FrightFest 2023 - Interview with Dominic O'Neill writer and director of Haunted Ulster Live

A quick chat about the superior horror comedy

James Whittington
August 27, 2023

Haunted Ulster Live is everything you;d want from a horror/comedy, plenty of laughs as well as chills. We chatted to Dominic O'Neill, the film's writer/director.

NYX: The movie is a smart mix of the legendary Ghostwatch broadcast and found footage films, what inspired you to mix the two?

DON: I saw Ghostwatch on original broadcast and it’s always stayed with me but I didn’t rewatch it for a very long time so sort of forgot about it. In 2010 there was a Northern Ireland based ghost-hunting TV show, and I loved how sincere it was at a time when most ghost hunting shows had gotten completely silly. That’s when the idea for Haunted Ulster Live was seeded.

NYX: Did the script take long to get right and were you restricted by budget?

DON: The script was written over two years. The characters arrived almost fully formed but we had to spend a lot of time taking the script apart and putting it back together to get it just right. The fact that the film would be mostly one location, and single camera was essential to the plot and doable on our very low budget.

NYX: Was it written with a cast in mind as they are superb?

DON: A few roles were written with actors in mind, be have a great acting community in Northern Ireland, both film and theatre, so we had a pick of some fantastic actors for the shoot.

NYX: This is your debut as a director, were you nervous on the first day on set?

DON: There is no time for nerves on the first day. We had so much to shoot, and you just have to put faith in all the hard work that’s been done beforehand. We had two days of rehearsals and I was probably more nervous then because we have a lot of very experienced actors in the film and I needed them to trust that I knew what I was doing.

NYX: Was it all shot on location and if so, how challenging was that?

DON: The majority of the film is one location. This was essential. Moving location takes a lot of time and resource. It’s also integral to the plot that everything is broadcast from the house. Finding a house which had the interiors and exteriors we needed was a huge stroke of luck, and we knew then we could make the film on our resources.

NYX: Was continuity difficult as it’s set a few decades back?

DON: We probably put more time into production design than anything else. Getting the home interiors, costumes and props right for 1998 was what would ultimately sell the film and ease audiences into the conceit, and it wasn’t that expensive to get right.

NYX: There’s some sharp humour in this, was it difficult to balance this so it didn’t affect the unravelling nightmare?

DON: Early on we knew we weren’t going to use parody, or make fun of any of the aspects of these ghost-hunting tv shows. We played everything straight and hopefully our affection for the characters and the people these shows attract shines through. There is also something genuinely funny about 90’s TV. It’s only 25 years ago but it feels like a different world.

NYX: Without giving too much away, which sequence was the hardest to shoot?

DON: The exteriors. We had one night to get everything and it was the middle of November. We were very lucky it didn’t rain as this would have completely snookered us, there were so many elements and extras to the exterior shoot we couldn’t easily reschedule it.

NYX: Do you believe in the paranormal and are you a fan of “ghost hunting” shows?

DON: I’m a big fan of some ghost-hunting shows, but I’m more interested in the presenters, the investigators, and the task they have to keep an audience entertained when there might be very little ‘paranormal’ activity to investigate. I think people would be allowed to believe whatever they want if it gives them a bit of hope, which is probably where interest in these shows comes from.

NYX: So, what are you up to at the moment?

DON: I have two scripts on the go and am hoping to get one of them off the ground next year. It shares some DNA with Haunted Ulster Live but it probably a more original concept. Can’t say too much about it right now!

NYX: Dominic O'Neill, thank you very much.