As I sat to interview Suzanne and Matt, after having watched The Open House and read some of the reviews the movie was getting from both critics and users both, it’s fair to say I was nervous about how it would go.
I needn’t have been, the two are perfectly relaxed and very happy and both are clearly excited that people are watching their movie, speaking at a thousand miles an hour at times but always with a smile on their faces.
And so, we talked about film making, The Open House, of course, death threats (really people?) and what’s next for the pair.
OC: How did you get into film making?
Suzanne Coote: I have known I wanted to be a director since I was 10 years old. My friends where putting a play on in the back yard of my house in Santa Monica and I was like, “this is awesome, I’m telling everyone what to do”. I liked that. I also liked the collaborative [nature of it], I remember my friend said, “well I’m going to do costumes” and I was so happy because I suck at costumes.
So, I love the collaborative nature of it and then also my whole family is in the film business; my dad’s a producer, my mum’s in marketing, my aunt was in marketing, my uncle’s a director and writer, my sister works in VFX. We’ve all grown up around movies and sets and we were all bitten by the bug very early on.
Matt Angel: I was the same way, for as long as I can remember everything was movies. My father is a producer and we grew up on sets and I knew it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and when we met, we decided to do it together.
OC: Matt, you’re known more as an actor up to now, right?
MA: That’s right, when I was 16 or 17 I started acting and that’s what I’ve been doing and it’s a great passion of mine. I started writing and directing probably four or five years after that.
OC: Do you have a preference for your profession?
MA: I’ve always wanted to be an actor/director and then writing is a great tool to have to be able to create your own content that you can then act or direct in it.
OC: Onto your new film, The Open House, how would you describe it?
SC: I say it’s a drama/thriller with some horrific moments. I’m not a huge fan of horror movies, I think they can be too gratuitous, it’s just not really my thing, but I’m obsessed with thrillers and being like this (mimes being tense) the whole time, that’s the kind of thing I like. I would say it’s a drama/thriller about a mom and son dealing with grief.
MA: We are both in love with dramas and thrillers and, I personally am obsessed with horror and so, when we set out to make our first film, there was definitely a business angle to it where we said, what kind of story can you tell in a contained location, with a contained number of characters.
Some great people have broken in through horror and thriller. We kind of leaned into that and, apparently, we’re also two very dark people.
We’re also very inspired by foreign films, we love Michael Haneke.
SC: I’d say he’s our biggest inspiration. If I saw anyone and would freak out, that would be him.
MA: Yes, and we both also love, this isn’t foreign obviously, Darren Aronofsky. Very dark, effective type films. And we wanted to tell a story about death. We both have experienced a lot of loss in our individual lives, and so we wanted to make something that was really going to affect the audience in the way that loss does. It makes you angry and frustrated and sad and it doesn’t have a pretty bow at the end. It’s death, it sucks.
OC: Once you’d made the film was it always the plan to have it on something like Netflix?
SC: No. Once Dylan (Minnette) was attached, and by attached I mean we just asked him.
MA: We had to send him the script.
SC: No, no, of course, we sent the script and he loved the script, but I mean, because of the low budget nature of this it was all very much; who do we know, who do we have somewhat of a connection with.
MA: Who can we get a script to.
SC: Exactly, let’s try and avoid agents and managers, we don’t have the time. Once Dylan was onboard, we knew he was shooting 13 Reasons Why, and because this business model was always in the back of our head like; we’re first time film makers and we want eyes…we want lots and lots of eyes and 13 Reasons Why was more successful than anyone thought it would be…
MA: We knew it would be successful, but I don’t think we got the magnitude of it.
SC: Yes exactly, so once that came out we just thought we should go straight to Netflix. Because, we’re going to go where the love is.
MA: It was also, we finished the first cut of the film and we sat Dylan down and we watched the film and we were in our apartment at the time. The discussion was supposed to be; we have some theatrical places interested, we think Netflix is a good place to go where the love is, what do you think? And his immediate reaction was; “there’s no scarier way to view this movie than being in the comfort of your own home”.
Your cold, your bundled up, your stuck at home, it’s winter, that kind of thing, we’ll watch a movie. So, we took the opportunity to go straight to Netflix with the exclusive and they picked it up.
OC: You’d already made the film, before Netflix became involved?
MA: We took them a rough-cut.
SC: It was a rough-cut, it wasn’t even finished, and they bought it and they put they’re brand on it, so that was pretty cool.
MA: They wanted to make it a Netflix Original, so it was off to the races to…to finish the thing, because we hadn’t really gone through anything but editing in post.
SC: They [Netflix] watched it with temp score and no VFX, no colour correction.
OC: There was a decision made that there would be no press previews of the movie. Was that a decision from yourselves or Netflix?
