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An Interview with John-Paul Panelli, Director of They're Inside

by Mike Haberfelner

July 2019

Films directed by John-Paul Panelli on (re)Search my Trash


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Your new movie They're Inside - in a few words, what is it about?


Guilt. Trauma. Lost potential.


Since They're Inside is a movie about making a movie - is any of the film autobiographical in any way (except for the masked invaders I hope)? And in what way can you actually identify with Robin, who wants to make a movie at all cost?


No, it’s purely a work of fiction. In many ways. I decided several years ago instead of going to grad school for film, this would be my education. It took almost 18 months to fully fund the film (in 4 rounds) and I staked the beginning of my career on it. Creatively and financially.


(Other) sources of inspiration when writing They're Inside?


You’re Next, Afflicted, The Strangers (obviously)... but also The Signal (‘07), BellFlower, Primer. Essentially anything shot for a micro-budget.


What can you tell us about your co-writer Schuyler Brumley, and what was your collaboration like?


He’s fucking brilliant. Period. He knows story and character better than anyone I know. We’ve found a great working relationship writing together in that I tend to be very visual and abstract, where Schuyler can churn out dialogue, beats, and emotional arcs of what we’re going for very easily. He has the broad strokes and brings our stories to a coherent and satisfying end. I’m able to then go in and fine tune the details.


Do talk about They're Inside's approach to horror?


We really wanted it to be something that was earned. A slow burn… where we get to know the characters first, then put them through awful things. Except for one jump scare, all the horror in it we wanted to come from tension built up and character.


Since They're Inside is shot in very limited locations, what were the advantages and challenges of that, and what can you tell us about your locations as such?


The advantages were that we could shoot out each room in a day and we housed all the actors in the house we shot in, which helped add to the horror but also the comradery. 

The greatest challenge was just making it visually interesting. Since we were only in the same location for most of the movie, we had to find new nooks and crannies to film in.

All of Robin’s apartment/dungeon was shot in the back of our house in a spare studio we had. It made it easy to build out the set over several months, piece by piece.


A few words about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?


Keep it cinematic and let the actors play off each other.


What can you tell us about your cast, and why exactly these people?


Wonderful. Karli Hall and Amanda Kathleen Ward we cast about a year before production solely based on their chemistry in the auditions. Alex Rinehart because her audition was creepy as fuck. Chelsea D. Miller I knew from running track in high school. Jake Ferree and I did a few shorts together before. MacLeod Andrews I randomly pitched him after watching his first feature, They Look Like People, which is a phenomenal film.


Do talk about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?


We shot it in 11 days… about 6 months from start to finish. On-set was great because we only had enough money for the picture house to be the same house everyone stayed in. We all got along like family. It was an adult film camp.


Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of They're Inside?


Hard to be objective about it at this stage and seeing it so many times. The few audiences I have seen it with laughed when they were supposed to laugh and became visibly (or audibly) uneasy when they were supposed to be scared. The critical reception has been surprisingly better than what we thought, it’s not traditional horror film and the people that get it (and to the end), really enjoyed it.


Any future projects you'd like to share?


Schuyler and I are finishing up a couple scripts right now. It really depends on how They're Inside does for what we’ll end up making next.


What got you into filmmaking to begin with, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?


Watching Jurassic Park at 10 made me want to make movies, but I didn’t know in what way. I was living in Spain in my late 20s and figured the best way to learn film was to move to LA. I haven’t had any formal training, just lots of director commentaries, reading scripts, and a shit ton of movies.


What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to They're Inside?


I made about a dozen short films, many of them with the people on this production.


How would you describe yourself as a director?


Haha, someone else is better suited to answer this.


Filmmakers who inspire you?


Mike Flanagan [Mike Flanagan interview - click here], Jeremy Sauliner, Lynn Ramsey, James Wan, Adam Winegard… and Ari Aster.


Your favourite movies?


Jurassic Park, Moon, The Shining, Inglourious Basterds, The Matrix, Possession, The Professional.


... and of course, films you really deplore?


Good question. I think I need to be a little further along in my career before I start venting which films I really hate.


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Anything else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?




Thanks for the interview!




© by Mike Haberfelner

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Thanks for watching !!!



Robots and rats,
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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
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On the same day
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A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
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written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
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out now on DVD