“Hosts” is a new horror / sci-fi thriller about a family who invite their neighbors over for dinner, but fall victim to a series of horrendous manipulative tortures after discovering that the neighbors have been taken over by a malicious entity. “Hosts” was created by first-time directors Richard Oakes and Adam Leader who worked together on the film. The two men have built a large following on YouTube via their filmmaking channel “Dark Fable Media.” Through small investments from their subscribers, they raised the money to create “Hosts” which is their first feature film project. Subscribers who invested money receive shares of the film’s profits, something that gives the film an even greater sense of community. Dark Sky Films — a giant production company in the horror genre realm — brought the rights to the film which proved to be successful in both the USA and Canada, resulting in every last subscriber / investor getting their money back fast. “Hosts” has since gone on to enjoy successful premieres at Sitges Film Festival in Spain and the UK FrightFest in England.
Writer and director Adam Leader recently discussed this movie and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in making movies and why does the horror genre appeal to you so much?
Adam Leader (AL): I’ve been watching horror movies since I was eight years old, so I was obsessed from a very young age. When I was fourteen, I had an itch to start making my own horror films, so I got my first video camera. Every night, my oldest friend Jem (Jeremy) and I would go out and shoot the most ridiculous horror comedies. I played the monster (Goggaliss) and Jem would play himself, the helpless victim, haha. The following day, we’d ditch school and have all our friends come to my house at lunch time for the official Premiere. Those were the days.
MM: How come you gravitated towards directing?
AL: It just feels good to bring a creative vision to life. We write and direct our own material, and I think the most healthy thing for the mind is to be able to bring that vision to life on screen in the way that it resonates with us the most as the storytellers. If another director took the reins, then it could result in a totally different movie if they don’t see or believe in the same vision as us, or feel the same things we felt when we wrote the story and script. Personally, the latter feels like pure anxiety as opposed to achieving emotional equilibrium.
MM: How did YouTube help launch your career and get your name out there?
AL: We initially started the channel to have fun, and it sort of just snowballed and gained momentum fast, which was great. During that time, I’d also finished the screenplay for Hosts, but thus far we hadn’t had any luck finding a private investor to fund the production. What we didn’t realize is that we’d had our investors all along; Our YouTube subscribers. They already admired and trusted in us as filmmakers, so we offered them the chance to invest smaller increments of money in return for shares in the film’s profits (the same way a wealthy investor would fund the whole thing in one lump sum investment). Within a few weeks, we’d signed contracts with five or six individual subscriber investors and the entire film was funded. The rest is history!
MM: You work in partnership with Richard Oakes who is also a director, so how do you avoid stepping on each other’s toes artistically?
AL: Me and Rich both love directing, but from the get go we’ve always agreed that we split the duties down the middle, handling the tasks we feel we excel at best within the role of directing. As well as being an absolute master DOP, Rich handles all the blocking aspects of the actors, whereas myself, I handle dialogue delivery and tone of the actors, having penned the screenplay. But the beauty of our relationship is that there is always room for crossover, so whenever one has a suggestion for the other, we listen, we discuss it, we convey it and try it. There are never any arguments, our friendship and working relationship is one built on total trust and respect. I may have a shot or blocking idea I want to try out, the same way Rich has a dialogue delivery suggestion he wants to explore. It really is a one in a million friendship. I wouldn’t trade him for Spielberg.
MM: What inspired the script for “Hosts” and how long did it take to film?
AL: It took ten nights to film, and those night bled well into the days. So, basically, a grueling (almost) two-week shoot, whereby nobody really slept. But we were all so passionate, that the adrenaline just made us keep going, and by ‘we’ I don’t just mean me and Rich. I mean the entire 20-person team.
MM: Was it tough to find the cast and locations?
AL: The characters of Lauren and Jack were already written for Nadia Lamin and Neal Ward. Not only are they super close friends of ours, but we think that they’re both fantastic actors, so those parts were theirs from the get go. After auditioning and taking on the rest of the cast, we feel the same way for them too. Samantha Loxley (who plays Lucy) gives an absolutely stunning performance throughout, as well as Lee Hunter, Buddy Skelton, Jennifer Preston and Frank Jakeman. They’re all phenomenal actors that deserve all the success in the world. Location wise, we made use of what we had, which was Rich’s house. So, we spent the month leading up to the production redecorating the entire place, turning it into the Henderson’s house, aka the bloodbath you see on screen for most of the movie. The only other locations in the movie are the train station, the woods and Jack and Lucy’s house, which was actually our score composer Benjamin Symons’s house!
MM: What is your favorite scene and line in the movie and why?
AL: There are so many honorable mentions, but the one that sticks out to me the most is the monologue that Jack delivers to Lauren in the dining room. Not only did I have a tough time writing that monologue emotionally, but Neal delivers it so perfectly that it makes me teary every time. It’s pure pain and heartache in the most honest form. I love it.
MM: This movie was funded largely by your YouTube audience who earned their investment back. So, what was that process like and would you raise funding like this again in the future?
AL: Once we realized that all we had to do was ask our subscribers, the rest was easy. Would do it this way again? Probably not. Now that we’ve finally proven that we’re capable of making a quality looking film that makes its money back very quickly, we are now able to approach the big investors with solid proof that we as filmmakers are a low-risk investment for them.
MM: How did you promote this film and what was it like to attend the premieres?
AL: Social media was a huge factor in this. We approached every single podcaster we could possibly find and asked if they’d like to have us on the show. Rich handled that; the dude was an absolute machine on Twitter. He did not stop. At the same time, we were running specifically targeted ad campaigns across FB and Google, and the publicists tied to our sales agent in the US bagged us some incredible features in The New York Times, Harper’s Bazaar and Bloody Disgusting, to name a few. It was hard work, but all these avenues coinciding with each other helped push the profile massively. We also got to fly out to Sitges International Film Festival in Spain to attend the official world Premiere of Hosts, that was an insane experience! We also won the Total Film ‘Best Death Award’ at FrightFest, which is where Hosts had its UK Premiere.
MM: What is some of the best feedback you’ve gotten about “Hosts”?
AL: It’s always wonderful to see that people like it, particularly how the dinner scene is shocking people across the world. This is exactly what we intended when we wrote it. But personally, if I’m honest, I actually love the fact that a handful of people hate the film. They don’t just dislike it, they hate it, and thus far, those haters have gone out of their way to make it known and debate it with people that loved the film, and that makes the whole thing interesting. It truly is beautiful to see.
MM: What other movies have you made and what were they about?
AL: Hosts is our debut feature length. We’re now well into the script writing process of our second film, which we’re both super excited about. If you thought “Hosts” was shocking, you ain’t seen nothing yet!
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
AL: We’ll continue making films until our last breath. We’re passionate about visual storytelling. That’s what truly excites us. Our goal is to set the bar higher and higher every single time.
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To learn more, check out the Dark Fable Media YouTube Channel.