I’m very open about being a fan of indie horror pictures, and I’ll consume anything that looks entertaining. In 2020, while we were all sitting at home during the lockdown, I came across Livescream, a tight thriller with a supernatural plot involving a streamer that took a chance on the wrong indie game. I really enjoyed it. It was a fresh found footage approach that used a Twitch-like streaming channel the way Rob Savage would later use Zoom in his film, Host. Earlier this year, and out of the blue, director Michelle Iannantuono sent me a message informing us there was a sequel. Of course, I couldn’t wait to sit down and talk to her about it.
You can watch the complete interview with Michelle Iannantuono below or continue reading for excerpts from the conversation.
The entrepreneurial spirit is alive as I sit down to talk with Michelle Iannantuono, founder of Octopunk Media. Michelle is a self-starter who has fallen in love with creating. Her room shines brightly in a combination glow of pink and blue as we start our conversation. Her film’s posters and company’s images cascade in the background of our Zoom call like a Where’s Waldo of the director’s triumphs. Livescreamers was seeking funding at the time of the interview—and is still taking donations for some great rewards if you’re looking to contribute—but I don’t think Michelle had any idea how excited I was to hear there was a sequel on the way. By the end of the interview, I think she had an idea.
I’m as awkward as ever, fumbling around with questions and trying to fit them in where they make the most sense. Michelle, on the other hand, is collected and quick-witted, ready for whatever I throw her way. I ask the obvious question first: why video games?
While admitting that video games do seem to be the common thread of all of her films, Michelle corrects me and says Queer representation is also becoming another, telling me Livescreamers will also fall into that category. She then suggests that while her Detroit: Become Human fan films, Detroit Evolution and Detroit Reawakening, aren’t necessarily horror films, the same tension that exists waiting for a murder in a horror film also exists in waiting for characters to kiss in a romance, saying, “If you’ve written horror, you might be able to write romance.”
“This is actually a very good question because now I have to think about why I actually like video games, particularly because I would say ninety percent of my video game consumption comes through watching other people play. So, I can’t even say that it’s the interactive element because so much of what I absorb out of video games is through a second party. But I quite like the stories a lot of times, and I think that it’s kind of the Wild West in a weird way like, because video games are such a new medium. There are things that you can do with them that have been done thirty or forty years ago in film, and they’re old hat movies and through other visual mediums, but if you try to do them in video games it’s novel. And, so, I think that one of the appeals for me of making the Livescream movies, and even the Detroit movies too, being like this live-action video-game-movie/romance-story. These are sort of ways that video games have influenced film to make film novel because we’ve never really seen video games done well in the cinematic medium. Video games are starting to become successfully more cinematic, but cinema is not successfully really becoming inspired by video games as the Uncharted movie and even […] Mortal Kombat kind of prove that it’s like we keep hoping for that great video game movie and we’re still not there yet. We’re holding out for The Last of Us HBO series. Maybe that’ll be it. If anything will succeed, it’s that. And if that doesn’t succeed, it’s like, ‘Okay, what are we doing?’
“But, you know, I like to say that my movies are decent. So, I think what Detroit Evolution and Livescream kind of show is that you just have to approach it in the right way, and you have to stay focused on character and story and not get too distracted by the fact that there are interactive elements or that there’s this pre-existing universe or pre-existing way that people want to insert themselves into the universe. Just focusing on really interesting people doing interesting things. People, when they make video game movies, get very distracted by that for some reason, and I don’t know if it’s just because people who are making video game movies just don’t understand video games or their appeal. But I think a lot of times it is the story, and a lot of times it’s the characters, and it’s the mechanics and the situations that you get put in. The combination of the music, and the interactivity, and the visuals, and everything that makes it really badass in a way that film hasn’t kind of become familiar with in the same way.”
We continued musing on the transference of game adaptations, discussing how upset fans get when aspects from the games aren’t included or get cut from video game movie adaptations, with Michelle relating the experience to book adaptations as well. I followed up by asking if there were any video game films she particularly enjoys.
“I think the new Hitman movie was the one that like, in the last five minutes of it, I was like, ‘You know, I kinda…I’m almost on board with this.’ Like, it’s not Hitman; like, they threw Hitman out the window, but as a standalone movie about super-soldier-spy-clones and stuff, it was decent. […] I actually quite like the Resident Evil movies, and I know most Resident Evil fans will drag me across coals for saying that, but that’s just like, you gotta separate them from the game and, like, treat them as a completely different franchise. I think that just action horror movies they’re pretty decent. They’re very entertaining. And I really like Milla Jovovich and Ali Larter and, you know, a lot of the people who are in those movies too, so. I used to go to see those in the theater, so in terms of video game movies, I think those almost struck, at least the right balance to have six of them made, I mean, like, in terms of financial success. And you know, people went to go see them and enjoyed them enough. That’s kind of where, you know, people kind of need to ride that line without necessarily pissing off the existing fanbases badly, as the Resident Evil movies did. You wanna maybe find some sort of middle ground, where it’s like you’re appeasing the people who actually like the source material while also being entertaining to new audiences.”
