Found footage, haunted houses, and influencer horror: An Interview with Deadstream co-director/star Joseph Winter

Deadstream - Courtesy Shudder
Deadstream - Courtesy Shudder /

Horror comedies are tough to get right. For every Evil Dead, Scream, or, more recently, The Blackening, there are a slew of films that don’t quite hit the mark. The infectious Deadstream, however, nails the genre mash-up.  A standout of 2022, it played several festivals, including South by Southwest, before it arrived on Shudder. Deadstream now heads home to Blu-ray, including a Walmart exclusive Steelbook, available July 18. The film stars co-director Joseph Winter as Shawn Ruddy, a social media influencer who livestreams from a haunted house.

The Deadstream physical release is packed with special features, including audio commentary, alternate scenes, bloopers, and much more. In honor of the release, we chatted with Winter about found footage, haunted houses, and even what scares him.

1428 Elm:  What made you want to shoot a found footage movie, and what are some of your favorite found footage films?

Joseph Winter: Great question. For some context for your readers, Vanessa and I met at film school. Ever since we married, we decided to join forces and make stuff together. Up to that point, we worked on each other’s projects. We started making some shorts and ran a film festival. We really wanted to make a feature, but we knew there were so many hoops to jump through. The biggest hoop, every filmmaker knows, is the money. We thought, theoretically, what could we do that’s just us? I have some acting experience. That’s where the idea started to brew, and we came up with the haunted house scenario, someone streaming.

I had an idea that the film would take place over 10-12 hours, so it would be a livestream, but presented as an edit. You would see Shawn bored overnight, eating chips, talking to fans. Eventually, it started getting crazy. Vanessa burst my bubble with that. She said it had to be true to the format, that it had to be live. I was so resistant to that, but it ended up being just what the movie needed to keep the momentum going. It was also a really big challenge to figure out how to have something take place in real time, covering that much ground, and still make it watchable.

As for found footage, it just boils down to the fact we love found footage movies. We always had an appreciation since The Blair Witch Project came out. This one involved going into that space and trying to tear down the financial barrier.

1428 Elm: Is the Shawn Ruddy character based on a specific influencer?

Joseph Winter: The very first iteration of Shawn was just me, a version of me. It was a light-hearted version of me, a guy who is easily jumpy and screams a lot, which is why his audience was there to see him. There was no edge to him. He was just a nice guy. As we started to research influencers and we started to see what people were drawn to in the space, we started to gravitate towards PewDiePie, his presentation, how he would edit his videos, and his self-deprecating humor. We wanted to pull some of that. There’s also this bodybuilder YouTuber called Houston Jones. He started by shooting his privates with like a paintball gun. Now he does things like breaking his leg on purpose. He has this huge, larger-than-life persona to be funny. It actually is pretty funny. We decided to have Shawn take on that rapid-fire energy. It was a mix of those and some things from me.

1428 Elm: Shawn is a character very much afraid of, well, everything. What scares you?

Joseph Winter: There are the deep-life things that maybe I won’t mention. But in terms of scaring me in a horror movie kind of way, ghosts. Here’s the weird thing about that: it’s the least likely thing to happen, but it’s the scariest. People say they’re afraid of serial killers because that could happen. If I saw a serial killer, I’d be scared, but I could do something, theoretically. If I saw a ghost, I could do nothing about it. Just the appearance of it would frighten me so much more than if I saw a knife coming at me. It’s a different kind of scared. I think ghosts and supernatural movies have the biggest likelihood of scaring me.

1428 Elm: Chrissy/Mildred is also such a great character. She’s all kinds of funny and creepy. What was the inspiration for her character? She also feels very Evil Dead.

Joseph Winter: It’s very obvious we were influenced by the first three Evil Dead movies. We didn’t want to make her look like a Deadite necessarily, but it was in the mix of what we talked about. What they ended up with, that demonic look, but tangible, that’s where we landed. It’s definitely a big inspiration from Evil Dead.

Deadstream – Courtesy Shudder /

As far as Chrissy’s personality, Melanie Stone, who plays Chrissy/Mildred, is a really good friend of ours. She’s been our friend for a decade or so. We wrote the part with her in mind. We pictured her specifically. It’s not her personality, but we could picture her doing the Chrissy stuff. I would say we had Melanie in mind more than a particular movie character.

