I knew you'd read that headline. LITTLE FISHES is the new narrative project from director Alexia Anastasio: an adaptation of the erotic writings of D.H. Lawrence. (If you don't know who D.H. lawrence is, go kill yourself.) The film takes its name from the Lawrence poem "Little Fish":
"The tiny little fish enjoy themselves
in the sea.
Quick little splinters of life,
their little lives are fun to them
in the sea."
This lesbian-love-triangle-coming-of-age story is actually more poetry than narrative – something for which Anastasio had a knack. Her short adaptation of SALOME by Oscar Wilde not only reversed gender roles but was more like an interpretive dance than anything else (you can watch the trailer here). Anastasio has a kind of unrelenting passion and originality that comes through in everything she makes, which makes her films innately fascinating to me.
I've missed out on posting a lot of really cool news about women directors lately. I took a huge imaginary trip to Iceland and Spain and have been gone for 6 weeks, which has prevented me from blogging. But since blogging is my full-time, lucrative job, I felt I needed a mini-vacation to the realms of frost giants and Gaudi.
In the past two months, some amazing things have happened that I need to catch up on, and catch you up on. First, did you hear the amazing quotes from director Lexi Alexander (PUNISHER: WARZONE) about sexism in Hollywood? Her statements were re-posted on Indiewire's Women and Hollywood blog in January 2013:
There is no lack of female directors. Repeat after me: THERE IS NO LACK OF FEMALE DIRECTORS. But there is a huge lack of people willing to give female directors opportunities. I swear, if anyone near me even so much as whispers the sentence "Women probably don't want to direct," my fist will fly as a reflex action.
Side note: The previous statement labels me as "difficult".
Alexander's statement was prompted in part by the baffling treatment she had received earlier in 2013 when fans overwhelmingly supported her as the choice for the director of the all-female EXPENDABLES film. But partly she represents numerous women in the Director's Guild of America that feel they are given unequal treatment when it comes to hiring practices based solely on the basis of their sex. Alexander now self-deprecatingly jokes that she is the new "Gertrude Stein of filmmaking," but largely due to her outspoken attitude recently, and the diligent efforts and research of director Maria Giese and the Women Directors in Hollywood Blog, the ACLU is now conducting its own investigation into any sexism that women directors may face in Hollywood. Get ready for a lawsuit, sexists!
February 2014 was Women in Horror Month, and there were many awesome new film projects, film festivals, articles, exchanges, and artwork created in celebration. But since December 2013, I have been in the process of creating a new film festival (sort of). The Viscera Organization and the Viscera Film Festival officially disbanded in December 2013, with creator Shannon Lark and board member Lori Bowen finishing, screening, and promoting their new psychological-yet-gory horror film I AM MONSTER (you can check it out here at the official website: www.iammonstermovie.com). In January 2014, I decided to revamp the Etheria Film Festival, the science fiction and fantasy film festival that I had put together under the Viscera banner in Boston, Massachusetts, and move it to Hollywood, CA. The new Etheria Film Night will screen not only new science fiction and fantasy, but also horror, thriller, action, and even some comedy and drama – all directed by women. You can check out our official website here: www.etheriafilmnight.com. We'll be screening the selections at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, California on July 12th, 2014 with the support of the American Cinematheque.
I also took that 6 weeks off to write a chapter in the film journal Celluloid Ceiling Spring 2014, thanks to the patience of my editor Professor Gabrielle Kelly, of NYU Tisch Singapore. It was fun. I wrote a lot about lesbians and feminism in European film history.
Hard at work on my book about women directors of horror films, I plan to finish that sometime before my 80th birthday. And no I continue blogging about stuff other women are doing. Carry on.
PIN UP DOLLS ON ICE, co-directed by Melissa Mira, is the opening night headliner film of the 2014 Shockfest Film Festival in Los Angeles this January. There are a LOT of film festivals all over the world, just about 50 in Los Angeles alone, and it's way too difficult to write about all of them (I'd go nuts, chained to this blog) but every once in a while a festival screens a number of brand new, very intriguing films directed by women that really grab me. This is one of those cases.
