Women In Horror Month 2011 is almost at its end. This is unfortunate as the past twenty-four days have been an incredible experience for myself and, seemingly, for the horror community as a whole. It is time, in these final days, that we hear from two women/sisters/twins/filmmakers/actresses/stuntwomen and all around inspiring people: The Soska Sisters. I could write at length about how awesome these two, and their work, are. However, I decided I’d allow them to do it for you. What follows is a rather lengthy interview between myself and Jen and Sylvia. This is no mere fluff piece either, there is some serious thought and dedication present in their answers here, so take the time to read it through and enjoy the last few days of Women In Horror Month 2011!
- In the “About Us” section of your website, it states that you went to film school. Being a graduate of film school, I have noticed how few female students there tends to be in similar programs, at least here in the US. Does this bear any resemblance to the program you were enrolled in? If so, were you ever treated differently regarding the stunt work you were doing?
J: Not in our experience. I’d say that the guy to girl ratio was pretty even. Many were more interested in acting than film making, though. We have always been treated exceeding well by stunt performers of both genders. We were very excited about stunt work and I think they liked our enthusiasm. We were always the first to want to just throw ourselves into something. I still desperately want to be lit on fire.
S: We had a very even gender enrollment in our course, what surprised me was how easy some of the students thought the film industry would be to work in. A lot of people go to film school assuming that it will set you up for a high paying, good job in film and that’s just not true. You have to bust your ass for free with a smile on your face and be willing to work hard for long hours to make a good impression. If you look into how some of the bigger stunt performers got their start, it was volunteering on sets – willing to do anything to help the production – to prove that this is where they want to be and they are going work hard to get there.
Jen and I were real go-getters in the stunt/action for actors segment of film school. We were excited to learn and eager to put what we learned to the test. The stunt instructors were really cool and were very knowledgeable and gracious to us. As a matter of fact our instructor, Lauro Chartrand, came to help us out on our feature – DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK. It’s his sick moves and excellent skill in coordinating a harsh fight that brought the death sequence of our Hooker to the screen. He is one of the nicest, most down to earth professionals ever and he’s been very supportive of our work from the beginning.
- In Dead Hooker In a Trunk, was there ever any debate as to who would play which role? Did Jen just fall into the role of the Geek and Sylvia the Badass? Do the roles at all emulate the dynamic between the two of you off screen?
J: At the time, Sylv was never getting the opportunity to play any Badass-like characters. They are a rarity at best. She would always be the girl friend type. Sweet and sometimes kind of ditsy. She never got to play anything but. I was getting cast as the bitch all the time, the bad girl. Sylv and I both have plenty of geek and badass in each of us, but we weren’t really getting the opportunity to show our range. It was almost as a joke that Sylv got to be the Badass and I got to be the Geek. I was totally Geek when I was younger. Like in the flashback in the film, I had those huge glasses. It was fun to get back in touch with her. It was hard to just let myself get smacked around, but it was fun to take a good bitch slap every now and again.
I loved seeing Sylvie as Badass. It was such a liberating character. It would be awesome to live like Badass does. She’s such a strong character.
S: It was very important to Jen that I play Badass and she play Geek. I guess with twins, especially identical twins, people try to find a way to differentiate the two – so I was labeled the ‘sweet one’ and Jen the ‘bad girl one’ – even though I think we’re both quite sweet with a splash of bad girl here and there. Jen has always been there to push me out of my comfort zone, so after she got me training in martial arts with her, she had me competitively sparring against girls, which I suppose, in her beautiful mind, led to her wanting me to do an action hero-esque role. I’ve loved Rodriguez-style cool anti-heroes since childhood, so has Jen. When we wrote the script we decided we wanted a cool badass in the lead, and that we wanted her to be a female character because you don’t get to see that enough.
