The recently released Stoker Hills is an entertaining horror film that blends found footage with traditional filmmaking to create a propulsive and compelling viewing experience. Now available on digital and on demand, Stoker Hills follows three college students whose plans to make a horror movie are foiled when they find themselves trapped in a horrific situation. They must rely on two detectives who stumble upon the camera they left behind.
1428 Elm had the chance to chat with the film’s director, Benjamin Louis, about his feelings on the found footage drama, working with Tony Todd, and much more!
Stoker Hills interview with film director Benjamin Louis
1428 Elm: How did you become attached to direct Stoker Hills?
Benjamin Louis: It all started from the screenplay. I knew the writer Jonah [Kuehner] for a while, we used to play basketball together, we still play basketball together, but I didn’t know him, he was just one of the guys.
One day there were fewer people there, so we got to get closer, and he was telling me he is a screenwriter, and I told him I’m a filmmaker, so then he sent me two screenplays from that conversation and this was one of them. I really like this one because I thought, as you can see, it’s very different in the way he approached found footage.
1428 Elm: One of the things I liked about this movie is that it’s a hybrid between found-footage and traditional filmmaking. What was it like to alternate between those different forms?
BM: That wasn’t that difficult for me because my previous film was a film called State’s Evidence, which the screenwriter Mark Brown had sent me that screenplay, and it was written where it was all found footage and all the directions and all the angels were from the camera POV. At the time, I told him, I see what you have here, but I want to shoot the film from the POV and then also have standard coverage where I cut out of it, and he said, “but then it wouldn’t be found footage.” It is still found footage. I’m cutting from found footage.
From that, I just wanted a different angle. I found that what found footage is, it’s just a format. It’s a way of telling a story. There’s no reason why you can’t get out of it. That gave me the confidence to say, okay, you can play with the format. And that film worked. So when Jonah had already written [the Stoker Hills script] to be, here is the found footage, and in the initial draft, everything was found footage and then halfway through the movie, it stops, I told him my idea to reshift the scenes and end at a cliffhanger.
Every time we go to [traditional coverage], there would be a cliffhanger. [Jonah] was open to that, and we developed it, and I was fully confident. If it was on the page to me, it worked. I realized it would be more interesting and refreshing to watch something like that.
1428 Elm: Something that’s interesting is that those moments where we transition out of found footage, we’re drawn in like the cops to find out what’s going to happen next.
BM: Because basically, we have two parallel stories. Until today, I haven’t seen that where it’s written in a way where you are first invested in the found footage, and then these people who are solving the crime, that’s their story, but you still have unresolved points that you need to go back to the other story, so it results in parallel stories. That was the approach that I’m hoping people enjoy.
1428 Elm: I think it feels like a natural evolution. What is your feeling about the found footage genre in general? It seems to have a lot of conflicting opinions.
BM: I feel it is here to stay. You just have to make it refreshing every time. At the end of the day, if you are telling a story well, if you use the format properly, I can’t see someone going, “this is found footage I don’t want to see it.” What I think, a lot of time, is the hurdle, is that the people pushing the film, the distributors and people behind the scenes, have to understand that maybe the marketing is harder for them because they might think that because found footage is so accessible, everyone wants to do it.
To me, it’s not going anywhere. I watched a film on Netflix, I guess they call it found footage, it was just a young man at his computer, and it was really well done, how he’s looking for this girl he used to like while he’s still back east and the girl moved to Los Angeles, and you’re going back and forth. I don’t care that it’s just a little camera sitting there. He was a great actor, and I wanted to see what happened to the girl. To me, found footage is not going anywhere, and I encourage people to make it.
1428 Elm: In those scenes where you have found footage, was that all scripted or was some of it improv? It felt very natural between the two leads.
BM: It’s primarily scripted, but I let the actors ad their own. The two actors, Jake and Ryan, played by Vince Hill-Bedford and David Gridley, were friends for real, and they’re still friends off-camera. So, we cast them, I didn’t realize they were, and there was some adlib stuff that felt more natural.
And I believe in ad-libbing because I think, for me, the script is the road map to say “we need to go here,” but somehow it’s just more fun if you let people stop and grab a coffee, stop and pet a dog—let them play as they are going, they’re still going where they are going. So, there was a good amount of that and some of the stuff Vince and David were doing, you could script that, but it just wouldn’t be as organic. We kept the camera rolling, and they were doing different things.
1428 Elm: You guys got the chance to work with Tony Todd in this movie. How did that come about, and what was it like to work with him?
BM: That was excellent. He was really pleasant to work with and really brought a lot to the character, and also he added some material from his own suggestions. Because we basically made a list of people we’d like to be in the movie, and he was at the top of the list. So I was like, okay, let’s get a quick “no” and move down the list. [Laughs] We sent the script to his agent and manager, and they loved the script and passed it on to him, and he said yes.
We worked it out, and when he came on, he was just so pleasant. I went to his dressing room, and he says, “Ben let me show you some ideas that I had for this scene,” and oh my god, I literally had, I’m not kidding you, goosebumps. I loved everything he brought to the table, not just the performance, but he added some lines, and it was just perfect. It was really a pleasant experience working with him.
This interview had been edited for length and clarity.
Stoker Hills is now available to rent or purchase from digital retailers.