ZH: How young were you when you decided you wanted to become a movie director? Was there one specific movie that you saw which inspired you?
JR: I was actually about to head off to university to study history when my godmother asked me what I would really enjoy doing. I said I like watching films and she persuaded me to do a film degree – talk about close your eyes and jump. Platoon was the first film that really made an impact on my life but it was actually watching Cujo, the old Stephen King movie about a rabid dog, that made me want to become a director. The way Lewis Teague, the director, moves the camera is amazing. He ended up directing the Dukes of Hazard TV reunion – oh well! I’m a massive King fan and it’s through a love of telling stories that I do what I do…oh no wait…it’s to get the girls. Doesn’t work though.
ZH: Your first movie, Sanitarium, came out in 2001. Was it a happy experience and are you pleased with the end result?
JR: Sanitarium was awesome. I spent two weeks sleeping in a padded cell living off crisps. The film is flawed no doubt but I’m really proud of it. There’s blood and sweat in that movie. And working with Uri Geller was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. He was a lot of fun. I used to love it when he’d phone people he didn’t know. He’d say his name and they’d never believe it – very funny.
ZH: Zone Horror is currently showing your 2005 movie Forest of the Damned. Did you have more creative control on that movie compared to your first?
JR: Sanitarium I co wrote and directed so I guess in a sense I had more freedom on Forest but by the time I got to Forest I was much more worried about the commercial aspect so that really controls you all by itself. When I did Sanitarium or Hellbreeder I didn’t think for a moment about the selling of it. Just went out and shot what I wanted to shoot.
ZH: So how did When Evil Calls come about?
JR: Ben Grass, the producer, had just left Sony to form a company, Pure Grass, to make mobile entertainment. He was looking for a horror director and approached my agents at ICM and they suggested me. Ben and Zone Horror pretty much let me do my own thing totally. I really respect that Zone put such a lot of faith (and money) into something that was really a massive risk. Ben’s a real pioneer. If he could just learn to be punctual he could take over the world.
ZH: Where did the idea for the story come from?
JR: The basis of the story is based on the old story Monkey’s Paw: you make a wish and it comes true in a horrible way. I just honed it with my writing partner Chris Leonard into something that was contemporary and didn’t involve evil mobile phone masts – seriously, the mobile companies were big on that one.
ZH: How different is it directing a movie that’s being made for mobile phones rather than a normal cinema movie?
JR: I had to paint in quite broad strokes. I took a decision early on to go for a gross out style of horror, as opposed to psychological, as I figured that would work better on the small screen. The characters are quite broad as well but shot wise I lensed it in a similar way to how I would a feature film.
ZH: Horror writer Shaun Hutson appears in Episode 12, “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner”. Seeing as though he has a cameo in Forest of the Damned was this your idea?
JR: Yeah man, I love Shaun! He’s crazy. God knows how many pills he has to take every morning to stop him turning into Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining but he’s a great laugh. I didn’t get to spend too much time with him on this one but I have no doubt we’ll work together again soon. It’s my ambition to turn him into the next Marlon Brando… it may take some time.
ZH: Did you insist that it should be gory and not be watered down just because it was for the WAP format?
JR: I really tried to push right from the beginning to make sure that we spent a lot of money on effects. I really shot balls out without thinking about any ratings issues. We’ve had a few interesting moments where it looked like no one was going to take it because of the gore content but in the end they all have! Some of the episodes are really quite full on to say the least!
ZH: Was it a difficult shoot then? What was the atmosphere on set like?
JR: The film was a blast. Zone were behind us all the way and Ben, the producer, just took all the s**t so I just got on with playing with monsters! I have a crew of people around me at Gatlin Pictures, my production company, and we’d just come off two back-to-back feature films so we were all quite battle hardened and slick. There were a lot of problems: it was a massive cast and quite a big operation for the money but hey, I had fun. I think you might have to ask the production crew for the real picture! But I just get to set each day and be like: “what is it today? Naked volleyball or killer clowns and lesbian cannibalism?” What a job man! Not sure it’s quite what dad had in mind when he was paying my school fees!
ZH: Do you find clowns creepy in real life?
JR: No, not really. I’m just a massive fan of Stephen King’s IT. Oscar was awesome as the clown; he really bought it to life!
ZH: Can you see this form of entertainment taking off?
JR: Actually, yes. I watched the episodes on a phone and they really work. Obviously that’s because I’m an amazing director but I think the technology really supports it – the episodes do look great.
ZH: What does it feel like to be part of something very unique? Were you aware that such a series had never been made for mobile phones?
JR: I’m really proud of the whole venture. As I say hats off to Zone for taking the risk and to Ben for dreaming it up!
ZH: Do you have a favourite episode?
JR: Hmm… the one where Hilary gets her arm chopped off in the garbage disposal is great but I think they’re all pretty good.
ZH: Would you another series for mobile phones?
JR: No. How much money? Oh alright then. No seriously I’d have no problems with doing it again. It was a blast and man what a cast to work with!
ZH: Johannes Roberts, thank you very much.