Sometimes, while writing the script, Jen would come up with something crazy for Badass to do with this big smile on her face because she knew I would be doing it. Geek was a throw-back to our childhood where the two of us were huge nerds – we still are, but it’s not as obvious as it was when we were younger. A lot of her Geek mannerisms were things that she or I would do as our nerdy past selves and it was cool to have it in the film. We knew we wanted to make opposite characters for the twins so people could tel the difference more easily. It was fun thinking out the scenarios and then bringing them to life for the film. I dug the stereotype characters, I feel it gave this hip weird quality to the story.
- Dead Hooker In a Trunk, as exploitative a film as it is (and I mean that in THE best possible way), features not nearly as much nudity as many viewers may expect from a film of this sort. Is this something that you are purposefully trying to avoid or do you feel that it was not warranted for this particular film? Any thoughts regarding the seemingly compulsory nature of female (or even the rare male) nudity in contemporary horror/exploitation cinema?
J: Even though we had a modest budget we didn’t feel the need for the cheapest “special effect” there is. Gratuitous nudity. We do not have a problem with nudity whatsoever. We fully understand that sex and violence sell. Given the nature of DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK, we felt that, as strange as it sounds, nudity would have cheapened the film. We didn’t want people thinking we were just going for a cheap thrill. We have been asked a lot about our stance on nudity. Most commonly, when and if we will be taking our clothes off, but that really is a perfect example of a double standard. How often do they ask Woody Allen when we’ll seen him naked? We’re not against it, but there is a time and place for everything.
There will be nudity in AMERICAN MARY. I think nudity can add to a film rather than take away from it. Even gratuitous nudity has a place in somewhere cinema. I do prefer to see both sex and violence thoughtfully used rather than simply because there is nothing else in the film worth watching for. There is way too much of that out there.
S: I think a big result of what drove us to make DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK was the fact that the roles we were being offered had gratuitous amounts of nudity with little to no substance and I didn’t want any of my actors, who were working for free, to feel uncomfortable with what they were doing. It’s a totally different story if you have a complicated, sexualized story line that nudity and sexuality would enhance certain sequence and you have the budget and crew to make everyone feel comfortable. If we had private rooms and robes and those little ‘privacy patch’ attachments for the performer’s parts, then we could have considered it. But it would have been too awkward to have an actor get naked with four people acting and crewing. There was too big a risk for someone to feel uncomfortable and, having been the girl who had to strip down for casting people to decide if your body was right, I would never do anything to make someone who trusted me enough to work with me fell uncertain or uncomfortable with something I wanted them to do.
The nudity that is in HOOKER, stripping down to lingerie and a full on penis shot felt like a good amount of flesh for the flick. I think there are filmmakers out there that rather than thinking of something interesting or creative to put in a film – they default to nudity or violence which just makes for crappy use of nudity and violence. These things are tools for proper filmmaking that enhance sequences and character development and when they are thrown in because the film needs tits or blood – it devalues their strength and significance.
- With Dead Hooker In a Trunk being as great as it is, it is still not accessible to most viewers. Are there plans for distribution, either theatrical or on home formats?
J: We have just finalized our deal with our UK distributor, Bounty Films (who also released THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE) and DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK will be released in the UK on May 23rd of this year! We are so excited! The UK marked the world premiere of the film last year during the very first Women In Horror month. Nia Edwards-Behi showed the film at the Ghouls on Film Festival. We have had so much support from the incredible horror community in the UK. It is only fitting that we get the news of a release for the UK first. We are still finalizing deals with distributors through our sales agents at Industry Works for the releases for other regions. We hope to be making more officially release announcements soon.
S: It looks right now that DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK will be made available to different regions, starting with the UK, in DVD format. We are still finalizing deals with different regions meaning there is still a possibility for theatrical. With AMERICAN MARY we are planning on theatrical. The two films are so very different sides of the filmmaking spectrum – both are indie – but very different levels of independent.
- Your upcoming film, American Mary, has a very eerie trailer that does not resemble the gritty, grindhouse qualities of DHIAT. Can you speak at all about what the tone of the film will be?
J: AMERICAN MARY will be stylistically very different from DHIAT. We have long described our style as art house meets grind house and that style will be really beautifully seen in MARY. There is going to, of course, still be our dark humor and fucked up imaginings, but everything is going to be extremely tastefully done. There is no shortage of sex or violence in this one, but tone couldn’t be further from grind house.
