I have a tough time with ghost stories and haunted house movies. I’m pretty skeptical of ghosts, and I find the idea of them to be pretty damn scary. I’ve stayed in allegedly haunted hotels, ventured onto supposedly haunted streets, and out into forests that are quite questionable. There’s this one bridge where I grew up that … well, I don’t really want to get into THAT story, because it’s terrifying and still gives me the chills years later.
Followed (2020 – read our review here) is filmmaker Antoine Le’s feature film debut and is a love letter to found footage films and haunted house tales. It’s an effective ghost story that is both entertaining and terrifying. I had the pleasure of speaking with stars, Matthew Solomon and Sam Valentine, and we talked about ghosts, supernatural happenings on set, and of course, horror movies.
I have to note that as I write this, my dishwasher door flung open on its own, terrifying my dogs and myself. Coincidence?
PopHorror: What intrigued you about Followed and made you want to be a part of it?
Sam Valentine: The first thing that got me was the premise. The plot being based on a very popular viral video … I remember Elisa Lam really fascinated me! I also had never seen found-footage done quite like this before. And second, I loved that the female characters were based on very real women to me. They didn’t try to sex up my character of Danni, for example. She is genuinely so similar to many behind the camera crew I have worked with. I loved her grounded qualities and her decisions based on facts!
Matthew Solomon: The movie is loosely based on the story of the Hotel Cecil in LA, which I was very familiar with at the time, so that was super intriguing. From the get-go, the team told me the movie was heavy on improvisation, which I absolutely love. Also, I’d heard so many wonderful stories about horror movie sets, and I knew it would be fun to shoot. I was right!
PopHorror: Where was it filmed? How long did filming take?
Sam Valentine: We filmed over a period of two weeks—crazy fast—in two different hotels in LA. Several scenes blend one hotel into the next, so we were not able to shoot in sequential order. And both of the hotels we used were fully functional at the time, so we would often have to exit an elevator mid-shot to let tourists get to their rooms. Luckily, everyone was really kind and accommodating, which is not always the case when shooting in Hollywood!
In terms of the logistics of the cameras, we would shoot in one direction of the shot, and instead of moving in or out for a close up or wide shot, our DP Nelson Pun would then move to stand directly where another character with a camera stood in the previous shot. We would often be directly on his shoulder and guiding him how we had just moved so he could recreate the exact motions of our camera. It was intimate and very detailed. The fact that we nailed this in two weeks is wild.
Matthew Solomon: We shot almost 140 pages in 12 days, which was so fast and exhausting. I seem to love projects moving at a backbreaking speed. We shot everything in LA at two hotels, one in Koreatown and the other Downtown. My commute was only 10 minutes for most shoots, so I had no complaints.
PopHorror: Did you experience anything supernatural while filming, like they did in the movie?
Sam Valentine: (laughs) Unlike a lot of the crew who swear they did, I did not! However, before we started shooting, we took a full cast and crew ghost tour and visited the Gates of Hell in Pasadena with a guide. It was very fun, apart from trying to sleep that night when I got home … I bought some crystals on Etsy the next day, just in case!
Matthew Solomon: We had a few moments that felt way too convenient, and they actually made it into the film. During the elevator game scene the lights flickered, which our team had nothing to do with, and my reaction on camera is my genuine reaction. We also had a prop, Fred the Head, fall during a take, and we kept that in. All I will say is that Fred had been on that shelf for three days totally fine and nobody had touched him. So how did he fall? You tell me.
PopHorror: Do you believe in ghosts? Would you spend three nights in a haunted hotel?
Sam Valentine: I have not personally had any experiences with ghosts, although I would be pretty selfish to think us humans are the only presence on this earth. I am still figuring out my thoughts on the supernatural! And oh, man … I don’t think I could do it! Even though I say I don’t know if I am a believer … I would get really worried circa 3:00 AM (laughs)!
Matthew Solomon: Yes and absolutely not. Not even if you paid me. Most of the cast went to the Hotel Cecil to check it out, but I refused.
PopHorror: If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
Sam Valentine: Well, since we’re on the subject of horror movies, I have been in several now and am dying to work with Jason Blum. I love what he has done to legitimize the genre. I also have a big actor-crush on Elizabeth Moss. I think she is so talented and really owns the camera in a way I can’t explain. I was so excited when I heard she started her own production company, Love & Squalor, and am thrilled to see what they create.
Matthew Solomon: What a tough question, because the list is long. Directors would be Paul Thomas Anderson and Joe Swanberg. Perhaps, out of left field for an onscreen, but Hayao Miyazaki is such an amazing creator, and I would love to work with him on a project. Also, I would love to act in a scene with Lucille Ball just to see what it would be like. She would wipe the floor with me.
PopHorror: I know that Covid has stalled many projects. Are you currently working on anything/have anything coming out?
Sam Valentine: I was cast in a short film about domestic violence before the pandemic started, so I am really looking forward to shooting that when we can do so safely. I think the story is beyond important. I also have a website and podcast called One Broke Actress centered around sharing the working actor life from the bottom up, which has gotten a lot of love in these crazy times.
Matthew Solomon: I just had a radio play called May 4th Voices come out through NPR. It’s a dramatic recounting of the Kent State Shooting in 1969, and Tina Fey is in it as well! Otherwise, I am reading a lot. I’ve been painting and refurbishing furniture, writing my own stuff, and am in talks for a couple short films once things start to open up!
PopHorror: What’s your favorite scary movie?
Sam Valentine: The Ring. I know, it’s not quite a classic and not the slasher some people prefer, but it was one of the first DVDs I bought for myself, and the first scary movie I watched more than once. I have probably seen it 20 times by now!
Matthew Solomon: Rosemary’s Baby will be my favorite horror movie of all time. I love suspense; I love a slow burn. It’s just the right amount of campy. Who doesn’t want to watch a movie about the devil baby?
Thank you so much to Matthew and Sam for taking the time to speak with us today. Please be sure to check out Followed, out on VOD today!