A Monster In The House: An Interview with Muirhouse director Tanzeal Rahim

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When we found out that cinema snob at large Zak Hepburn liked Paul Thomas Anderson’s THE MASTER – we decided to send him on an one way assignment. His mission? Recreate the events of the film MUIRHOUSE – which depicts the fateful journey of  writer Phillip Muirhouse, who began a promotional book tour on supernatural phenomena based around the famous Monte Cristo Homestead, which is known as ‘the most haunted house in Australia’. Shit get’s weird. Fortunately for Hepburn, rather than follow the characters ill fated journey – he decided to speak with MUIRHOUSE writer/director Tanzeal Rahim about ghosts, local film production and everything else that goes bump in the night.

muirhouse

What are your Top 5 Haunted House Films?
In no real order – I’d have to say – The Orphanage (El Orphanto) / The Silent House ( the original not the Olsen sister remake) / The Shinning / Poltergiest /  and The Woman in Black (both original and remake) . 
 
My guilty pleasure 5 – like the ones most people think is crap or lame but  I would totally watch
 
13 Ghosts / House on Haunted Hill (remake) / Stir of Echoes / The Others / 1408 
The film chronicles an encounter at the historic Monte Cristo Homestead location – built in 1855 the location has been often cited as place rife with paranormal activity, how did you first encounter the ghastly legends that surround “Australia’s Most Haunted House” and can you give us some background on the location? 

 

I lived on campus in Canberra when I was at Uni – and I met a few people from Wagga who had told me about the house. I don’t think I was motivated by that – but I do think when I was writing Muirhouse I always had it in the back of my mind. The original script – wasn’t set there though. I had a draft that was actually set in a generic old house that was next to where I had guitar lessons! It was only when I started really thinking about shooting – that I thought – ‘I wonder what’s the most haunted place in Australia ‘ and when I went and saw the house – I knew it was perfect. So I rewrote the script to make it about that particular house.  

 

 

What is it about Ghost Stories that capture the minds and hearts of genre fans?

 

I don’t care who you are – ghosts -and the idea of ghosts-  scare the living piss out of everyone. I’m a firm believer that it all has to do with our childhoods. I think we all have had encounters when we were kids. I’ve travelled to so many countries with Muirhouse and at the end of the film all everyone wants to do is talk about their own experiences! For me that’s the fun. It’s real to everyone. – and in my heart everyone kind of wants to believe. I mean it’s the perfect question of empathy in these films – ‘What would you do if you saw a ghost?’ 

 

Did you meet any real Ghost Hunters in your research for the film? Did they go into the creation of lead character Phillip Muirhouse?
I watched A LOT of Ghosthunters and Taps etc…  before I wrote the film. Every bit of hamming it for the camera – every bit of investigative technique is in Muirhouse. They all talk a certain way – they all communicate to ‘ghosts’ a certain way – and

what I’m very proud of is how many ‘Ghost Hunters’ have written to me about the accurate nature of Muirhouse. 

The funny thing was I did try and get in contact with them during scripting. I found out they are a very secretive and protective bunch of people who are very very suspicious of anyone writing about them. I had very little support from the ‘Ghost Hunting’ community then. Since the film screened – the support has been tremendous and I think they’ve appreciated the level of detail we’ve put into the character of Phillip. 

 

 

The film brings a unique visual style to the found footage sub-genre – can you expand on the decision to mix P.O.V photography and more traditional documentary set-ups?

The Last Broadcast and The Blair Witch Project did it. And I was a teen when they were out – and their style have left such an impression on me. I think the P.O.V needs it. I do feel that shaky cam style on it’s on is very distracting. I think it makes the audience question every ‘camera’ decision the characters have … ie. ‘Why’s Timmy filming his girlfriend getting killed and not helping?!?’….   

Throw in the documentary angle, information, exposition, pacing –  and it adds a structure – that I think the audience appreciates. 

 

 

How did you go about shooting the production – did actor Ian P.F McDonald shoot a lot of the POV footage himself?

