As the world adapts to a new era of lockdown and Zoom calls, Rob Savage has managed to cleverly capitalise on our newfound fears of isolation and technology in his chillingly innovative film, Host, in which a group of friends, bored with weekly quizzes, decide to hold a séance over Zoom, with horrifying results. We spoke to star of the film, Jemma Moore, about her rather unique lockdown experiences, as well as the challenges of this new style of filmmaking.
Making a horror movie and taking direction over Zoom, how was that for you?
We were really lucky that he had a really good team; Douglas Cox, our producer, and Rob Savage, the director; we would arrive every morning and film on Zoom for them and they would have different screens on, but then we’d also film on a phone that would be velcroed to the back of the laptop… I’ve still got the velco on my laptop! I can’t get it off! That would be like our close-up. We’d also have the audio interface, our mic pack, and then anything else we’d need to carry we’d have taped around our laptop like some sort of space machine thing so that we could walk about. It was difficult at times… The hardest thing was if one of us hadn’t pressed record and we’d done a really good take, and then one of us would be like “erm… Rob… Doug…” (laughs) It was difficult at times, but once we actually got into the flow, it was okay.
So you were essentially being your own tech crew as well?
Well, we always had Rob and Doug, and Callum Sample who was on sound was always nearby, so in terms of tech, they would always be on hand to help. On the day, we had all these little WhatsApp groups with videos of how to set things up and every morning we would be watching these videos and putting the stuff together and testing it for ourselves. No one came in this house. The only time anyone was in another house was at the very end, just as lockdown had eased off, and for the stunts. So it was always me on my own, taking direction over Zoom. It was a mixed bag of a lot of support and also us having to be very independent.
Did you ever actually meet the rest of the cast, or has it all been via the screen?
All of us are friends; we have a really lovely friendship group, and all of us are conveniently something in the industry. We’ve had Quarantine Movie Club, which was our WhatsApp group; we’d do a film quiz for the Prince Charles Cinema, Filmageddon, every Wednesday, we’d watch Netflix party films, and we’d try and do boardgames on a Saturday night like everybody else! Rob had a group of friends at Lucky Thirteen Action who lived in a stunt house with riggers, so they were all stunt people in one house together, which was very convenient! Teddy (Linard) was in that house; he was an actor and a stunt performer. So, he came into the group and fitted in instantly. But all of us girls knew each other from drama school… Emma (Webb) I had met years ago on a commercial and we ended up working on Jed (Shepherd)’s film (Multiplex). All the girls worked together on that, so we all knew each other beforehand. But no-one saw each other until towards the end. When I went to Haley (Bishop)’s house, I walked there on the hottest day of spring, in leggings, carrying a jumper, with my mic pack and everything in this bag and on the way I’m on the phone to Douglas Cox picking up sticks trying to find the perfect stick to throw at a window that’s not going to smash it but will make enough noise… And then when I got to Haley’s house, I’m texting her up in the bedroom, Nathaniel Martin was in full PPE, always two meters away from me, and then there’s a paramedic downstairs. So Nathaniel is directing me doing the stunts, like the wine bottle being thrown at my head; that was constantly from two meters, and the big scene when I’m on the floor and all the cupboards come pouring out, Haley had to reset that every time, and I couldn’t help her because I couldn’t get close! I was basically directing everything that she was doing… “Oh, you missed a teabag!” (laughs)
Being on a film set, you are close to everyone all the time. That lack of closeness must have been such a peculiar experience…
It was sad! It’s one thing I’m really looking forward to getting back to. I miss people. We all do. I really miss that comradery onset. There were lovely moments though; Rob would make us watch horror film clips before we went for takes. And then afterwards, he’d play ABBA… We’d watch that scene in Bone Tomahawk where the man gets split in two and then go into the scene, and we’d all be crying, then Rob would be like “come on girls, reset!” as he’s playing some ABBA… It was a rollercoaster of emotions! (laughs) But that was how we were trying to capture that comradery. It’s only credit to everyone who was involved that we really managed to get chemistry.
In terms of your character, you’re not the villain… But you kind of are…
Well, I’m like Deadpool! I’ll do good things when push comes to shove, but other than that, I’m going to prod and poke and wind everybody up, which was a really fun role to play! We got given a lovely redacted script treatment by Gemma (Hurley), Jed and Rob, and we didn’t actually see anyone’s deaths. We knew they died, but we didn’t know how they died or the leadup to that. There were certain lines that they’d put in, but a lot of it was improv. All the banter, especially between Haley and I, we could really push it, and it was fun because we were using our real names. We could really just push to wind each other up. And then Rob would be sending a live script through the private chats saying like “Call Haley a bitch”, and Haley would get on the other side “Tell Jemma to shut up”, so that was really, really fun. The chemistry came because we were friends and we could build on that.
The stunts would be impressive in a “normal” movie, let alone one that is being filmed on Zoom. How difficult was it to create them essentially by yourselves?
It was certainly terrifying for Doug to have to sit on a laptop and watch! Haley got a scrape and Doug was very professional about it; he wanted to take a break, but Haley was like “No! Let’s do it again!” She’s a badass. There was always a paramedic on standby, there was always a professional stunt team on standby. Everyone was just game for it. I think if I was directing, I would’ve had a heart attack! Especially when Teddy sets himself on fire! Teddy and Jinny (Lofthouse) are both stunt people, so they were doing it as a team, but imagine first of all watching someone fly up above a pool, and then secondly set themselves on fire. Caroline (Ward) had Dan Martin who was telling her how to put on the prosthetics… It’s scary to be a part of it, but it’s incredible that we pulled it off. Everyone is so talented in their own sphere. When I watched it, I hadn’t seen how Jinny died, so I was like “How are you doing this??” It was like Jaws; we were working with what we had.
Do you think in the current climate, this might be the way forward for filmmaking?
I definitely think we were creative. It’s a Zoom call, so there will be some technical issues, so using that as a feature was innovative, doing what filmmaking is all about. The reason I fell in love with filmmaking is because you take the smallest thing and make the most out of it. The response we’ve had from the horror fans, who are fantastic, has been them being inspired to make stuff. That, for me, is super cool. We had a guy who was making the posters, and he was getting commissions from other fans. For me, that’s what it’s all about; inspiring people to be creative and make new moves. It’s like what Tangerine did for mobile phones; inspiring people to be creative.
Host is available now, exclusively on Shudder