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Jason Zada, director of The Forest

Gramercy Pictures releases The Forest on January 8th, 2016 nationwide.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What do you think is so appealing about dark themes?

Jason Zada: I think that there's a side of our humanity where, in the digital age, we sort of have covered up the bad stuff and only show the best parts of our life. A lot of people have a morbid curiosity. It's the reason why when you're on the freeway and see a car crash, everybody slows down just a little bit as they think to themselves "I wonder what it could be?" There are people who don't like horror movies, but I think that at the end of the day, it's the same reason why people go on roller coasters: you want to feel something. If anything, a genre film does that more than most films do. Your blood starts to race and you feel something.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you feel about the difference between psychological horror and explicit, gory horror?

JZ: Psychological horror to me is much scarier because I was born and raised with Rosemary's Baby and The Shining and things like that. There's scary imagery in that, but the psychological side of that is a hell of a lot more scary. As human beings, if we can invest ourselves emotionally into a character, it's much more scary to watch something bad happen to them. I don't think that they're mutually exclusive. Although The Forest is a psychological thriller, mostly, it has some of those scary horror elements to it as well. So, hopefully, it balances itself. To me, it's all about the ride: show people something that they probably haven't seen or heard about before, and take them on a fun ride.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Roger Ebert once stated that horror films don't need a big star because the big star is the horror itself. Do you agree or disagree?

JZ: I disagree. You can look at some of the best horror films ever created, and you can argue against it. It just depends. Where horror has gone in the last 10 years, it's sort of been marginalized and most of it is "OPEN on a scary house." When we were originally thinking about the script for The Forest, we were like "Let's start in America and then move to Japan and then the forest and so on." It's got a lot more moving parts than most horror films. I like that. Not to say that Roger Ebert had no idea what he was talking about, but a good actor or actress is going to put you there much better than a bad actor, so I don't care if they're a recognizable name or not; if they're a great actor or actress that could put on a great performance, then that's the right fit.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Would The Forest work in black-and-white?

JZ: Kids don't even know what black-and-white is these days. Maybe they see it as a filter on Instagram, but that's about it. I would like to think that it would work in black-and-white. Steven Soderbergh made a black-and-white version of Raiders of the Lost Ark. You can find it online. It's really awesome. The DP of that film was used to shooting in black-and-white and used to that contrast, so he lit everything like that anyway, so when you look at Raiders of the Lost Ark in black-and-white, I think it's actually a better movie. So, maybe I can turn The Forest to black-and-white. It's performance-driven, so I would hope so, but I also think that it's a visually beautiful film as well.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think The Forest would work as found footage? How do you feel about found footage in general?

JZ: There's totally a version of The Forest that's found footage. It would make perfect sense. My biggest thing, and having done consulting on one in the past, I'll just tell you that giving the camera a reason to be running the whole entire time is the hardest part. If I have a camera rolling as I'm running through a forest scared for my life, at all times it doesn't feel real to me. This was always conceived as a cinematically-told story and, hopefully, with a bit of classic throwbacks to Golden Age of Horror.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think it would be a better experience for the audience if they knew as little as possible about The Forest before seeing it?

JZ: Yeah. You know, it's funny. The trailer shows quite a bit, but at the same time, I don't know if you know what exactly you're going to get into with the movie. So, the fun part is that I don't think that audiences will know what quite to expect, and even if you do know about it, we throw enough interesting things out there where you're hopefully guessing throughout the movie, especially with the character of Rob where you don't know what he wants or what he's doing. I like any movie that you walk out of while thinking about it and having a conversation with others about it. That was my dream in making The Forest. Hopefully, whether you like the movie or not, you'll talk about it.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Hitchcock once stated that "logic is dull." Do you agree or disagree? What's wrong about being confused while watching a movie?

JZ: Studios like movies to be logical. That's why everyone tests films these days. You test it, and then every question has to be answered by the end. Focus [Features] were great about this. We tested it, and a lot of people got most of what we wanted them to get, but there were also a lot of questions at the end. They supported that, and everyone was on board for that, and I was like "Thank god!" If you knew everything, then it would be boring. The interesting thing that were able to do with The Forest is that it was all told through Sarah's point of view. So, you're seeing the world through her eyes. And through her eyes, things like the old woman in the hallway is really frightening, but in reality it's just a hallway with an old lady at the end of it who's blind. So, there's hopefully a question you'll have at the end of the film about how much of it was in her mind, and how much of it was real. It's sort of like seeing the world through a crazy person's eyes: it's going to look differently than yours. Perception is only as real as the mind that it's going through.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think something would be lost by watching The Forest on a small screen?

