Jason Zada is an American filmmaker and music video director whose debut feature, The Forest is out now. Starring Natalie Dormer, The Forest follows a woman’s search for her twin sister in Japan’s notorious Aokigahara Forest. Jason took the time to talk to us about scary trees, horror remakes and wandering off the path…
Starburst: In the crowded horror genre what would you say makes The Forest different?
Jason Zada: I think many films these days take place in a house, and for me the location felt the key here, almost a character in the film and that’s what set The Forest apart.
How was the experience of visiting Aokigahara Forest? Did you leave the path at all?
When I went to the actual forest I definitely had to go off the path, as I’d been developing the screenplay for so long and knew all about what went on there. My Japanese guide was more cautious; he had a satellite phone with him just in case and it was starting to get dark, and he really wanted to go back. At that point everyone became a little more nervous and was like “okay, we have to get out of this forest right now.” It’s a creepy place and being respectful of everything that had gone on there was important to me.
Did anything spooky happen to you?
Well I didn’t die! (laughs) No, having been working on the script, your mind plays a few tricks on you but nothing happened. We did see the ropes, though, and the ropes can lead to bodies and that in itself is pretty scary.
We understand you were restricted from filming there?
We were not actually allowed to shoot in the forest itself so we used a location in Serbia. It was very familiar having been in the real one but thankfully where we filmed wasn’t built on lava rock like it is in Japan. Underneath the whole thing are these tubes and so on, so it’s actually really dangerous just to wander around there.
What was it about The Forest that made it feel right to be your debut feature as a director? This is a very high profile film, which must bring more pressure.
It was the people involved like David S. Goyer and Lawrence Bender, who made me really want to do it. I couldn’t really pass it up. And pressure makes me want to work harder! The only tough part was working around Natalie’s schedule on Game Of Thrones, which made it tight to get the film finished by November so we could get it into theatres in the US. I just love the pressure! (laughs)
What was it about Natalie Dormer that convinced you she was right for such an intense role?
Natalie’s in pretty much every frame of the film as Jess or Sara. I’d seen a lot of her work and there’s just something about her. She’s very intelligent and understands filmmaking really well. When The Forest came up, it turned out she was on everyone’s radar so when we met we knew instantly she was the right person for it.
Which films have influenced you in making The Forest?
For me The Shining was always a mental reference, in that they made a hotel scary. It’s the psychological decent into madness of the main character that was always the draw too. Jaws was another film, as that made something not so scary, like the ocean, into something really frightening. For us, we’ve all been in the woods and so the thought that there’s always something lurking was in our minds while making The Forest.
David S. Goyer said part of the attraction of The Forest is in its ambiguity. Was that something you worked hard to develop?
I think the forest itself is a character in it being a real place. The question was how to make a bunch of trees scary, and to create that impending doom, but there’s a certain allure to this place. People travel from all over the world to end their life there, which is a sad and strange phenomenon.
Establishing a franchise is such a massive thing today, so we wondered if you felt The Forest either warranted or demands a sequel?
I don’t want to ruin anything for people who haven’t seen the film but there are a lot of stories to tell about the forest, as there are a lot of people who go there. Once you see the ending then maybe you can see a reason to go back.
We’re always curious about filmmakers’ take on remakes, especially in the horror genre, so we wondered what your thoughts were and if you were going to make one, which one would it be?I just read a project but I can’t say what it is! It’s a great genre script and is a remake, but I’m of the opinion you shouldn’t remake a film where the original was good. When we do so, it’s hard to improve on the original but there are a lot of great genre films that could be updated with a bigger budget and with better effects. I think there’s a lot to go at.