Ha – so many people think Iain shot most of the footage. Truth is he never handled the camera. We had very tightly storyboarded moves for how the camera would go from him in front – to him P.O.V. 

Our Sound Designer Brendan Maher – made the cuts work. He instructed we record  on set all the audio in such a way – that it ‘feels’ like Iain’s behind the camera. So Martin Cox the sound recordist turned the mics to face away from Iain so his sound is ‘behind’.  

Brendan then added all the breaths you hear to really create that feeling he’s behind the camera and alone. 

We actually shot all the footage in the house on a pretty big camera. So the one Iain is carrying is a prop. 

 

The  Monte Cristo Homestead is located in Junee, NSW  – There is a scene in early in the film where Muirhouse is confronted whilst on the radio and chastised by a local for wanting to film at the estate – did the township embrace the production?

The township is pretty divided. We encountered both support and anger at us making a film there. The radio interviews really reflected how people felt. The house is very grizzly in it’s history – and it’s not really a positive thing for the town to be known for. On the other hand it brings in a lot of tourists and gains Junee worldwide media attention!.  

 

This was another case of when the town saw the film at a special screening – they really got behind it. It was my proudest moment with the film – because it even made people who hated the house – want to go back there!! 

 

Although it’s a cliched “Entrainment Tonight” type question – One has to ask, did you experience any activity or sensations whilst shooting around the Monte Cristo Homestead?
Haha – it’s all everyone wants to know!!! The answer is yes. I did and so did members of my crew. Kate our lead actress saw Mrs Crawley that first night of shooting. I’ve never heard anyone scream so loud. It’s spooked us out severely. Make matters worse – I then at 3amsaw the ghost of Mr Crawley upstairs. As I ran down the stairs – Reg the owner smirked and said ‘Did you see him?’ I swear we only did things in pairs after that! 
 
We’ve been to the house since filming with media and press. AND ALMOST EVERYONE – including a big portion of non – believers – had an experience. 
 
When Monster Pictures released our film at the WAGGA WAGGA  FORUM 6 CINEMAS a couple of weeks ago we stayed in the house – and we recorded on our camera’s apparition activity clear as day.  We’ll be uploading it on our youtube channel very soon. 

 

The film has a very distinct tone – how hard is it to create new scares  and ideas within the found footage construct?

The ‘found footage’ ( I hate that description) genre looks so simple to do. I think a lot of critics of the sub genre – have really  not taken into account how nightmarish it is to do – and to do it well. A conventional film – has a lot of cheats to get you from one scene to another – there’s the ‘cat in the window’ – when a cut doesn’t work just cut to something off camera. The audience won’t notice. In found footage you’re generally dealing with real time events – there’s not cut aways. The other thing is the camera becomes a character -it’s got to have motivation to frame what you’re seeing – you have to have a reason the camera’s pointing a certain way. And that’s hard. It’s a nightmare contextualising the camera for 80 minutes. It’s even harder if the character’s alone. The audience will just say ‘ Why’s he/she still filming?!?’ 

 

But I think it’s not hard to scare people with found footage. The audience goes into a film like this primed. They know the score. They know bad things are gonna happen. All the camera and tone does is heightens it. I think the hardest thing to do in these films is to make people care. To actually care what the characters are doing – instead of seeing fodder for death in shaky cam. 

 

 

If you could be haunted by any ghost, who would it be?

The ghost of Hunter S. Thompson. No contest. 

Zak Hepburn

About the author: Zak Hepburn

Melbourne based writer and film programmer, Hepburn's work has appeared in The Age, Beat Magazine, Twitch.com and a host of other publications. His film programming work includes CULTASTROPHE, a curated genre cinema program at Melbourne's Cinema Nova which evolved from his previous long running programme CULT VAULT. He currently appears weekly on ABC Radio in the dead of the night talking film and trying to act out scenes from "Play Mistry for Me". He seeks to to find Naturalistic Minimalism - he doesn't know what that is but he read about and it once thought it sounded good.

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