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Why It Took Chloe Okuno Six Years To Get Her Horror Film Watcher Made

This weekend, audiences can witness the work of a fresh female horror director through Chloe Okuno's Watcher, starring modern indie scream queen Maika Monroe. The movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival early this year after a long gestation period that dates back six years. CinemaBlend spoke to Okuno about her first feature, and she got honest about getting the movie off the ground and into theaters. 

Watcher follows an American woman Julia (Monroe) who has recently moved to Bucharest with her husband, Francis. Whilst already feeling isolated and alone in a new country, Julia begins to sense a man in a window across from them lurking and then following her around the city. When speaking about making her first full-length feature in Watcher, Chloe Okuno shared the process of getting the independent film made. In her words: 

I learned you have to be very patient. I think that's the first lesson. Essentially, I got hired on [Watcher], it would've been six years ago now. And it was a script that came through my agents and it was pretty standard in the way that I went and did my pitch. I was competing with a few other filmmakers and they hired me, which was fantastic. And then I think to explain why it took six years: every project is unique, but it's almost a very standard story in independent filmmaking, but I was developing it and the money wasn't quite there. Then, we had another producer come on, Roy Lee, who brought a different financing entity. We were talking about doing it in Toronto and finally I think the pandemic hit, which sort of blew up those plans, and then they said, 'We can make this movie if we do it in Bucharest, Romania', which is when the script was rewritten to take place in Bucharest. So, that's sort of how that happened.

Watcher was made under a set of circumstances that were not necessarily ideal. And as Okuno pointed out, getting the financing for the project was the biggest roadblock, and that was only amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. The director continued:  

I think a lot of people are nervous about taking a chance on a first time filmmaker, with someone who hasn't made their first feature yet. But also it's just generally really hard to get anything financed, it's very precarious and things fall through all the time for all different kinds of reasons. So, I'm thrilled that we finally made it and yeah, like I always say, I just hope the next one doesn't take six years.

In this day and age, studios aren't necessarily throwing money at every horror project that comes their way and, as Okuno’s experience shows, there was some risk involved for Focus Features to take a chance on a new filmmaker like her. Interestingly, when the movie debuted at Sundance, it screened alongside other horror films like Mimi Cave’s terrifying Fresh (which debuted on Hulu earlier this year) and the Rebecca Hall-led Resurrection, which is set to be released this summer. 

Now, following a long process to get her first movie off the ground, Chloe Okuno is busy with a number of projects. As she told us: 

A bunch of exciting stuff. There's a movie called The Dating Game that I was attached to prior to Watcher actually, but we are trying to go out and shoot that sometime soon, maybe even this year. That one is about Rodney Alcala, who was a serial killer and sort of notorious for having appeared on The Dating Game in the 1970s. [There’s this] mermaid horror movie that I have with the Watcher producers and yeah there's a few other things, but it's been great. It definitely has sort of helped present more opportunities and probably helped give some momentum to projects that I already had… I hope, whatever I do next that Maika will be a part of it.

Upon Okuno saying this (also in the video above), Maika Monroe quickly returned from a brief leave from the interview to say “please.” It’d be great to see the pair work together, especially for that intriguing mermaid horror movie she teased. The Dating Game was announced back in April, with Anna Kendrick set to star, per Deadline. As Okuno shared, Rodney Alcala appeared on ‘70s matchmaking series The Dating Game amidst a killing spree of five women and being convicted for the murder of a 12-year-old girl. However, the show’s background checks were clearly lax.

The Watcher is now playing in theaters and will be available to stream on Shudder at a later date. Following Top Gun: Maverick’s big weekend, Watcher is likely to be an underdog at the box office. Stay tuned for more coverage on upcoming horror movies here on CinemaBlend. 

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.