I first discovered Hungarian filmmaker József Gallai when I watched his film, I Hear The Trees Whispering (2022 – our review), about a man suffering through heavy emotional losses and tries to look toward the future with only the surrounding woods and a woman’s voice on the phone for company. I honestly can’t say enough good things about this film. Between the first person POV, and beautiful yet creepy location, and the kick-you-in-the-face twist at the end, it’s a film that has a place on my top ten movie list carved in stone. When I found out about his next project, Project Skyquake (2022 – our review), I waited like a kid on Christmas Eve to get my hands on it. Two women hop in their car and take a cross -country drive to try and figure out where all of the recent skyquakes—a phenomenon where a loud booming sound is reported to originate from the sky—are coming from. Once again, I was treated to a mind fuck of a film that spoke volumes to me as a long time skyquake fanatic, which, to this day, are still a mystery. Plus, another mind-blowing twist!
So, when I was offered the chance to chat with him and pick his brain about these two films, I jumped at the chance.
PopHorror: You’ve been creating in the industry for over ten years. Did you always want to be a filmmaker?
József Gallai: Well, it wasn’t planned, to be honest. I never thought it would turn out like this. My plan was to be a teacher, but as a child, I also wanted to be a vet. But then I realized that biology wasn’t my thing at all. I didn’t get involved in filmmaking until I was 21, unless you count the fact that I watched a lot of films from a very young age. We had a pretty good collection of VHS tapes at home, and I watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Twister until the tapes were completely ruined.
PopHorror: Who are your filmmaking inspirations?
József Gallai: My biggest favorite is M. Night Shyamalan, but I’ve always respected and looked up to directors who started out as independent filmmakers with essentially a few pounds in their pockets. I have often given the example of the indie horror duo, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, but I admire Patrick Brice [There’s Someone Inside Your House 2021 – PopHorror review], Jamin Winans [Ink 2009], Shane Carruth [The Dead Center 2018 – PopHorror review], and Mike Cahill [Another Earth 2011].
PopHorror: I love Jamin Winans’ film, Ink. I thought of it a lot when I watched Issa López’s Tigers Are Not Afraid [PopHorror review]. Are you a horror fan?
József Gallai: I wouldn’t say. I like well-constructed horror films, but I’m more a fan of supernatural, psychological thrillers. From that viewpoint, I think The Invitation from Karyn Kusama, for example, is a benchmark. I like stories that are not what they seem, regardless of their genres.
PopHorror: I’ve watched I Hear The Trees Whispering, and I am absolutely enamored by it. It took a turn no one would have expected, and I love where it went. How did the idea for the film come about?
József Gallai: Thank you very much for your kind words. Back in 2017, I made a short film called Echoes, and if all goes well, it will be included as an extra on the DVD of this film. At that time, I kind of got the feeling of working there in the middle of the forest, and when we completed that short film, around 80% of this story was already in my head, though that “big twist” if you like was something I came up with when I was actually writing the script. I was unsure about the ending, but I hope that most people will like it.
PopHorror: I don’t think you’ll have to worry about people not getting it. It threw me off at first, but then I realized it was brilliant. Was it hard filming the protagonist from his POV?
József Gallai: It’s quite an interesting thing, because first we had Will’s dialogue that Gábor Varga recorded in his home studio, and later, we had June’s lines, too. Then we adapted the visuals to the dialogues in November when we were on location. For the POV shots, I functioned as a cinematographer, so we needed a camera that wasn’t too difficult to handle, easy to move around with, and didn’t weigh several kilograms. I was playing the dialogue between Will and June in my head and trying to adapt my movements—as well as the camera’s—to it. It was quite a challenge, but I personally enjoyed it very much.
PopHorror: I also want to talk about Project Skyquake. I’ve always been fascinated with skyquakes and what could possibly be causing them. Were you interested in them yourself before you wrote the script?
József Gallai: Yes. All kinds of inexplicable things attract me, and the skyquake phenomenon is no exception. There have been many explanations, and in this respect, it was not difficult for me to write the script, because I had the possibility to work with strong material.
PopHorror: I’m impressed with how you explained them. That struck a cord in my heart because honestly, it makes so much sense. I also what you were able to do with two actresses, some creepy locations, and shots of the sky. It’s so very compelling. Is this simplistic filmmaking a big part of your process?
József Gallai: Thanks a lot! Usually, my approach is to tell stories that can be filmed. That’s the most important thing for me. Fortunately, there are people who believe in my work, and I want to keep their trust. I can’t imagine myself telling them bullshit, or sitting on a project for years that can be shot in 10-15 days while I already have eight other titles to my name in pre-production. I hope that one day I will receive the same financial recognition as those filmmakers who do this all the time.
PopHorror: Do you have any upcoming projects?
József Gallai: I’m currently working on a feature-length sci-fi film titled Aftermath, which is an extended version of a short film we made two years ago, and I’m also working on a script with the title of A Stranger in the Woods. I would love to work with Bill Oberst, Jr. again after I Hear the Trees Whispering. I already mentioned my idea to him a few days ago. It’s basically a single location horror film with a few great surprises and a lot of suspense.
PopHorror: We are always excited to hear about projects with Bill Oberst, Jr.! What do you like to do when you’re not making films?
József Gallai: I try to spend quality time with my children, but I also like to travel, or spend a few days in a secluded cabin in the woods.
PopHorror: What was your favorite candy to get on Halloween?
József Gallai: We never celebrated Halloween, so I always had to wait until Christmas for some special sweets.
I want to thank József Gallai for taking the time to chat with us, and I wish him well on all of his upcoming projects. If you get the chance to watch I Hear The Trees Whispering or Project Skyquake, I promise you, you won’t be disappointed!