Gerard Johnstone is one of New Zealand's most exciting burgeoning filmmakers. He wrote and directed beloved local comedy series The Jacquie Brown Diaries and won the 48 Hour film competition twice.
He's also one of my oldest, bestest friends, and a seriously hardcore film nerd if ever I knew one. But no personal bias is required to get excited about his first full-length feature, the horror comedy Housebound, which premiered earlier this week to glowing notices at the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.
Being the super good dude that he is, Johnstone found a moment amongst the fray last night to answer a few questions via email about his experiences at SXSW with Housebound.
Dominic Corry: So Housebound just premiered in Austin at SXSW. Were you happy with the audience reaction?
Gerard Johnstone: I've been to two screenings now. The first screening was split into two small cinemas, the size of a Motion Master ride, so it was a really strange environment to have your first film premiere in. The silences were agonising, and it felt like it hadn't gone that well, but then afterwards, everyone seemed to be genuinely excited about it, so I realised that they were just concentrating on the plot. The next screening was much easier, it was in a huge packed out theatre and was closer to the experience I was looking for - lots of laughs and a few claps. It was cool.
DC: Did you do a Q&A afterwards - how did that go?
GJ: I think I need some training on that, they always throw a few curve balls that you're not prepared for. But it was cool, there were no long periods waiting for someone to ask a question. Only one of my jokes fell flat.
DC: How nervous were you?
GJ: About as nervous as you can get probably. We were really just hoping people would show up, and then once we packed out the theatre, I was then worrying about how many people were going to have their night ruined by my film.
DC: Were you aware of any potential deal-makers in the audience?
GJ: Yes, but I can't say anything more until we're off the record.
DC: Is Housebound a comedy horror?
GJ: Yes, without zombies. It's not an easy sandbox to play in.
DC: How did it feel when you found out Housebound made it into SXSW?
GJ: It was bittersweet. I had to turn down work and leave my 18-month-old son for a week, which wasn't fun, but it was great to get some validation after the hard work and tears that went into making the film.
DC: SXSW seems like a more genre-friendly place to break a film, as opposed to Sundance - would you say that is correct?
GJ: Yeah, although I think Sundance has it's share of genre films now, maybe trying to claim back some ground from SXSW.
DC: Did getting into the festival affect your final edit of the film?
GJ: Well SXSW is basically our first test audience, so we were just scrambling to get it finished in time. We were actually making the DCP (Digital Cinema Package) on our layover in L.A. But yeah, I was definitely thinking about what would work for a festival audience.
DC: What had your experience of the festival been like building up to the film's screening?
GJ: Totally surreal. Lots of hype surrounding the film and myself for the first time. On a low budget film, you're used to everyone hating you. Met with good agents and managers, and then other filmmakers to try and figure out what the difference was.
DC: Who is the coolest famous person you've met so far?
GJ: I didn't meet a lot of famous people, but Elijah Wood was holding court at a couple of parties I was at. He's a guy who doesn't seem to let profile get in the way of having a good time.
DC: The poster for this film is freaking awesome - was the look of it your idea?
GJ: Well I like to claim everything is my idea, but yes, it was my idea. It was illustrated by Andrejs Skuja and the title was designed by Johnny Lyon. The tagline was a group effort.
DC: Some people (okay, me) are saying the poster evokes an Amblin Entertainment vibe - are you okay with that perception?
GJ: It was unintentional, but I'm super happy with that. The film is way more in the vein of Poltergeist than Hostel.
DC: Which films and filmmakers were your biggest inspirations in making Housebound?
GJ: I want to say things like The Changeling and The Legend of Hell House, but it's probably more The Goonies. Drag Me To Hell was definitely a DVD I had out of the box more than any other.
DC: What is the current status of the film's New Zealand release?
GJ: It may be playing at the [New Zealand International] film festival later in the year and if so, then we might release it shortly after that.
* Amped for Housebound? How cool is that poster? Comment below!