S: With DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK, we were always aware that making the film on our own would put certain restrictions on the process. There would be a filming style that we would have to adhere to as well as plenty of use of creativity to make up for what we lacked in funds. The story was insane and crazy because that would best suit the process.
AMERICAN MARY, which is being produced by Evan Tylor of Industry Works and CJ Wallis of FortyFPS Productions, has a modest but strong budget behind it which allows us a lot more pre-planning that HOOKER. Everything is meticulously planned out which is mirrored by the story structure of a severe and articulate medical student who aspires to be a surgeon. There is a much darker tone to AMERICAN MARY with some very intense prosthetic and makeup. It still has our dark sense of humor and there are some flashy fun sequences, but it’s a story that can get under your skin. Some of the material even has me a little squeamish.
- The casting of American Mary is rather brilliant, as was the reveal of Katharine Isabelle being in the cast. Was the casting for this film a long process or did you originally have her in mind?
Will the two of you be on screen again as well?
J: Thank you so much. Casting is very important to us. Not only do we look for cast and crew that are very talented at what they do, we like to work with good people. Katie is just wonderful. We consider so many potential actors for our Mary. It is such a challenging role. Unlike the characters for the most part from DHIAT, Mary is an amazingly complex and complicated character. We also put her through a lot of intense situations. We really are going to kick her ass. The actor we chose had to be capable of being mature and innocent, strong and vulnerable, seductive and terrifying. Katie was the only actress we approached for the role. When we sat down with her, even as we saw her come in, it was just like, “that’s her. She’s our Mary.” We couldn’t be happier to be working with such a talented performer. We’ve already been working together on the character. She is really going to blow people away.
S: We do a lot of casting between the tow of us before we even approach an actor. Katie was brought up several times while writing the script, but we didn’t want to fall into the trap where you write a role specifically for a certain actor then lose your mind trying to get that single particular person for the role. Katharine Isabelle is a very hard working, driven, and brilliant actress. We had a meeting before we went forward, she had read the script and we were to meet and discuss.
It was a little nerve-racking because you want her to be perfect in the role and in her own personality. You have to know that you can mesh together and creatively collaborate. Katie blew away all expectations. She is pitch perfect for the role and completely intoxicating with her performance. It’s a real honor to have her in the title role.
Casting is a completely different beast on this project because it’s not just asking friends if they want to make a movie with you, there are agents, and shooting schedules, and contracts, and all sorts of fun new stuff. Some agencies are awesome to work with, others don’t give a shit unless they’ve heard about you before. It’s quite the learning process. That said, we have some amazing talent with very cool representation that are helping us get their clients in the film and it’s been very amazing. We are working on a deal with our second lead and it is an privilege to have his interest. Very classy gentleman.
- The synopsis for American Mary reads much like Cronenberg-esque body horror. Is this intentional? What filmmakers/films have influenced you both as artists?
J: Absolutely we are inspired by Cronenberg. He is an outstanding Canadian film maker. He’s just wonderful. I don’t know how a Canadian couldn’t admire the man.
We are very inspired by many film makers. Eli Roth, of course. We just love how he pushes the envelope. We need more film makers that are doing original work that breaths life back into horror. I love how he writes empowering female roles. The “blood bath” scene from Hostel II was fucking insane! It was sexy and horrifying both at the same time. So stylistically and brilliantly done. The man really has a beautiful way of doing horror. We are so inspired by his work.
Tarantino and Rodriguez are big influences as well. Rodriguez’s EL MARIACHI was what inspired us to make DHIAT the way that we did. Truly, what is stopping anyone from making a film? Aside from all the hard work and sacrifice that goes along with it. It is very possible to make a film with an independent budget in this day and age. In fact, it has never been more within everyone’s grasp. With the modern technological advancements, quite literally anyone can be a film maker. Just look at Youtube. It has forever changed the entertainment industry.
