Q&A with Whitney St Ours, Director of ‘The Housesitters’
Name a Horror character you relate to on a spiritual/personal level?
Probably Needy from Jennifer’s Body. I always felt like the mostly forgotten sidekick of the hot girls in high school but I also always felt like I saw situations more clearly because I was a little on the outside. That feeling helped me grow into a tough woman…like Needy. Spiritually…I might relate a little to Linda Blair. We can all be taken over by something evil, right? Or at least want to puke out all of our worst selves. Linda scares me but- I get her.
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?
Two bad ideas come to mind. One: I wanted to use a dollhouse. The writer thought it was too creepy, too on the nose. I’m glad we didn’t because…Hereditary. (Great movie.) Two: I was obsessed with the garbage our heroes take out of the can together. I wanted to find some way to keep the garbage literally between Eric and Julianne the whole time. I had this idea early and abandoned it pretty early, too. It didn’t work on many levels. Now when I think about it-it makes me laugh. How would that have helped anything? But I think throwing out ideas (trash pun) as you work helps a lot. It helps me feel confident on set that I know what I want to do because I have played out a lot of alternatives. Conversely, being wrong keeps you humble- and humility isn’t such a bad thing on set either.
Do you consider yourself part of a horror community?
I’m not sure I am part of one yet, but I hope I’m finding one! This is my first film and so my experience is limited but I have to say that I am so enamored by the genuine enthusiasm filmmakers and fans have for the genre. It’s so pure and awesome. Who wouldn’t want to be around people like that more?
When you’re building the world of your film, where do you look for inspiration?
The script dictates everything and from there…I just sort of start looking. For this film I took in day to day life more intensely. Mining for things that are real, but scary or ominous. Photography and paintings were huge for me. Specifically for this film I looked at a lot of Cindy Sherman and Edward Hopper- as well as Donna Ferrato and Erwin Olaf. I looked at still lives. I also looked at A LOT of images of garbage bags and cans. Probably way more than was necessary. Sometimes I end up with a pretty obvious comparison to something I liked in pre-production and sometimes its more about trying to name the feeling I get from looking at something so I can explain what I want. I look at other films, of course, but I try to stop looking at films right before I shoot to make sure I am on track with what I like instead of what someone else did well. Making something turns everything I encounter into something that could be relevant. Combing through to figure out what is actually relevant is the task.
What would you do if you woke up inside of your film?
Probably exactly what my character in the film does. Clean up the house, try and get my boyfriend to like me more, and do whatever it takes to protect my own. I do think about how Julianne puts her coffee mug down early in the film. She wasn’t done drinking her coffee and she never got back to it. I hope if my film was real I would at least have finished my morning cup.
Who would be on your ultimate horror villain squad?
Jack Torrence and the Castevet’s and all their elderly coven buddies. I wonder who would lead the troupe- Jack or Minnie? Minnie might leave Roman for Jack. I could see that. Plus the old man from Poltergeist II. He horrifies me. Maybe I’ll throw Nancy from The Craft in the mix, too. Just for a measure of humor and teen angst.
Lightning round: Freddy or Jason? Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft? Practical or CGI? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse? Freddy (my mother made him a legend by forbidding those movies because they scared her too much), Stephen King (I just loved It and it’s fresh in my mind…no disrespect to H.P) Practical (but it depends on the project), and Pre Apocalypse because I think the closer you are to our current reality the scarier it gets.
How did you choreograph the fight?
I didn’t choreograph it, an awesome coordinator named Leighton did. He worked off my storyboards to create an interesting fight that would be safe for us as actors to execute without doubles. I worked with the writer first to add some more action to the script- in the hopes of making it a little more climactic. On set, our crew (especially the cinematographer, Jih-E), bobbed and weaved with the actors. She framed everything so perfectly and follows the motion so well. A fight can be choreographed and performed well but if it isn’t shot by someone with great sense and ability than it will, frankly, stink. There was also great collaboration between the coordinator and cinematographer- and opportunities to catch special moments didn’t slip by because of this. The editor Tania cut everything so tight. I learned so much during this aspect of shooting and it was a lot of fun.
What scares you, and does it inspire your storytelling?
When I was maybe 6 or so I was afraid of drawing my own bath at night. Every time I would reach down to stop the tub I would imagine someone coming in behind me, pushing me in, and drowning me. This fear combined my rational self (“I am small, it would be easy to push me head first into the water”) with my irrational self (“maybe someone snuck into our house and has waited all day for this moment”), my instincts (“I don’t want to die”), my emotions (“what would my Mom do?”), and put them all in a very real, familiar setting (my childhood home). For me, those are the ingredients for a deeply engaging scary movie and they absolutely inspire how I tell a story and the kind of stories I want to tell in the genre.
And finally, Ghostface would like to know ‘What’s your favourite scary movie?’
Way too hard to answer with one! I’ll give my top 5- The Shining, It Follows, Get Out, Poltergeist I (a forgotten classic), and Scream. I’ll date myself and say Scream was one of the first R rated movies I was allowed to watch- and I saw it at a sleepover with maybe 15 pre-teen girls, and watching a slasher in a group like that is a BLAST. We were out of control. When I reflect on that moment I realize that was a time where I sort of began to understand how scary movies bring people closer. (Literally and figuratively.)