Being isolated in your own home takes on a whole new meaning and relevance in our post-pandemic world. Writer/directors Emily Bennett's and Justin Brooks' barebones Alone With You is a claustrophobia-forward horror-thriller that wastes no time diving into the maddening isolation of a person stuck inside. 

Although the film was made during the pandemic, Alone With You isn't a pandemic story. Instead, the film focuses on Charlie (Bennett) and her desperate attempt to hold on to her sanity and her deteriorating relationships with her partner, Simone (Emma Myles), and her mother (Barbara Crampton). As the apartment closes in on Charlie, strange voices, shadows, and hallucinations begin to reveal a truth that she has been unwilling to face. 

With a cast and crew made up of Bennett and Brooks, the feature showcases that nothing can stand in the way of a filmmaker who has a strong vision, even if there are limited resources and tight restrictions. Bennett and Brooks spoke with No Film School about the process behind making their first feature, and what it was like to make a project with two crew members. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

No Film School: Congratulations on Alone With You being out on Shudder. What was it like working on your first feature?

Emily Bennett: Unexpected. It was not the first feature we had planned to make together. We were actually in the early stages of pre-production for another feature that we had written together when COVID-19 happened. COVID-19 shut the world down, but it did not shut us down, at all. 

We got resourceful. When everybody kind of went into hiding, we started thinking and creating. Luckily, I had just moved in with Justin. We're partners in filmmaking and in life, we just got married, but, back then, I had just moved in with Justin about a month before COVID-19 happened. When everything shut down, we started making short films together. After making two successful short films, we were like, "Hey, let's combine our resources." Justin's an incredibly talented cinematographer, I'm an actor, and we do everything in between, and we just said, "What can we make together?" Then, Alone With You was born.

NFS: I read that you were the entire crew for this feature. That was an amazing feat to tackle. Can you walk me through that experience a little bit?

Justin Brooks: Yeah. I mean, this is a very, very, very early COVID-19 quarantine, so the only thing anybody knew was, "Don't go anywhere near anybody else." I've worked for a long time on the crew side, being a cinematographer. Originally, I went to school for audio engineering, I have a great deal of gear and lighting and whatnot. 

So, we had the technical ability to make a film. It just came down to figuring out how to manage one actor. Emily's a very talented and very well-educated actor, she went to RADA for acting, so I had a talented actor at my disposal. We already had a location, so we just went into brainstorming, trying to figure out what we can do with these pieces, while also telling a good story.

Bennett: We realized that the story that we were going to tell had to be very focused in a very claustrophobic way. The situation seemed to lend itself to a more claustrophobic genre film, which is where we both thrive. So, we created this character piece, which I would call a tragedy, based on the character we both created, Charlie. Then, we filled out the rest of the cast in between. My dear friend Emma Myles, from Orange Is the New Black, was a no-brainer to play Simone. Then we got a casting director attached, who worked remotely to cast the wonderful Barbara Crampton and Dora Madison. Most of our crew work was done in post.

Brooks: On set, I mean, it was a situation where Emily would have to help me move lights, move the camera, then she'd run in front of the camera. I'd be holding a boom under one arm and trying to manage focus and camera movement with the other. We had our apartment just rigged to every corner with various clamps and grips and things that could hold the boom, swing the boom. 

Bennett: Yeah, we rigged a boom pole often from the ceiling. Our ceiling looked like Swiss cheese after a while. We had so many plates screwed up there. I'm amazed we got our deposit back on that apartment. We lived in this apartment the entire time that we were shooting, so the sound was sometimes an issue. We wanted to be respectful of our neighbors, but it sometimes felt like living in a Rube Goldberg machine.

Alone With You filmmakers on their first featureJustin Brooks and Emily Bennett on 'Alone With You'Credit: Courtesy of Justin Brooks and Emily Bennett

NFS: Filming in one location can be challenging. What were some of the tricks or techniques that you use to keep the setting very interesting while maintaining that claustrophobic feeling?

Bennett: That was important for us to keep the apartment very alive and have a very dynamic feeling because we are there for most of the film. And though we worked very quickly, Justin and I made sure to storyboard or at least take frames for what we wanted to shoot day by day, just to have an idea of the visual journey of the film. 

We wanted to focus on how big and expansive the apartment can feel at the very beginning, and make it seem like the walls are closing in on her. We worked pretty much day to day with that idea in mind, always returning to the theme of, how can we make Charlie's world feel like it's closing in on her constantly. 

Brooks: We talked about camera language early on. Once the script was in place, we talked about our rules with our camera. What's the kind of language that we want to pull through? We made decisions about where we wanted to go handheld because it was important... Everything, every single shot, every sound, everything serves a purpose to the story.

There was never a time that we could go handheld just because it's going to be quicker that way because that's going to say something to the visual story of the film. One thing that was important to us is that this film was very specific. Nothing was on accident. Being that the film leans very much into, I guess you could say, symbolism or metaphor if you will, but you don't want to accidentally trick somebody down a lane that they're not meant to go. We have the story we wanted to tell, and it was important to make sure the visual language was as locked into that story as the script was. 

NFS: I'm curious. How long was the principal photography?

Bennett: It took us about two months, with about one or two days off.

