Caroline Spence (Writer/Producer, Raya Films)
The Horror Revolution: First off, what’s your favorite horror movie? What movie scared you the most?
Caroline Spence: My favorite horror movie has always been The Omen (1976). The music, the production, locations, the story and incredible actors all add up to a terrifying film. I’m more of a supernatural horror fan - I return to films like What Lies Beneath again and again - and I tend to avoid gore-fests or slasher pictures. So in The Omen where David Warner’s character gets decapitated, my eyes are firmly shut every time… I’m that much of a wimp!
THR: I’m a huge fan of indie films, and it seems like a lot of the ones coming my way recently are British. Was the decision to include a lot of CTV videos in your film a commentary on the surveillance of citizens in the UK?
CS: This wasn’t really a consideration. There is no political finger pointing going on in Surveilled about citizen surveillance, but more of a commentary on how surveillance technology has progressed. Anyone - not just registered private detectives - have a whole wealth of spy toys that they can play with in today's arena, and the ‘pencam’ mentioned in the film is probably one of the more rudimentary items they can utilize!
THR: So James directed the film and you each co-wrote it. What inspires each of you to take on each role?
CS: James is more the tech guy and worked as a stills photographer before we moved into film. I have always been a writer and had many articles published at the beginning of the millennium, so moving to screenwriting was very easy for me, especially since I’m such a film fan. James is an ideas machine and pitches me new stories… and they’re always so unique and original I can't help but say “yes let’s do it” to most of them! The way we work is for James to write a treatment and then for me to turn it into a screenplay. When James has more input into the writing he’ll put together a more detailed ‘scriptment’ and then once I have the first draft of the screenplay ready, we’ll go through it together until both of us are happy! I love the whole process of writing, and to see what I’ve written come to life on the screen gives huge satisfaction.
THR: What is one piece of trivia about you that you think everyone watching the film should know?
CS: Actor, Kelly Calabrese, recorded her own footage in Montclair, New Jersey for her role as the news reporter. The name of the fictional town of Clairmont was taken from Montclair where I spent some time in the 1990s. I simply switched 'Mont' and 'clair' to create the name, and on telling Kelly this, she took it upon herself to shoot her scenes there!
THR: The film has an interesting combination of found footage and narrative cinematography, and you shot the whole thing on a cellphone from what I understand. Were there any challenges that were different shooting with a phone, or was it easier to manage?
CS: Using a smartphone was of great benefit, since it was relatively easy and quick to set up in the real locations that we used in the film. For example, one scene was set in an English pub and we had limited time available, so moving the phone into the various positions was pretty swift. Using a much larger ‘traditional’ camera with interchangeable lenses and so on would have slowed the whole process down, possibly jeopardising a number of scenes in the film. There are, however, some quirks to using smartphones (with the associated apps) for shooting feature films. Occasionally, there are crashes, and using an LCD for pretty much every camera control can be fiddly, especially in the heat of the moment.
THR: If you could work with anyone in the industry, alive or dead, who would you work with and why?
CS: I’d like to work with Benicio Del Toro. He is an actor with such gravitas and screen presence and he’s someone I’ve been watching since I first saw him in Licence To Kill! I’d also love to work with Jennifer Aniston … She's just so funny and seems like a really nice person.
THR: If you were given an unlimited budget and access to every Hollywood star, what kind of film would you make?
CS: Well we’ve already got a film in mind that really needs the Hollywood treatment. I think we’d get attention with the title alone, but that’s a trade secret right now! All I’ll say right now is that it’s a comedy that would raise quite a few eyebrows!
THR: I’m a huge fan of international horror, but international to me is outside of the US. Which country do you think makes the best horror films?
CS: I personally prefer French or USA productions in most genres. The French have a rawness about their filming that seems more true to life. With the USA my opinion is that the acting quality is superior to that of many UK productions even at the top level. US child actors in particular are jaw-droppingly good. There have been some fabulous horrors coming out of Spain as well. The Orphanage is one of the most well-known, but there are many others that have really hit the mark for me, such as The Baby’s Room from 2006.
THR: What horror movie desperately needs a remake? Would you guys be the ones to do it?
I’m not a big fan of remakes, so it’s difficult to answer that question! And with 20+ of our own completed screenplays, I think I’d leave any remakes to someone else.
CS: The plague mask is creepy as hell, and I mentioned in my review that it seems to be criminally underused. What gave you the idea to use that particular mask for the killer?
I can’t actually remember who came up with the idea of the plague doctor mask, but I think it was me. The screenplay for Surveilled has been through many iterations and at one time was considerably different to the film we now have, due to the fact that we couldn’t raise the budget required for the previously much bigger production. In the previous screenplay, I was inspired by a witch doctor-type costume from South Africa, which if my memory serves me correctly, sported a bird-like headpiece, so I’m guessing the plague doctor mask evolved from there.
THR: What’s next for you guys? Are you planning to work together again, or do you each have different projects on the horizon?
CS: We are both founding partners of Raya Films, so our filmmaking journey continues! Our fifth feature film Casting Kill has just been completed and we’re now looking for a suitable sales partner. It’s another horror, but with more of a classic Hitchcockian vibe. It tells the story of an identity fraudster posing as a casting director for a major Hollywood production, who preys on actors desperate to win their big break. Casting Kill is a step up from what we’ve done in the past, and to say we’re excited about it is an understatement… we can’t wait for people to see it!
THR: I watched the film on Tubi, where anyone can watch it for free. How did you go about having the film on that platform, and what has the experience of distributing it through Tubi been like?
CS: We used Filmhub.com who are a US based distributor as opposed to an aggregator. To add your film to their site is free of charge, but they take 20% on sales. Filmhub offers films to all streaming platforms they have a working relationship with, and those platforms select which films they want. We have three films on Tubi now - Cyberlante, which was also shot on a smartphone, and Agent Kelly, which is giving us the surprise of our careers by being a Tubi smash hit! The fact that people can watch films on Tubi free of charge, is a boon for filmmakers, as it enables them to get more views and more dollars per view, so Tubi has been a very positive experience!
THR: Finally, what is the worst insult that you can think of off the top of your head?
CS: Your screenwriting is shit … because I know it’s not, lol!