Continuing down the video game road, I then asked Michelle what her favorite video games of all time were.
Michelle was super quick to tell me Fallout 4 and mention another of her upcoming projects, an animated machinima series called Fallout Sanctuary. Starting the project six or seven years ago, her new series will follow characters from Fallout 4 in a new fan series adaptation. “I want to spend more time with the characters in that game, after the events of Fallout 4.” Michelle then said that despite having made two films from Detroit: Become Human, the game would not make her list. “I really like Reed 900, and I really like what the fandom has done with Detroit: Become Human. The source, material I’m a little iffy on. There are entire storylines in that game that I find kind of sluggish to play through. In terms of Quantic Dream games that I really like, I much prefer Heavy Rain. Heavy rain is a much more consistently entertaining game and is also probably the game that got me into video games. That really pushed me into being a gamer, so I have a lot of fondness for Heavy Rain.
“I have a deep fondness for Nier: Automata. Love that game. I love anything meta, really. So, Nier: Automata being rife for all these alternate endings and like secret discoveries and sorts of things is really awesome. Tales from the Borderlands is one of my favorite narrative games. It’s so funny and so aesthetic. Very good performances by Troy Baker and Laura Bailey and Nolan North and the whole gang.” Michelle paused momentarily to think of a fifth game, adding in Cyberpunk 2077 after a moment. “I’m on my second playthrough of that. I probably put about 200 hours into that game at this point, so I really do quite like Cyberpunk, warts and all. I think it’s got a really good cast of characters, really great companion quests/side quest plotlines, and actually a really good main quest too. A really good main storyline. And you get to have Keanu Reeves in your head commentating everything you do, like, I think that gets a lot of points from me.”
Wanting to switch gears into Michelle’s films, I asked the writer-director-producer about her dream project.
“I would have said a couple of years ago that Livescreamers was my dream project, right? Because it was next on the list. But if we’re talking like lid off, sky’s the limit…I would love to do a Godzilla movie. I think that that’s, of any franchise or any big IP that I would love to be conscripted for—you know, Marvel, Star Wars, you know, whatever.
I think [making] Godzilla would be so cool because there’s never been a female Godzilla director. Not in the, you know, fifty-five/sixty years that it’s been around. […] And I think that that’s an interesting opportunity to tell some Godzilla stories that maybe haven’t been told before.
“Even though my mother would love for me to direct a Star Wars movie because she has a Star Wars room in her house, and I was raised in the world of Star Wars, I think Godzilla would be so cool because there’s never been a female Godzilla director. Not in the, you know, fifty-five/sixty years that it’s been around. And I don’t even think in any like the spinoffs, like the Toho films or like the Mothra movies or anything like that. And I think that that’s an interesting opportunity to tell some Godzilla stories that maybe haven’t been told before.
“And also, I wanna do something with Godzilla that’s, like, goofy and very unusual. Like, I either wanna do an all-Kaiju movie with no humans in it—like an Ancient Wars—or a bunch of Godzillas fight like a bunch of Kongs. They kind of alluded to that in Godzilla vs Kong, and I was like, ‘That’s a more interesting movie than this one is! I wanna go watch that one instead!’ And so, like I would love that where it’s just a whole like […] Rise of the Planet of the Apes but with Kaiju. And so, yeah, you have a couple humans maybe here and there. Cut that. Just focus on kaiju communicating with each other and having culture and having a society, and fighting other Kaiju. That’s a cool movie.
“The other Godzilla concept I have, which is total flip side, is a coming-of-age story where a teen girl discovers a baby Godzilla and starts secretly raising it in her bathtub. And like, high school hijinks happen, but also there’s this Godzilla that she keeps—it’s like Clifford with Godzilla. I don’t know where I’d go with it, but I think it would be different, and I think Hailee Steinfeld should star in it. Just some sort of goofy like Ladybird/Edge of Seventeen movie, but put a Godzilla in it, and I think that would be a lot of fun.”
We shared a good laugh over the comedic concept, and I agree with Michelle that it could make for a hell of an entertaining concept. I sincerely hope she is offered a shot at the storied franchise, and if you’ve seen any of her films, you’d likely concur. I watched all of Michelle Iannuntuono’s films before sitting down to interview her, the way I do with anyone I interview. Pivoting into her work on Livescream and the upcoming sequel, I asked about the gaming environments she built for the original found-footage streaming idea and wanted to know how well versed she was in the object-oriented programming, being that she built all of the games Scott (Gunner Willis) plays in Livescream.