Brooks: We knew that everybody was telling us, "You're locked up for the next two months. That's what's happening." We had no idea what was going to happen thereafter. We knew we had two months, so we used every day of that to get as much footage as we possibly could so that when we went into post, there were no missing pieces, and there was no going back to reshoot. We had what we needed.

NFS: I'm amazed because the entire process of making this film is somewhat untraditional. What are some things you've learned from this untraditional process that you would bring into a more traditional filmmaking process?

Bennett: I learned how much I love my crew and how much I missed having an AD, a gaffer, honestly. We both pulled our weight, but Justin is a superhero. He can work in any department. He deserves to be solidly behind the camera as a cinematographer, but it's incredible what he can do. I served as producer, SAG liaison, and I was our AD making the schedule at the beginning of the day. I mean, ultimately, after having that experience, it certainly bonded us and made us trust each other, creatively, but it gave me an appreciation for the crew and I cannot wait to invite more crew into our next feature. 

Brooks: I think it taught me that I can trust myself, creatively. I think it taught Emily the same. We are big planners when it comes to our films and our short films and everything. There was a lot of time there when we just had to shift. We realized that we can trust ourselves, on the day, to show up and find the shot and find the moment and get it right then and there. Sometimes, we need to just trust the magic and let it happen in the scene because there were a lot of moments that were planned out, and what worked was something different. I think this film we walk away from it knowing that we can go into our next film a little looser and a little readier to play.

Alone With You filmmakers on their first feature'Alone With You'Credit: Dark Star Pictures

NFS: What was Alone With You shot on?

Brooks: It was shot on Blackmagic cameras. It was shot on the Blackmagic URSA Mini G2 and the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema 4K, which were both my cameras at the time. I shoot on so many different cameras for work, that I don't typically own cameras that I work with. I own cameras that I enjoy shooting on, and the Blackmagic cameras are just an absolute blast to shoot with.

Bennett: Then the footage for Barbara Crampton and Dora Madison, those were captured on GoPros that we mailed to both actors.

NFS: The Barbara Crampton footage, you both helped direct her, edit the footage together, then Emily had to memorize Crampton’s performance and act against it. What was it like to work both as a director and an actor in that kind of situation?

Bennett: It was surreal. Although it was really interesting. I was wearing two hats at the time. We captured Barbara's footage separate from mine, mostly to have control over the edit in post to get the best performances from both of us, and to get usable audio from both of us. 

We mailed Barbara a GoPro and a microphone, and I was on Zoom when she was acting, which is what you see in the film, but we were not recording my performance, audio, or anything. Justin and I had both rehearsed with her. She was very kind to lend her time to rehearsals, to talk about this character. But on the day, when she's performing and giving us the performance that will ultimately make it into the film, I as an actor, acted both as actor and director because I wanted to feed her a kind of performance from my side, that would inspire a performance in her.

It was like a puzzle to put together in my mind. When we got to the day when we were capturing my footage, I had studied Barbara's take that we decided to use, over and over and over and over again. When I'm “acting with Barbara,” I am acting on just a green screen, but I had studied her performance, her nuance, and her delivery so much that it was playing in my head the entire time. Quite frankly, I'm just so grateful that it worked in the edit because that was the biggest question, in my mind at least, is this going to feel organic? Is this going to feel like an actual conversation? And thank God it does.

Alone With You filmmakers on their first feature'Alone With You'Credit: Dark Star Pictures

NFS: Is there any advice you want to give to aspiring filmmakers who want to work in the horror genre or just make their first feature?

Brooks: I think what we did, I mean, we've all read every book under the sun about independent filmmaking. Everybody knows the stories of Robert Rodriguez or Kevin Smith where you put it all on your credit card or go sell plasma and make a movie. But I think what you need to pull away from all those stories is, they found their opening and they took it and they just made something. I think that's what we decided to do in the end. We found the time came together and we had the option to either do something or sit around and watch a lot of reality TV. 

I think ultimately doing something and getting something out there in the world, that's so important for a filmmaker. Especially a feature film. You have no idea how different the world looks to you, as far as the film community when you have made a feature that is out there in the world. It changes things a little.

I know it's been over-said again and again and again, but I would say, just make the thing. There are a million excuses not to do something, for sure, but if you just do it that's when everything starts opening up. I would say that and go to film festivals. When you've made something, even a short, go to the festivals that your film has gotten into because that is where you're going to meet your peers. That's where you're going to meet the people that you can be friends with and carry on relationships with. 

Bennett: I think I would echo what Justin is saying. And I would quote Mark Duplass, "The cavalry is not coming," so be your own cavalry. Find your people, whether that's at film festivals, find your friends, or find the people who make you feel like your best creative self. Surround yourself with people who make you feel creatively safe. When you're in a safe space with people who you support and who support you and who you trust, that's when dangerous, exciting work can happen. 

We're so lucky like Justin said because we now have a feature film that sold before its world premiere at Fantastic Fest, which is insane. Alone With You, our tiny film, has gotten us at least the tiniest amount of attention. It's now making our next film a lot easier.

And we're going into production very soon with our follow-up feature film, which we're so excited to tell. It's a very different story. I will still be in this film and we have some familiar horror faces appearing in the film as well. It's wonderful to start talking to the crew, and to start pre-production. We've got some amazing investors on board and some wonderful partnerships already forged. So, this one promises to be quite a follow-up to Alone With You.

Watch Alone With You on Shudder now.