During the 2022 SXSW Film Festival, co-writers/co-directors Joseph and Vanessa Winter celebrated the world premiere of their low-budget, high-ambition throwback horror movie, Deadstream, as part of the fest’s Midnighters slate. Centered around a disgraced streamer (played by Joseph Winter) who sets out to win back his fans by livestreaming from a haunted house, the online personality gets more than he bargained for after he accidentally angers an evil spirit who is hellbent on making sure he pays for his misdeeds before the sun comes up.
While in Austin, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with the married creatives, who discussed the inspirations behind their approach to Deadstream, the challenges they faced in making sure the film felt like an authentic streaming experience, the film’s unique locale which became like another character in the project, and the duo also gush (and rightfully so) over the brilliant special effects work in the film created by Mikaela Kester and Troy Larson.
Look for Deadstream to premiere exclusively on Shudder later this year.
Great to speak with you both. I’d love to hear about how everything with Deadstream came together, because Shawn’s story has a lot of relevance in terms of things we're seeing today, which I thought was intriguing.
Vanessa Winter: Yeah, I think in some ways, we got interested in the format first, because we became fascinated with the idea of how we would do it if we were to present a livestream, and what was the most cinematic version of a livestream? That felt like an interesting challenge, where it was like, “Okay, if we're a little bit futuristic on the technology, where you can do a multi-cam broadcast, then it's like the livestream format,” that became interesting to me. So that was my interest.
Joseph Winter: With my character, he just started off as this guy that would just scream a lot. He was just like the world's biggest wuss, and that's still part of the intro. But there was this big controversy with PewDiePie a few years ago, and some other YouTubers around the exact same time, and when that happened, we started thinking that maybe that is something that could be tied into this character of Shawn, where maybe he's trying to recover from this big controversy. So, that started to inform the character. Then, we started deep diving into these existing YouTubers and trying to figure out their quirks and their personalities, and we realized, once you start watching these guys, they're legitimately good artists at what they do. Their content is actually pretty good, and there's a reason why people like them. So, it became important to us to not just parody an influencer, but actually try to give Shawn some real depth that would make you believe that somebody in the world would actually watch this person. So, it was important throughout the script that we really tried to make him feel like a real influencer.
I wanted to ask this because to those who may not understand, this project on paper could seem easy, where it’s like, "Oh, we're going to go make this little movie in a haunted house, and we just have to go and put up some cameras," and that’s that. But I feel like what you both have done here is incredibly impressive, and I have to ask, how challenging was it to get all of this technology to work the way you needed it to in the form that you needed it to, to be able to tell the story the right way and then ultimately come together in a way that actually looks authentic?
Joseph Winter: Yeah, we knew when we were writing it that we would need some major tech help, so we would need to partner with somebody that would be able to help us figure that out. Then we talked to our friend, Jared Cook. He ended up being a producer on this, and he's also the DP of Deadstream. He's like a one-man production team, with the commercial work that he does, and the tech stuff is his world. He immediately started researching cameras that could be used and the infrared cameras that could be used. We thought coming into this that the app that Shawn would use for the cameras was something that we thought we were going to have to green screen composite the interface onto an iPad, and obviously, that would take a lot of work. But Jared actually was like, "No, I think in Keynote, I can make something that you can interact with," and so he did. He started experimenting with that, and he was able to queue up videos of the individual rooms and have them on a grid so that when I tapped on one, it would play a real video. And I think that really brought a lot of production value to our little movie, the fact that it actually looks like a real app because I'm actually interfacing with something.
Vanessa Winter: So, to answer your question, it was hard. It took us months to get the rigs and the gear down to actually get it to be believable, and we got a lot of help from Jared, too.
Where on earth did you find this location, and is this based on something real? Because there’s no way I’m walking into that place at all [laughs]. So, I have to give you credit because that location becomes basically like another character in this movie, and a pretty darned scary one at that.
Joseph Winter: Oh, thank you. When we were writing the script, we felt like we were painting ourselves into a corner by how important the geography of the house was. It had to be a certain way. It had to be in the middle of nowhere. But at the same time, we didn’t think that this house existed in Utah, which is where we are. We thought that we'd probably have to settle on a house in a neighborhood somewhere. But I put out this call on Facebook, just asking if anyone knew of any abandoned houses, and there was this one that literally is in the middle of nowhere. It's in that condition, except actually worse than what it appears in the film, and it's really big, and it allowed us to do all the things that we needed to do to tell the story. In fact, it actually opened up some new possibilities with the script, because the secret room where they find that cellar and they walk down, that's an actual secret room in the house that we found. We knew we had to write it into the script as soon as we saw that. So, the house really helped some rewrites become a much better movie than what we had originally written.
Vanessa Winter: Yeah, the house just had so much character. Not only was it beat to hell, but the wallpaper and tagging brought a lot of color to the movie, which I think helped not only become a character of its own, but also made the wacky creatures feel more at home. And props to our production designer [Amy Leah Nelson Smith], because she really went with just embracing the color and textures. I think it brought a lot to the table.
I know we’re getting close on time, but I wanted to chat about the FX work that Troy and Mikaela did in this because like, holy crap. My jaw hit the floor at certain points in this, and they did an incredible job. Can you talk about working with them to create these characters and monsters?
Vanessa Winter: Well, Troy and Mikaela are both huge horror fans and so committed to their craft that, really, all the credit goes to them. They just have really great ideas, they've got a really great sense of humor, and they were so committed to the details. And I also think that, right away, they got the vision of just bringing a lot of personality to the creatures, making them their own little characters and just something that we haven't seen. So, I am a huge fan of their art.
Joseph Winter: It was interesting because when we were writing the script, we were very aware that we were writing a movie that was not super low-budget in its nature, because we just kept having these ideas for gag after gag. But we're like, “Let's just write it all down, and then we can scale back if we need to.” There was a time during production when we started to face the reality that we can't pull some of these off with the resources that we have, and we need to try to cut some of these gags out. When we proposed that to Troy and Mikaela, they were both like, "No, we signed up for this movie to make these gags, and we're going to find a way to do it." And they did. But not only that, they were adding things to it. Like, we wanted a long finger that goes up Shawn's nose, and that's all it needed to be. But Troy was like, "No, it's a finger that stretches and becomes long, because you don't see that in movies anymore," so he just did it. And we were just so fortunate to have Troy and Mikaela, who were just so excited to put everything they had into the film.
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