JZ: I went through great lengths to make sure that the theater experience is great. The sound is great and the music is great. I've seen it on a smaller screen, and it has the same effect, but to me it was just like when I saw Gravity in a theater, it was a much different experience than seeing it on a plane. But, if it's a good story, it works either way, but I think for The Forest, it's much, much, much more enhanced when you're surrounded. For forest itself, I always had this vision that it's sort of like all around you and you should be surround by it and feeling it and hopefully that rubs off a little in the theatrical experience.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you feel about the PG-13 rating? Would an R-rated version of The Forest have worked?

JZ: I'm sort of very surprised about how much we got away with for a PG-13 rating. The subject matter, suicide, is pretty heavy. My daughter is turning 11, and I can't imagine her seeing it. The R-rated version of The Forest would probably be worse with more blood and guts. I think we would have been able to do more disturbing things, though. The MPAA was pretty nice to us, but they did say that it was way too scary and we need to edit it down a little bit. The interesting thing besides violence and blood and guts is if they are too scared with something, then you're pushing it a little too far.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How important and challenging was it to keep The Forest lean and under 2 hours?

JZ: When I see a director's cut that's like 3 hours long, I'm like "How big is your ego that a film has to be 3 hours?" No film has to be 3 hours. We're not programmed to have to watch 3 hours worth of a movie. I like keeping a film lean. The editorial process was all about whittling down to what needed to be there, what was the scariest, and was needed to tell the story the best. There are some scenes that we had to lose, but it got us to the forest faster, it told the story better and wasn't self-indulgent. It was just about "How do I keep you at the edge of your seat and get you to stay there as long as possible?"

NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you feel about 3D? Would The Forest work in 3D?

JZ: When someone takes a genre movie and turns it into 3D, to me there's something in me that goes "Maybe something's wrong with it so they turned it into 3D because people would think it's better." I don't know. There's something very experiential about the location of the forest that could be great in 3D. The camera moves a lot in the film. Once we're in the forest, the camera is always moving. It's fun because we're moving past branches. I like immersion. I play a lot of video games, so I think the idea of immersing yourself in a world is fun. So, I think that 3D could enhance it. Maybe The Forest 2 will be in 3D.


NYC MOVIE GURU: Endings seem to be like the Achilles' heel of horror movies because they're so tricky, and, unlike in The Forest, they're not always satisfying. When did you know for sure that the ending of The Forest would be satisfying?

JZ: Yes, I'm with you. I agree. I've been so on board with so many movies and then the endings make me go "Arggh! Why did you do that??" I didn't know if people were going to like this ending. We shot 1 ending, but most filmmakers shoot like 10 endings. We just had 1. I like the idea of ending the film on a bit of a sad note. There's a lot of things going on in a very short period of time, so I didn't know if people were going to like that, but I was hoping they would. We put all of the pieces together, and we did do a ton of edits just to get the beats right because at one point it went to fast and another point it went to slow. So, the pacing of these films is what, to me, is tricky: you have to give them enough, but you can't give them too much and can't give them too little. Hopefully it pays it off for people, and people walk about from it with a feeling of sadness. That last tiny little scare that we did, it got people to react which I think is fun. Ending a genre film is the hardest thing.


NYC MOVIE GURU: To what extent do you believe in the supernatural?

JZ: I have a very simple view in life: I believe in what I see. I haven't seen a ghost, but I felt things. The mind is a really powerful thing, and I think that what we see sometimes versus what we feel versus what our mind is telling us to think is very interesting. I haven't had a conversation with a ghost, yet. I'm like Mulder in The X-Files. I want to believe. It's that sort of thing.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What was the process like of coming up with the simple title of The Forest?

JZ: The title had changed a couple of times. When they finally decided on the title, I originally was like, "Really??The Forest??" But the more that we went through the pre-production phase, the more it made sense. There hasn't been a movie, to my knowledge, called The Forest, and if there ever was one, it should be this one.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What would make for a great double feature with The Forest?

JZ: I'd love to watch The Shining and then The Forest. Those are 2 psychological mind-bending movies that go well together.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What about a film that's lighter?

JZ: Oddly enough, Alice in Wonderland, the animated version. They're both about a girl who gets lost in a very foreign land and gets to know a bunch of crazy creatures and bad shit happens.

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