FrightFest 2023 - Interview with John Rosman writer and director of New Life

A talk with the creative behind one of the best of the fest

James Whittington
August 29, 2023

One of the very best movies at FrightFest 2023 was from John Rosman, New Life. This superb horror infused thriller captivated the audience. We chatted to him just before its screening.

NYX: Did you know from an early age that you wanted to work in the film industry and was there one person who inspired you?

JR: I always liked movies. But I fell in love with filmmaking a little later in college when I learned how to edit. I was completely absorbed by the process and all I wanted to do was hole myself in one of the edit bays and cut all day. I’m incredibly lucky to be surrounded by a large supportive family, who all inspire me in different ways, every day.

NYX: Where did the idea for New Life come from and which genre would you place it?

JR: The big idea behind New Life was to make a film where we follow a character in the middle of their story, who’s desperate to escape something but we don’t learn what until much later. I’d call it a horror movie, but also a slow-burn thriller as well.

NYX: Did the script change much during writing?

JR: The script changed a lot from the initial draft to the film you see on screen. That process came, for me, from many drafts where I learned more and more about the characters and story. But the story also changed as more collaborators signed on the project. Everyone — producers, actors, the DP, production design, casting, etc  — all ended up having thoughts you see on screen.

NYX: For me, the best idea always wins. I was fortunate to be surrounded by so many people who engaged with the story and shared ideas on how to make it better.

JR: It’s a story of secrets, acceptance, and mortality, how would you describe it?

NYX: I think you nailed it.

JR: I could also say it's a bit of an odd duck that starts off like an American indie, and was very boring to a teenager I sat behind during a screening. But then he got very into the horror parts at the end. So, maybe…I’d also add, it’s a story that’s great for teens…sometimes!

NYX: The movie really does give you time to get to know the characters (especially the charming farming couple), how important was it for you that this happened?

JR: I appreciate that. It was important for me to ground the story in a world that felt real to me. So, I tried to make the farming couple feel like people I’ve met in Oregon. But also, if you end up liking characters it raises the stakes of the horror, which comes later.

NYX: The lead actors, Sonya Walger and Hayley Erin deliver incredibly layered performances, did they have much time to rehearse at all?

JR: Sony and Hayley are incredible actors who are naturally talented. But I think they are great performers because they put in the work. They will not stop until something is perfect. So it was important for both of them to rehearse enough for the role to truly understand the project on a sentence by sentence level. They poured an immense amount of thought and energy into the characters. When you have professionals that good, engaged on that level, the story transforms into something bigger than ever written on the page.

NYX: The locations truly add to the feeling of the movie, getting colder as it progresses, was this intentional?

JR: Thank you, and I agree the locations add a lot to the feel of the film. It was important to visually show we were heading toward Canada, where it’s colder. But like you mention the locations also turn into something wide open, bright and harsh. By the time our characters finally meet, there is no more hiding. It’s daylight in a field, and they have to face each other, and the reasons they’re both running.

NYX: This is your directorial debut, were you nervous on the first day of shooting?

JR: Ha! Yes. I did not sleep well. But eventually the first day turns into any other on set, where you just take it one shot at a time

NYX: Was there any mistakes you made that you’ll make sure you won’t make on you next project?

JR: Oh so many. There is a big learning curve with time management on a tight budget. Every second not accounted for, i.e. if you go over allotted time, has an increased associated cost. We did great with timing, all things considered. But I learned a lot about prioritization of shots and scenes.

But what I truly love about filmmaking is that it’s an impossible art. It’s a craft you can dedicate your whole life to and never come remotely close to “perfect.” So, I hope to continue to be inspired by my mistakes.

NYX: Will you be nervous when the movie has its European premiere at FrightFest 2023?

JR: Of course! I’m also incredibly excited and deeply grateful for the opportunity to play such an amazing festival in London. Shout out to The Prospect of Whitby, the greatest pub in the world.

NYX: So, what are you working on at the moment?

JR: I’m currently writing a few projects. Hopefully one will be good enough to shoot soonish?

NYX: John Rosman, thank you very much.