[Interview] A Conversation with Malibu Horror Story Writer and Director Scott Slone
Sarah Kirk discusses horror, future projects, and the filmmaking effort behind creating the paranormal found-footage film Malibu Horror Story.
Scott Slone is an award-winning writer, director, and producer. Slone has directed and written short feature films, including Old Man Music (2005) and Limbo (2021), and dabbled in documentary filming with 2001: An EDM Odyssey (2018). I had the privilege of interviewing Slone about his latest feature film, Malibu Horror Story (2021), a frightening, disturbing, and psychologically stimulating experience. It premiered at the 2021 Atlanta Horror Film Festival. Slone has created a sensational viewing experience, captivating audiences through extraordinary cinematography and enthralling horror motifs.
The film follows a team of paranormal investigators with a show called “Paranormal Files.” The team is on a mission to uncover the story behind four missing boys who disappeared in the Santa Monica Mountains outside Malibu. As they dig deeper, they find themselves hunted by an ancient evil spirit. Malibu Horror Story has won over twenty awards, including Best Picture Winner of the Los Angeles Crime & Horror Film Festival 2022 and Best Horror Film Winner of the LAFA (Los Angeles Film Awards) 2022, just to name a few. I spoke with Slone about his filmmaking process and our shared love for horror.
Sarah: Would you say you have a love of horror, and if so, how did you discover it?
Scott Slone: I’m a big horror fan. I would say getting into horror started when I worked at a video store growing up. The horror section was the smallest, believe it or not. But like most teenagers, all we did was flock to that section, which is when video stores were dying. You were already getting some stuff on streaming, but renting a DVD or Blu-Ray or going to a sleepover with your friends and popping in some 80s shit. We’d pop in Children of the Corn (1984) or something weird. Being a kid, having sleepovers, staying up late, and watching these movies is where it started. As a filmmaker, it was more genre-jumping.
I love horror and own a lot of horror movies, and I see every horror movie, but this film took 12 years. I’ve seen a tremendous amount of horror and found footage, but I would say getting into making a film in the horror genre was about genre-jumping. My first two shorts weren't horror, and it was my way of getting into digital filmmaking because the stuff I did before was on film. I think it was along the lines of tackling a new genre and wanting to try it. The horror thing has just kind of stuck. Scream (1996), The Craft (1996), and The Faculty (1998) are movies I grew up with as a teenager. I love teen horror.
Sarah: Your filmography is diverse, but I wanted to ask what motivated or inspired you to write Malibu Horror Story? How did the idea come about?
Scott Slone: I was barely old enough to see The Blair Witch Project (1999). I also saw Paranormal Activity (2007) on Halloween in 2009. I saw that and was like, " Oh shit…this found-footage phenomenon will come back. I had all these ideas to do something ultra-real with unrecognizable actors. It started with the four original kids, the ones you see in the 2012 tape. I was trying to figure out a way to make a movie cheap and have it from their perspective. They have real Facebook pages, and we did put missing posters everywhere. That news you see is L.A.’s real news, and that is Malibu High School. I’m very much into true crime, and we tried to mimic that. Over the years, the movie got bigger. We would shoot something, and then studios would look at it. They would say, “This is good, but you need to do this,” and we would show them another cut, and they would say, “Hey, this is good, but you need to do this.” We constantly tweaked it.
Found footage died in 2016. We said, oh shit, no one wants our found footage movie anymore. At the time, ghost hunter shows were popular, so we thought we could put the found footage film inside of a ghost hunter’s documentary and put that inside of a regular movie. Over 12 years, it shaped itself. In 2010, the intention was to make a super real found footage movie where everybody thinks these kids died, pay these kids to disappear from the planet for a year, and have a premiere where they don’t show up. I wanted to have that hype and live off that, but that didn’t happen.
Sarah: Why found footage, and did you take any inspiration from other found footage films?
