‘Songbird’ director Adam Mason: How I made the first COVID thriller in lockdown

Based on the real-life current pandemic and produced by Michael Bay, 'Songbird' director Adam Mason tells us how he shot a movie in lockdown

Back in March I started pre-production on a movie for Blumhouse called Lunar. It was a real passion project of mine and I finally had the opportunity to direct it, so naturally I was over the moon. We started work on a Monday and then that Friday lockdown started. It was devastating.

The next morning I woke up with the same concerns that everyone had that day. I was worried about the safety of my three little kids and wife here in LA, and my parents back home in England who I couldn’t see. I was feeling pretty gloomy when my writing partner, Simon Boyes, called me sounding unexpectedly optimistic. He said: ‘Why don’t be just make a film like we used to back in the day when we were starting out in England?’ We thought we’d make it by asking our actor friends to record themselves on their iPhones. That same day we put together a 12 page document called ‘Songbird’. The first half was a call to arms about how we could make the film completely remotely, and the second half was the outline of a script set during lockdown in the pandemic.

KJ Apa starring in ‘Songbird’. Credit: Press

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I’d had a couple of meetings with Adam Goodman, who used to run Paramount Pictures. I thought he’d appreciate the idea so I emailed it to him. The next day he called me. I’ll never forget it. The first thing he said was: “I’m going to greenlight your movie.” I had no idea what that meant, because I wasn’t looking for money! Two weeks later Michael Bay came onboard out of the blue and from that point it just snowballed. That was when we moved away from it all being shot on iPhones and it became more of a Hollywood movie. We wrote the script in three days and became the first movie to shoot in LA during lockdown. We developed all the safety protocols with the unions and then shot in June and July. We just finished the film two weeks ago.

One of the great things about having Michael Bay as our producer was that he gave us access to his crew, who are basically the cream of the crop. That day in March the entire film industry had shut down in one day, so nobody was working. It quickly became apparent that everyone was trying to find a way back to work. When it came to choosing a composer we got Lorne Balfe, one of the greatest living composers who’s also working on the Mission Impossible films. Our budget was miniscule, but when people like Demi Moore came onboard as well it became clear to me that everyone wanted to do it just to see if we could.

We were incredibly safe on set, and a large part of that was just not having multiple people in contact with each other. We had an absolutely bare bones crew, all wearing full PPE, but that also meant it was easy for us to run scenes over and over again. That gave our actors a lot of freedom. I love cinéma vérité, so I liked the idea that this movie would be a kind of hybrid of the styles of John Cassavetes and Michael Bay.

I had a lot of anxieties going into it, but it ended up being the best creative experience of my life. I’m someone who’s taken the whole pandemic very seriously so I was reticent going into the project in terms of safety, but I ended up having a blast. I wanted to make something that was really cathartic. It’s a really hopeful movie that has a sweet heart to it. It’s scary, but it’s not a horror movie. It’s a love story, and an old fashioned tale of good versus evil.

Songbird is out now in UK cinemas and on demand

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