1428 Elm: You co-directed the movie and also starred in it. What are the challenges and benefits of that dual role?

Joseph Winter: It was very hard, but I had an amazing co-director who took on some of the responsibilities after the first day. After that first day, I said, I can’t do this. The first day went so badly logistically, and I won’t get into everything. However, the very little time we had me in front of the camera, I was not the character. There was too much stress and chaos. I talked to Vanessa. We decided on a division of focus. She protected me as much as possible when on set so I could be in the actor’s space. I had a lot of help so I could focus more on the character.

Deadstream- Courtesy Shudder /

1428 Elm: It can be hard to get a horror comedy right. Deadstream nails the horror beats and comedic beats. Did you watch any specific horror comedies in preparation for this film?

Joseph Winter: There were for sure horror comedies that we referenced, but nothing that was the exact tone that we were going for. The closet in tone was Evil Dead 2 and then eventually, Army of Darkness, depending on how far into Deadstream you go. It gets pretty Army of Darkness crazy. Those were the two biggest influences, but both House and House 2 were really big influences on me. Vanessa and I reviewed those early on while writing Deadstream. We also really love Shaun of the Dead. This is nothing like Shaun of the Dead, but that movie is masterful. Dead Alive is a completely different tone, but we rewatched it. We love that one, too. There aren’t a lot of horror comedies, at least not ones that are household names.

1428 Elm: How did the Blu-ray and physical release of Deadstream happen, and how does it feel to have a physical release of your film?

Joseph Winter: We were originally told there would be a DVD-only release. We were so happy about that, even though I didn’t know people still watch DVDs. I thought it was all Blu-ray now, but we were just happy that it would be on someone’s shelf somewhere. Then we got word, randomly, that there would be a Blu-ray and Steelbook. We were blown away. We didn’t even know why, but my guess is that, over time, it picked up. It slowly built up that word of mouth. More and more people started talking about it openly. I think that probably led to the release, but I can’t confirm it. I’m just ecstatic.

1428 Elm: Can you talk about some of the special features on the Blu-ray and Steelbook?

Joseph Winter: The Steelbook should have the DVD and Blu-ray in it, along with the same bonus features, but different art. I want to add a plug for the bonus features. We decided to go all in. We wanted to share our experience. We learned so much while making Deadstream for almost nothing. We thought it would be good to get the information out there. The bonus features are very filmmaker friendly. Some of them may be over the head of someone just looking for bloopers. We have those too, but there are some deep dives into what we experienced and how we got the movie made.

I will say my favorite bonus feature has nothing to do with any of that. It’s a three- and-a-half minute scary stories video. It’s about the true lore of Death Manor, the house we shot in. It includes little testimonials of crew member that experienced weird stuff.

1428 Elm: You mentioned the house, Death Manor. How did you find that house, and what was it like filming there?

Joseph Winter: The house is real. It actually had a secret room in the cellar. We wrote it into the movie because it had it. That house couldn’t have been more perfect. The house is out in a field, not in a forest, like in the movie. On one side, there were really huge trees in a cluster. When it was dark, we could shoot through the trees and match it to the woods miles away. It was too perfect.

People told us, when they suggested it, that the owners don’t talk to anyone. There’s all this lore around the house, that it’s haunted. It was a miracle we ended up getting it and had the owners’ full cooperation, especially when we couldn’t finish the movie on time. We had the house for a really long time. It couldn’t have worked out better in our favor.

Yes, it was super scary inside. By the end of it, multiple crew members wouldn’t go into certain rooms. So that was weird. I never experienced anything like that before.

1428 Elm: What’s next for you and Vanessa?

Joseph Winter: We have a project that we signed on to write and direct, but we can’t disclose it yet. Hopefully, when the writers’ strike is done, we can jump into it. There will be a press release going out. It’s something I’m very, very excited about, and I think people who liked Deadstream and our segment in V/H/S 99 will like it.

1428 Elm: Joseph, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us!

Deadstream is available on Shudder. The Walmart exclusive Steelbook will be available on July 18.

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