what happened is, Fox saw Storage at a film festival, really liked it and said ‘what have you got going, what’s next?’ And they had just had an Indian ghost story fall apart on them and so were looking for an Indian ghost story oddly, and I was like, ‘oh I’ve got an Indian ghost story’. It was one of these really crazy sort of coincidences. So they came on in 2012 and it just took a little while to get the movie developed and off the ground. It was a complicated movie, and then at the same time I was developing a movie which at the moment is called ‘47 Meters Down’, it might be called something different when it comes out. So the two things were going side by side and then we shot ‘The Other Side’. It just took a while you know, but then I’ve just done two films back to back so, I think the other movie comes out very close after this, so it all kind of got done together. Sorry I’m trying to justify why I’ve not been working for four years.
HR: You’ve got your foot firmly planted in horror writing and directing. Can you tell us how you got into horror what you love about it, and how different it is now to what you were watching when you were younger?
JR: That’s a good one. Yes, I love horror. I love any kind of stories but particularly supernatural fantasy stuff. You know I’m not into the torture porn horror side of things. That doesn’t really do it for me, but I love ghosts. It sort of all comes from ‘Lord of the Rings’. I think that really just, as a kid, blew my mind. The world, the imagination that was there. It’s all about imagination I think. And then discovering Stephen King, and John Carpenter, it’s just who I wanted to be. So that’s kind of really where it comes from. How horror has changed is interesting. I mean ‘The Other Side of the Door’ owes a big debt to ‘Pet Cemetery’ and the movies I was watching when I grew up. ‘Woman In Black’, the TV movie not so much the Daniel Radcliffe one. But then it draws on more recent horror. The J horror thing, which has filtered into it a little bit. And the Blumhouse actually, what James Wan has been doing who is phenomenally talented. That has also sort of come together. It’s quite an interesting question. I like that. Seeing ‘The Other Side of the Door’, you can see the different stages of horror in it. You can see it’s written by someone that grew up with horror in the 80s and has carried on watching movies all the way through.
HR: You mentioned Stephen King and John Carpenter. Would you consider them your horror idols? Did you have any other horror idols growing up?
JR: They’re really, yes, that’s…
HM: Can’t get better than that?
JR: Yes, exactly, I’m just totally, I just loved, I’m obsessed with, I read my Stephen King still now. I read everything he does, and John Carpenter I just absolutely love. I just think he’s a phenomenal director. I love Alex’s work, so I was very lucky to have the chance to work with him. He’s very much more, brutal is not necessarily the word, but his style of horror is much more shocking than mine I think. If you watch ‘The Hills Have Eyes’, ‘Maniac’, and ‘Switchblade Romance’. But yes, I think the King thing is very present in all my work.
HM: You directed one of the world’s first short series for mobile phones.
JR: I did yes, Wow this guy’s done his [homework], he’s dragged them out.
Do you think the advancement in technology, things like social media, can help talented people get their stuff out there and noticed more than perhaps 10, 20 years ago?
JR: Yes, that didn’t help me at all with that. That’s funny to think that. It was called ‘When Evil Calls’, and you downloaded episodes, little two minute episodes, but it was before smart phones so it was [on] the Nokia things.
HR: So like webisodes almost?
JR: Yes, webisodes. They were called ‘mobisodes’, they thought that it was going to take off. I think we were the first people to do it and we were the last people to do it. In the end it would cost you about like £15, and people were like ‘what’s going on here?’ and it was just a disastrous idea.
HM: But a learning curve perhaps?
JR: Yes. I mean I enjoyed it. It was fun to invent, because nobody had done this before. We had to invent a visual language for a screen of that size. What kind of shots you use, and editing style, and all that kind of stuff. The world has changed now with YouTube and all that kind of stuff. You look at the guys that did that great short film called ‘Lights Out’, which is terrifying. I don’t know if you’ve seen, you click on the light and off, and the ghost comes closer, it’s really really scary, and when I first watched it I was like ‘that’s amazing’.
HM: A bit like virtual reality?
JR: No, it’s such a simple thing it’s a woman just standing in a corridor, and when the lights’ on there’s nothing and then she turns the lights off and there’s a shape, and then she turns it on and there’s nothing, and then she turns it off and then the shapes slightly closer, and but it’s really simple but it’s really really well done. I tried to do a variation of it in this movie and, it’s odd it was such a simple concept, but I couldn’t get it to work the way they had done it. And they then got a movie off the back of that. I think they’re actually doing the ‘Lights Out’ movie. So that kind of thing does help. You can pick up a camera, and you can come up with a very simple idea, and you can scare the living crap out of someone, and then you have a real opportunity to get that to a wide audience. So yes, it is. It will be interesting to [see] constantly how this develops.
HM: And finally, what’s on the horizon for you for this year and the years beyond?
JR: Hopefully work. I have just finished a movie called ‘47 Meters Down’, which I think will be called something different when it actually comes out because Americans don’t get meters. That’s a shark movie with Mandy Moore and Claire Holt, which Dimension are releasing in America I think that’s going to be a big movie. I hope. I hope it’s going to be a big movie. It’s the first movie in the world ever to be entirely filmed under water so it’s just; it was a crazy crazy movie to do.
It was half filmed in a tank in Basildon, of all places. I wrote this because I wanted to have like exotic diving. And then half of it was filmed in the Dominican Republic. It was a very tough crazy shoot. And the movie looks unlike anything you’ve ever seen because it’s just floating like crazy. So that comes out, I don’t know when it comes out but I think probably sometime this year, and then we’ll just see. More projects beyond that!
HM: Thanks for that Johannes
JR: Pleasure, great questions,
The Other Side of the Door is in cinemas NOW, it's spooky, it's scary and it's pretty good.