When it comes to American horror it’s easy to become fatigued with the rinse repeat formula of house invasion, paranormal intrigue and visceral slashers. However alongside meta –horror comedies, some films occasionally manage to slip through the net as fresh approaches to tested formulas. In the case of Treehouse, the pitch is a throwback to the 80s coming of age cinema Stand by Me (1986) in a film centered on teenagers dealing with extraordinary circumstances and confronting unspeakable horrors against the backdrop of a rural American town.
While maintaining the face of a slick American production Treehouse surprisingly has a British core, as a conscious move by production company Strong Oak Pictures to expand their operations across the pond. With Treehouse currently soaring to the top spot of the ITunes Horror films category upon release week and also having an award winning writer / director at the helm, it is an exciting time for the British filmmakers. Plus in the case of Treehouse, it is refreshing to view a successful ‘horror’ that prioritizes story and characterization over ‘chamber of horrors’ styled processions of violence,
Flickfeast caught up with Treehouse’s charismatic executive producer Steve Weston at Bram Stoker International Film Festival’s UK premiere in October, chatting to the London Independent Film Festival winning director (Best Feature, 2012) on how to sell a horror film in today’s market, psychological trauma and the future of Strong Oak pictures.
Flickfeast: How did the project originate and how did you develop it?
Steve Weston: We were aware of Michael Bartlett who produced a movie called The Zombie Diaries (2006) and Michael Myers who now is a producer with Stripe Pictures went on to produce Zombie Diaries 2 (2011) and I and got the Weinstein’s involved. When we were approached with Treehouse everyone was aware of everyone. We knew about Micheal, Micheal knew a director that I had worked for as an actor called Matt Hope. It was slightly incestuous but when we read the script we thought it was fantastic so we decided to go ahead as it would stretch us as a company and be a good platform for us to go and do an American movie.
FF: You mentioned previously that Treehouse was an attempt to push your production company into a wider American market but in terms of the story, how did Treehouse differ from previous films you have worked on. Was it a conscious decision produce this style of film as opposed to a straight horror?
SW: The first film we shot was called Wounded (2012) which was my original story. It wasn’t an art-house movie but it was well received and won the Marbella international Film Festival outright and won the London Independent film festival. It wasn’t as commercial as we would have liked and we are actually doing a commercial re-edit on that. So when we saw Treehouse we thought commercially it’s a great opportunity for us as it ticks a lot of boxes and is a good movie and good story. We thought the audiences would like it and buy it. We saw it as a commercial venture and jumped in.
FF: In relation to casting it is a film that is sustained by youth performances. What was the casting process like and what sort of actors were you looking for?
SW: One of the beauties when you are casting a generally young cast is that audiences won’t expect someone someone well known as they are young. J. Micheal Trauttman had already done the American version of Shameless so he was a bit of a name. Dana Melanie wasn’t as well-known but both have come very well out of Treehouse as the reviews have been fantastic. We thought it would be a good idea that when you are doing something with predominantly young people to throw the net wide an to see who you get. We were very fortunate in that respect.
FF: On this occasion you are bringing the film to Bram Stoker International Film Festival in Whitby which is essentially a horror festival but then again festival boundaries are often fluid. As a producer pitching films to different types of markets what are your opinions of contemporary horror and how do you sell a horror film in today’s film market?
SW: In a way I consider Treehouse more of a thriller than a horror. It does have horrific aspects but a lot of horror films today are formulaic in that they don’t tell a story but hit certain hit points and also rely on being a blood fest and gory. We wanted to do something that was story based where we are telling a tale, if it is a horror tale fine but there is still a story to be told. That is why we decided to do this but because it is predominantly horror based and it sits comfortably in more than one genre.
FF: It was interesting that in previous Q and As you touched on your next film being about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Do you have any personal investment in that issue and do you think that is a film that resonates with audiences?
SW: The next one is more of an atypical horror movie If you want. The story is equally as strong but what we wanted to do on the back of a long haul shoot in the states was to do something back home that we could start working on straight away while we were setting up the development of Treehouse. Something that would keep us in the running. As we have hit the ground running we want people to know that we are always up to something new. People are looking at what we are doing and there is quite a lot of interest with the festival success and the awards. We knew Treehouse was going to be a winner and we didn’t want to sit and wait for the next movie to come along so we got involved in this film. Same process applied: we got involved in the script, casting and locations and we are very happy. We had Larry Goebel (Head of Imagination worldwide) come down to see a rough edit at the 02 arena. Not many films get that treatment but because he likes us or believes in us he was prepared to come and do that. For us it’s an indication of how far we have come in the industry in such a small space of time.
FF: What is next for you and Strong Oak Pictures?
SW: We knew the way Treehouse was structured was not old fashioned but classic but the new one we are doing is a balance between what the audience would expect from a horror along with telling a story. It Never Sleeps is the film that we are going to release on the 3rd of November. Martin is flying out to Texas on Monday and a week later it will be on the American film market. So It Never Sleeps is out soon and there is another film in the works that we are keeping secret for the time being.
FF: Having previously written, produced and acted in films what is the most challenging aspect of being an executive producer?
SW: You oversee literally everything from the financing being right, checking the script is right and sellable and making sure the cast is right. If there is anybody you don’t believe in you have to be strong enough to say you have made the wrong choice and call for re –casting.
FF: What do you hope audiences will take away from Treehouse?
SW: I hope they will see a classic suspenseful movie with extremely strong acting, great storytelling and a nail biting finish.
Treehouse is available now on VOD platforms.
For more information about Treehouse and It Never Sleeps check out www.strongoakpictures.com