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Interview with Robert Woods, director of An Ideal Host
By James Whittington, Saturday 10th October 2020
Robert Woods

Ever had the dinner party from Hell with people you don't really relate to and seem alien? Well this is the premise of the the hilarious horror comedy An Ideal Host from director Robert Woods. Here he tells Horror about this cracking movie.

HC: What did you think of the script when you first read it and what made you decide that this would be your first project as a director?

RW: Tyler and I had been writing theatre together for a decade, but movies are our first love and we wanted to give it a crack as well. Tyler came up with the initial idea but we worked on the story together and it evolved a great deal from the initial pitch. As it was my first time directing, I think we were just trying to create something that we would watch, fun and contained, that wouldn't cost money.

HC: The cast are superb and really bounce off each other, did they have much rehearsal time?

RW: I play music for an improv comedy troupe here in Perth called The Big Hoo-Haa and pretty much all of the cast are members that have been performing fast paced off-the-cuff comedy together for many years, which was a huge help. They're all great actors, comedians and writers themselves and we knew they would all get along and just have a fun time with it. Evan Williams (Jackson) and Naomi Brockwell (Daisy) were the only ones that didn't know everyone else but they slotted right in. We shot for almost 2 weeks, generally starting in the afternoon and going to about 10pm and we all stayed together at the farm that was our location. In the mornings or between scenes I would often find the cast just running lines for upcoming scenes whilst having a meal or playing games which was encouraging to see because we certainly didn't have any time to rehearse whilst shooting the scenes.

HC: Were you nervous on your first day on set?

RW: I was very nervous on my first day on set. And it never went away. But it was definitely an excited nervousness. I remember we had scheduled a day off in the middle of the shoot and I drove to a local town and went to the cinema to unwind. But driving back to the farm and entering through those gates I was suddenly struck with a huge sense of dread at the realisation of what I had to get done now and not having any idea how to do it. I guess years of theatre has taught me to just embrace that and drive in head first. It's the only way to get anything done.

HC: Was there any time during the shoot that you thought you'd taken on too much?

RW: It never felt like I had taken on too much during the shoot, it just felt like there was never enough time to do all the things I needed to. The times where it felt like I might have taken on too much were before the shoot when I realised we had no producers so we'd have to organise everything ourselves and after the shoot when I realised I had to make something out of the crazy mess of footage I shot. The danger there was that I had NO time limit. It took about a year to put it all together, but that's including 3 or 4 months where I would just get so frustrated, I refused to even look at the footage anymore. But encouraging words from close friends that saw rough cuts helped push it through to the end.

HC: The movie plays lime Friends meets The Thing, was it hard balancing the comedy and horror elements?

RW: I liked the way the tonal shifts worked in the script and we shot so quickly and out of order that we all just relied on that and that it would all work when it was put together. Actually, the biggest struggle and one of the longest stumbling blocks came when I had an edit I was happy with and wanted to start composing some music. We watched the opening scenes with soundtracks from great comedy and horror films playing and it was really surprising that they all felt like they would work but they drastically changed the way you read the scene. Figuring out the sound of the music took a long time because it would easily pus the comedy or the horror too far that the shifts wouldn't work anymore.

HC: What's the most valuable lesson about directing you learned during the making of An Ideal Host?

RW: I guess the most important thing I learnt was you should have a producer, because I think I spent more time organising things than actually directing. I guess the other thing would be if you've got a good cast and a good script, that's 90% of the job done. I was reliant on them and just always trusted that it would be fun enough to watch these characters that my direction wouldn't derail it enough to be a problem.

HC: Will you be nervous when the movie gets its European premiere at Grimmfest?

RW: I'm not nervous, I'm excited! I'm just happy the film is finally getting out into the world and being seen by strangers, especially because there was never a certainty that would happen. We started this project as an experiment to see what we could do and made a rule that we would forge ahead no matter the setbacks, even if we only managed to shoot a few scenes we'd just use them on showreels and as experience for the next project. So, to have actually finished it and have it be seen by people feels like such a great accomplishment. I look forward to reactions to it, good and bad, I welcome them all.

HC: What's the worst dinner party you've been to?

RW: I think I avoid most dinner parties so thankfully there's been precious few incidents. If I go out, it's to the cinema and if I have people over it's to watch movies. The worst dinner party I went to had vegan desserts and they were all gross. You can totally get good vegan deserts but this was not them. To think you're going to get chocolate mousse but it's this bland soy bean paste stuff... It was very upsetting, I've never recovered.

HC: Do you believe in aliens?

RW: I don't know, I go back and forth, but either way it's an existential nightmare. I do like to think that if there is life out there, it's just as stupid as we are.

HC: So, what are you up to at the moment?

RW: I'm back to my usual routine of work and going to the cinema, I'm lucky enough to live in part of the world that's back to relative normalcy. Finishing the film and getting it ready for festivals has taken up much of my time but I'm just now freeing up time to start the next project. Tyler and I have been meeting with producers and applying for funding, two things we didn't have the first time around, so we'll see how that goes.

HC: Robert Woods, thank you very much.


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