ComingSoon.net recently talked exclusively to Lisa Comrie about her directorial debut Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour. Comrie co-wrote and directed the family mystery thriller that is scheduled for release nationwide in theaters on October 19–just in time for Halloween.
The film tells the plight of a 17-year-old girl named Sarah Landon, played by Rissa Walters, who returns her hometown and gets caught up in a paranormal mystery that revolves around two brothers, a psychic, and a town’s dark secret. When Sarah comes to Pine Valley for a visit, she discovers the guestroom where she is staying appears to be haunted. She also finds out that one of the brothers believes an evil entity will destroy him on his 21st birthday.
CS: With a PG rating the film will be suitable for the entire family to watch.
Lisa Comrie: It’s a real easy fun ghost story for teens and ‘tweens alike. Parents love it too. It’s a fun ghost story that is actually a creepy mystery rather than the whole blood and guts type film. It’s a thriller for the whole family. We found that a 12-year-old is a lot different than a six year old (when it comes to creepy and scary stories). They want real creepy stuff. I was into Ouija boards and scary stuff like that. I was into mysteries and ghost stories all the time. It’s been real fun watching how test audiences react to the film. Nine-year-olds are loving it. Twelve and even fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen years old love it too. It’s a fun mystery.
CS: There are some older kids, and even adults, that don’t particularly care for the blood, guts and gore that are used in many of the horror movies we see today. What do you think about some of these gory graphic films?
Comrie: I’m a wimp. (laughing) We want to focus on a real creepy story that involves a light action ghost storyjust more of a real creepy story that you can get scared by. It’s more of a psychological scare that’s not focusing on a lot of special effects. It’s more like what is behind that door rather than something’s going to jump out at you. It was all in the mind and it really turned out to be a really fun film.
CS: Why did you choose to do the location filming in Fallbrook and Pine Valley, California?
Comrie: The movie is actually centered around Pine Valley. We wanted to find a really cool town to film in and Pine Valley was the perfect place. What happened was when we were writing the screenplay we were looking for a location. We looked around Pine Valley and found these really cool authentic locations that we felt brought the small town to life. We shot everything in Pine Valley, but we also found a house in Fallbrook that worked out great as a haunted house. It was actually an old schoolhouse back in the 1800s. It really brought that spooky feeling of being haunted. It was creepy when we were filming there, especially when we were shooting late at night.
CS: Did anybody actually experience paranormal activity while shooting on location?
Comrie: It was kind of funny because I don’t know if the crew members were trying to scare us, but they kept saying, “did you hear that in the attic?” Nothing really happened but there was always a feeling of uneasiness.
CS: In your own personal life have you ever experienced any kind of paranormal occurrences?
Comrie: When I was in the fifth grade I went to this really creepy haunted house called the Whaley House in San Diego. It has been declared as one of the most haunted houses in America. I went with my fifth grade class and kind of ventured off from the others with a friend of mine and we crept into a restricted area where we saw this woman there and she had an iridescent glow. Of course, we ran away screaming and got back with our class. When we went back there she was gone. To this day my friend and I still talk about that moment and wonder what it was we actually saw. I definitely believe there are a lot of unexplained situations that go on in the world.
CS: Tell me about the family connection in association with the film.
Comrie: There are two brothers in the movie. One plays a skeptic of the paranormal and the other one plays a real believer in the paranormal. He thinks that an evil spirit is going to try to kill him on his 21st birthday. When it came time to cast these two characters I immediately turned to my brothers. I knew we would get great performances out of them because I know them so well. It was fun pushing buttons knowing the idiosyncrasies I could bring out of them. I co-wrote the screenplay with my Uncle John. The story came from a ghost story that he had written. I immediately felt that this would be a perfect movie for an audience that can’t really go into these scary movies yet. And also for those who love ghost stories and mysteries who don’t want to see all the blood. We just sat down and wrote the screenplay together and I’m so thrilled that is coming out around Halloween. It’ll be perfect for all the creepiness and spookiness that Halloween can bring.
CS: Has your family been involved in films before?
Comrie: Our family had done a movie called “Mystery at Sam’s.” My dad and uncle worked on the film and also produced it. So, growing up I was kind of in that environment. My siblings were really excited to be caught up in the film bug. It wasn’t some movie that went out in a wide release.
CS: Where is your family from originally?
Comrie: Originally, we are from Canada. We moved down to San Diego when I was five. I went to school at Northwestern University in Chicago.
