The remarkable success of Kiwi comic horror film ‘Housebound’ which had its world premiere at the South by Southwest film festival in the USA on March 11, 2014 was also the launching pad for successful South Seas 2000 directing graduate Gerard Johnstone.
Gerard applied twice to South Seas Film and Television School on Auckland’s north shore before being accepted. Then six months into his course Gerard won the AUSA Short Film Festival in three categories Best Film, Best Director and Best Script for his short film ‘V Stretcha’. “It was the most awesome experience of my short life.” he says. ‘I looked at the competition and felt that I didn’t have a chance it was so good. Then when I found myself on the podium for the third time I was blown away.”
At South Seas, Gerard also specialised in acting, a skill he believes important if students want to be drama directors. “As a director you have to get a truthful performance out of your actors. If you can’t get it out of yourself how can you get it out of others?” he says. “You need a degree of maturity if you’re to cope with the intensity of the film course,” he says “and to be honest, I wasn’t ready when I first applied. It’s full on, practical and you’re out there making films, working with the public and working with crews every week. You have to draw on all your resources and you’re constantly challenged. But it’s fantastic.”
Gerard did have one regret. He just wished that the course was longer. “I’ve got so much more to do.” he said at the time. “But that’s the magic of South Seas. They put you through a pressure cooker then turn you out with the skills you need to be immediately useful in the industry. From there you can only get better.”
After graduating Gerard soon started to experience success. He won Best Actor & Best Script and took home the major Prize for Overall winner in the Becks 48hr Film Challenge in 2003 for his short Film “Special Crimes Squad”. After winning the 48 Hour challenge for a second time he became confident that he now had the skills in editing, camera, sound and lighting to take on the world.
After twice winning the 48 Hour Film Contest, Gerard used some of the prize money to make a pilot for a high school comedy. Though the project got trapped in development, TV3 went on to screen two seasons of the acclaimed and award-winning comedy series ‘The Jaquie Brown Diaries’ which Gerard wrote and directed.
Next the NZ Film Commission funded the development of Gerard’s first feature length movie ‘Housebound’ which he completed in early 2014. It quickly gained international acclaim.
Gerard describes it as a Gothic comedy horror, which is his strategic way of saying there’s no zombies in it. He also adds that “It’s the type of horror movie you could take your mother to. I wanted the protagonist to be someone that wouldn’t scare easily. That way, when she does finally fall victim to fear, it’s much more palpable. Thankfully Morgana (O’Reilly) looks a little bit like a young gypsy-witch nursing a hangover but she’s also incredibly good at playing scared.”
Described as “bloody brilliant” by legendary horror director Peter Jackson, ‘Housebound’ follows a woman dealing with the triple threats of house arrest, potential ghosts, and having to live with her mother. Morgana O’Reilly (TV movie Safe House) is the criminal facing eight months home detention with her annoying superstitious blabbermouth mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata).
At SXSW Film Festival Gerard’s film debut won near universal praise and since then the remake rights have been sold to New Line in the USA. When looking at the Key cast and Crew it is interesting to see how many South Seas Film School graduates have been involved in the making of it.
Key Cast & Crew
Morgana O’Reilly as: Kylie Bucknell
Rima Te Wiata as: Miriam Bucknell
Glen-Paul Waru as Amos (South Seas 1998 Graduate)
Ryan Lampp as Eugene (South Seas 1999 Graduate)
Gerard Johnstone: Writer, Editor, Director (South Seas 2000 Graduate)
Luke Sharpe: Producer (South Seas 2003 Graduate)
Daniel Story: Executive Producer (South Seas 2000 Graduate)
Watch the trailer below.