“I bought a lot of the models, and that sort of thing, but all of the set building and actually all of the programming and stuff I had to do from scratch.”
Doubling down, I wanted to know if she had designed any playable games based on the programming that she’d done.
“No, I have not designed any playable games. That’s an easy question. This was my first time with Unreal, back in 2018 when I was doing Livescream, and so I was mostly just brute-forcing my way through with YouTube tutorials. Luckily, Unreal Engine makes it very easy to do programming without knowing a programming language because they have an alternative to C++ called Blueprint, which is a WYSIWYG kind of thing—like a What You See Is What You Get kind of layout—where you essentially create a little box that says ‘play animation’ and then you do a little arrow out of it. And you say, ‘This is the animation that I wanna play when I hit the F key.’ And you know it all, you just test it, and it’s really easy to go from there, once you have like a screenshot of what somebody else did, through YouTube or something, and you can just copy their process rather than having to sit there and figuring out like a coding language that’s all just text. So, I would say that Unreal comes naturally because it’s so user-friendly and because there’s so much support out there through Unreal and Epic Games themselves and the support that they have created for the engine, but also fans and other creators doing a lot of tutorials and a lot of ‘sharing of the knowledge’ of how they achieve things in the program.”
While the games in Michelle’s original Livescream are unique to the film, they nod to many games that exist in the horror genre. My next question was whether Livescreamers would employ some of the same references, like PT, Resident Evil, and Slender: The Eight Pages, or if the new film would have new material to reference.
The new film [Livescreamers] doesn’t really tread any old ground. I think that there are a few references to the previous film, but mostly this new film revolves around being pretty much a straightforward Resident Evil homage because you have this group of people going into a haunted mansion.
“The new film doesn’t really tread any old ground. I think that there are a few references to the previous film, but mostly this new film revolves around being pretty much a straightforward Resident Evil homage because you have this group of people going into a haunted mansion. There’s puzzles, there’s weird architecture, there’s a monster that’s lurking around that’s kind of chasing them like Mr. X. And so, there’s a lot of Resident Evil in it, but there are still some other echoes of other games—some of which are a little surprising, some of which aren’t necessarily even horror games, but are games that have become more popular in the past four years since the original Livescream came out.
“But I was very much inspired by game mechanics again this time, and some of the challenges that all of our characters are put through because, much like the original film of Livescream, instead of having…The original film had—every level was a different game. It was basically a completely different game homage. In Livescreamers, it’s all the same game. The level never changes, they’re just going to different parts of the house, and different parts of the house have different challenges and different game mechanics that they have to kind of reckon with, and different traps and things. So, what inspired those game mechanics were other games, but I would say that it’s not like they walk into a room, and suddenly they’re in PT. Or they walk into a room, and they’re suddenly in Minecraft. It’s kind of like you’ll see a little bit here that’s like, ‘Oh, that’s like Dead by Daylight!’ Or you’ll see a little bit here that’s like Until Dawn. Those are a couple of the ones that I think I could say. Anything else is probably spoilery ’cause there’s some games that if I say what they are, you’ll immediately be like, ‘Oh, wow! You’re gonna put that in the movie? Okay!”
I then wondered, with all this exuberant talent and drive on the horror gaming side, why found footage?
“What’s funny is the first movie I say I ever made was actually a found footage horror fan film, so it kind of just covered the whole gamut—and it was also slightly gay in retrospect too. So I mean, I guess it just runs the gamut of everything I ever ended up becoming when I was 15. I did something called The Blair Toaster Project for school. We had to do a toaster film, we had to do some sort of film that had a toaster in it; this was the prompt. And so, I went out into my friends’ backyard that looked like the woods, and we were hunting the Blair Toaster, and I had my camcorder. This was 2007, so I mean, there is no digital nothing. So, I had my camcorder, and I was recording it like Blair Witch Project, and I was totally in character, like, ‘We gotta find the burnt bread and the toast!’ You know? Just like all these omens. And so, I cut together this thing, and it’s still to this day hilarious. It’s on my YouTube channel. The fans of Octopunk actually have quite a fondness for it, to the point where they actually got me to work on a sequel to it, which is coming out in June on YouTube. It is simply called Blair Toaster because of course it is. With a two as the ‘S.’ […]
“So that was kind of the origins, but in terms of ‘where did Livescream come from?’ Just money. Like, honestly, I made Livescream…I mean, the ultimate budget, once you included marketing and Film Festival expenses and all that sort of stuff, ended up being a few grand. But the out-of-pocket expense of production was only $1500. And I’ve made shorts—I had made shorts up till that point that were more expensive than that. These days I can’t make a short for less than ten grand. So, you know, $1500 to make a feature, that’s wild. Particularly because the actor got paid, and I didn’t have to exploit anybody, like it wasn’t shady or anything. Everything was really safe. Everything was paid for. It was just a lot of DIY free labor on my own time, in my own part. And so, I think that it was a combination of the passion for watching other people play games, and the passion for horror games in general, also combined with just the fact that the idea for Livescream played to all of my strengths at the time and all of my lack of resources at the time but also telling this story that I wanted to tell. It was just like this lightning-in-a-bottle sort of situation.