MA: It was kind of both. It’s not that we’re opposed to it, or anti-critics. In fact, I could be wrong here, but from what we’ve heard the older audience is actually understanding this movie a lot more than the younger audience. Which is interesting, so we’re definitely appealing to that crowd that follows dramas and thrillers.
SC: And independent features.
MA: I would love to know what that looks like, but anyway, Netflix aren’t really that sort of people anyway, they don’t run to go after critics first, so we followed their lead.
SC: Yes, once they weren’t going to do it, we we’re like, OK.
OC: Have you read any of the reviews and comments on places like IMDB?
MA: It’s hard not to, we’re getting death threats.
SC: We’re being inundated.
MA: Look, some people, just don’t like this movie.
MA & SC: That’s fine.
SC: Nor should you.
MA: With anything you make there’s going to be people who are going to go, “it’s not what you intended to do that made me mad, I just hated the movie”.
SC: Which is fine.
MA: That’s absolutely fine, you’re never gonna’ not have that.
SC: You should have it.
MA: I think the other side of the spectrum is, and the majority of these people, what it sounds like, there voice is: they want answers.
SC: It’s the ending.
MA: Yes, exactly. They go through that journey, they go through that tension and it all builds up to basically, what they feel is ripped off, and what we feel is, a couple of things: We wanted to make a movie where it got people talking and trying to figure out the different options, and there are a lot of clues throughout the way and I think we succeeded. So, we’re very thrilled about that and I think the other side of it, people don’t like sad endings.
SC: Open endings.
MA: Open endings yes, sad endings, open endings, especially when they’re sad.
SC: Especially in this genre.
MA: Yes, but we had a very clear metaphor of focussing on death and what death looks like and we wanted to really stick to reality and the bleakness that is, death. Sometimes people die, by the hands of bad people and you don’t have answers, and it feels terrible. So, we’re happy we affected people.
SC: And also, we’re really influenced by film makers, like Michael Haneke like we said, film makers that don’t give you answers. Personally, as a viewer when I watch movies, I appreciate movies that make me feel a certain way, even if it’s pure anger or frustration. Even if I thought that was the worst movie ever, they did something, clearly, so we’re by no-means upset by any of the reactions.
We set out to affect people, the ending was not a mistake, that was very intentional on our part. We went through a lot of different iterations, which I’m sure some people would be very happy to know what other endings we had written, but we really wanted people to watch this movie and come up with their own endings really.
MA: Like you do in life.
SC: We know in our minds who the killer is, I’ve received some amazing…
MA: The fan theories are crazy.
SC: People are writing me the most…I’m just like, this is so cool, good for you. They’ll be really angry and then I’ll ask them who they think the killer is and they’ll write this whole thesis and I’m like, wow, you’re really smart. I don’t know if it is [the killer], but good for you.
MA: I don’t know for you [who it is].
OC: I read some of the comments before watching the movie, which was probably a mistake, but at one point I paused the movie to ensure I was watching the right film as I couldn’t get where these comments where coming from. I was wondering if I was watching the same film as them?
MA: I know right, that’s happening a lot.
SC: Right, people saying, “did we watch the right movie”.
MA: It came out of anger and frustration and it then lead to this wave of people going, “well I have to see it, if this is that bad, I have to know what happens”. And then a lot of them have this, “wait a minute, I don’t get it [the comments], yes I have issues with it but it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Which, by the way, if it is…
MA: Yes, fine. But I was just going to say, one thing that seems to be connecting with viewers that we’re very happy about is that they’re finishing the movie.
We wanted to create an experience, we wanted to create a mood, we’re very inspired by films like that, that just make you feel, whether that be driven by a camera movement or score behind it or a character’s journey or whatever it is, so we wanted to take those elements. I would say, we’re very pleased with the final product, in the sense that, people are going to have their opinions, but we feel like we’re taking people on a journey.
OC: When reading comments does it throw you a little, has it stopped you in your tracks?
SC: Yes, I mean we’re human so…
MA: People are saying like: “you should be expecting James Franco’s call because he’s going to want to make the sequel to the room with your movie”. And we’re like, did we really make the worst movie in the history of film, but then you have to go wait a minute. These people finished the movie and they feel cheated and angry, and that’s ok, we’re kind of embracing that and looking past the words and looking at the affect.
SC: I do think there’s something to say though that, social media is great, but it also sucks.
MA: Oh, it’s brutal, totally brutal.
SC: We have friends that are big actors and they deal with it on a daily basis and I’ve always been in awe of them and now I’m dealing with it and Matt’s dealing with it and…you can’t stop reading them you’re like, wait, how can you say that about me, you don’t even know me.
MA: But it’s also fun, we were sitting around dinner with friends a couple of nights ago and my phone lit up and it was three new comments so I said, let’s read through these and laugh our asses off. They hate you, it’s a dark world the Twittersphere. But it can be entertaining, and I think you just have to keep your head up and if you can look at it for fun, great, if it affects you, you have to put it aside and put it down and keep moving forward.
