The Englishman Who Went Up the 405 but Came Down a Screenwriter
Chris Billett, a soft-spoken Englishman who now makes his home in OC, is the screenwriter for Unrest, a new horror movie about a possessed cadaver that terrorizes a group of med students. After making its debut this September in Huntington Beach as part of the SoCal Independent Film Festival, Unrestopens nationally this weekend as part of 8 Films to Die For, the three-day, 35-city After Dark Horrorfest. Billett spoke to us from his Newport Beach home.
OC Weekly: Did you do a lot of research for this? Did you spend a lot of time in morgues?
Chris Billett:I didn't go to morgues, but I did research, reading the sort of books that med students would be reading—Gray's Anatomy and things like that. My chief resource was our director, Jason Todd Ipson, who was just a wealth of information. He was a General Surgery Resident, studying to become a plastic surgeon, before he left to become a filmmaker. We actually shot at the VA Hospital in Salt Lake City, where he was trained. So, obviously, he knew the location very well.
Did he have a lot of gross medical stories?
[Laughs] Not really gross, no. I suppose some of it was fairly graphic, but he really gave me a feeling for what the med students go through, for the way that some of them joke around in order to distance themselves from the situation, and some have a much more respectful attitude toward the cadavers, or they feel some sort of spirit from the dead people, as our protagonist does.
So, you're credited as co-screenwriters, but it sounds like maybe you did most of the actual writing on this project, and Ipson had some input?
How much input did you have during the actual production?
Some. Not a lot. They needed some rewrites, and there were some changes during post-production.
Were there any changes you strongly disagreed with?
No, there weren't many changes at all, really. They talk about development hell, but this was really the absolute opposite. I couldn't have asked for a better collaborator, the whole process went incredibly smoothly for a first feature. I think we must've set some sort of Hollywood record: from when we first met, to when the film was completed, the whole thing was probably 18 months.
How did you two meet?
He read a spec script I'd written, a political thriller. What I'm really into is thrillers, not so much horror per se. Jaws is probably my favorite movie. But it seems that there are probably more open doors in the horror genre right now. You can write a spec script and people will actually read it, whereas with a drama, you need to have a name actor attached and other things. It's a more uphill fight.
Horror does really seem to be exploding right now. Why do you think that is?
Well, I imagine it has something to do with 9/11. Horror films are cathartic in their nature. I grew up loving horror pictures like the Exorcist, and of course nowadays you have films like Saw and Hostel, and they're very different in their execution but they obviously reflect things that are happening in the real world right now.
I was wondering why you moved from England to OC, specifically. I would think LA would be a more natural location for an aspiring screenwriter.
Well, when I came here about 12 years ago I was working in the software industry. I had my own company, Radan. And there's a lot of that down here. Then we had a family, and we put the kids in school here. We put down roots. Now it's just a question of bombing up and down the 405, for meetings.
Do you still work in software, as your day job?
Oh, no. Now it's screenwriting, full-time.
Trying to look up information about you online, I kept coming across another Englishman named Chris Billett, who is also apparently an aspiring filmmaker. It gets pretty confusing.
Ah, yes, I imagine it might.
Have you discussed one of you going by Christopher Billet or anything?
[Laughs] We probably should. I'm just glad I got the website first.
AFTER DARK HORRORFEST PRESENTS 8 FILMS TO DIE FOR FRI.-SUN. COUNTYWIDE.
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