The film had some time from development to release. How did the idea for THE INHABITANTS change through the course of its creation? What was the idea that started the project?
Michael Rasmussen: It is weird, in that, it came together the quickest of any of our projects. It came out of the fact that our producer owns the house. Way back on our very first project, which he produced, we shot in an abandoned psychiatric hospital at night. While we were waiting for shots to bet set up, he nonchalantly that he owns this house and it is haunted. We were like, “Oh right, sure.” Jump forward three or four years…
Shawn Rasmussen: You know what it is like on a movie set- you just sit around. The thing that surprised us about him saying it was haunted is that he is a doctor, as well as a business man. This guy isn’t going to throw out—out of the blue—that something is haunted, but he did. He genuinely felt like it was haunted.
MR: Not haunted like “Woo-oo” [ghosty noises]. Haunted, like my son is around the corner, and he sees something move past him. He just lived closely with this presence. At first, we didn’t know how to take it, really. But over the years we have gotten to know him, and have been to the house. Whether it was haunted or not, it is a really cool setting for a ghost story. We had just sold DARK FEED, and we were looking for what we wanted to do next, and we thought we could shoot something there. We learned so much about what not to do when making a film and we were ready to try it again. We wrote the screenplay in a month or two, and started shooting. It was that fast.
SR: After DARK FEED, a friend of ours who had worked on the film said, “The worst that you can do is wait.” Once you have made a film you need to go out and make another movie. As soon as he said we could shoot in his house we worked quickly and pulled it together.
MR: That is the weird thing. It came together so fast. We shot it in three or four weeks. Then, it was Shawn and I editing and doing all of the post work on our own, and it kind of dragged. It was initially so fast, but then it kept rolling in place.
SR: It is one of the biggest challenges in micro-budget films. After you shoot the film, you are the ones stuck with the editing, all of the post production, and that stuff just drags. We also really wanted to work again with our composer. Then working on music and sound design took a couple years to come together. For every dollar you save on your budget during the shoot, is another week you are going to have to spend to make it work.
The score is much grander than the film initially lets on. How was working with the composer? Was it a joint creative effort, or did you know exactly what you wanted?
MR: It was a negotiation. John Kusiak is the composer, and his partner Andrew Willis. They do a lot of Errol Morris’s films. They did TABLOID, and John did the HBO miniseries JINX. They do arthouse, highbrow, documentary stuff. We are always amazed that they are willing to slum it [laughs] and come work with us. I think what got them interested in working with us is that like [John] Carpenter, and we’ve worked with Carpenter. When we did this film we wanted something that kind of emulates Carpenter, but also emulates the 1970s grander scores, like THE CHANGELING. We wanted that. I think the composers wanted to do something a lot more musical, pretty, and symphonic. There was a back and forth, and it took some time to get what we all wanted.
SR: It is interesting. For the first film we worked with them, and we really did not have an idea of what we wanted the score to be. They were able to go off and come up with the score that they wanted. It really surprised us, and added a lot to the film, but it wasn’t anything that we had in our mind going in to the film. This time we did have an idea. We went through a couple iterations where we were trying to get that vibe. John and his son Kenny [Kusiak] both love horror films, and they both worked on this one. Kenny did the sound design, and John the score. It was very collaborative.
MR: Andrew [Willis] too. That line where sound design ends and the music begins, crossed over a lot more than they would have normally. There is no silence in that house. Everything is either humming or buzzing.
The blend of the older haunted house with the more modern technology in THE INHABITANTS is interesting. What made you decide to include these elements?
MR: There is technology in there, but it is VHS, very analogue technology. Going back to THE CHANGELING, there are tapes decks. In THE EXORCIST there is the MRI. I always like a little bit of technology in our horror films. We were trying to do a nod to found-footage, but in a different way.
SR: We talk about this all the time. Found-footage has gotten to the point where it is not really adding to the movie. In JERUZAELM, the Google Glass assisted the story and what they are trying to do. While we love found-footage, we wanted to give a nod to it without actually doing it. I like films, recently like SINISTER where there is footage but it is a portion of the story.
MR: But even there it isn’t digital technology, it’s analogue. There is a subculture of paranormal investigators who use EVP. They listen to static, and watch static to see things in it. I like the idea of the ghost making its presence known through that. Like in POLTERGEIST.
SR: We did like the idea of playing with different types of genres within the same film.
MR: Yeah. We wanted to insert something we hadn’t seen in one of these 1970s ghost stories. We thought: Why not have surveillance footage tangled in it? Initially we wanted it to be much more integrated in the story. In the filmmaking process, making that all work was much more difficult than we thought. All that you see is composited into the monitors.
SR: We did love the idea of the footage being more voyeuristic in nature than it needs to be to tell the story. I like the idea that the husband wanted to explore his voyeurism and through that uncovered the mystery.
MR: There are little voyeuristic nods throughout the film. The former owner of the house, the pervy guy who died, is named Norman, for Norman Bates. This idea of them looking through the wall, and watching the guests in these candid moments was a nod. We want the men in the audience to feel uncomfortable as they are sitting there, watching these women undress on tape. We spent a lot of time in post filming these scenes and to push them. We got a burlesque dancer to do one if the racier ones. We wanted you to feel uncomfortable.