Ted Geoghegan may not be a household name, however, he has been fearlessly pouring his heart and soul into his work in the horror industry for well over a decade. A passionate artist, he got his start in the genre as a writer and producer but knew he was destined to direct when he fell in love with his script for ‘We Are Still Here.’ The film serves as a love letter to the classic haunted house films that impacted him in his youth, yet incorporate all of the style and excitement of modern horror cinema.
‘We Are Still Here,’ focuses on Anne and Paul Sacchetti (Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig). After the death of their college age son, the couple relocates to the snowswept New England hamlet of Aylesbury, a sleepy village where all is most certainly not as it seems. When strange sounds and eerie feelings convince Anne that her son’s spirit is still with them, they invite an eccentric, New Age couple (Larry Fessenden and Lisa Marie) to help them get to the bottom of the mystery. They discover that not only are the house’s first residents, the vengeful Dagmar family, still there – but so is an ancient power. A primal darkness slumbers under the old home, waking up every thirty years and demanding the fresh blood of a new family.An altogether new take on the haunted house genre that deftly mixes human drama and comedy, ‘We Are Still Here’ is a couple’s terrifying journey through darkness and loss set against the freezing New England winter.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Ted Geoghegan to discuss his unique journey into the film industry, what made ‘We Are Still Here’ the film he had to make, assembling the right cast to bring his characters to life and what the future may hold for him!
You have had a unique career path. What got you started on your journey into the entertainment industry?
I grew up in rural Montana, so I fell in love with movies at a very young age and they became my escape from the monotony of living in the middle of nowhere. By the time I got to college, I had been bitten by the creative bug and I liked the idea of helping create films in some way. I made a bunch of homemade movies when we were in high school where we tried to recreate “Highlander” and “Scream” and films like that! By the time I got to college, I wanted to do something a little bit bigger. Without the ability to do so, this was a little before the digital revolution, I started writing screenplays. Anything that came to mind I would start scribbling down! Eventually one of those screenplays caught the eye of a German director named Andreas Schnaas. He ended up making the film in Europe. It is called “Demonium.” That was kind of my first thing back in 2001. Ever since then, I have been writing and producing nonstop! I have been doing everything in the genre from horror to sci-fi to fantasy. I had never really had the desire to direct until I had written this most recent script for “We Are Still Here.” I just fell in love with it and loved it so much I didn’t want to give it to anyone else! I was very fortunate in that I was able to take that script and shop it around. Eventually, I was able to get it to Travis Stevens of Snowfort Pictures who got it to Dark Sky Films and we had a movie!
Stepping back for a moment, who were some of the influences on you as a director and screenwriter?
Early on, even pre-internet, I was buying screenplays. That was my way of learning to write them because there was no class to take at the time, especially in rural Montana! I was able to get my hands on some pretty ridiculous scripts through mail order. I remember getting the Dennis Paoli’s script for Stuart Gordon’s “Re-Animator.” It was a huge inspiration because I loved the film so much, to be able to see how it went from page to screen was very eye-opening for me. Also, I had purchased the script for “From Dusk ‘Til Dawn.” It was so clever and witty that it drove me toward trying to up my game. When I got to college, I ended up taking a class from Carroll O’Connor, who played Archie Bunker on “All In The Family.” It was a screenwriting class and to learn screenwriting from him was absolutely incredible. Even though he had no connection to the genre world, he was always very excited that it was what I wanted to pursue.
As you said, “We Are Still Here” was a project close to your heart. What sparked the initial idea for the concept of the film?
Initially, what had happened was another director reached out to me and was telling me that he was looking for a screenplay that was a take on Lucio Fulci’s “House By The Cemetery,” which is my favorite Fulci movie by far. It is a movie I feel I watch once a month, so I was very eager to attempt it because it is a film I hold very near and dear to my heart. I had written a first and second draft with him and he had given me some basic concepts he wanted to use. At that point, I went all out with the screenplay. After two drafts, I was so in love with it. I told him, “I hope it’s OK for me to ask this but can I shop this script around a little bit and see if maybe I could find some financing for me to direct it?” This other director is so prolific he always has 50 projects going on at once! He said, “Yeah, sure! Go for it, man! I have plenty to keep me busy!” I said, “OK! Let’s see what happens.” With his blessing, I shopped it around to a few people and eventually found Travis, who was all about it. It was a very different film for Snowfort Pictures, his company. I think it was really exciting for him because it was such a different take on haunted houses.
