A couple of hours before the world premiere of their new movie, Haunt, at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival, co-writers and directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods are reminiscing in Fort Lauderdale's Savor Cinema about their youth in Iowa. "Every Halloween, we'd drive out to the middle of nowhere to go to these haunted house attractions," Woods tells New Times. "They were put on by amateurs who did it for no other reason than to scare people. We started thinking what if one of these went horribly wrong?"
That hypothetical bore the seeds of Haunt, in which six college kids go into the scariest haunted house ever. Haunt will have audiences covering their eyes and screaming, "Don't go in there!" It was created by two filmmakers who have been best friends since they were 11. Their love for film and horror led them to making stop-action movies with their action figures in middle school and helming their first feature film as high school students.
Their common history allows them to coexist creatively, Woods says. "We approach every facet on set together. We storyboard meticulously and then we'll each talk to the actors, the cinematographer, the gaffers. It's really weird, but we share a brain. All our favorite movies are the same. We shared all the same life experiences."
One of those shared experiences was enjoying the success of co-writing the monster hit A Quiet Place, last year's filmdom phenomenon about a family that needed to be silent to survive a world ravaged by blind predators with an acute sense of hearing. They had to challenge the conventions of screenwriting with their script, Beck says. "It was 67 pages. Usually, scripts are much longer, but we had very little dialogue. We put images in the script like a Monopoly board and a map of the farm. We wanted the script to have the feel of a silent film. We ended up charting unknown territory."
Sound also plays a crucial element in Haunt, which they wrote at the same time they were working on A Quiet Place. "Some days I'd be working on Quiet while Scott was working on a block of pages for Haunt. It kept things fresh," Woods says.
Beck adds: "It probably had an effect on Haunt, in choosing how silence can affect an audience. We love activating all the tools of cinema. We pull in on the sound design to make it a roller-coaster ride."
One of the most important elements of this scare ride was the haunted house, which Beck credits to their production designer, Austin Gorg. "He did all our favorite movies the last few years, like Her and La La Land. He'd never done horror. So we asked him if he'd do our haunted house. He elevated the rooms that we wrote in the script."
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This haunted house is the stuff of nightmares. When discussing it, you have to wonder if the elements of dread from Haunt spilled over into the shooting of the movie. The question made the filmmakers laugh. "It was not scary. I wish I could say it was. It would make a better story. It's just fun and silly. No one takes a horror movie seriously while they make it," Woods says.
Beck remembers, "We shot it during Halloween, so in pre-production, we took the cast and crew to different haunted houses, looking for inspiration to imbue the movie with the spirit of going through dark corridors. Making it during Halloween got everyone in the spirit. Crew members were dressed up like Freddy Krueger."
While a few hours away from showing it to a paying audience for the first time, all their attention is on Haunt. But the pair has a heavy workload ahead. They're adapting the Stephen King short story "The Boogeyman," working on a sci-fi script for Moonlight's Mahershala Ali, and also planning a horror movie with The Evil Dead's Sam Raimi. All collaborations that blow their former 11-year-old selves' minds. "We're checking all the names off the list of people we looked up to," an amazed Beck says.
Haunt will be released in theaters and video-on-demand on September 13.