[Interview] Writer/Director Jacob Chase for COME PLAY
Courtesy of Amblin Partners and Focus Features
Writer/Director Jacob Chase has been steadily making waves in the industry since his breakout in 2016 when he won the “Crash the Super Bowl” contest with his commercial, Doritos Dogs. Since then, he’s had a mentorship with Zack Snyder and has gone on to sell multiple specs that have landed him on the Hit List for the best specs of the year (2018, 2019). Though he has a feature film under his belt with the 2010 comedy/drama The Four-Faced Liar, he has now ventured into the horror genre with his second feature film, COME PLAY, based on his 2017 short, Larry.

For the release of COME PLAY, I had the chance to speak with Jacob Chase where we discussed everything from the monster’s practical effects to the process of crafting the unique scares.

I had read that COME PLAY originally started as a short film. Can you talk a little bit about the genesis of how this story came to be?

Jacob Chase: Yeah, I made the short film really with no idea what a feature would be. I was just trying to make something atmospheric and scary in five minutes. I wanted to make something that could prove I could make this kind of movie. I didn’t dare have the hubris to think someone’s gonna pick this movie up and actually let me direct a feature version of this particular story. But truthfully, the genesis of the short film really came from just… I had this costume I made of Larry for a haunted house I used to run. I had it in my garage having made it there and I was like, “Hey, let’s use this in a short film” and then I came up with the character sort of around that.

Larry isn’t really revealed too much until we get closer to the end of the film. How did you come up with the look and design of him? Was it a combination of both practical and CGI?

Jacob Chase: The short film was kind of its own thing and we sort of used the general silhouette of him going into the feature. The feature became a whole new development process because as I was expanding on not only Larry the monster, but the whole family, I wanted everyone to feel three dimensional and really interesting. And Larry, as much as anybody, I thought of him like Frankenstein or something, where he’s a character who yes, is terrifying, yes, will hurt you, but sort of is well-meaning inside. The design sort of came from that idea where I wanted someone who, of course, the silhouette needed to be eerie, I wouldn’t want to be his friend right? Like, he looks terrifying but at the same time, I wanted a design that you could almost feel the pain in him, feel the loneliness within the design. So between the Jim Henson’s Creature Shop making this amazing monster and getting him on set, there was a lot of work we did with just the way he moved with the puppeteers and figuring out a way for him to feel almost uncomfortable in his own skin, which they did a great job of. One of the perks of working with the Jim Henson’s Creature Shop is that they have so many years of experience behind them creating memorable characters and I just love what they did with us.

I loved how a lot of the scares were tailor-made for an autistic child to experience. Can you talk about crafting the scares, especially in terms of affecting someone on the spectrum?

Jacob Chase: Throughout the movie, I was constantly trying to put us in [Oliver’s] shoes. Crafting a character like Oliver was something I wanted to get right, something that was very important to me, to be as accurate as possible, but also, the majority of your audience isn’t going to be on the spectrum, so I wanted to sort of bring them into Oliver’s world. Every moment with [Oliver] was about seeing the scene from his perspective, including crafting scares. I wanted to make us feel like, on one hand, what the scare might feel like from Oliver’s perspective but also, of course, build that suspense in the audience at the same time.

(L to R) Writer/director Jacob Chase, actor Gillian Jacobs and actor Azhy Robertson on the set of COME PLAY. Credit : Jasper Savage / Amblin Partners / Focus Features

You did such a great job crafting the character of Oliver. What has your experience been with autistic individuals in your life? 

Jacob Chase: My wife actually works with kids on the spectrum so I’ve had a window into that community for many years. She’s an early interventionist, so she does play-therapy and works with kids with social skills as well as their parents. It’s a community I’ve grown to love and admire for a while and I had long wanted to have more characters on the spectrum in film, specifically in movies that aren’t about them being on the spectrum. I think that’s just one small part of who Oliver is. It was very important to me that he was a very fully well-rounded character. He’s also so well-meaning and he sees the best in people. He sort of has no guile like he’s just so much more than the fact that he has a label. Aside from my goal of wanting to see that representation in movies more, I thought [COME PLAY] was the perfect movie to do that because, in a horror movie, you want characters at the center of the story to be going through the worst moments of their lives. In thinking of who Larry could affect, seeing that he kind of accesses through your technology, who would that be the worst to happen to? It made sense that it would be a kid who really needs the technology to communicate with the world. So combining those two ideas together was my jumping-off point. Then, of course, it led to a ton of research and work with the actors and trying to make the character as authentic as possible.

Which brings me to my next question, how was it working with the cast?

Jacob Chase: They are phenomenal. Together, they all became this family and it was amazing but they each sort of work in different ways and they’re each very different characters. With Azhy Robertson, I spent probably a month before shooting having him shadow kids on the spectrum, working with a movement coach – we’d rehearse scenes with and without dialogue to get him in the mindset of the character. He’s a young actor who was so in touch with his emotion and imagination. He had so much empathy for this character he was playing which was awesome and why I think he does such a good job with the role. John Gallagher Jr. and Gillian Jacobs, I’ve been a fan of theirs for a long time and just getting to work with them was fantastic. I also especially like when I can watch actors who are maybe more known for their comedic work do something that’s just a little different and play characters that aren’t exactly like them. I think all together they really rounded out a pretty stellar cast.

Other than having the audience enjoy the terrifying scares of the film, what do you hope people ultimately take away from the film?

Jacob Chase: I wanted to make a movie that on its face was very scary, but once you dig into it it had a lot of compassion and was really about this family that, even though maybe they’re not exactly like your family, hopefully, you can relate to. I was very conscious throughout that I was telling a story with a lot of empathy for a lot of people that are maybe not exactly like the person that’s watching the movie. I wanted us to ultimately care about people who are not like us, whether that’s Oliver or Larry or the bully character, Byron (played by Winslow Fegley). Everyone goes through their own little individual journeys here and I think having empathy for one another is incredibly important, especially right now in the world more than ever.

For more on COME PLAY, check out our review here. COME PLAY is now in theaters. Disclaimer/Editor’s Note: Nightmarish Conjurings doesn’t endorse seeing movies in theaters at this time due to the pandemic. Please consider VOD and/or Drive-In options and, if you go to the theater, please be safe.

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