Did you have any particular goals or aspirations when going into the process of directing your first film?
The main thing I wanted to do was write and direct something that felt unlike anything that was coming out these days. I am of the mindset that if I have one chance to direct a film, it can be great or it can be terrible but the most criminal thing it can be is forgettable! I will not let the movie be forgettable! That was really the goal from day one, to make something that people would remember be it positive or negative. Thankfully, most people seem to be recalling it positively! If you grew up with VHS tapes of Fulci and Stuart Gordon, the idea is that this movie feels like a warm blanket or a visit from an old friend. I don’t feel there has been a film like this in 30 years that really embraces concepts like melodrama. A lot of people have referred to my film as a slow burn. I actually don’t think it is. I think of it as being very methodically paced. A slow burn, like Ti West’s stuff, which I am a big fan of, is fun but the whole idea of those movies is to slowly ratchet up the tension more and more until it explodes at the end. That wasn’t the goal with “We Are Still Here.” The goal was to do something that feels like a drama most of the time. It feels very calm and peaceful and explodes into violence from time to time.
What was the process of finding the right actors to inhabit the characters you created on the written page and what did they bring to the table?
I had originally written the role of Anne for Barbara Crampton and the role of Jacob for Larry Fessenden, both of whom are very close friends of mine. In this being my first time directing, I really liked the idea of working with friends, people who I knew and can trust like Barbara and Larry. Thankfully, when Dark Sky Films became involved, they were completely game to use Barbara and Larry. They had some unique suggestions for the rest of the cast including Andrew Sensenig as Paul. He was absolutely wonderful in “Upstream Color.” They also suggested Lisa Marie, who everyone knows from “Mars Attacks” and “Ed Wood.” Monte Markham plays the town elder, Dave. He was the star of a William Castle movie and “Airport 77” and “Guns of The Magnificent Seven.” To have someone like him bring that sort of gravitas to the set was really incredible! I feel very blessed by all the performers I got for the film, especially given that it was my first movie.
Did you have any challenges to overcome once you were on set?
I wish I could say that I had a major challenge to get over but everything flowed amazingly smoothly! From day one, when we secured our budget and headed off to Rochester, everything just fell into place. We had an amazing crew that was working 24/7 to get the house exactly the way we wanted it. Like I said, Travis is the best producer in the business and he was on top of everything. He made sure everyone and everything was perfect. It really allowed me the opportunity to really focus on the creative and not worry about all the crazy behind the scenes stuff that was going on. As a testament to everyone who worked on my film, if there were problems, I was not aware of them!
Where do you see yourself headed next? You have the skills to write and direct, so is creating your own content the way you see yourself headed in the near future?
I think that is definitely going to be the goal. I really want to keep directing. I look forward to keep writing. I think that there is great potential for me to remain a screenwriter on other people’s projects. I love doing that and writing is really where my heart is but I would love to try my hand at directing again! It would be something very different. I would like to try something that is still very genre, something super gory and super crazy but not a haunted house movie. It would be something that essentially turns the genre on its head. That would be the goal. I think that is going to be my ongoing goal, all of the time in everything I do. I would really like to make sure every project I work on does something new and inventive as opposed to just kind of retreading the same tropes that we have seen time and time again.
I am sure you get asked this a lot by young creatives but what is the best advice you can bestow on those who want to make their career in today’s entertainment industry?
As silly as it sounds, something I tell a lot of people is how important networking is. It is one thing if you are a great writer or a great visionary but, if no one knows who you are, it’s not going to matter. You really have to focus on networking. You need to be on social media. You need to have a strong positive presence on social media and you need to be on every form of social media. Aside from that, you need to do actual social networking offline by going to film festivals, conventions and so on. You need to interact with people so they know your face. They need to know who you are. Hopefully, you give off such a positive vibe that they want to work with you. That is my best advice! Put yourself out there and remain as positive as possible. Make people want to work with you!
That is great advice, Ted! It has been a pleasure chatting with you today. You have definitely inspired us and we can’t wait to see where your journey takes you!
Thanks so much, Jason! I’ve had a great time chatting with you! Talk to you again soon!