Tarantino was once asked his opinion on film school and he said save your money and spend it on making your own film. Truer words were never spoken. There is no replacement for real, hands on experience. Independent film makers have to be very creative especially when it comes to problem solving. They don’t get the liberty of being able to just throw money at the problems that arise. There’s a lot of sink or swim when you just throw yourself into making a film, but it is an invaluable experience. I highly recommend it.
I love Joss Whedon for his dialogue and humor. Also, I love the way he smashes apart stereotypes. His female characters in particular are so strong and empowered. I love Stan Lee and admire the wealth of incredible characters and stories that he’s given us. Some of my favorite stories have been told in comic books. I really admire Hideo Kojima, the master mind behind the METAL GEAR SOLID series. It’s excellent. I adore the characters he’s created. They are all so dark and complicated and tragic. I’m addicted to that series.
S: It’s funny. Jen and I love pretty much the same directors. Cronenberg is huge – I don’t think you can be a Canadian working in horror without having him as an influence. He is an incredible visionary artist. I also love: Lars Von Trier, David Lynch, Takeshi Miike, Yoshihiro Nashimura, Mary Harron, Wes Craven, Dario Argento, Darren Aronofsky, and Alice Guy. I’m probably forgetting a bunch, but I like visionary unique artists. I try to watch as many international horrors as possible because they have this originality and new approach that I find is often missing in big studio horror today.
DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK was very much inspired by Rodriguez, Gallardo, Tarantino, Roth, and Zombie. If GRINDHOUSE hadn’t been in the theaters when we were struggling to find direction, I don’t know if Jen would have spouted the words and the title: Dead Hooker in a Trunk in any other situation. It was the start of something huge for us.
With HOOKER, we were constantly pushing ourselves to learn as much about filmmaking as possible. As the years have progressed since the start – we started HOOKER in 2007 – we have thrived on learning as much about the industry and horror as possible. We go to our local indie video store and rent three films at a time from around the world and different times and take ourselves to film school. You can always learn from other artists work: story structure, use of lighting, character development, the building of tension, the creation of real horror – it’s fun and it broadens what you can do with your own work.
There is still a lot of ourselves in MARY – there are lots of instances from personal experiences there tweaked – and you will still recognize the filmmakers from HOOKER, but this is a significantly more mature piece. HOOKER played like a real-life anime whereas MARY is more of a character-driven piece with some very underground material being explored. We didn’t have character names and intricate story pieces in HOOKER, in MARY those elements are main focuses.
- Some of the promotion for American Mary was very tied into Women In Horror Month, which you two seem to be very involved in. Could you share what the month means to you and how you see it effecting the horror industry/community as a whole?
J: Women In Horror recognition month was started last year by the genius and uber feminist behind Ax Wound Zine, Hannah Neurotica. We were introduced to her through Eli Roth and have have since become extremely close, like family. She saw and recognized a real need to celebrate the achievements of women in the horror industry. Anyone who knows anything about horror knows that women have always played integral roles in the genre, both behind and in front of the camera. However, women still struggle to be recognized the same way their male counter parts are. It’s not to say there aren’t plenty of men who fully support and celebrate women within the horror genre as there are many. Take Alice Guy, for example. Many might be surprised to know that the very first narrative director was originally a secretary for Gaumont-Paris, a company that manufactured cameras. The camera, deemed useless at the time, was given to a woman who was deemed equally useless. I couldn’t think of two more powerful forces being combined.
I think this month is very important. It recognizes the achievements of women and gets fellow femme fatale artists in touch with one another and encourages having them work together and exchange their ideas. It’s just amazing. We were so happy to be able to collaborate on our 2011 WiH Massive Blood Drive PSA with so many talented female artsists. Jennifer Cooper, Maude Michaud, Shannon Lark, Brenda and Elisabeth Fies, Marichelle Daywalt, Tara Cardinal, Sierra Pitkin, and Katharine Isabelle. It was a beautiful way for all of us to celebrate together and give a little back. We have been so happy to have founded the WiH month Massive Blood Drive world wide event. This year, we have all been able to collect more and more blood! It’s very cool.
