Daniel Montgomery talks ‘The Jessica Cabin’

After completing filming recently, we caught up with Daniel Montgomery, director of queer horror comedy The Jessica Cabin to discuss the project in greater detail.

What was the genesis of The Jessica Cabin, did you need to pitch it to Lonely Spectre?
The Jessica Cabin started as a sprinkle of an idea from my creative partner, Riley Rose Critchlow, to me and Chase Williamson. Like everybody, we felt stifled and cooped up last year – especially creatively. Riley and I had had some success with a short horror film, Tall Betsy, we made together in 2019, and the thought was “what if, next, we did a horror/comedy feature?” set in one location, small crew, COVID-proof. We tossed around titles, some loose ideas, I wrote a script, and here we are. I sent the script to Brendan Haley, the head of Lonely Spectre, with a cast already attached; he loved it and the rest is history.

You have worked in TV and on plenty of short films, how did the experience with Cabin compare?
The Jessica Cabin was my first time directing, so there was definitely an extra level of excitement and pressure there. And, not only that, I’m acting in almost every scene of the movie, so calling “action” on myself took some getting used to. But it was exhilarating – and freeing, in some senses, to have the license to play, since ultimately (and literally) I was calling the shots. Truly, the biggest difference was the pace of our production. We shot 97 scenes in 9 days and our DP, Jay Ruggieri, is an absolute magician. A lot of times it’s hurry-up-and-wait on set, but, for this, it was go-go-go.

Tell us about putting the cast together?
The cast was my wildest dream – and I wrote it specifically for everyone. Riley Rose Critchlow and Chase Williamson and I have performed together for over 10 years, and The Jessica Cabin was an effort to create work for ourselves – and get a chance to play.

What was the writing process like for such a unique film?
It actually came very easily. This story is about isolation and loneliness and connection, and that was top of my mind for most of last year. It was very much a reflection of how I’d felt trapped inside for all of 2020; I think we all felt like ghosts. Once I had a sense of the characters and the physical setting, I just let the story tell itself. It was cathartic.

How do you aim to balance the comedy and the horror in Cabin?
I am innately 50% horror, 50% comedy – my life has been a balance in performing sketch comedy while writing/performing with an immersive theatre company doing mostly shows extreme horror (Creep LA), so both are in my blood. I think comedy and horror are very very similar. Laughs and scares come in 3s, it’s a rhythm, there’s timing. With both comedy and horror, you’re, in essence, controlling someone’s breath – you’re making them gasp or laugh – or even scream. With The Jessica Cabin, I think playing with the unexpected serves both the horror and the humor. The threats within the cabin are not what they seem to be, so keeping an audience on their toes does some work for us. The Jessica Cabin is definitely it’s own thing – the things that made you gasp at the beginning may be the things that make you laugh by the end.

How did genre favourite Chase Williamson get involved?
Chase and I went to theatre school together at USC and are very close, and The Jessica Cabin was a fantastic excuse for us to work together on screen, as well as off-screen as producers. Part of the drive of The Jessica Cabin was to create an opportunity to tell a decidedly queer story told by queer artists. Riley, Chase, and I are all queer performers, and The Jessica Cabin was a perfect chance for Riley and Chase to play their authentic selves for the first time: Riley, a non-binary character and Chase, a gay character.

We are still in midst of a global pandemic, was it cathartic to get back out on set in March?
Incredibly cathartic. Having a COVID-supervisor on set made things feel very safe and put everyone at ease, which was important. You forget how crucial in-person interaction is, and it’s been a struggle now that filming is over, because I got so used to spending such quality time, creating, with people that I love. There was an incredible sense of gratitude on set and appreciation for everything we had taken for granted.

How important is it to have companies such as Lonely Spectre giving queer voices a platform to be heard?
It’s crucial to have companies like Lonely Spectre creating a platform for queer artists. It brings depth and humanity to the genre and it creates a safe space to tell stories, with innovative and specific POVs. We’re telling a story not only about queer lives but a whole range of queer lives – and some aren’t EVEN alive. Not much for sports analogies but it makes the playing field wider, brighter, more colourful and more fun to play on.

What are your favourite ghost stories?
I love an urban legend – Bloody Mary, The Ring – a spirit tied to a place or an object has always fascinated me. Figuring out the “rules” with ghosts is also very fun – and learning the consequences for when you break the rules. The Jessica Cabin plays with all of those ideas.

What is the schedule now for The Jessica Cabin, do you have a release date in mind?
We’re in post production now, eyeing a release in fall 2021.

Is the plan to go the festival route or seek out distribution first?
Y’know, I’d like as many people as possible to see The Jessica Cabin, so whatever the best avenue for that is, that’s where we’ll go.

Keep up to date with all the latest news about The Jessica Cabin at Lonely Spectre Productions.

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