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Q&A with James Roberts and James Hamilton, Directors of “The Grot in the Grotto”

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ALTER: Name a horror character you relate to on a spiritual level? Who is your horror spirit animal?
JAMES ROBERTS: Adam Pearson’s character from “Under the Skin.” If Scarlett Johansson tried to lure me into her van I’d probably fall for it too.
JAMES HAMILTON: The giant mosquito from “Jumanji” who kills a driver in the first half of the film. That particular moment gave me dozens of nightmares as a kid, and I’ve carried that film’s awkward juxtaposition of family comedy and unfathomable horror with me ever since.

A: You’ve gotta go through some bad ideas to get to the good ones. Tell us one of your bad ideas. How do you get past the bad ones to find your spark?
JR: One of my first short films was stupidly ambitious. It featured a huge homemade time machine built from scrap in the main character’s living room. We reasoned at the time that it was too large to get upstairs into a studio flat location. So we built an entire studio flat set out of timber, in a hut in the middle of the woods, complete with a fake window and slide away walls. Simply asking the prop team to ensure the machine could be taken apart and easily transported apparently never occurred to us …I’m such an idiot. But it was a different time, I was young and reckless (2010). Yet you learn a lot from mistakes like that. Logistical nightmares are what lead to success later down the line (gestures broadly to the Alter green room).
JH: “A career in screenwriting!” was my most memorably bad idea, and every individual creative idea I have had since is basically Chief Wiggum telling me to “dig UP, stupid!” from the hole I’ve shovelled (sic) myself into. As far as practical advice goes if it’s similarly too late for you to change course: good ideas can turn bad just as easily as bad ideas can turn good. If an idea gets its claws in and won’t let go, it’s worth pursuing and developing – even if you can’t quite pull it off yet. The premise for our short “The Grot in the Grotto” was an idea I had six years before I actually wrote the film: I just wasn’t able to make it good before then.

A: Do you consider yourself part of a horror community?
JH: They chased us out with pitchforks and burning torches, and one day we’ll come back to seek our revenge.

A: When you’re building the world of your film, where do you look for inspiration?
JR: Standard filmmaker response warning: I open up my glossy Stanley Kubrick coffee table books and consume various nerdy making of docs and articles. Then I filter it through my own life experiences. Such as the time I ate three huge Christmas dinners every day for several months. That was a big help when we made “The Grot in the Grotto.”
JH: Garth Marenghi. Or, in the rare event that he fails me, I start with something I find aggravating or objectionable and see if I can find a way to undermine it.

A: What would you do if you woke up inside of your film?
JR: Try to blend in to the background so it comes across as a subtle director’s cameo.
JH: Get annoyed with myself for being an extraneous character who should have been cut from the final script.

A: Who would be on your ultimate horror villain squad?
JH: The entire cast of the My Little Pony franchise, and nobody else.
JR: The entire cast of the Sex & the City franchise, and nobody else.

A: Lightning round: Freddy or Jason? Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft? Practical or CGI? Post Apocalypse or Pre-Apocalypse?
JR: The overly simplistic choice of “Practical or CGI” angers me. They both have their place when used correctly. I’ve taken this far too seriously haven’t I?
JH: Freddy; Stephen King; practical; post-apocalypse. Heck, I’d watch that movie.

A: How do you go about creating the props and sets for your film? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?
JR: Putting my answer to question 2 aside…my first port of call is usually my very talented friend Monika Bereza. She’s a fashion designer but can essentially build anything. But I do also enjoy rolling my sleeves up on occasion and indulging in a Blue Peter-esque make-a-thon. I frequently end up customizing found objects, from haunted teddy bears and smoothie bottles to dusty looking fairytale storybooks. So that covers the relatability factor (we all remember our first haunted teddy bear for example). I really love the small details that go into props. If there’s space to sneak in a nerdy Easter egg, you can rest assured it’s been included.

A: And finally, Ghostface would like to know, ​‘What’s your favourite scary movie?’
JR: “Paddington 2.” Or, “The Shining.”
JH: “Get Out.”