‘Open House’ dir. Kate Herron

A house hunting couple quickly discover it’s not the property chain that they are getting caught up in.

Director: Kate Herron
Producers: Luke Wicker & Wilf Eddings
DOP: Chris Andrews
Key Cast: Paul Foxcroft, Charlotte Gittins, Dean Kilbey, Briony Redman

C8: Where did the idea for ‘Open House’ come from?

KH: As it was made for a 48-hour competition we came up with something around the theme they gave us on the first night of the competition. We wanted a fun dramatic situation for them to base their improv round and to make sure each scene had it’s own dramatic arc within the main plot of the overall film. We had a few locations secured before the competition 48-hour weekend along with possible cast members. Having these in place really helped us when throwing ideas around for the story.

C8: You call ‘Open House’ an improvised short film. Can you talk about the process of creating a film with only a loose narrative?

KH: It was very important to me that before shooting we had a solid structure to the film so the pace didn’t meander. I also decided as we were going to be adding moments/ideas as we went that we would shoot most of the film chronologically. This gave me and the cast a lot of freedom with playing about with the dialogue and little character details that they found along the way and also helped me keep an eye on how it would all cut. A good example of this would be Paul`s (Real Estate Agent) accent. We were about 3 seconds before shooting and he mentioned he could do accents. He reeled off a tonne and we decided on Edinburgh. It was very fast paced.

C8: The actors are called improvisers in the credits. What does the different title signify to you?

KH: I wanted it to be clear to anyone watching that the cast were improvising. It`s a very unappreciated and incredibly difficult skill to do well so I wanted to make sure they were recognised for that.

C8: How did you cast the film? What were you looking for in your improvisers?

KH: I think I got particularly lucky with casting the film. I love improvisation particularly the work of Second City Chicago but realised foolishly after telling my producers I’d love to work with improvisers that I didn’t know any or anything about the improv scene in London. Luckily I googled, ‘Improv London’ and Paul’s face came up in a video like some great and powerful Oz. We met up and got on, so he introduced me to Briony and Charlotte who were other performers and the last piece of the puzzle was Dean who we found through a casting call. Complete credit to Dean too as he was thrown into a cast who had all performed together numerous times and completely held his own. As for casting the roles this was all done on the phone on the Friday once we had our idea. I didn’t meet Briony until on set so the first impression she got of me was my voice coming down her end of the phone asking if I could tie her up in a bath. She said yes and we now write together so it luckily worked out.

C8: How did you direct the improvisers? Did you rehearse at all?

KH: We didn’t rehearse anything. I spoke to the cast briefly about their characters while Chris our DoP was setting up lights but because of the nature of the competition and the pace we moved at a lot of the characters traits we found as we shot. The main direction was in the casting, as Dean was an outsider to the other cast who had all worked together we wanted to cast him as the husband, Paul and Charlotte are a couple in life so we asked them to play the love interest which left Briony with bath tub situation. Other the main direction was just editing scenes and cutting down, working out which information I needed to make the scene work.

C8: What was the editing process like? Did the improvisation make it difficult?

KH: I work with an amazing editor (Ellie Johnson at Speade) who despite the sleep deprivation sat with me all night (before heading to a full day of work the next day) and we worked through the footage. Ellie had cut all my films at film school so she was very good at decoding what ever madness might have spilling out my mouth after being awake for too many hours and making sense of that. I think our biggest challenge was just stripping back the material, even shortening the scenes on set we still had ample choice, so that was difficult in deciding which dialogue to keep but also which kept the story moving forwards.

C8: What did you shoot on and why did you choose this format?

KH: We were influenced by the style of ‘Parks and Recreation’ and ‘The Office’, using natural light and observational camera technique which we felt would suit the style of the comedy. We shot on two 7D cameras as on each take the dialogue would change so this allowed us two angles for the edit.

C8: If you could do the whole process again is there anything you would do differently?

KH: On this particular film no. It was tiring and everything we planned didn’t always work as is the nature of these competitions but at the end of the weekend I had learnt a great deal and I feel we had made a film that we were all proud of, even if rough-around-the-edges I look back on the weekend as the start of some really exciting creative collaborations, many of which still exist today.

C8: What was your background before getting into filmmaking?

KH: I started making films when I was 17, but looking back I think I`d really been making films since I saw ‘Jaws’ when I was 12, becoming traumatised and hypnotised by the “Alex Kinder” scene in particular. That summer was spent borrowing my parents’ home video camcorder and trying to recreate scenes from the film over and over. At first this was perhaps a form of therapy, but since then the camera hasn’t been put down.

C8: Where do you think is the best place for emerging filmmakers to showcase their work?

KH: I think the best place really depends on your project. Festivals are a great way to get industry attention and build your reputation as a filmmaker but at a festival sometimes your film might only be seen in a cinema by about 50 people, whereas there are great places online where over 10.K could potentially see your film. The way that films are being consumed is rapidly changing and it’s project dependent so I feel very lucky that ‘Open House’ has had a life in festivals and is starting to have one online as well.

C8: What, in your opinion, makes for a good collaboration?

KH: I think for me it’s that feeling when you meet someone who is on your wavelength, there’s a level of respect between you both but also enthusiasm. You don’t really feel like you’re trying.  My boyfriend who is also a filmmaker has a great way of summarising this, he says it’s better to have four people on set who really want to be there and enjoy the process than 30 people who kill the atmosphere.

C8: What is on the horizon for Kate Herron? Any upcoming projects?

KH: My latest short ‘Valentine’ is currently on the festival circuit having just screened at LOCO and I am currently casting on my new short, ‘Rest Stop’ which I am making on the Sky Comedy & LOCO London Comedy Film Festival mentor scheme. It’s about a self-obsessed Canadian backpacker who finds herself cajoled into believing that a handsome British man she meets in an M5 service station is her Guardian Angel.

I am also working on two features, one which won me a place on the Think-Shoot-Distribute film lab at the 57th BFI London Film festival and another which is being developed with producer Katie Mavroleon (associate produced Ricky Gervais` ‘Derek’ and ‘Lifes Too Short’). I also when not making my own films regularly write for BIFA-winning director Rob Savage, we recently just worked on a music video for the band British Sea Power together and have just secured funding for a short we co-wrote.