PIN UP DOLLS ON ICE is actually a sequel to a low-budget slasher called BIKINI GIRLS ON ICE (with which Mira was not involved) and stars Suzi Lorraine, one of my fave low budget horror actresses. So I'm going to this premiere because HEY it's in Los Angeles and guess where I am? And also, it looks pretty fucking fun!
The Pinup Dolls are a hot retro act who put the tease back in striptease. But when an old friend (Suzi Lorraine) hires them to put on a show at a secluded campground, the girls find themselves being stalked by a homicidal maniac with a sick obsession with ice. As they're hunted one-by-one, they soon realize they'll have to rely on more than just their looks to survive this nightmare named Moe.
Patricia Chica's short CERAMIC TANGO has actually been on my radar for a few months, so I'm excited to know it's getting some play in my native land.
After receiving grave news, a young man spirals into a deep depression, leaving him vulnerable to the will of a dangerous intruder. CERAMIC TANGO is a modern-day cautionary tale that incites viewers to pause and think about the fragility of life.
Jennifer Nicole Stang's THE DEVIL'S SNARE is having its world premiere screening. You can watch the short film right here if you can't actually make the festival:
SWALK, a short mystery/fantasy/drama directed by Dawn Cobalt, is also premiering at 2014 Shockfest.
A man must dress for a funeral and say goodbye to his wife one last time.
Sadly, no trailer for SWALK, but enjoy this poster:
CRAZY TOWN, directed by Jules Dameron, is a sort of WIZARD OF OZ mash-up re-imagining, and to be honest – I have high hopes for it. Any film in which Sean Young plays white trash is okay in my book.
ZOMBIEWOOD is Lauren Petzke's short comedy that, like CRAZY TOWN, also seems to make fun of the Hollywood Dream.
There is a certain horror to awakening to the fact that you are now a zombie. What do you do with your “undead” life? One zombie, Harry, thinks he has the answer – get a SAG card! While the world in general has little use for zombies, there is one industry where they fit in very well – Hollywood!
No trailer for ZOMBIEWOOD either!
And of course, Jessica Cameron's TRUTH or DARE is screening. We've covered that film quite a bit already!
Axelle Carolyn's new feature film SOULMATE is a poignant, charming, and pretty tale of love and ghosts set in the English countryside. Treading a fragile line between drama, horror, and Gothic romance, SOULMATE resembles her first directing endeavor, the short film THE LAST POST, in which the afterlife intrudes into the natural realm.
SOULMATE is about Audrey (played by Anna Walton), a suicidal woman mourning the recent death of her husband. Isolating herself in an old country cottage away from friends and family, she soon develops a relationship with the ghost (Tom Wisdom) haunting the property. What follows is an atypical genre film in which love is not the untimate cure-all. Carolyn answers some of my questions about the film, her direction, and her choices for SOULMATE in the following interview:
SOULMATE has a decidedly open ending and does not end on a "happy" note the way, say, American films tend to end. Can you tell me why you decided to leave the film ambiguous?
I just tried to make the ending as truthful as possible. An unhappy ending would have made the film too bleak, considering how it starts off; but I don't think a real happy ending would have made sense here. I felt the events in the film pretty much naturally led to that conclusion. Also, that's one of the perks of indie films: I don't have to make it end with rainbows and unicorns!
Do you think SOULMATE is a decidedly British or European film, or do you think that genre films are now blending across borders, culturally?
Mmmh, tough one. I read a few reviews mention me as a 'British director', and as a Belgian living in LA, I found that funny. The landscape and the setting are very typically British, and I suppose there's a tradition in the UK of slow-burn atmospheric ghost stories that I built on. But I also think the themes it deals with – grief, and finding comfort in the supernatural – are universal.
Do you think it is important to place a film in a "genre" in order to market it to audiences? As someone whose films are not easily categorized, do you fear it is a hindrance, or believe it is a benefit?
