Interview With Filmmaker Rouzbeh Heydari For ‘Neon Lights’

I love a horror movie set in near to total isolation, like a giant house in the middle of nowhere, one location that is its own character in the film that sets the atmosphere and reminds you there’s no escape. Now, imagine being there with your family, but they don’t have your back. They think you’re weird, and man, are they super selfish. This is what we get with Neon Lights, the new film from writer/director Rouzbeh Heydari. To celebrate the release of the film, I met with Rouzbeh via Zoom, and we chatted about what inspired the film, mental health in entertainment, what’s up next for him, and more!

PopHorror: I really liked Neon Lights, so I’m super excited to speak with you.

Rouzbeh Heydari: Thank you.

PopHorror: What inspired the film, and how did the project come about?

Rouzbeh Heydari: What inspired the film… A few things. First of all, it was at the beginning of the pandemic where I’d been introduced to Dana [Abraham] through a mutual friend online, and we were just talking on Zooms and whatnot. We really got along creatively and as humans, and we were dead set and determined to make a movie together, even though the world had just been thrown into this spell of darkness and a weird chaos. No one knew where anything was going or how we would end up, but despite all that, we said to each other, “We need to make a movie together right now. And we can’t let anything stop us.”

So, we developed a story together that was contained and could be shot in a world where there were so many limitations on coming and going, taking into consideration how many people could be in one place at once, and how you can actually shoot a film, and how you can’t shoot a film. With all that being said, we still wanted to make a film that was meaningful and entertaining. And mental health is a subject that is very near and dear to me.  In a lot of my works, it’s the forefront of the project, and I believe that it’s a subject that should always be talked about and in conversation, so those that I mentioned were the biggest inspirations for the film.

PopHorror: I feel like mental health isn’t addressed enough in entertainment, which is probably going to give Neon Lights its biggest audience by making it relatable. Even if it’s fictionalized, it still could be something that resonates with someone, because they’ve been through something like that or just to not make them feel alone. I feel like putting it in entertainment is going to broaden its audience and make people realize that it’s so very real. I really appreciate that.

Rouzbeh Heydari: Thank you. It is real. It’s something that every one of us deals with on a day to day basis, but for some reason, it’s stigmatized. But a toothache isn’t. It’s the same thing to me, you know, as having a broken arm or a burn on your leg. You have to heal it for your body to be able to function properly. You have to heal it and deal with it.

PopHorror: Exactly. Was there anything in the script that you were adamant about keeping in the film, no matter what?

Rouzbeh Heydari: When you look at the shooting script and what made it into the final picture, nothing really changed. There wasn’t anything that was contested really. It all kind of fit in and went in there. I really do believe that a film is made in prep, and so once the prep is good, the film is good to go.

PopHorror: Were you a horror fan before making the film?

Rouzbeh Heydari: Oh yeah! Oh, yes. Yes, yes. I remember the first horror movie I ever watched. I was so young, and my father, who’s a filmmaker, sat me down and showed this to me at a really young age. He was like, “This is the scariest thing you will ever see.” And from there, I was just drawn into the genre. I love horror for so many reasons. One of the biggest reasons I love horror is that I feel that it is a genre where you can talk about so many issues, inject so much metaphor and symbolism into, and it really gives the filmmaker a platform to speak.

PopHorror: 100%. What was it that he showed you?

Rouzbeh Heydari: He showed me The Exorcist when I was like nine or 10.

PopHorror: Did it scare you?

Rouzbeh Heydari: Listen, at that time, no. I didn’t understand the concept. I was like, “How is this scary, Dad?” And he’s bewildered, because you really have to understand the concepts of possession, the Catholic kind of ideas. Later on, that movie frightened me more than when I was a kid. But I remember the one film that did frighten me at a young age and made me look under my bed every night for about a year was Poltergeist.

PopHorror: I love that you said that because the first horror movie I ever saw was Poltergeist II and it scared the shit out of me. I was between five and eight.

Rouzbeh Heydari: I went on to love the A Nightmare on Elm Street kind of films. I remember I’d make my little sister sit down and watch them with me, and I’d be like, “I’ve got to go to the washroom,” and I’d come back and have Freddy’s gear on. The claws, the mask,  the sweater, and the hat. I’d creep up behind her and just scare the daylights out of her, and now she’s a child psychologist. 

PopHorror: That is the best story ever! What is up next for you?

Rouzbeh Heydari: I just finished directing two episodes of a TV show that was created and executively produced by Eli Roth.

PopHorror: Oh wow!

Rouzbeh Heydari: It’s coming out in December, I believe. And Dana and I are going to camera for our next feature together, which is an adaptation of an Edgar Allan Poe story called The Black Cat. We made a modern adaptation out of that, and we will be filming in the fall together.

PopHorror: That’s exciting! I’ll have to keep an eye out for both of those.

Rouzbeh Heydarii: Thank you.

PopHorror: I just have one last question for you today. What is your favorite scary movie?

Rouzbeh Heydari: Oh, my goodness. Where does it begin? Oh, man. That’s tough. Suspiria, Rebecca—Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca—even the 1922 Nosferatu or the 1920 The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Shining. I can just go on. There’s so many that I love for so many different reasons. And for this film, I took a little bit of inspiration from the 1964 Roger Corman film starring Vincent Price, The Masque of the Red Death.

Thank you so much, Rouzbeh, for taking the time to speak with us.  You can watch Neon Lights on digital and On Demand now! And check out our interview with Neon Lights actor Kim Coates!

About Tiffany Blem

Horror lover, dog mommy, book worm, EIC of PopHorror.

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