Interview : Collin Watts and Leon Langford on political horror ‘This Land’

”I grew up watching horror movies since I was like five so there’s 100% a love there”

Terror Films

In This Land, a new politically skewed thriller on release from Terror Films, two families from opposite ends of the political spectrum turn on each other after a cabin rental mix-up, but must work together to survive after a sinister group emerges with an ancient destructive pact.

We speak to writers Collin Watts and Leon Longford (Hot Seat) about combining politics with horror, the difference between their shooting script and initial draft, and how difficult it is to write scares into a screenplay.


Politics would have to be of interest to you both to even want to tackle a movie like this, I imagine?

Collin: Absolutely. It’s always interesting to me that when you are face to face with someone having a tough conversation, there’s often a lot more productivity and understanding than preconceived notions from the negative vacuum of the internet. Exploring how those on opposite sides politically react and learn from each other in a confined situation interested us.

Leon:  Yeah, I’m pretty big into politics. I’m originally from just outside of Washington D.C., so this was sort of my backyard. During the 2016 election, I became more interested in politics, then through 2020 and the pandemic, I was stuck inside for a while and got even ingrained in it. For this film though, I knew we didn’t want to demonize one side over the other. In fact, the real enemy in this film are the fringe elements that can influence politics: the insane folks, the zealots, the rich elites. We felt it would be easier to make a film about unifying against a threat, than demonizing one side.

How did the idea come up –  I imagine sometime during the punishing pandemic, and the political divide that erupted from it?

Collin:  Our original script idea was a more straightforward home invasion film ala “The Strangers” … But yes, seeing the political divide in the country guided us towards what would happen if these two very different families were trapped inside the same cabin — and how would they put aside their differences and band together when shit hits the fan. Adding the political element was a game changer for unlocking and elevating the script. There’s so many different concepts and movies out there, that when you find a way to freshen up the genre somehow, it’s always fun.

Leon: Yeah, originally this film was more about two families stuck in a cabin, and they would slowly begin to suspect each other. We went back and forth with different finales. Even so much that we shot two different endings. But, it wasn’t until we placed our characters on two different sides of the political spectrum and used the finale to bring them together against a common enemy, did it all come together.

Do you both share the same political beliefs? And how did that affect the screenplay?

Collin: I think we have a similar general outlook on things. But surprisingly our personal beliefs didn’t really come up when writing. It was more focused on humanizing both sides of the aisle and maximizing conflict. An example coming to mind being Neil’s views on guns as Grady sips his liberal tears mug. Both actors Adam Burch and John Pistone were incredible throughout the film and this was one of my favorite scenes.

Leon: Yeah, we’ve always shared the same political beliefs. That made this much easier.

Do you consider it a horror movie first and foremost?

Collin: 100% I would consider it elevated horror with a heart. There’s a lot of character focus. But, when shit hits the fan… As Daniel Plainview once said, “there will be blood.” Lots of it. Especially with a great horror director with a strong vision like Richard Greenwood on board.

Leon:  Yes, this was always a horror film at the start. It does feel great to hear you were wondering if this was ever a drama. We really spent a lot of time with the characters and the themes. We wanted to write a film where you could relate to the characters even when the horror spectacle starts.

Is it hard to write scares into a screenplay – how much of those are on the page and how much of them happen organically on set?

Great question. I had a unique POV in that I’m also one of the producers. So I was able to have a hand in the overall vision day to day on set. The director Richard Greenwood was gracious enough to allow me a creative say and working with an amazing lead like Natalie Whittle, we were able to dive deep into what really scared that character.

Long answer short, a combination of both. There were certain things that we were able to elevate the horror on set while there were also a few other things that had to be sacrificed simply due to time constraints, logistics, and budget. There was a cool car drop and crushing that had to be saved for a different film. Rick always has amazing horror ideas and instincts to elevate the script.

Leon:  Collin and I are both big horror fans so writing a horror script that we knew we’d have control over was great. We had a lot of horror scares and moments we envisioned and thankfully we were able to apply a lot of them here.

Speaking of, were you both on set?

Collin: I was there every day. For better or worse haha.

Leon: Unfortunately, I was not on set during filming. We shot it during the winter during the height of the pandemic and I was cross country for most of it. When I returned to LA, my first trip out was get to groceries, then go to set for reshoots.

It’s obviously important to you to ground movies in reality – was that part of the reason for inserting those political themes?

Yes. It added layers to the family taken right out of actual people we know.

Leon: I think you hit the nail on the head there. We wanted to ensure that this was grounded in reality before the horror beats started. We always felt that the best way to make strong relatable characters was to ground them in something real, be it trauma, or it politics, we wanted to make these people relatable first, so once the knives started coming out, the audience cared.

Is there a genre you feel you both work better in?

Collin: I grew up watching horror movies since I was like five so there’s 100% a love there Typing that, I guess that’s pretty young to watch Freddy and Jason but I turned out okay… I think.. I love genre films in general. Horror, action, thriller. But I’ve written everything from a historic WW2 thriller to a noir drama.

Leon: I grew up with action movies, when I was a kid. I was raised on Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer movies, like The Rock, Armageddon, Face/Off. So action movies have always been my bread and butter.

Leon, I see you came up with the story of James Cullen Bressack’s Hot Seat starring Mel Gibson. Was that a joyful experience? Particularly seeing a huge star headlining a movie you crafted?

Collin: We both came up with and wrote the story/screenplay for Hot Seat. It was a tremendous honor to get an actor like Mel Gibson connecting with something we created from scratch. It was a great cast overall with Kevin Dillon and Shannen Doherty also starring in it. James was amazing at taking a confined story in front of a computer screen that could be boring in the wrong hands and making it move at a breakneck pace. Personally, it was a huge weight off my shoulders having a big film like Hot Seat produced. I’m proud to show friends and family my work after many years grinding at writing.

Leon:  Collin and I both wrote Hot Seat. It was a pretty easy process surprisingly. It really just took a while to get made. We wrote the script, got interest from a production company, then the pandemic hit – and suddenly everything stalled. In that time we really hit the ground running on This Land and strangely enough once we were putting the touches on the script for This Land, we heard about Mel’s attachment. We were really excited to hear he wanted to be a part of it. We wrote This Land, because we wanted a film that could help us break out and during that same time we got Hot Seat.

Was the film your original story note-for-note or was it a little different?

Collin: It was very similar outside of changes that had to made for budget reasons. But that’s any film.

Leon: This Land was all beat for beat all us. Working hand in hand with our director Rick, it helped guide us in each choice we made.

What’s next for you both?

Collin: We have a western script that we wrote years ago starting production soon. I have another horror film and thriller film going into production this year. I’d love to collaborate with our super talented director Richard Greenwood again. We’ve both been working on our own projects and hopefully it’s another big year! Thanks for interviewing us!

Leon: Next, we’ve got a western film in the works. Ironically, it’s a script Collin and I wrote years ago, before This Land and before Hot Seat, that’s finally gaining some momentum and heading into production soon.

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