S: Women In Horror Recognition Month is extremely important to us. It’s a great unifying event and I think a celebration like this is most appropriate for the genre and the horror genre and women’s roles are both things that are commonly misunderstood. There have been amazing, strong, and inspirational women working within the industry for years and, unfortunately, because of the times these women weren’t getting the recognition they deserve. WiH started last year and it’s already grown substantially, who knows what kind of an event it will be in five years?
To me, it’s about sharing knowledge and celebrating each others’ accomplishments. Alice Guy, the woman who pioneered creative filmmaking and the first narrative director, is greatly unknown considering she was a woman and the one who developed early cinema. Upsettingly enough, many of her works – over seven hundred films – were accredited to her male coworkers because they were men. If more people were aware, they would be outraged but until WiH month there wasn’t an event shining the light on females in the horror industry – and yes, Alice loved making spooky films with vampire films maybe even being her favorite.
On a personal note, it was because of WiH month that we got our first festival screenings for our film: Ghouls on Film in the UK and the Pretty Scary Blood Bath Film Fest in Texas. From there, the word of mouth spread and the wonderful people in the horror community started to get the word out. It’s now toured festivals all over the world and getting released this year. I met so many feminist male and female filmmakers in the events and the coming together in WiH that I feel so privileged to be able to call friends. These people are so welcoming and supportive, it really joins the community together.
Because the event was so important and special to us, we decided that we would announce our Mary, Katharine Isabelle, in our annual blood drive PSA. I can see the momentum the event is gaining and how many people that have been brought together because of it and it’s an honor to be able to contribute. I am so thankful to Hannah Neurotica, of Ax Wound Zine, for decreeing Women In Horror Recognition Month because it is a damn good event. I wish something like this existed when I was a little girl with Jen because it would have been nice to feel like a part of something when we felt so outcast for liking horror and being ‘weird’.
- Any advice to other Women In Horror who are trying to pursue their own goals within the horror industry?
J: I would say, “don’t let anyone stop you.” When you first set out, a lot of people will not be there for you. It’s a very hard business. You have to be prepared to work everyday. And you have to be ready for a lot of, “but what’s your real job gonna be?” Stick to your guns. With the modern advancements in technology, your dream is more within your grasp than ever before. Literally anyone can make a film today. It’s very possible and achievable. I think plenty of people just give up on their dreams and that’s really sad.
I would also tell fellow women in horror to not think that men don’t want us here. Sure, some may, but that is an educated and ignorant few. Don’t put the focus on your gender. It should always be on your work. Let it speak for itself. Being a woman is not a disadvantage. Believe in yourself and your work. Be confident enough to know that if you hear the same critiques about your work again and again it may be time to take a hard look at your work and re-work something a little bit. Learn from your mistakes and do it better the next time around. It’s truly the only way you can get better. One “no (wo)man” is better than a room full of “yes (wo)men”.
S: There are a lot of people who will try to dissuade you from following your dreams. Take that negativity as a grain of salt. Jen and I still get called crazy for our ambition and drive. Make sure you make a story that is important to you and put yourself – your uniqueness, your originality – into it. We get too many half-baked ideas that are pseudo this movie or pseudo that movie. Make something that only you can make and stay focused on bringing it to life.
Learn as much as you can before the process. I tell everyone to read Rodriguez’s ‘Rebel Without A Crew’ because it saved our ass and gave us so much perspective on the entire filmmaking process. Listen to the director’s commentary on your favorite DVDs and have the directors that you love tell you how they make their films. It’s a great resource for everyone.
Be prepared to spend years on your movie, making it a reality, and then getting out to the public. Make sure you really love this industry and the stories you want to tell because it can be a very harsh and difficult road to get there and if it’s not the one thing that means the world to you, then you need to examine why you’re doing it. You have to want this really bad and be willing to sacrifice everything to get there. If that sounds like you and your drive, welcome to the industry. I look forward to watching your films!
For more from the Soska Sisters visit Twisted Twins Production