Hello my fellow wordsmiths and page turners,
Today we are having a brief discussion with Gemma Hurley about her creative experiences, achievements and the overall effect that Lockdown has has had on her creative process.
So without any further waffle from me lets get right down to the interview!
1, Hi Gemma, can you please introduce yourself to our readers, and tell us a little about your early career and experiences up to this point?
Hello, I’m Gemma Hurley, a British Screenwriter working in TV and film with a love of horror, sci-fi and the fantastical. I grew up in north west London. My credits include the lockdown zoom horror HOST (Shudder), an upcoming episode of the horror series RED ROSE (Netflix / BBC), and an upcoming episode of supernatural crime thriller THE RISING (Sky Studios). I’m also developing several of my own projects and book adaptations with various companies.
I spent most of my twenties either co-writing comedy plays for Edinburgh Festival, working in admin or producing commercials while working on scripts in my breaks. I bit the bullet and quit my job in 2017 and had signed with my agent at Independent Talent by the end of the year. I’ve been building a career in the British TV industry ever since.
2, For those who have not heard of your latest work, what can people expect to see from your latest film, HOST?
HOST is about a group of friends who are bored of lockdown quizzes and decide to do a seance over zoom instead. Things don’t go well for them.
People have said it’s terrifying like Paranormal Activity / The Blair Witch Project, but it’s also pretty fun. The characters and the situation feel so relatable because it’s what most of us have been living with for the past few months, which is why it seems to get under people’s skin. Definitely recommend watching with friends for maximum thrills!
3, How does your experience working on Host compare to working on The Red Rose Episode, and was there anything you learnt from either experience that you are now implementing into your other projects?
Red Rose and HOST were very different experiences. Red Rose had a writers room, and several drafts of scripting over several months, while Host didn’t have a script and was only two weeks of development. At the end of the day I am a writer, so I am always going to want to write a script – that’s what I love doing – but devising a story with a director in a more unusually collaborative way is something I’d love to do again for sure.
4, What were the main difficulties you faced creating the film during Lockdown?
Developing a film over zoom without having met the team in real life was weird. We also had pressure to get the film out as soon as possible to not miss the moment – things were changing everyday.
The actors also had to film themselves as you couldn’t have film crews in their homes being at risk. All the stunts had to therefore be patched cleverly together in the edit between different stunt team member’s homes.
5, You say that there was a lot of pressure to get the film out whilst it was still poignant. Do you think now that you have paved the way so to speak for films to be made on this platform that we will see more films shot through streaming services like Zoom, and do you think these would be more cost-effective to the industry?
There may be a string of similar movies to come out of lockdown – not because of cost-effective measures, more because that was the only available option as Covid is still a threat to actors and crews alike. I hope this is not the foreseeable future of the medium though – that would bore me to tears – as while this was the best platform to tell the story, it would certainly limit the types of stories that could be told if self filmed movies (Zoom, Tiktok, found footage) were the only file-able avenue. Also zoom is pretty un-cinematic. No one wants to watch Batman or Tenet set on zoom.
6, Was there anything you wanted to include in the film but couldn’t due to lockdown constraints, and having now finished the film is there anything you would have done differently?
We had to change the ending to avoid the actors having to get too close to each other. Originally two of the actors hugged at the climax for this moment of connection we felt the film was building towards – but I think what we ended up with works even better because it’s all the more tragic / funny / relatable.
I only spent two weeks developing the scriptment with Rob Savage (director, co-writer, exec) and Jed Shepherd (co-writer, exec). There wasn’t time to write a script so the actors had to improvise dialogue around the beats we gave them. I think that was a blessing in disguise as the result was such a natural display of chemistry that you just really fake in a script. Even though it felt weird at the time providing such a loose blueprint of a story / relationship dynamic for the team to work off, it was for the better.
7, How much research was done for HOST, and how did you go about doing this given the lockdown restrictions?
Research in terms of development involved watching horror films in the found footage genre – from Ghost Watch to Lake Mungo and Paranormal Activity 3. We also did a real seance with the cast and a real medium which is where a lot of the inspiration for the first half of the movie came from. Other than that – a lot of our own experiences and our friends in lockdown went into the development of the characters and the banter.
8, How have you been recharging your creative batteries during lockdown?
I couldn’t really write in the early days. It is difficult writing anything in a tumultuous time where what is normal is changing week by week. I spent a lot of time just trying to tune into the world and how it was changing in the moment, but also watching content, playing wonderful games (Outer Wilds is AMAZING) and listening to a lot of podcasts. It was about consuming, not producing and being a bit kinder to my mind and body.
I managed to get away to France for 2 weeks in June though and developed a new show idea which was a wonderful experience.
9, Lockdown has been difficult for all of us, would you say the ‘experience’ has had a profound effect on yourself and how you perceive your work, and if so how?
Certainly a profound experience. How could it not be really? Now everything / our future / choices / relationships are coloured in a different light so I have welcomed the break and have tried to pay more attention.
10, Things like Creepy Pasta, and Dear David are sensations on twitter and the internet as a whole, would you say that HOST was inspired by these kinds of stories? and can you see yourselves making a sequel in a similar vein?
To some extent yes but really this was more a homage to horror films. Rob and Jed are encyclopaedias of the horror genre with a vast amount of love for these films and I think that is what a lot of the scares in the film take inspiration from. In terms of a direct sequel, I don’t think there is the will to do that right now, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be other films with at least some of the team 😉
Unfortunately this concludes today’s interview with Gemma.
Once again I would like to thank our guest for taking the time to answer my quizzie questions. I look forward to seeing more of your work in the future, in particular your upcoming British adaptation of the Belgium show HOTEL BEAU SEJOUR (The Rising)!!!