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An Interview with John Oak Dalton, Director of Smart House

by Mike Haberfelner

October 2023

Films directed by John Oak Dalton on (re)Search my Trash


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Your new movie Smart House - in a few words, what is it about?


An online influencer is trapped in a smart home by a sinister hacker, and forced to start a strange livestream while her family and friends fight to get her free.


How did the project get off the ground in the first place?


My old friend Richard Pierce, a screenwriter in his own right, wanted to work on a script together and we were cooking along on it when a distributor reached out to my producer Henrique Couto and asked if we had anything going. It came together very quickly after that. I believe we wrote the script in September and were shooting the first two weekends in December. We first screened it in June, in Chicago, at Joe Swanbergís secret microcinema [Joe Swanberg interview - click here].


To what extent does Smart House mirror your own opinions about smart houses, AI and the like?


All Iím going to say is I always say please and thank you to Alexa because I want to hedge my bets.


What can you tell us about Smart House's writers Richard Pierce and Luka Nikolic, and what was your collaboration like?


Iíve been writing with Richard on the internet for years and Iím glad we finally had a super friends team up. When Richard and I started corresponding years ago he was I think in college and trying to break in himself. Now heís hit that sweet spot writing movies for Lifetime and has far surpassed me, which is cool to see. Luka is a good friend of his that he wanted to help break in. Luka definitely knows his story beats and the whole cold open belongs to him. I wrote all the kooky dad stuff and they wrote all the actual suspense and scares.


Do talk about Smart House's approach to horror!


My touch points are more 60s/70s horror and suspense, so I like slow burns, cerebral stuff, offbeat characters. I think when Richard first brought the story to me he wanted to do more of a camgirl thing, but I feel there was already a lot of that and I noticed my daughter and my wife both have ASMR fixations and thought that might be a different angle. My wife, at least, reported the ASMR works in the movie J


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


I like to be collaborative and see what everybody can bring to the table. My producer Henrique Couto is younger and came up from a different film tradition in the 80s/90s, so itís neat to blend those two ideas. Iabou Windimere, the lead, had her own reads on lines which I was happy to hear.


I decided I wanted the dad, my old friend Tom Cherry, to wear PJs and a bathrobe the whole movie, partially because heís a shut-in and partially for continuity, honestly. He said he didnít own a bathrobe but his mom had a pink one so we went with that, and all the other odd things Tom added to his costume, and people can make of it what they will.


What can you tell us about Smart House's cast, and why exactly these people?


Iabou Windimere and Joe Kidd are a real-life married couple who played the cold open couple in Scarecrow County, and we also shot that scene in their house. They both appeared in The Girl in the Crawlspae as well in small parts and I just wanted to work with them again in a bigger way. I saw them in this one when we were writing it. We shot three days in their house and they were gracious hosts as well as being talented people.


Tom Cherry, as I said, is a very old friend and kind of my ride-or-die talent. Heís had a big role in everything Iíve made and made everything better. We shot two days at my sonís house and he just hammered away and brought the goods.


I knew I wanted a name for the AIís voice if I could get it, and Henrique Couto had worked with Brinke Stevens [Brinke Stevens interview - click here] on his Boggy Creek program so I was able to reach out. I was absolutely dry-mouthed the first time I talked to her. Sheís such a tremendous talent and an incredibly gracious person. Her taking the time to cut the voice for the AI absolutely elevated the project.


You of course also have to talk about the actual house most of Smart House was filmed at, and what was it like filming there?


My son is a great cook and so is Joe Kidd, so we had good food at both places J I was glad my grandson Thor got to see what it was like to make a movie and I hope he remembers it, but forgets all my cussing.


A few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?


I tried to salt the movie with people I want to work with in front of and behind the camera, and I would suggest that to anyone. I brought an AD from another city, Jake Baker, because I like his work and think heís an interesting guy. But my two script supervisors were a married couple, whose wedding I performed, that I knew I could just count on and they could pick up what I needed them to do. Then I find some people like Erin Hoodlebrink, who can act, do makeup, boom, just be a utility player.


The $64-question of course, where can Smart House be seen?


Currently streaming on a number of platforms, but I would suggest Tubi, where my entire career seems to have landed, for free.


Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Smart House yet?


The circumstances of all the screenings ended up quirky in their own way, so I guess Iíll wait for the internet to tell me what it thinks J It also played in a great theater in Dayton as well as at Film Scene in Iowa City, I think one of the premiere midwestern venues.


Any future projects you'd like to share?


Iíve been running the hype machine for Smart House so not sure whatís next. Kind of rattling around and see what makes itself known.


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Thanks for the interview!


Thank you for asking!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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Thanks for watching !!!



In times of uncertainty of a possible zombie outbreak, a woman has to decide between two men - only one of them's one of the undead.


There's No Such Thing as Zombies
Luana Ribeira, Rudy Barrow and Rami Hilmi
special appearances by
Debra Lamb and Lynn Lowry


directed by
Eddie Bammeke

written by
Michael Haberfelner

produced by
Michael Haberfelner, Luana Ribeira and Eddie Bammeke


now streaming at


Amazon UK





Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner


Out now from