[SXSW Interview] Joseph Winter and Vanessa Winter for DEADSTREAM

[SXSW Interview] Joseph Winter and Vanessa Winter for DEADSTREAM
Courtesy Blue Finch Films
In their feature film debut DEADSTREAM, co-directors/writers Joseph and Vanessa Winter have created a fun, fresh found-footage film that harkens back to 80s-style practical effects while making a statement about toxic internet culture.

Similar to YouTube personalities like Jake Paul, DEADSTREAM introduces us to Shawn (Joseph Winter), a washed up internet personality trying to win back his followers after a public controversy left him disgraced and demonetized. Deciding to livestream himself spending one night alone in a haunted house, he accidentally pisses off a vengeful spirit. His comeback event becomes a real-time fight for his life (and social relevance) as he faces off with the sinister spirit of the house and her own powerful following.

Recently, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Shannon McGrew chatted with Joseph and Vanessa Winter for their SXSW World Premiere of DEADSTREAM where they discussed everything from creating a found-footage movie, urban legends, and more.

Thank you both so much for taking the time to speak with me today. To start things off, what inspired you both to do a found-footage film?

Vanessa Winter: We wanted to do something that we could do ourselves. I think we got sick of not having a feature off the ground. Joseph had this crazy idea of just doing a whole movie with a camera just on his face. And initially, I was like, that’s a bad idea. And then somehow some extra cameras and an exploding head got introduced and I was like, I’m in. Ultimately, it is almost a movie that’s just on his face [Laugh]. I got really interested in the format the more we started brainstorming about it. I was like, how could we do something in real-time that could be entertaining? I was also super fascinated about trying to do some 80s style creature effects that would be on screen for a long time, even though we were doing a more naturalistic livestream format. Trying to earn that zaniness by the end of the movie was something that was really fun and intriguing to me.

Joseph Winter: The challenge for me that creatively inspired me that I loved is how do we start off as realistic as a found footage movie should be, but end up being just cinema. Like really cinematic and go full Evil Dead 2 or something where you didn’t know that was going to happen but somehow you justified that through the movie. That was keeping me creatively stimulated. Like how do we get to exploding heads and really wacky cameras…

Vanessa Winter: …putting a camera on a villain. I think that was the one we were like, can we get there? Can we go that far?

Joseph Winter: That’s the thing with the score, Shawn playing his own music throughout. I was like, how do we justify these things that are traditionally in a movie, but usually not in found footage stuff.

As for the manor itself, was there already an urban legend surrounding it? Or was that something you created?

Joseph Winter: So that house has a rich history of hauntings and the locals are really terrified of it, legitimately. So much so that there was a break-in one night and our producer, he lives 25 minutes away, in the middle of the night he was driving out there after the cops were called. When he went to the house, the officer was still in his car and Jared Cook went over to him and he rolled down the window and he said, honestly, I was too scared to go in until you got here. He grew up in the area and everyone just knows that it’s haunted. It was really interesting filming a movie there because there were some bat attacks while we were rolling. We have footage of Melanie Stone and I screaming and running as bats are circling our heads. And multiple crew members were saying things like they felt fingers tickle the back of their neck in certain rooms. So it had this spooky vibe, but for us, I think the two of us, there was just so much stress from the logistics of it that we never felt…

Vanessa Winter: …we spent too much time there.

Joseph Winter: We spent too much time there during the day and it was too stressful for us to actually feel scared.

Vanessa Winter: I was scared of the teenagers though. Our outhouse was kind of out away from the house. There’s always like these teenage guys breaking in so every time I had to walk over to the outhouse I was kind of like, please, no man show up out of these woods [Laughs].

Joseph and Vanessa Winter l PC: Duston Todd

There are loads of impressive practical effects used in this film. What was the hardest scene for you to execute?

Vanessa Winter: One particularly rough night for Joseph was when we did the bathtub scene because he was sitting in that water for about nine hours. And then we also had to fit in a stunt performer in there with him, and she had to be submerged in the water and her latex suit absorbed about 50 pounds of water. That was just very technical of carefully executing all of those little shots. And then the very end of the shoot was the exploding head. And we weren’t quite getting the explosion with tons of spray or the camera that we wanted, it was kind of shooting out the back. So that was a very hands-on technical day for everybody. We had the costume designer putting in safety pins and kind of piercing back the head and everybody kind of had their hands on it. The makeup artist was making up extra goo on the spot, throwing it together. I think I go to that one just because it was also really rewarding.

Joseph Winter: That was the day we really looked around us at the crew, the tiny crew that we had, and just felt so much love for them because it was such a long day. It was a ridiculously long day that we actually were dismissing the crew after a while saying we only need four of us to stay and make this work, but almost all the crew stayed because they wanted to see it through and they wanted to be a part of this and make sure…

Vanessa Winter: …they were very invested in that exploding head [Laughs]. It felt good to be with a bunch of people…

Joseph Winter: We’re all gonna succeed together, we’re all gonna fail together, but dammit we’re going to hold these pieces of brain together and see what we can do.

At the beginning of the film, you mention the film Ghost Dad. It was such a random yet funny throw-away line that I was wondering if you had a close attachment to that film.

Joseph Winter: I just thought it was a hilarious joke when it popped into my mind. I think I saw it when I was young and forgot it very quickly, but it was just a funny joke to me. I have no attachment to it [Laughs].

Vanessa Winter: I don’t know if our producer would appreciate us saying this, but to get them to get the rights for that quick flash of that poster was a thousand bucks. And our producer was like, I don’t think we can afford that on our budget. And Joseph and I were so attached to that joke that we’re like, we will sell some stuff, put that joke on us [Laughs].

What’s so great about this movie is that it feels very natural in how someone would react to this situation. Was there a lot of room for improv?

Joseph Winter: We couldn’t afford to improvise because as we were doing rehearsal… so we went to the house and actually shot almost the whole movie during the day while the house was being worked on. It was really obvious that if it wasn’t tightly scripted, we didn’t have a watchable movie. Shawn talks for so long and has to cover so much ground in the first third of the film that there was no time to be anything but on point and to say the exact thing that needed to be said in that moment. So we rewrote and rewrote and rewrote. It was pretty hard trying to execute that precision, but also make it feel like it was improvised from Shawn at that moment.

Vanessa Winter: Joseph has smart ideas. He came up with some good ideas on set.

Last but not least, the film features a horde of terrifying creatures. Out of all of them, which one scared you the most and/or was your favorite?

Joseph Winter: I think for me, they just all brought me so much joy when I saw them starting to come together. I was just happy with each one that Troy Larson was presenting to us. I didn’t even entertain the scary ones once I saw them. I think in concept, the Corner Man just being like the tall and skinny thing that you see in the corner, that idea was really scary to me.

Vanessa Winter: The conjoined twins were still…even though our creature designer had done little maquettes of the design, I didn’t get the full vision until he brought it on set. So that was a really fun, creepy surprise. And the teeth are really…I don’t know if that’s fully appreciated in the film but the mouth and the way he crafted the teeth are very terrifying. So that might be mine.

DEADSTREAM had its World Premiere on March 11, 2022, at SXSW. Make sure to check out our review! The film was recently picked up by Shudder, so stay tuned for more news on its release date!

Shannon McGrew
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