Ah, nepotism in Hollywood. Where would some of the most exciting auteurs of cinema today like Jason Reitman or Sofia Coppola be without it? There’s even a website about it (hollywoodnepotism.net).
But it must be a double-edged sword being born on third base. Getting your shot is all but guaranteed, but no matter how hard you work or how good you are, you’re never going to escape the popular assumption that mummy, daddy, or some studio executive uncle have opened a lot of doors for you.
Or you could ask Sean Stone about it. You’d think being the son of one of Hollywood’s most incendiary talents would see him showered with budget money and his pick of projects, but even after bit parts in Dad Oliver’s films it was still a torturous process with plenty of false starts getting his horror film ”Greystone Park” (based and set in the real former mental hospital) off the ground.
When did you realise Greystone Park was a real place and get the idea for a ghost story set there?
It was very much like the opening of the film. I was having dinner with my father (Stone appears in the opening dinner scene), Alex Wraith and a friend of my fathers. Alex had been exploring mental hospitals for a few years, so to him Greystone was the mother lode. It was the most haunted, elusive location he’d been too.
He’d been taking a small camera and the way he described it made it sound like The Shining or The Twilight Zone. Lights go on when you go inside and it’s like a maze, you get lost and he described it as the walls themselves shifting around you. I thought it sounded pretty cool and I’ve always wanted to go to a haunted house so I decided to check it out and that’s when the journey of the film began.
So you actually experienced the paranormal?
Yeah. The place is notoriously haunted. I think it’s considered one of the top 20 haunted locations in North America. And if you actually go there, there’s a weird energy. Most of the people who worked there were around mental illness all day and madness is very similar to experiencing paranormal phenomena. So you start to see things, you see shadows that move by themselves or you start to feel like you’re being possessed.
So we went to this place and we felt like there was a presence there. We would hear things inside, like music playing for example. We had things thrown at us out of nowhere. Five or six people actually got possessed. And basically you’re just trying to deal with the situation. You’re not quite sure if they’re going crazy or if it’s really something supernatural overcoming them. You start to doubt your own sanity.
Did you believe in ghosts before making the film?
I’d always heard ghost stories, and people have always experienced the supernatural. Even psychologists like Jung talked about paranormal experience. But until you’ve experienced it for yourself it’s difficult to say that you believe in it.
So I was very sceptical, much like my character in the film, but going the first time you realise there’s definitely something there. It starts with shadows and sounds and next thing you know it’s phone calls from strange entities claiming to be demons.
Back when you started working on the movie, did you have any inkling found footage horror would be such a crowded genre?
It was 2009 and Paranormal Activity hadn’t even come out yet. We watched it when it did and thought it was cool, but in Greystone Park we just wanted to document our experiences, make it feel like you’re living with these characters through their experiences of the supernatural. It was never about saying ‘this footage was recorded and we found the tapes and the characters are all dead’. The essence of this is it’s inspired by a real story.
Did the success of similar films affect or change your approach?
Blair Witch was a great concept but there’s no actual Blair Witch, so to me it takes away from the horror. Whereas there’s a real Greystone and we’re playing ourselves and telling you our story. We’re not crying wolf. You say ‘wait a minute, they look like they’re going through a real haunted place. Are they really reacting to shadows or is it all staged?’
The beauty of the film is there’s a mixture of both. There is a staged element, there are things that are recreated and accentuated for dramatic purposes. But there are things that are really happening and weren’t scripted.
Is that one of the reasons it doesn’t pay off scares so clearly as other films?
The film has a certain logic in that the scares intensify as they go through it and a lot of the tension is from the fact that you don’t know for sure. If you broke into a haunted place as we did you’re not always going to see what’s going on.
This is very much the real experience of the explorer documenting his journey. So we wanted to keep that essence of mystery. We planted a lot of things in the background –in the original Halloween where you had the guy in the background with the mask just standing there, it kept it very simple. You don’t want to give away too much.
What you can’t see is a lot scarier for me. I think the torture porn craze takes away from the imagination.
How would you respond to detractors who assume you’ve had an easy ride because you’re a famous director’s son?
This film took three years from the point we first started exploring it. We lost locations, we lost financing two or three times. I had to struggle to get the film made. Frankly, from the first year I thought it was going to be a failure.