“It was cheap, it was the story that I really wanted to say, it gave reverence to something that I felt wasn’t being appreciated enough at the time, which was, ‘Why do people play watch other people play video games.’ So many people were boggled by that at the time and still are to this day a little. So, yeah, it was just lighting in a bottle, and I knew from pretty much the jump that I wanted to make a sequel to it, I wanted to make it multiplayer, and I like I knew Livescreamers was going to be a thing all the way back in 2018. It took a little while for me to figure out what I actually wanted Livescreamers to be about. I had to kind of go live in that world a little bit myself for a while, and then come back and then have things to say. And so that’s why I think that I’m drawn to doing a sequel, and drawn to going back into this sort of found footage world because it really resonates with just the stories that I want to tell at the time.”
Moving into Livescreamers, I asked Michelle about her cast. When Livescreamers debuted on Indiegogo in February, a few names had been attached to the project. One, in particular, stood out: Michael Smallwood. Smallwood, fresh off his performance in last year’s Halloween Kills, seemed like promising casting, but as Michelle will tell you, “What’s funny is I’m just really lucky to have really dope friends.” Michelle then mentioned Michael Smallwood is one of her best friends, dished on how surreal it was to see him in the last Halloween film, her current obsession with pigeon-dating-simulator, Hatoful Boyfriend, and her reaction to making Smallwood play it. She says it may actually be one of her top five games as well. “It’s half pigeon dating sim, half pigeon murder mystery, and it’s amazing! I highly recommend it. It sounds ridiculous, and it is, but it’s so charming, and watching Michael react to it has been so entertaining.
“But, yeah, Michael has collaborated with me nine times at this point. This is our tenth collaboration together. He’s been in almost all my movies since 2019 if not all of them, and I’ve helped him produce his own movie, What A Beautiful Wedding, which is an incredible short that’s gonna premiere on the festival circuit very soon. And so, Michael is just a great person, and I’m just very fortunate to have him in my life, both as a friend and as somebody who has a very, very up-and-coming career in the film industry, but also specifically the horror film industry.”
Michelle Innantuono talked up the newcomers to the cast as well, praising Evan Michael Pearce’s comedic improvisational skills and eighteen-year-old Neoma Sanchez’s professionalism, saying, “Everybody that’s on the cast is just like, ‘I couldn’t have done that when I was eighteen. You didn’t even want to see my acting when I was eighteen!’
“We’ve also got Coby Oram, who is just so fun and such a good fit for his very sort of likable goofy character, Taylor. Anna Lin is so bubbly and so funny. She’s an incredible comedian, so she’s great for Zelda. Chris Trindade, of course, you know, playing John. He’s on his third collaboration with me, so we’ve gotten very familiar with building characters together. […] One of my besties, MJ Slide as Dice. I don’t think anybody has done more internal work to bring their character to life than MJ. I mean, they are doing so much homework right now to try to bring this character to life, to learn their lines, to understand Dice’s world. They’re just such a great collaborative partner and great friend. So yeah, I mean, I think that’s the thing. It’s like I have very good actors. I love the casting process; I love discovering people. I love giving people opportunities. And I love creating a group of people that have chemistry together, but at the end of the day, a lot of these people are just friends, and it’s really cool to be able to include the people that you value in your journey in making art. That it’s not just about bringing a bunch of random people together and saying goodbye at the end of the day. I wouldn’t do this project if I couldn’t bring my people up with me.”
My final question for Michelle Iannantuono was more of a fan question than anything, and I really didn’t expect an answer. Since Livescreamers is a sequel, would there be any chance we’d see Gunner Willis’ character return?
Michelle confirmed right away that “Gunner Willis is not in [Livescreamers].” However, she did add, “that doesn’t mean you don’t find out what happens to him. There is closure in regards to more than one of the characters that were in Livescream.”
Livescream is currently available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime. Livescreamers is coming soon.