To market it? Oh, yeah. People tell you they want to see original work, but if you defy their expectations – if you step ever so slightly away from the tropes of the genre you work it -, it becomes a hard sell, because you can't easily pinpoint a target audience. Also for the audience, 'ghost story' comes with all kinds of expectations these days: it has to be scary, it has to have jump scares… Some people love to be surprised; others hate it. I've seen both reactions so far.
SOULMATE reminds me on many levels of a traditional classic Gothic thriller in the vein of JANE EYRE, THE INNOCENTS, or GAS LIGHT. Can you tell me how you used the old house, the solitude, and the countryside to craft a story that is, on the one hand, traditionally Gothic and, on the other hand, updated for modern audiences?
That's some fantastic comparisons! All those stories, in many ways, are hard to classify within a genre… The whole story came from the fact that I knew I'd have a limited budget for my first feature, and I wanted a small amount of characters in a tiny amount of locations. I've always been obsessed with that idea of finding comfort in the supernatural, because if there are ghosts, there's an afterlife, and the people you've lost are not gone forever. So the story was born from that idea – something anybody who's ever lost someone can relate to. The locations, the atmosphere are very much inspired by those Gothic classics, but at the heart of it is a very human story, very real and contemporary. Some people have referred to the movie as a romance, by the way, and I feel it couldn't be further from it. If anything, the love story is between Audrey, the lead girl, and her late husband; but this story is about a bond broken by a premature death, not about romance. She could have lost a son and found the ghost of a little boy, it would have been the same idea.
I'd like to know a little more about your casting choices.
Anna Walton, who plays Audrey, played a part in my short film THE HALLOWEEN KID, and she was so great to work with that I immediately re-wrote the script for her. She was the first one on board and she was extremely focused and prepared. Anna is a wonderfully instinctive actress who knew the character inside out. She also has a fragility which made her character instantly likable, but also an inner strength which was essential to avoid portraying her as a victim. Tom Wisdom, who plays the ghost, brings so much subtlety and layers to the part. Audrey is obviously essential, but the film lives or dies with the performance of the ghost: anything too big would have looked like pantomime, yet we have to understand that he's a lost, tortured soul. Tom brought exactly the right balance. Nick Brimble and Tanya Myers are both wonderful character actors, and they're both at once funny, menacing and sad. Everybody in the story deals with a loss of some kind. And of course Anubis, my dog, is a star in the making.
What have been the most challenging, and most rewarding, aspects of making SOULMATE?
The best part was the shoot, no doubt. I loved being on set, directing the cast, working with our awesome crew. We were sharing cottages around the location so at night, I'd hang out with the DoP and the producer, but also with the editor, who could show me roughly assembled scenes, and that was incredibly exciting. But getting it financed took such a long time, so many ups and downs, and now letting go of my baby, leaving it in the hands of distributors and marketing guys and festivals and audiences, is an odd experience. Love it or hate it, it's hard not to see that it's a very personal movie, and sometimes it feels like a part of my brain is out there on display.
You can watch some interviews with the cast and producer along with Carolyn at London's Film4 FRIGHTFEST screening just a few weeks ago:
Tara Cardinal's LEGEND OF THE RED REAPER has been a topic of discussion on this blog for some time. The fantasy film's long and arduous uphill battle is documented in this interview with director Cardinal, as well as the trials, tribulations, and personal tenacity of Cardinal and her production team over six years. Not many people would work this hard, this long, and in this way for a film project that seemed to face hurdle after hurdle. The sword-and-sorcery flick is finally screening at film festivals, so I wanted to get the nitty-gritty story of LEGEND OF THE RED REAPER down for posterity (and for my own personal interest) as it is quite a story (both literally and figuratively). Originally directed by one Jose Casella in 2009, then by Kristen Barron-Stewart (not that Kristen Stewart, a different one), this final incarnation of the film stars Cardinal herself and is directed by Cardinal herself with Uwe Boll (with whom Cardinal worked on the films ZOMBIE MASSACRE and THE PROFANE EXHIBIT) instrumental in getting the film completed. Cardinal's next film, SCARLET SAMURAI (co-directed with David Williams) is also finally screening at festivals and it, too, has a tangled history.
