An Interview with Jeff Ayars of This is Our Home (2019)
This is Our Home (2019) tells the story of a struggling couple who plan to go away for the weekend, only to be interrupted by a child that claims to be theirs. The film draws its strength from a combination of an unsettling storyline, commendable performances, and a unique approach to execution. It takes viewers on an emotional rollercoaster, tapping into themes of identity, parenthood, and the eerie unknown. As we delve deeper into the characters' dilemmas, we are met with profound and thought-provoking questions about the nature of family and the boundaries of reality.
Lead Jeff is an incredibly talented actor but also a producer and filmmaker; he sat down with us to share his experiences making This is Our Home.
Abby: I always start interviews by asking people what their favorite horror movies are. Just so we can orient ourselves to your creative inspiration.
Jeff: This is normally where I panic and my mind goes completely blank, but I’m going to do my best: Hereditary, Goodnight Mommy, Rosemary’s Baby, The Fly, The Invisible Man, Barbarian, Scream, Get Out, Let the Right One In, and A Ghost Story (not a conventional horror, but it left me in existential ruin).
A: One scene from This is Our Home that will forever be burned into my brain is the infamous ‘scissors’ scene. What was it like filming that?
J: My favorite! That was my first and only time dealing with a special effects prosthetic like that and it took a ton of trial and error, but it was really satisfying to see the final shot knowing how we were all sort of MacGyvering it together in the middle of the night. That scene is probably the most intense acting I’ve ever done, certainly the most veins and mucous coming out of my face at once. But none of that mattered if I couldn’t pull of the scissors gag and ruined the latex…I was really thrilled to see it all come together - the lighting, the flickering tv behind me, and our DP going on that tight, roaming handheld between the aforementioned snot and scissors.
A: Without spoiling anything, the ending sequence is also quite hard to watch. Do you ever get freaked out filming horror scenes? Do you get scared watching your own work?
J: I know, it was really a rom-com up until that ending bit. So, I’m thinking about actually filming horror scenes after so many years of just watching and squirming–what comes to mind immediately is the brutal cuticle peeling in Black Swan. I know it’s not even remotely real, but it hurts every time. I didn’t expect to have that feeling at all watching myself, but our scissors moment and the ending still manage to get me. I think it really speaks to the hard work done in production design, HMU, and cinematography.
A: You were also a producer on This is Our Home; what was it like balancing acting and producing?
J: As background context, my comedy partner and I had always worn a ton of hats for our sketch videos–culminating in our painfully meta parody of A Star Is Born (what sort of person would write, direct and star in something…?). But my undertaking for This Is Our Home was on a totally different level: I had never made a feature length film, and I had never acted in a horror of any kind. Luckily, the TIOH producing trio was used to doing the multi-hyphenate thing at a smaller scale, but it was still a crazy journey.
I think we pulled it off because we really tackled (perhaps naively) one issue at a time as we went along. Let’s brainstorm a story, let’s do a script readthrough, let’s get in my hometown paper for an investor, how much do we ask for? How small of a crew can we get away with, and will local restaurants feed them? We just had to get to that moment where we roll on our first take. Once we got there, I could start to focus on the character, but it’s constant problem solving, you can’t tune it out when you’ve convinced a house full of people to go on this crazy journey with you. I think the hardest producorial decision was when I had to have an emergency appendectomy a few days before shooting. I was supposed to stay in bed for a week or two—definitely not run through a blacked-out house for 11 days. Producer Jeff had to tell actor Jeff to suck it up.
A: Any other projects from you that we should be on the lookout for?
J: Well, this new project is at least a solid year away, but This Is Our Home’s small festival run led to a really cool relationship with the Lower East Side Film Festival and the company behind it, BFD Productions. My screenplay “Gold Boy” was selected for the company’s Stay Indie incubator program to develop and produce a feature under $400K. It’s a dark comedy that centers around a depressed college student who, after a string of campus suicides, dresses up in a yellow spandex suit to cheer up students and escape his own demons. An anti-superhero superhero movie, a delusional dude with no powers besides hypomanic episodes. I’m excited (and nervous!) because BFD felt strongly that I direct myself in this one after my experience producing & starring in two indie features…and because I actually did this at Cornell.
This is Our Home is available on Amazon Prime; you can watch it here.