OC: Within the movie there was a lot of wide shots, was that a conscious decision?
SC: Definitely. We love wide shots. We love, when you’re given the entire frame and if your subject isn’t point of focus in the middle of the frame and so you’re kind of like this (mimes rotating her head, searching for something), looking for something and whether something does or doesn’t happen is neither here nor there.
Again, it’s a big Michael Haneke thing, he’ll have whole scenes playing out in one shot. For example, two people are sitting across the table from each other and the cameras behind, say, my back and this person, me, never turns, you never see them the entire scene. It makes you so anxious, what’s happening.
MA: You’re begging for a cut, in the edit. It’s a very subconscious thing most of the time as viewers but, it let’s you kind of, take a breath the moment that camera cuts. If you keep it, you kind of go, “is something going to happen?”
SC: And, you tell the story through the cut. You’re telling the audience, to a certain degree, where to follow the story and what characters leading what story, so if you don’t cut, you’re letting the audience sit there and ruminate in their own frustration. You feel, as a viewer, they should be cutting, why are they not?
MA: I also feel like it puts you in the room sometimes, it makes you feel as if you’re there a little more than if you’re just doing the back and forth, back and forth.
SC: Also, we like the use of wide shots because there’s someone or something in their house and it has a voyeuristic overtone.
OC: What challenges did you face whilst filming?
MA: It was very cold.
SC: I’d say the budget.
MA: We shot this movie for a $100,000. Our goal was, with friends, family and credit cards when it came to financing,
SC: God bless credit cards!
MA: can we do this, and make it look like it’s not a $100,000 film. That was a big technical goal we had.
It’s a thing now, right, the Blumhouse model (makers of Paranormal Activity), get a million dollars and see what you can do.
SC: Shoot it for $10,000 and then put a bunch of money into it to make it look good. We wanted to be like, ok we’re going to make it for a $100,000, but we want it to look good, to be juicy.
MA: That was our whole thing, the Blumhouse model but without the million dollars. Because, we didn’t have it.
I think the whole thing was an incredible learning experience.
SC: We were the only film makers and producers on set. It was, “ok Matt, there’s not enough food for you to eat today. We’re one short on catering so…you have to go and eat a lot of Red Vines (the strawberry bootlace type sweets in the UK) and Cheetos.
But I would say the biggest challenge was location, yes, and budget.
OC: When people see that it’s on Netflix and it’s a Netflix Original I think they’re perception is that you’ll have the budgets of Stranger Things and Bright.
MA: I think, based on what people are saying, they do think like that. We’ve seen, a few times, “next time don’t spend all your money on talent”. And we’re like, “what…what money?”.
SC: The cast made [not a lot, around double the UK minimum wage], per day.
MA: They all just wanted to be involved, it was a labour of love for everyone, they wanted to be part of this dark thriller. And, funnily enough, Dylan was adamant about the ending, we had different versions, and he was adamant about this ending.
SC: And we all, me, Matt, some of the cast, we all slept in that house we shot in, because it was a way to save money. Matt and I slept in the room that was ‘Naomi’s room” and we’d get up and all our shit would be everywhere and then when we’d remember we’re shooting in this room today so get all our shit and throw it in the closet, I felt like I was in college again shooting my senior thesis.
OC: How long was the shoot?
SC: 17 days.
MA: It was a 17-day shoot, we did all the big bear stuff in December 2016 and then we had the holidays and then we came back in January, in LA, to shoot the beginning of the movie and then we went straight into post. I think it’s been just over a year since we actually shot the movie.
OC: The film felt like it was being set up for further adventures or misadventures, with this killer. Is there going to be a sequel? Do you know?
MA: We’ve talked about it. We have ideas.
SC: As of now, we don’t know.
OC: What’s Netflix reaction been?
MA & SC: They’re very happy.
SC: It’s performing well.
MA: Yes, we know it’s performing well and people are watching so that’s exciting.
SC: It’s not, not a possibility.
OC: So, if it’s not that, what is next for you?
SC: We’re working on our next movie right now.
MA: Which we’re very excited about. Same genre. Definitely a very visual, dramatic thriller, with a toe dipped in horror, which is something we like to say. We’re really excited about that one…we’re exploring mental health. We wanted to explore death and now we’re turning our focus to mental health.
OC: What would be the ideal next step for you?
MA: I like to think there’s someone who can help us, money wise, to step up to that next level.
SC: We just want to keep making movies.
MA: That’s most important for us. We’re not looking to do Black Panther 2, but then, I don’t think we’d get hired for that.
SC: I’m very excited for Black Panther.
MA: I can’t wait. I think we’re just…we have a lot of stories to tell and we’re excited to tell those stories.