LEGEND OF THE RED REAPER TRAILER:
Can you describe LEGEND OF THE RED REAPER's long production period to us?
The fact is, when I transitioned from the real world into acting, there just weren't that many exciting roles for women. Not at the studio level, and not at the independent level. Searching through the breakdowns was boring, even degrading at times. Outside of (some) horror there was little that required anywhere near the full complement of my abilities or even desire to give myself to my craft in a meaningful way.
I came up with RED REAPER while working on an action film. I wrote a treatment for it, thinking that this fresh new approach to action/fantasy would pique some Hollywood interest. I pitched it around – but the Hollywood system wasn't looking for female heroines. Undeterred, I shot a trailer for it in my backyard and screened at the first convention I could find. The response was overwhelmingly positive. People WANTED to see this movie! Spirits renewed, I pulled together a team to help me write, produce, direct and crew this beast.
Inexperience is a hard mistress, and I placed my trust (and my money) with too many fast talkers. Within months a significant amount of money was removed from the production budget and removers went with it. Within weeks the production was dissolved and the something strange happened. Some people left, never to be heard from again, but the ones who stayed all donned another hat, pitching in at extraordinary lengths and volunteering enormous amounts of time, resources, even money, to keep the project alive. The people who knew me, the people who worked side by side with me, they NEEDED me to finish this for them. For us. It was a responsibly that haunted me daily until the premiere.
I had some great action scenes filmed, but there was no story, plot nor any character development. As the months dragged on our [US] economy collapsed. No one had any cash flow. My team got even smaller. It became clear that I had to re-write the movie. I couldn't make a film out of the footage I had and to make matters worse; the movie was supposed to star one of the thieves that took my money. Now THAT would have been a fight scene for the history books. Alas, I decided against that, but used my complicated and complex feelings and circumstances to write a very personal version of this fantasy film, reimagining many of the elements that had already been shot.
16 months, and 12 re-writes and ONE note from screenwriter (and dear friend) Rolfe Kanefsky – I had a new script with a strong plot and lots of character development. While I was writing, I was also out raising the money. First, a medical study for a phase 1 experimental drug (Phase 1 = never been tested on humans). Then, working as a "jobber": someone who gets paid to lose wrestling matches. It turns out, with all my martial arts and stunt training, I can (and did!) take a solid beating. So, I got in the ring with girls twice my size and let them throw me around to raise the money to finish RED REAPER. I worked freelance for a production company doing instructional videos and I took acting roles in other people's movies, happily swiping cast and crew in preparation for finishing RED REAPER. And it worked! At the end of my 16 months I had a full plan, cast, crew, locations, equipment, new script and the money to make it all happen. I flew back to Florida, and shot 7 days (the only days the studio was available) and then came back 3 months later to shoot the remaining 4 days.
I know there is a lot of footage that you shot for the film that ended up "lost." What did you shoot, and what happened to it?
I'd hoped to put a waterfall fight scene in the movie, so a few months after that I'd commissioned an exquisite waterfall, and flew (former WWE wrestler) Al Snow out to do the scene with me. For hours we shivered our way through the most intense fight choreography: flips, throws, acrobatics like nothing else in the movie, all done in 55 degree water. But alas, only a few shots made it to me. The rest were deleted by a careless editor. I have behind-the-scenes footage, but you can't put handy cam shots in a real movie. I was able to save a couple of shots and wedge them into a flashback sequence. Of all of the footage that went missing in the end, it will forever sadden me that the HARD work of my construction crew, or Al Snow's amazing fight choreography won't ever be seen.
At that point I'd hired an editor who pretended to work on the movie. Six months later he admitted he wasn't doing anything, and suggested I find another editor. I spent the next 3 months trying to track down my footage, which I'd found out he'd placed with a shady post production house in NY, and they'd lost two of my reels (about 100 minutes of footage). Suddenly, a whole year had gone by.
