The Movie Waffler Interview - PLAYHOUSE Writer/Directors Fionn and Toby Watts | The Movie Waffler

Interview - PLAYHOUSE Writer/Directors Fionn and Toby Watts

fionn watts toby watts interview
The filmmaking brothers discuss their Scottish set horror.

Premiering at Frightfest back in August, Playhouse centres around a notorious horror writer who moves into an ancient castle with his teenage daughter to work on his next play; only to face terrifying consequences when his daughter falls prey to a supernatural evil lurking within the castle walls.

It’s been five years since brothers Toby and Fionn Watts first came up with the idea for Playhouse, as they explain to us in this exclusive interview.

fionn watts toby watts interview


Playhouse. How long of a journey has this been for you, lads?

Wow, yeah, a long time! Although we shot the film at the end of 2018, and wrote the screenplay earlier that year, we were working on ideas that eventually led to the outline for Playhouse some years before that. So from script to screen, three years, but from starting working on ideas that eventually became Playhouse, more like five years. And if we go back further to when we decided to go for it as filmmakers with the aim of one day making that first feature, more like 15 years!


When did you first put pen to paper on the script?

We started developing the treatment for the film at the end of 2017 through until early 2018. It was probably around March or so of 2018 when Toby actually started writing the screenplay, and it took a few months of work and revisions to have a final draft. And even then we were pulling scenes out and making changes up until right before the shoot at the end of 2018. Scheduling and limitations of the location can impose some interesting restraints on the screenplay! But these can also create new ideas and opportunities, so bring it on.


And the idea evolved over time, I believe?

Yeah, we went through so many different ideas, all set at the location that we filmed at in the north of Scotland. We knew we had to make a film here - how could we not? - the question was simply, ‘what’s the film?’ We had ideas for a comedy mock documentary, for a heart-searing family drama, a sci-fi thriller. We spent months developing each of these, creating characters, backstory, controlling ideas. We loved all the ideas but eventually we realised that the location just didn’t feel like it made sense of the story. It’s a really unique place and if we made a film that didn’t belong there, audiences would be confused. Only certain kinds of characters would actually live there or move there. Ultimately, we landed on this ambitious, unhinged horror writer - exactly the kind of person who would buy a dilapidated Scottish castle by the sea - and worked out the idea from there. And the rest is history!


Do you find one of you are better at writing situations, and the other dialogue?  Who writes what?

We both work together intensively on the treatment, which is mostly plot and events, tone and subtext. But when it comes to actually writing the screenplay, it’s Toby who sits down and does the lonely job of hammering the keys. The craft of writing has always been more Toby’s thing, whilst Fionn has always been happy to be involved at the ideas and development stage and then let Toby get on with creating the dialogue and grafting through the script itself. After the first draft, Fionn always comes in with really helpful notes on the tone, the pacing, the dialogue and characterisation and more, which is key for Toby to get perspective on the drafts he’s working on. In fact, Toby made a joke when we had a meeting with all our crew the night before shooting, which was that he had one more credit than Fionn, that of the ‘Writer’, so you need to listen to him more. We can laugh about it because although it’s true that Toby has the screenplay credit and Fionn has a ‘Story By’ credit, when it comes down to it, we’re both so involved at the concept and outlining stage that even though Toby wrote the screenplay, it has never felt like it’s ‘Toby’s script’. It’s both of ours. Toby is just doing the labour!


Co-directing. So who gets to hold the megaphone? In all seriousness, I imagine there’s a lot of compromising going on?

We have quite a fluid process between us. We’ve been making films as brothers for years and we’ve just found a way of working and communicating that makes sense for us. Broadly, Toby will get more hands on with the director of photography and actors and work out the blocking and shot grammar, whilst Fionn keeps a close eye on performances and how things are working as a whole. But this could change depending on how strongly either of us would feel about a scene. Sometimes Fionn would jump in and Toby would step back so Fionn could really drive things the way he sees it. The key to this working, though, is that we were so incredibly unified in our vision from the start and in our planning of the shoot, that we never had to debate anything on set. We’d only have creative discussions around the nuances of performance or whether we were achieving what we planned. There’s simply no time on set to be disagreeing with each other or talking about who’s going to do what, or working out from scratch what a scene needs to accomplish, let’s put it that way.


Have you always got along? I can’t imagine two squabbling brothers directing a movie together…

In a nutshell, yes. We’re best of friends. In our early days of filmmaking, we definitely stood on each other’s toes. We were both making films separately for a few years before joining together and this created a lot of tension when we’d be working together, particularly in the edit. There’s no right or wrong way to make a film, so you really have to learn to respect each other’s way of doing things. It took time, but now we instinctively know what the other wants and we can sense when one of us isn’t happy with something. Most if not all of these issues are worked out before the shoot, though, during the hard graft of creating the story and the screenplay. If it ain’t right on the page it ain’t right on the stage. When it comes to directing on set, we were just referring to our notes and our shot list and simply executing what we’d discussed in detail long before. However, we had to stay open to new ideas, of course, and numerous times one or the other of us would have a brain wave and suggest a new shot or different approach to a scene. But because we were so unified in our vision from the outset, we knew we could trust each other, even if we needed to see it play out in front of the camera before we knew it worked.


Without going into spoiler territory, do you have a favourite moment in Playhouse?

Great question! We could probably pick a few for different reasons. For example, when a tricky steadicam shot just worked beautifully, or when the light fell unexpectedly and enhanced a moment, or when an actor gave a brilliantly nuanced performance you didn’t expect. But if we had to choose one moment, it’s when a couple of the characters are having a drink together and there’s a shot we never planned to get but happened to spot in a window reflection whilst shooting a different angle. The scene didn’t feel like it was working until we swung the camera around and grabbed this shot - and from that moment on, everyone in the room knew we had cracked it, and it just made sense of what the scene was about. A happy accident, they call it!

Playhouse horror movie poster

Playhouse is on US/CAN VOD now. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.