Scott Slone: Between 2009-2016, the biggest complaint was that found footage movies are boring as shit for the first hour. We wanted to ensure that you weren't bored within that first hour. We started before everybody else, so it’s hard to say anybody influenced us. My favorite found footage movies are Creep and As Above, So Below. As Above, So Below is very similar to ours because they go in the catacombs and it’s underground. However, the biggest influence on this movie was a movie called The Descent (2005). They go spelunking, and that’s where my glowsticks come from.
Sarah: Can you tell me about the creative process for the film’s creature? What did you envision, and how did you bring that vision to life?
Scott Slone: Troy James, who plays that creature, is a contortionist. He was in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019), Hellboy (2019), and Nightmare Alley (2021). Anytime you see a CG movie where a dude is moving crazy, that’s usually him. I wanted it to be real, so we hired Spectral Motion, an amazing prosthetic company. He had to sit in the makeup chair for two to three hours, but that movement he does is him. People asked me, “we loved your visual effects,” and I said here’s something crazy, our movie doesn’t have any visual effects. He can move his body that way, and we used some editorial tricks to ramp it up a little bit. Aside from that, it’s all Troy.
Sarah: The film is frightening, disturbing, and psychologically stimulating. What did you want the audience to experience after viewing Malibu Horror Story?
Scott Slone: I wanted people to be entertained and to make a not-boring found footage horror movie. I was trying to make a movie that you could watch in the theatre and have a good time. I wanted people to look at found footage differently. Maybe you don’t like found footage, but you watch this, and you’re like, “Oh, I can take found footage if it’s given to me this way.” I’m hoping people look at its structure, and it opens their minds to more found-footage horror films.
Sarah: The cinematography and overall delivery of the film were sensational. The dedication of the cast and crew is evident. What was the energy like during production?
Scott Slone: It was tough. We all knew each other and have worked with each other over the years. I had the 2012 kids when they were 18, and I reshot them at 26. Dylan Sprayberry is from Teen Wolf (2011), and Robert Bailey Jr. was a friend of a friend and the same with Valentina de Angelis and Rebecca Forsythe. We did one shoot, which was tough because it was claustrophobic in a cave. Two years later, you need the strength to go back to them and say, “Hey, I know we already went through this, but can you go through this one more time?” It’s frustrating and hard in that sense. It was a full-team effort to get it done.
Sarah: Were there any challenges during filmmaking?
Scott Slone: There’s too many to name. That would be my main answer. Its good people are watching the movie. That’s what I love about you guys. It’s people taking the time to watch it, break it down, and review it. People are like, “Did you see this review? How do you feel about the award you won?” It all boils down to people watching the movie, and that’s all that matters to me. You can hate this movie. Not everybody likes horror or found footage. People are watching, and that feels good after 12 years.
Sarah: What has been your greatest achievement throughout your career?
Scott Slone: It hasn’t happened yet. I’m constantly chasing. I can’t give myself credit for anything that’s happened up to this point because I am not in the place where I want to be yet. Once I get there, I will come back to you and say, “Hey, here it is,” but that answer hasn’t happened yet. I will chase it until I’m 80 years old.
Sarah: What career advice would you give to someone interested in exploring a career in the film industry?
Scott Slone: Invest in yourself. Instead of spending money on frivolous stuff, invest in yourself. That’s buying a camera, a computer, or software to write screenplays. I’ve done that my entire life. It’s also about trying to be as unique as possible. Since the early 2000s, we’ve seen so much of the same. Everything gets too saturated, and nothing sticks out. You’ve got to come up with a new sound for people to go, “Oh shit, what is this?” When I was coming up, you had to shoot on film. Now, you can shoot on your iPhone. It’s about passion. Most people think it’ll fall in their lap, but you’ve got to work. Even if you don’t see results, keep working.
Sarah: What’s next for you? Can you share details about your upcoming projects?
Scott Slone: The only details I can share is that we’re in pre-production. It will be shooting in South Carolina on a tremendous amount of property. It will be hybrid-found footage like Malibu Horror Story. It’ll open like a traditional movie, and there will be found footage inside. We’re shaping the story as we speak and trying to be as original as possible.