By that point I'd hired another editor; this one worked for the studios, so I figured he knew what he was doing. He took my script and the footage and did the best he could, taking nine months more, but with so much missing footage it was a struggle. He was able to propose a deal with a sales agent, and they looked into re-shooting the movie with a major male action star, but the star and the sales agent never seemed to agree on a price. Ultimately, for a variety of reasons I can't go into, I had to pull the deal and move forward with the project as-is. And I'm happier for that. This put me 18 months past my wrap date, with almost nothing to show for it. It was soul crushing, but I kept moving forward, gaining skill and knowledge as I progressed.
How did producer Uwe Boll get on board?
I'm a planner. I'd been going to the American Film Market every year to meet sales agents even before there was any footage to show anyone. I never pitched, only networked. Most of the sales agents knew me, and many were interested in RED REAPER. Uwe Boll was always at the top of my list because of his great reputation for being one of the few sales agents that actually pays the film maker. I showed him the cut that my editor did, and he passed – he hated the rough cut. He wasn't interested in it.
As you might have guessed by now, "No" isn't an answer I'm fond of. He had been interested in the trailer, but the cut fell short, and I knew it. I should have never showed it to him to begin with, it was a rookie mistake. Fortunately, he gave me another chance. I learned final cut pro and re-cut the movie myself. Uwe flew into town to shoot THE PROFANE EXHIBIT with myself, Clint Howard, and Caroline Williams, and took a few hours to sit down and watch the movie with me and he liked my cut! He immediately brought in Ho-Sung Pak's team to picture edit and his own team in Vancouver to edit the audio. It STILL took another 19 months for the post teams to complete all the work necessary to make it a viable, distributable product. In the mean time, Uwe pre-sold the movie to the foreign markets, many of which are much more amicable to my style of storytelling. Uwe is without a doubt the hero of the making-of-the-RED-REAPER-saga. He's a hero of indie film in general, and a great friend to indie film makers. Most importantly to me, he always stood by my vision where ever possible, and demanded the team finish the movie as close to my original ideas as possible, and that's a rare thing! Most sales agents only care about the bottom line, but Uwe also cared deeply about my story. And for that he'll always have a strong supporter in me.
In the mean time, I was responsible for editing the action sequences, bringing in a composer and making sure the creative edits matched my vision. I only had 5 days to cut the action sequences! Fortunately for us all, my SCARLET SAMURAI producing partner Sean Wyn dropped everything, and my dear friend (and one of my favorite directors) Josh Eisenstadt opened his edit studio to us, and Sean and I tag teamed a re-cut of about 1/3 of the movie, redoing all the action sequences from a martial artist's view point. And that was how I spent my Thanksgiving weekend!
The missing footage required an extremely creative re-cut, adding in new story elements that were never intended to be there. I must credit my editor for those exciting changes. It did require a final re-write on the movie so the new elements would be clear. I organized a test screening to get feedback on the adjusted story line. It took me 2 more months, but I had a re-write SO tight that the added dialogue and voice over fit exactly in the edit as-is, because the picture was "locked", and my sound team was already starting on the sound design.
My sound department requested a total of 310 lines of additional dialogue recording. Some of which was due to extra noises on set, but most was due to the story re-write. I was responsible for rounding up my actors and getting them back into the studio – but this was now almost 2 years after we'd wrapped. Some of my actors refused. They figured if I hadn't pulled it to the finish line by then, I was going to. So I hired voice doubles to dub them. One was a fan. One was my roommate. Fortunately, most of my cast were totally pros. One of my stunt guys, Rob Ray, happened to have access to a studio which he opened up for my Orlando actors. Thanks to Sean Wyn, I had access to the Black Eyed Peas recording studio to record my Los Angeles-based actors. I certainly wasn't going to let something as trivial as missing dialogue stop me! I recorded 3-10 takes of every line which left me with about 2,500 lines to go through. I chose the best ones based on performance and syncing ability (it had to be the right speed or it just didn't work!). I cut the takes I wanted to use, and dropped them into a temp timeline, rendered them out, and delivered to my departments. The entire audio post took me 6 months of nonstop work.
