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From Shudder-hit HOST to FMV GHOSTS

10 Questions with Jed Shepherd

Interview conducted by Ryan Noble

Ryan Noble: Wow. Jed Shepherd. Your name is everywhere lately, so thank you for taking the time to answer questions for us here at HorrorDNA! Before we move onto HOST and GHOSTS, the projects with the most, tell us a little about yourself and how you first got into horror…

Jed Shepherd: I was a curious kid, and I was always fascinated by horror movies. I didn't know too many people who were into it as much as me, so it was quite a lonely pursuit! I borrowed and rented VHS of all these weird and wonderful films that felt so free in their storytelling. Movies like Evil Dead 2 and Nightmare on Elm Street were really inspirational to me and made me want to make movies myself.

RN: And, of course, congratulations on the success of Host last year. Like everyone, I loved it. It just came at the perfect time. We all needed an escape from the horrors of life in lockdown, and you managed to make it look much less terrifying than the alternative: homicidal ghosts.

Before we get onto your new venture into FMV games, let’s talk about Host for a second. Were you expecting Host to resonate with so many people?

JS: We had no expectations for HOST at all besides making the best possible movie we could with a bunch of our friends. The response has been incredible and I'm very humbled. HOST's success still hasn't sunk in and I'm not sure if it ever will!

RN: And since then, so many doors seem to have opened for you (as they should!). Congratulations on the three-picture deal with Blumhouse, along with Rob Savage and Gemma Hurley. How’s that feel?

JS: Making a horror movie full stop is exciting, but making them with Blumhouse – who have made some of the greatest horror movies ever – is a dream come true. I'm just a massive horror fan and therefore a massive Blumhouse fan. I'm wearing a Blumhouse hoodie while writing this!

RN: Okay, let’s get to the game everyone wants to know more about... Ghosts. For anyone hasn’t seen it yet, here’s a quick synopsis, pulled straight from Kickstarter like a professional:

“You play a TV producer, operating the outside broadcast van for a failing cable channel called FrighTV. Their flagship show is GHOSTS. It’s the only thing people want to watch on the channel anymore. A show that in its heyday captured millions of viewers on a major channel. Viewers were glued to their screens as the presenter with a team of eager ghost hunters explored haunted locations around the country.

Over the years, GHOSTS ratings began to drop which ultimately resulted in the show being dropped by the network and languishing on various freeview channels until it was purchased by FrighTV and re-branded for re-launch in 2022. The channel is littered with terrible adverts and trailers for movies you’ve never heard of and never want to watch.

As the cast explore the location, you not only need to worry about their safety, the noises you hear around the van and the strange neighbours, there’s also the urban legend of THE LONG LADY. Sightings of THE LONG LADY on this very street have chilled the bones of residents for decades. She appears in times of tragedy, looking through the windows of houses on the street. It’s said that if you look directly at her face, you die.”

So, where did your inspiration for this story come from?

JS: I have a few inspirations for this. My main one is probably the works of Nigel Kneale. He is the incredible writer behind The Stone Tape, the Quatermass movies and more. His 1970s horror anthology show, Beasts, is definitely a touchstone for me, as he brought horror to mainstream British television. I'm also very inspired by Hideo Kojima's Boktai: The Sun Is In Your Hand, which was a Gameboy game that had a solar panel on the actual game cartridge. You had to use sunlight in order to progress and that always stuck with me as a great idea.

RN: Oh wow, that sounds awesome. I'm starting to see where you get your innovative ideas from already! You also mention your love of 90’s FMV games like Phantasmagoria, The 7th Guest, and Night Trap... What is it that you love about FMV games and what do you think Ghosts will bring to the medium?

JS: I love being immersed in a game and I think using real people is one step closer to making a game feel real. Though Night Trap has some flaws, it really is a charming game. Replaying it again during lockdown cemented that fact for me. Phantasmagoria is just pure fun. I'm a little obsessed by it, to be honest! GHOSTS will try to capture some of the charm of those classic games, while taking advantage of the updated technology.

jed shepherd ghosts cast

RN: I have a few friends who will likely shed tears of joy reading about your shared love of Phasmagoria. Now, something that I’ve never seen before is the focus on real-time gameplay, to the extent that Ghosts only works at 10pm in the timezone the player is in. This sounds super unique. Tell us a little bit more about the reasoning behind this decision.

Was it to try and create that feeling of a shared experience, like watching a film at the cinema? (God, I miss going to the cinema...)

JS: Yes, that's exactly what I'm trying to do. I'm reminded of when LOST was on TV. It was event television and the time we had in between each airing of the episodes were spent discussing theories. I spent a lot of time going down rabbit holes, trying to figure out what the numbers meant! I want GHOSTS to have that same feel. Everyone playing at the exact same time, experiencing each moment simultaneously, sharing what they've seen each night. Hoping that tomorrow they may be able to get to the end.

RN: You’ve also teamed up with the creative talent of Trevor Henderson, creator of Sirenhead and other spooks, for the design of ‘The Long Lady’ and Jim Henson’s Creature Studio. What a team. How’s that collaboration been?

JS: One more dream come true. I was a big fan of Trevor's as he has created one of the most memorable creators in recent years, Siren Head. I pitched him The Long Lady and he said yes immediately and we've been having so much fun with it! I am also the world's biggest Labrinth fan, so I approached Jim Henson's Creature Shop to see if there was any possibility they'd want to work on this. After they heard what I wanted to do with this game, they were very enthusiastic and its been an incredible joy watching The Long Lady take shape!

RN: Did you have an idea for The Long Lady or a similar creature already, or did you give Trevor permission to go wild?

JS: It was a collaboration. I explained her backstory to Trevor which informed him of not only how she should look, but why she looks this way. Trevor ran with it and came up with the scariest looking creature ever but also there are layers to her that people will discover.

Click images to enlarge.

RN: We’ve only seen glimpses of her so far, but she’s looking pretty damn spooky. How scary are you aiming for Ghosts to be? Should fans of Host’s intense scares be excited?

JS: I'm a horror writer, so scares are paramount. I want every scare to be earned, not just loud noises. This is going to be the scariest thing I've ever written because as a player, you will be in this world, experiencing the horror first hand. Yes, HOST fans should be excited!

RN: That's what I like to hear! Have you found that your writing process is any different with games vs films?

JS: I was a little naive at first and treated it a little like writing a film. I soon found out that it's similar to writing multiple movies at the same time and is a lot of work, but very rewarding. Everything is written to keep it interesting for the player as this is not a passive experience. You are actively doing tasks the entire time and the fate of the cast is in your hands.

RN: I'm already feeling the pressure. I hope I can save everyone... Even Jemma, who I might still potentially blame for the events of HOST. And finally, if Ghosts is a success, which I have no doubt it will be (I certainly backed!), could you see yourself creating more games in the future?

JS: 100%. I'm already in discussions for future projects and it will definitely be something I do more of going forward. I have so many game ideas, both conventional and also live action. I'm having such a good time!

RN: I look forward to seeing Again, thank you so much for your time! I think our readers will love learning more about Ghosts.
JS: Thank you Ryan, good to meet you!

And there we have it! If you like what you’ve heard, you’re going to want to head to the Kickstarter for GHOSTS for every last detail and a chance to get some pretty awesome rewards if you pledge. At the time of writing, the campaign is at £89,839 of a £165,000 goal, and unless you want to miss out on a brand-new experience from the writer of HOST, I’d suggest you get over there! You wouldn’t want The Long Lady to be upset... Would you?

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