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Jacob Chase, writer/director of Come Play

Focus Features releases Come Play only in theaters October 30th, 2020.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually, which of those three elements was hardest to tweak in the editing room? How challenging was it to incorporate just the right amount of exposition?

Jacob Chase: Both are things that we toyed with a lot. We were always working on and changing the suspense and horror scenes as we test-screened the audience. That's the part where you're playing with the audience and you want people to have the most fun with it. At the same time, it's the most clean-cut because you can very clearly see that people screamed at that moment or if they didn't. The harder one is the intellectual element where you're trying to get out just the right amount of exposition without feeling like you're saying too much too soon. So, that was probably the more challenging part because you never quite know if you're landing it in the right way and you kind of just have to use you instincts more.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What was the process like to decide when the audience should be ahead of the characters or along with them in terms of what they know?

JC: In the best movies, it sort of shifts and oscillates throughout the film. At times, it's fun as an audience to be just a little bit ahead, but at also, at times, you don't want that because then the characters start feeling dumb. There's this quote from Hitchcock that I love that goes "There's no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it." That is the mantra that I had throughout the film. I want the audience to have some inkling that something is going to happen---to have some idea of what's lurking behind the corner without making them think that the characters are silly for going down that hallway. So, it comes from making characters that feel authentic, relatable and that you care about. As soon as you buy into how the characters are acting in a scene, I think that gives me more freedom to play with the audience's expectations of whether this is a moment that's meant suspenseful where we know something's coming and waiting for it versus being surprised which is where we're just with the characters. They don't know if anything's coming and the audience doesn't know if anything's coming, and then they get shocked by something.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think that Larry even knows what a friend is and that he truly intends to find a friend?

JC: My intention with Larry was for the audience to constantly be questioning his intentions and to be wondering if he's either Michael Myers or E.T. and to not be sure of that for a long time to keep the suspense up. As a writer, I think that you have to put yourself in characters and have empathy for even the villains as you're writing them. So, I like to think as Larry as someone who's quite lonely in his existence in a dark, isolated place. He desperately needs companionship of some kind. Clearly, he doesn't know how to be a good friend, but I definitely think that he does want companionship and connection like a lot of us do.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How would you define a good friend?

JC: A good friend is someone who doesn't judge you, who empathizes with you, who will talk things out with you, and who isn't afraid of your altered emotional states. We are complicated people. Everybody has so much inside of them, and the best friends I have, which are very few, because it's hard to be a good friend, can see every single side of me and not be put off.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think that Sarah, despite being a flawed character who's rude to Oliver at times, is the polar opposite of Larry because she shows signs of empathy, remorse, compassion and accountability?

JC: It's a great way to phrase that. I think that she's absolutely a flawed character as most of the characters are in Come Play, as are, I think, all interesting characters. I was trying to fill this world out with people who weren't necessarily mean-spirited. Of course we have bullies in the film, we have Sarah saying things that she shouldn't, and we have a monster who is trying to abduct people. At the same time, I wanted everyone to be well-rounded and to feel like they're all like real people under there. So, I think, in terms of being a good person, who am I to say who is and who isn't a good person? But I do think that empathy is the biggest, most important quality of being a human. Being able to put yourself in the shoes of people who are not like you is not just as important as a writer or a filmmaker or an actor, it's important as just a human----to be able to see your fellow man as someone who is just as complicated and has just as many dreams and wants as you do.

NYC MOVIE GURU: The sound design is like a character in itself while adding both style and substance to Come Play. Why did you decide to let the audience hear the sound of Oliver's parents destroying a device before the audience sees them destroying it?

JC: We had an amazing sound team. I was constantly working with them very closely creating the sounds of Larry and something that felt unique, but also aligned you with the character and felt like you were getting to know Larry through his sounds long before you saw him because I wanted to hold back on seeing him too much until later in the film. In terms of that specific moment of having the sound of breaking the device before we actually see it, it was really about the audience being ahead at that moment and they knew what was about to come next, so they'd be like, "Alright, so then let's get to it." In my opinion, I want films to feel tight and every moment leading to the next one, so having the sound start coming in before we actually see them destroy the device, really just felt like the perfect way of keeping the engine of the movie moving.

NYC MOVIE GURU: The scene when Larry communicates with Oliver through a channel-surfing sequence is among the most brilliant, refreshing and funny scenes in Come Play. It was like a movie within the movie. How challenging was it to put those clips together for that sequence?

JC: Of all the amazing things that we did---building a giant puppet and working with children---the hardest thing was making that sequence. It was the last thing that we finished. As soon as I wrote the script, we started sourcing these different clips and we didn't finish it until the very last moment. Gosh, it was such a challenge because I knew what we needed to say in the script to push the story forward, and we had a group of assistant editors searching clip after clip after clip of movies. We needed to find that one word that said clearly enough that it can be separated from other sentences and that it doesn't have music behind it. Then you have to license the clip from the studio to show it in the movie, but you also have to get the actors' approval and the directors' approval and everybody else. So, it went through so many different versions all saying the same thing always. I was looking for clips that alternated between adding a little bit of levity so that it wasn't distracting---I didn't want to make it so that we were reminding people of the movies that they wish they were watching. I wanted it to feel real and grounded, but also, at the same time, to add a little bit of humor into the world.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think that the terrfying events that happen to Oliver's family in Come Play bring them together in a way and prevent them from drifting apart like they do at the beginning?

JC: Sure, I think that this family starts a bit broken. They start struggling. There's a lack of connection and communication, I would say. Yes, in my opinion, which is always open to the audience's interpretation, I was intending, as the writer and director, that the family would have more of an understanding of one another by the end of this film.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What do you think are the basic elements that turn a horror movie into a classic? What makes a villain iconic?

JC: It's kind of the same thing that turns any villain into an icon. Joker isn't from horror movies. It's just a great character from decades and decades. Same with Bill the Butcher, who's an iconic villain, and the Terminator, T-1000. A movie is only as good as the villain that you overcome. If a group of protagonists are trying to defeat someone who doesn't seem all that bad or all that interesting, you kind of don't get about any of the movie. So, the better the villain, the better the movie. That's why they stand the test of time. They're the ones who we want to keep seeing. When there are horror sequels, it's not generally about the protagonists, it's about the villain and what they're going to do next because we're obsessed with them. They're hopefully characters who we understand where they're coming from even though we don't agree with them. We understand something about them.

NYC MOVIE GURU: If Larry were to befriend other movie villains in group therapy, what other villains do you imagine him connecting with?

JC: That's a great idea for a movie! That's so funny! I think that Larry would have something in common with Freddie potentially because they both, sort of, live in these alternate worlds and there's a supernatural presence to both of them that probably leaves each of them with bigger challenges to get their goals, so maybe they could relate to each other on that a little. I think that he'll also relate to Frankenstein's monster who was someone inspiring to me in creating Larry as a villain who is scary, but doesn't mean to hurt people in a way and he's simplistic in his desires. So, I think that Larry and Frankenstein's monster might make a great team.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What movie do you think would pair well with Come Play in a double-feature?

JC: The original Poltergeist. That movie was certainly inspiring to me for this movie and, in general, it's one of my favorite films. They're both about a family, both happen to be compassionate horror films that are well-meaning and not mean-spirited. The separation of technology that each of them uses is vast being that one came out a long time and the other is coming out now, so I think there's a fun dynamic between the two movies----what was scary back then and what we can be afraid of right now.

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