That 6 months cost me my composer. Joshua Parish Gomez (Taboo's son from the Black Eyed Peas) was only able to compose the first 40 minutes of the movie before being called to do another project. Fortunately, two of my Italian composer friends from ZOMBIE MASSACRE had epic music they were able to give me to fill out the battle sequences, and my producing partner, Sean Wyn, was able to adjust them to fit, and composed several segments himself – my FAVORITE being the George Perez scene (just watch the movie – you'll see!) – all with only two days left to turn in my final sound!
The post production work was daily for me, even when I wasn't doing the actual work. I honestly thought after having shot a feature film more than half of my work was done. In actuality, it's about 10 percent.
Aella has been referred to as a "feminist' character by some reviewers. Is she, and is it a feminist story?
I didn't write the role for a woman or man, I wrote it for myself. And since I don't think of myself as a woman, but just a human, with the same set of complexities, faults and flaws as anyone – woman or man, it became unique. The character is based on me. And I think any thinking, feeling person, regardless of their chromosomal make up could have played the role.
Sadly, because our market is so grossly over saturated with male heroes and plastic female heroines written, directed, and produced by men, Red Reaper stands out as being something greater than it is. It's just a fleshed out character that happens to be a woman. This isn't special. This should be the norm, but this is just happens to be the first time most people have seen it. And that's not to say that men can't write women. But it's hard to find a solid female hero that hasn't been fluffed into a male-oriented fantasy (like SUCKER PUNCH) or masculinized into a caricature. Most men don't understand their own wives! How are they going to make a whole movie about a woman?? I believe our grandchildren will look back on Hollywood's objectification of women with the same horror that we look back on American segregation. The majority of movies don't even factor in women as people – just accessories to the point. Some movies don't have women at all. Some movies have women that ONLY appear as someone's wife or girlfriend. Many movies don't feature women SPEAKING to each other. Many movies have women speaking to each other, but only about what they should be doing about the men in their lives. This is what our contemporaries are being trained to believe about women. And this is proof that the Hollywood studios hold these beliefs about women; if they didn't, why would they churn out movie after movie of the same dribble? Why do they exclude women from the director's chair at the rate of 93%? The writers' room at 87%? The producers' lounge at 80%? And many of those women that ARE allowed on Hollywood sets are part of James Cameron's ex-wives club! (Translation: without a powerful MALE Hollywood connection good luck getting your membership card to the boys club, no disrespect meant to James Cameron). It terrifies me that our mass media is raising generation after generation of "men" who don't see women as people and I'm proud to be one of the pioneers of change.
RED REAPER blends horror, action, and fantasy together so that it is all and none at the same time. How did this help you avoid sword-and-sorcery cliches?
I think genre is really a product of marketing, which is very impersonal, and I believe will become outdated. One of the few ways left to freshen a story (and they've all been told) is to molest it's genre. Genres are clichéd, tired, and mostly flat. Romantic comedies are ALL the same. Action movies are all the same. But as viewers, consumers, we need to be taken on a journey, touched on a personal level! RED REAPER is a very personal story to me, and as a result it dips in and out of genres rather casually. My first love is fantasy, and all my stories will originate from that. Action is a natural extension of fantasy. If one has a sword, why not use it? And if one uses a sword, well then, one can expect a little blood, can't they? As long as the progression is organic, then it blends itself. And I believe it SHOULD be blended.
Can you tell me about the fight scene choreography?
You noticed my signature crucifix move in there, didn't you? I love to do that in the wrestling ring, and was thrilled to be able to find a way to work the choreography into a sword fight! You can also find me doing the same move in SCARLET SAMURAI. I did do some of my own choreography, and also much of the credit goes to Justice Maynard, Rob Ray, Calvin Simmons, Jason McNeil and Al Snow. I never get tired of learning and training, and my fondest memories on set are those of being trained to do things I never thought I could do by Justice and Rob. Those men in particular have a rare gift for training and performing!
