The Movie Waffler Interview - A PERFECT HOST Writer/Director Chad Werner | The Movie Waffler

Interview - A PERFECT HOST Writer/Director Chad Werner

chad werner
Filmmaker Chad Werner talks his new indie thriller.

The last thing you’d expect from a filmmaker whose first cinematic love was The Pink Panther and Caddyshack is a chilling indie horror-thriller. Director and co-writer Chad Werner describes how A Perfect Host came to be.

a perfect host poster

Growing up, was there a type of film you gravitated towards?

Hmm… my Dad is a big film fan and I remember getting kicked off to a lot of movies that I may not have seen otherwise for a kid in Texas. The original Pink Panther series were always a go to for me, along with Caddyshack, Dumb and Dumber, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski. Things that made my dad laugh, I probably wanted to emulate. I loved silly comedies that were made by smart people, and I probably laughed a lot at jokes I didn’t understand at the time. As I got older and understood films were made by people and not just things on TV, I started nerding out on directors and screenwriters and their influences. Always gravitating toward that silly and slightly darker comedy with intentional style.

To do a film like A Perfect Host, I imagine you’d have to be a fan of genre films - any in particular that used to play on a regular loop at the homestead?

I think I really started accepting myself as a horror fan later in life. I was too much of a baby to really dive in at a young age. I always loved the experience of watching horror films though. I remember the first Halloween my friends and I decided we were too old to Trick-or-Treat we gathered around and watched Halloween and probably didn’t sleep that night because we were 12 and afraid of Michael Myers in our closet. Or going to see Paranormal Activity, I probably just wanted to impress some girl I was with at the movie theatre by showing how “tough” I was; instead I was screaming way more than anyone in the theatre. I love how genre films can really bring an audience together with so little in the frame. Paranormal Activity was pretty revolutionary to a budding 14-year-old filmmaker. How they did so much with so little was fun to see for me.

And coming up, any filmmakers that you adored?

Absolutely. The Coen Brothers, once I found movies like Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, No Country For Old Men and these immensely rewatchable films that played on all types of genres but had such a singular style, I wanted to be just like them. Same with Scorsese, Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Hitchcock, and Wes Anderson.

I always knew I wanted to be a filmmaker of some sort from a young age. When I saw Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou when I was 11 or so, I realised I had to be a director. The style of that movie and its weirdness and colours struck a chord in me at that age. I saw that you can do something with movies that I hadn’t seen before. It was my gateway drug into a world of cinema.

a perfect host

And did any of them inspire your decision to move into filmmaking yourself?

Yes, all the ones mentioned above, but especially Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, Mike Judge, Robert Rodriguez, and I later discovered The Duplass Brothers. All these Texas guys showed me that following this path isn’t as insane as I thought, and Austin was in my backyard. Looking back, it was a huge reason I went to the University of Texas. I was probably trying to emulate their career paths.

You started in shorts, I believe?

I did. When I was a kid my parents gave me a mini-DV camcorder and my friends and I would shoot sketches in the neighbourhood. In high school we had this great English teacher who allowed us to make videos instead of write papers. He convinced me to submit one of those shorts to SXSW. I got in, and won the shorts category I was in, which was a nice little confidence boost. In college and beyond, I just continued to write and direct sketches, commercials, music videos, short films, web series etc. All with friends (most of whom are in or worked on A Perfect Host).

How hard was it to make the transition to full-length features?

In terms of writing, I’ve been working on feature scripts for a while, so this one actually happened really fast. It started as a comedy sketch, but I evolved it with Emily Hiott (she plays Becca in the film). When I got to actually writing it, the bones were there, and it came together really smoothly.

For production it was definitely a challenge maintaining stamina, but we shot this in 11 days - some short films have longer shoot dates than we did! Having a very specific plan makes filmmaking a lot easier. I drew out an animatic for every single shot, so my DP Brooks Birdsall and I knew what we were walking into every day. My producers (Jon Michael Simpson and Grace Potter) really made this happen too in terms of scheduling and team building. It was very tough, but also the most fun I’ve had in a long time.

a perfect host

And was it a daunting experience doing a film which, I imagine, you self-funded?

I was pretty scared. I was probably more intense on budget than before because I really wanted to be a good steward of the money we raised. Getting into the groove of production however, we learned so much, but as a director I felt like I was in a flow state. As soon as production started we all were in a full groove. Everyone helping, wearing many hats, and solving problems together. As soon as we wrapped I remember thinking, “How the hell did we do that?” If you have a willing and excited team it can work well. We were like kids at summer camp without adults. It was fun.

Is the movie you shot the same movie you wrote way-back-when?

It’s pretty similar. I wrote the script in November and we shot the movie in February, so a quick turnaround. We changed the order of some scenes and some of the dialogue got loosened up with the actors bringing what they brought to their performances, but the main structure and scenes are there. I was pretty specific in what we shot, and we didn’t have a lot of time for fluff, so to be honest there wasn’t a ton to work with variation-wise.

What makes the movie scary?

My friend told me after watching the movie, “it was a terrifying look into modern day wildly accepted practices.” Which I felt had a nice ring to it. We all use Airbnb, Uber, Craigslist, Ebay, Social Media – and put a lot of trust into strangers, which is the exact opposite of what we're told to do growing up. I think what’s so scary is not just the more fantastical elements of the story, but that we don’t typically think twice when using these services… I’m guilty of it too!

a perfect host

How important were the performances?

Very. Most of the cast were friends and collaborators from past projects, who I knew had these really authentic and fun performances in them. Watching them bring life to the characters is so great. Everyone had to bring a real three-dimensionality to each character in order for any of this to be believable, and they all did such a great job. Brady, who plays Tad, really makes the character so easy to hate, but also endearing in a strange way, which is not an easy thing to do.

I have to ask, how much emphasis did you put on sound -  it sets the scene nicely!

Thank you! I put a lot of emphasis on it. It’s been said before, but audiences forgive bad visuals, but they won’t forgive bad sound. Thankfully we had great departments handling both! My post sound mixer probably hates me because of all the notes, but I wanted everything to feel immersive and he did a great job. We worked for a while to get all the sound design just right.

From the music standpoint, I’m a big fan of juxtaposition and spent a lot of time searching for the right amount of eerie tongue and cheek old timey music, and based it a lot on the haunting folk songs of Connie Converse.

Our score, however, really made the film work. Jeff McQuitty (who also plays Sam in the film) brought the perfect sound that sets the tone and makes you feel immensely uneasy throughout each scene, we also have a working understanding and taste, so he just ran with it and my notes were minimal. Jeff is a great multi-hyphenate talent… you’ll be seeing his name many more times in the future.

A Perfect Host is released February 4th on DVD and Digital.