“Dear Guest” is a new film by writer and director Megan Freels Johnston which centers on a couple who check into a vacation rental, only to find that the anonymous host likes to play games on its guests. The throwback short film stars Ashley Bell (‘’The Last Exorcism’’) and Noureen DeWulf (‘’Good Girls’’) as a couple who soon regrets renting this picturesque home for their long-awaited vacation.
Megan Johnston, best known for her suburban nightmare “The Ice Cream Truck” and her break up film noir “Rebound,” directed the short film between feature projects. With all the makings of a modern-day Hitchcock film, “Dear Guest” will play the festival circuit later this year.
Megan recently discussed the film via an exclusive interview.
MM: How are you handling the lockdown and self-isolation, during these troubling times Megan?
MJ: Well it hasn’t been easy. I guess all you can do is be appreciative that you are in the position to self-isolate. I feel great admiration and appreciation for everyone who is still working to help us all be home. I’ve been catching up on movies and trying to keep my kids entertained.
MM: Have you had a chance to check out any horror movies while at home?
MJ: Why yes. Funny you should ask. I finally saw Midsommar which I liked very much. I also saw The Invisible Man which I also loved. I’m a big fan of Leigh Whannell. Upgrade was one of my favourite movies that came out a few years ago. I’m really into the show YOU on Netflix and I’m also looking very forward to watching The Hunt.
MM: Will you be using the time to possibly write some more scripts?
MJ: I would love to use this time to write. It’s really tough right now with my kids out of school. So, I’m gonna have to coordinate some time. These weird times have been full of inspiration. I now know what it’s like to ration all my supplies which feels so perfect to take a stab at writing something with a more post-apocalyptic spin.
MM: When did “Dear Guest” come to be?
MJ: I wrote “Dear Guest” early last year. I had developed a few short concepts for Huluween. They look for 2-minute shorts. I really tried to make one that short. Let me tell you it’s not easy. I didn’t ultimately make a short for Hulu but I decided I wanted to make one of my ideas anyway.
MM: Why did you, after directing a few features, to go back and do a short?
MJ: I had never made a short film before. I kind of came to this directing thing a little bit backwards. I was a producer long before I was a writer and director. I directed my first Rebound out of necessity. Films weren’t getting made and I was determined to make one even if I had to do it myself. So then after my second film The Ice Cream Truck, I had a movie that was supposed to shoot that got pushed. I didn’t want to keep waiting to get back in the director’s chair again. You can practice writing all day long at home with just yourself but to get more experience as a director requires a little more of a team as you can imagine. I figured a short was a good way to not let myself get rusty.
MM: And has the idea for “Dear Guest” been bubbling for a while?
It really wasn’t. I wrote about 5 short scripts. One took place in a sorority house, one was in a funeral home, one was at a slumber party and then Dear Guest in a vacation rental. Dear Guest seemed the easiest to shoot on a small budget.
MM: How different is it putting together a short to a feature – I imagine, a lot less costly?
MJ: Shorts are far less expensive but just as hard. I also thought I needed a smaller crew since it was a short film and that ended up making everything harder. You end up having to keep track of more things yourself when you don’t have a larger team backing you up.
MM: Tell me about the cast…
MJ: My cast was amazing. I loved working with Ashley Bell and Noureen DeWulf. They were such professionals and really committed to the story as you can tell from watching it. I was a big fan of both of them before shooting so I was really grateful that they wanted to come onto this project.
MM: And is there an underlying message to the short?
MJ: There isn’t really an underlying message but I do think we take for granted how trusting we are when we check into a vacation rental. I always wonder if there are cameras. You never know if the homeowner is watching you.
MM: Would you consider fleshing the short out to feature length?
MJ: There has definitely been a response from those who have seen the short that people want it to become a feature. I feel like the demand is there. Now that I’m in self-isolation, I think it’s a good time for me to really figure out where this story should go. So hopefully we can all find out what happens!