It's worth noting that we rarely had use of wires, minitramps, rachets or any of the other equipment afforded to higher budget productions. We had to "Jackie Chan" most of the movie! My stunt guys can all throw themselves through the air, and taught me to do the same. It's Rob Ray's back I leap off of to take out Justice Maynard when I save Eris from certain doom. You'll see me launch myself from across the battlefield and onto the back of Charles Cardwell and do a whole sword fight from his back. When Al Snow picks me up over his head and throws me into the waterfall, there are no pads, no mats, nothing but 3 feet of chilling water between me and the hard cold ground. When Cal Simmons tosses me to the ground 3 times in my fight scene with him, you can watch me land without pads or mats. During the rampage scene I got kicked in the head, kicked in the chest and stepped on. And if you think I had it bad – my stunt guys had it MUCH worse!
How does RED REAPER pay homage to classic sword-and-sorcery films and comics like RED SONJA and THE BEASTMASTER?
And what an honor to join the ranks of RED SONJA and THE BEASTMASTER even! Of course, just having George Perez in the movie is a nod to the comic universes.
RED REAPER might be compared to those classic 80s movies because of the lack of CGI and other storytelling tricks and gimmicks. My style of storytelling is personal. I would rather see what a character is feeling, how they struggle through a particular moment. I'm not so interested in big explosions and CGI. Now, don't get me wrong – I do HAVE CGI in the movie. But only shots, not entire scenes like most superhero and fantasy movies of today have. I do feel quite strongly that too many films have relied on pretty pictures – be they CGI monsters or gratuitous skin shots to interest an audience. And while you can earn a quick buck from that, you'll never earn the audience's respect. Classic films of the 80s were respectable.
You and Sean Wyn (of RED REAPER) have another action film out now in festivals called SCARLET SAMURAI. This film, too has a harrowing history and was literally plucked from ashes and polished by you and Sean. Can you tell me how that happened
I was hired as an actress to play the lead role of Ikari, a mixed race Asian American with a penchant for dropping the "F" bomb. The script was all improv (which means there wasn't one!), and David Williams was directing us based on his outline. There was much to be excited about in that project, so I was surprised and disappointed when 3 years later there was no finished movie. I bought the rights, the powers that be sent me the footage and I hired Sean Wyn to edit while I went off to film ZOMBIE MASSACRE in Italy. When I returned, he'd cut together one heck of a movie, but it wasn't "great". It was missing a strong story and the character introductions were weak. I noticed missing camera angles, and quickly discovered ALL the B cam footage was missing. Williams tracked it down and sent it to me, but Fed Ex put it through their x-ray machine and wiped the footage clean – sending us back into a tail spin (and a freak out the likes of which I could never describe!). At that point Boll had already agreed to sell it at AFM, all we had to do was finish it. So, while I was re-writing, recasting, scouting locations, and gathering my forces, I was also hitting up Fed Ex for that insurance money. They wouldn't even return my phone calls until Planet Fury ran an article about it! Fortunately, we won the battle, but couldn't start filming until October (AFM started November 1st). We tried! But we couldn't get the whole movie edited and filmed in a month. We ended up re-shooting 10 more days, 7 in New York and 3 in Hollywood. It was more than half the film.
SCARLET SAMURAI was originally a horror film [called TERMINAL DESCENT] about a group of people who explore the depths of the Buffalo Central Terminal and get attacked by mutants. Given my character was part Asian, and another female lead was Asian, and I'd just spent the last 6 months studying the art of the Samurai sword for ZOMBIE MASSACRE (none of which was used in the movie, but I had it for reference in case), I had all of these ideas that we just didn't have time for on ZOMBIE MASSACRE. So, I created this character based on my martial arts trainer, Sean Wyn. Sean's abilities exceed his physical strength – so where does that come from? How is that possible? What is the true magic behind martial arts? What I learned in studying martial arts and Buddhism is that martial arts has little to do with fighting, but everything to do with inner strength. So I imagined this character who had superpowers through her development of Chi and connection to Buddha. Someone who had mastered what I was just learning. With her chi she could kill, but also heal as is common amongst many chi masters. As I thought about it more, what could be a better foe for such a hero than a monster that FEEDS on Chi? And of course in Chinese mythology there is such a creature. So I did my research, and created my own version (with the help of Jeff Farley!) of a Jiang Shi: a monster that has fallen out of favor in Chinese cinema.
