Last month, I had an opportunity to watch and review the film House by the Lake. You can read our review of the film here. I was then asked if I would like to ask the writer, Josh Burnell, a few questions on his story. I jumped at the chance. Josh Burnell gave passionate and insightful answers to my questions. Here are the Q & As.
PopHorror: How long have you been writing film scripts?
Josh Burnell: I’ve been writing screenplays seriously for about ten years, and writing in general since I was a kid. I started writing picture books and comics, but I was always a better writer than a cartoonist, so I turned my focus to the words.
PopHorror: Did you go to school or are you self taught?
Josh Burnell: I didn’t go to film school and I never took a class on screenwriting, but it’s hard to say I’m self-taught. Mostly, I learned from reading tons of scripts, working with other writers and getting my work performed. Writing movies is different from any other kind of writing, because the screenplay is only the first step of the process. You’re building the world and the players, but it isn’t real until a producer sets it in motion, a director gives it life and the actors embody the characters. My goal as a screenwriter is to create a sandbox that is so intriguing and engaging and that everyone else will want to play in it.
Pophorror: Do you write works other than scripts?
Josh Burnell: I’ll do anything that involves storytelling, honestly. I’ve had short stories published and recorded songs and hosted a podcast with my wife for almost 10 years. But, I always come back to screenwriting. It’s by far my favorite.
PopHorror: Have you been strictly a writer or have you had other roles in films?
Josh Burnell: These days, you’ve really gotta do a little of everything. On House By The Lake, I was the writer and the executive producer. I attended casting sessions and helped the lead producer along the way. We shot the entire movie in 10 days on a single set in Big Bear, California, and we put the micro in micro-budget, so everybody had to pitch in. My wife did the catering, the producers moved props and I did lots and lots of dishes. It was an amazing team effort.
PopHorror: The choice of an autistic daughter, how did that come about?
Josh Burnell: I have a lot of people in my life that are on the autism spectrum, so it just seemed natural to have a character in the film with a similar condition. To me, a lot of the movie is about connection. At its core, House By The Lake is about a bunch of characters trapped in a house, moving past each other, but unable to really be present with one-another because they’re all on different wave-lengths. The mother is distracted by self-doubt, the father is lost in nostalgia and the daughter is just sitting there waiting for someone reach out to her, but because she’s on the spectrum, she’s operating on her own level. She can’t come to you, you have to come to her, but everyone around her is too wrapped up in their own shit to see that. Everyone but this imaginary friend she calls The Fishman, which is when things get scary.
PopHorror: Tell me about The Fishman. Is he based on any sort of mythology or just something you made up?
Josh Burnell: I mean, I’d be lying if I said we didn’t have Creature From the Black Lagoon in our heads somewhere, but that’s true of every creature feature, if you ask me. That movie is just so indelible. But, yeah, it was the producer, Mike De Trana, who first suggested a story about a kid that has an imaginary friend that may or may not be real, and The Fishman just came out of that. I mean, that’s the thing about kids: you watch them all day and do everything you can to protect them and care for them and help them grow, but despite it all, you really don’t have any idea what going on in their heads half the time. It’s amazing and beautiful and terrifying.
PopHorror: What other projects do you have in the works?
Josh Burnell: I have a novel coming out in 2018 called Never Tear Us Apart, and am in development on a VR short. I’m always looking for new ways to tell stories.
PopHorror: What are your top 3 scary films?
Josh Burnell: Oh, man, it’s constantly changing, but for today, let’s go with… The Shining, Scream and Starry Eyes. And, unintentionally, the theme was the letter S (laughs).
PopHorror: What are your top 3 scary books/stories?
Josh Burnell: Yes! Now, there’s a question I don’t get asked very much. How about… Pamela’s Get by David J. Schow, Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis, and the original Candle Cove story by Kris Straub. They’re all perfect for Halloween.
PopHorror: Thank you to Josh Burnell for taking time to answer my questions! You gave candid and thoughtful answers. We will definitely keep an eye out for your book next year and we look forward to other works from you.
If you haven’t checked out the film House by the Lake, it is available now on VOD. You may find it here. Keep it tuned in to PopHorror for even more reviews and interviews!