An ambitious horror film that runs for 80 minutes with out a single cut, here’s how Let’s Scare Julie all came together.
Jud Cremata recently a rather different feature film: the one shot horror film Let’s Scare Julie. Filmed in one continuous take, the film has no cuts, no additional footage and no alternative takes. Once the cameras started rolling, they didn’t stop for over 80 minutes. It’s something few filmmakers have ever attempted, but Cremata was determined to do things differently in his feature film debut as a director.
Cremata has been a producer, writer and TV director for years. He’s been in charge of documentaries and reality TV shows for channels as varied as Animal Planet, Food Network and TLC. He’s from a background where the emphasis is on making something staged seem more realistic.
Let’s Scare Julie has been his passion project. It’s the first time he’s taken on so many different roles at once. Cremata became one of the producers, wrote the script and directed the film.
He wanted to make a film in one take so he could create a lot of tension and ensure that the tension and drama at the heart of the movie seemed genuine.
He was inspired by Hitchcock’s Rope, a film edited to appear as a one shot, and the more recent German heist film Victoria, a true one-take film. Both films stayed in his mind after he watched them. He realised that the format was a perfect way of heightening suspense and drama, particularly in the horror genre. Cremata explained it all on the official website.
“There was something about one shot I felt that leant itself to tension: the idea of an unblinking eye, no looking away, stuck in a situation you can’t cut your way out of.”
Let’s Scare Julie takes place over the course of one evening. It centres on a group of teenage girls planning on playing a prank on their neighbour, Julie.
The main protagonist, Emma, has recently moved in with her cousin, Taylor. She’s the new girl in a group of friends who like playing tricks on others. They prank Emma and then decide to raise the stakes by trying to scare the reclusive Julie. The girls have never seen their neighbour and have no idea what she’s like: all they know is that her house is rumoured to be haunted by a boy who went missing several years ago.
Things soon unravel when some of them don’t come back from Julie’s house. As more girls go missing, including her younger sister, Emma tries to figure out whether this is a cruel ruse or if there’s something truly sinister going on.
Cremata created a greater sense of claustrophobia by filming the action in only two locations: the house where the girls are having a sleepover and Julie’s potentially haunted home.
The way the film was shot meant that everything had to be prepared in advance. The actors had to know their lines and blocking, the sets had to be staged and properly lit and all the props needed to be in the right positions. The cast and crew had to take a lot of precautions to ensure that nothing went wrong in the very narrow window they had to shoot the film. The camera couldn’t fail so they recorded the film on three separate drives. They also placed mics on the actors’ clothes and in the rooms they were filming in to make sure that the sound was always picked up.
Rehearsals were key. The process was similar to preparing for a play. They had a specific amount of time to rehearse before they started performing. Cremata used this time to make sure that the actors’ actions, emotions and dialogue seemed as natural and genuine as possible. Shooting a film in one take meant that anything that seemed fake or contrived was highlighted much more than in a normal feature.
In order to make the film more authentic, a lot of the dialogue was improvised. Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson, who played Emma, talked about how the process worked on the official website.
“When Jud gave us the script he explained to us that it was actually less of a script and more like a blueprint or an outline of one. Of course, there were specific points we had to hit in order to continue moving the plot forward but how we got to these points and what we say to get to those points was ultimately up to us as actors.”
The entire film was shot in one night. Cremata then reshot the film on three subsequent nights and ended up with four separate films. After he completed each shoot, he analysed what went wrong and decided which scenes needed to be adapted or cut. The cast then went back into rehearsals before shooting a new version of the film. They needed to strike a balance between correcting what went wrong and making sure that nothing seemed too rehearsed or unnatural. Cremata ended up choosing the film they shot on the last night as the final movie.
The film was positively reviewed. Alan Jones, a journalist and founder of horror fantasy festival Frightfest, felt that the film successfully terrified its audience and effectively used the one take format. “That finale is just wonderful, jumpy, odd, super-existentialist. Lead actress Troy really holds it together…And the one take gimmick really does work in unexpected ways. It looks great.”
Shooting Let’s Scare Julie in such a unique way meant that the suspense and tension could be realised in a real and authentic way. It could encourage more filmmakers to experiment with a very different way of shooting. After all, the idea of being watched by “an unblinking eye” is perfectly suited to the anxiety and paranoia at the heart of every horror film.
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