CS: How long did it take to complete the film from start to finish?
Comrie: We filmed last summer and it was under a month. Then it went under the director’s cut. It went to a great editor up in Hollywood named Andrew Cohen. He took it to a whole other level. I guess you could say it has been a year’s process now. We really wanted to focus on it coming out around Halloween. It’s a perfect time to release the film.
CS: There seems to be a wide open market for this kind of film. Was “Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour” an easy sell to get it out there to the public?
Comrie: The executive producer, Mark Borde, was fantastic. He understood what we were trying to do here. And Freestyle, the distributing company, saw that the film appealed to teens and ‘tweens. When everyone hears about this film they wonder how come there aren’t other PG scary movies. There really isn’t an answer for it. If you go to Barnes & Noble and other bookstores you will find so many ghost stories that are out there for the teens and ‘tweens. We wrote the movie for those who are nine and up. It was fascinating to us that there weren’t a lot of true ghost stories made for them. They are either too scary for them or they have way too much blood in them.
CS: Many of the true ghost stories that people talk about really don’t have a lot of blood, guts and gore associated with them.
Comrie: That’s so true. It comes down to what actually is going on. A lot of times the scary parts are when you can relate to those moments like when you have to go outside and walk in the dark and not know where you are going. That’s kind of where we put Sarah Landon–in a scenario where she is in this guesthouse and she has to go to the main house in the middle of the night during the paranormal hour, which is midnight to 1 A.M. That’s when supernatural entities are at their peak of power. It’s more fun to use the psychological aspect in a mystery because there is a big audience for that too.
CS: Were there any challenges or obstacles that you had during the production of the film?
Comrie: While filming on location we wanted to bring out the authentic feel of the town. Convincing people to allow us to film and come into their homes in a small town like Pine Valley was slightly challenging. They are not used to having a big film crew coming in and staying until two in the morning. But, it worked out really great and they had so much fun as extras in the movie.
CS: What was it like staying in Pine Valley while shooting the scenes?
Comrie: It was fun. There was just one motel in town and that’s where we all stayed. Lots of times we would talk about the paranormal because we were making a movie about ghosts. That was kind of the topic of conversation, and, I guess, you could say it was creepy to be in a town where you are filming all these paranormal moments in the movie. The town was fantastic to film in and the people were very hospitable.
CS: Can you elaborate on the prospect of this story becoming a series for Sarah Landon in future films?
Comrie: We got to thinking that this could be a great series. We have already started working on the next one called “Sarah Landon and the Shadow People.” Rissa Walters plays Sarah Landon. She is such a fantastic actress and is so much fun to work with. She brought so much life to the character. She’s signed on to do the next one too. We’re also planning on doing a book series.
CS: Tell us about Rissa Walters and how she got the role of Sarah Landon.
Comrie: Casting Sarah Landon was probably the most fun, and, yet, also the most challenging. I was trying to find someone who was adorable and strong and intelligent, but had to be believable as the 17-year-old character. When John and I were writing, Rissa was someone I had in mind as a prototype and she is a family friend. After we finished the screenplay we went out looking for an actress to play Sarah Landon and we wanted someone like Rissa. We went out and did a nationwide search and brought the tapes back with us to go over them and had Rissa come over. We were watching them and couldn’t find anyone like Rissa. What happened was I came across a film that she had done. It was kind of a creepy film and I saw this fear, this amazing sense of being able to show fear, and I thought, “Oh my God, Rissa is Sarah Landon.” I cast her and she was totally game for it. It has been a really great experience working with her. She has such a great energy about her.
CS: What was it like having your brothers and family members on the set while filming?
Comrie: There was definitely moments where I could push buttons more easily than if I didn’t know them so well. If something came up and there was a moment when I said the wrong thing it actually worked out very well because I got some great reactions with the camera rolling. The thing with working with family is that it is fun and it was great for us. I think growing up and working with each other on little short films–we always had fun doing that.
CS: I noticed there are three of your brothers acting in the film. How many kids are there in your family?
Comrie: There are six kids. I’m the oldest. Rick played Johnny Woods, a small role in the movie, and he worked on the film as well. He did a great job. The two main characters are played by Brian and Dan.
CS: Are you planning on working on any other types of films in the future?
Comrie: I love family films. I’m excited about “Sarah Landon and the Shadow People,” but I’m also doing some writing about an offbeat comedy. I’m kind of into both genres.