It was clear to me that it would be difficult to re-shoot my character after the years had passed. We shot the first round of Scarlet Samurai right after RED REAPER, and now I'd just gotten back from ZOMBIE MASSACRE, and I looked VERY different. So that's why I made myself twins. I still looked like me, but not the same. Twins was more believable than the continuity issues it would cause to assume the character was the same.
As I've gotten into post on this, Sean and I have tag teamed the edit, getting closer and closer to a tighter cut. Sean did the visual effects, and I did the color grading and a fair amount of the audio work. It's just been the two of us on post production until very recently. As of this interview, we're putting the final touches on the audio files and we've just received the score – a combination of synthesized orchestra and live drums and flutes, all composed by the amazing Greg Simmonds.
SCARLET SAMURAI Trailer:
Throughout the trials and tribulations you have faced in the quest for completion of RED REAPER and SCARLET SAMURAI, what challenges were the most difficult to overcome?
I think the same thing any entrepreneur experiences trying to launch their business. Shady people smelled money and passion and dug in with both fists. I have been lied to, stolen from, betrayed. Three of my cast or crew passed away. My director of photography just didn't get on the plane to come to the New York shoot with no notice. Footage was lost and intentionally withheld in the hopes of getting me to sign away rights. I was legally tricked, and now forced to give bogus credits to a person who stole money from the project. A significant number of my post production team attempted to impose their male-fantasy version of Red Reaper on me, and I fought HARD to maintain my vision. I sent finished work back to be redone entirely when it creatively conflicted with my vision. When I wanted a different color scheme for one block, I had to learn how to color grade so I could show my colorist what I wanted. The biggest challenge was that no one saw what I was going for, because these kinds of characters don't helm action movies – so no one knew how to give me what I wanted. Fortunately my vision was strong, and the key people I needed to make this happen trusted me, even when they didn't "get" me. And that kind of trust and dedication from so many people made it all worth it!
Director Sophie Barthes made the fantasy/drama COLD SOULS in 2009, and since then I've been eagerly anticipating her future projects. To my utter and total delight, she's tackling a new version of MADAME BOVARY.
One of my favorite literary genres is "unhappy-19th-Century-married-woman-has-an-affair-and-dies," and the new ANNA KARENINA that came out last year was about as good as I thought it would get for me. I was wrong! Now, Mia Wasikowska is Madame Bovary, a bored and unhappy French woman stuck in a shitty small village with a clueless husband she doesn't really love. Emma Bovary has a series of torrid sexual affairs, each ending more poorly than the last, and she self-destructs. Like ANNA KARENINA and CAMILLE, MADAME BOVARY is the ultimate 19th Century soap opera drama tragedy. The script is written by Rose Barrenche and Sophie Barthes, and is, of courser, adapted from the novel by Gustave Flaubert.
When Andrea Arnold's WUTHERING HEIGHTS came out last year, I think it ushered in a new series of remakes of classic dark 19th century romantic literature. I'm also kind of excited that Wasikowska is making up for that horrible ALICE IN WONDERLAND movie by not only taking on JANE EYRE a few years ago but now portraying the relate-able, selfish, petty, and wonderful Emma Bovary.
Here's the first image from MADAME BOVARY with Wasikowska as the title character:
For those who have not read the book/seen any previous film version (i.e. you are a total uneducated heathen), you can watch the trailer to my favorite film version thus far, the 1949 film starring Jennifer Jones as Emma Bovary, with one of my favorite actors of all time, Van Heflin, as one of her supporting cast members, right here:
On November 27, 2013, Disney will release FROZEN, a new fantasy animated feature written and co-directed by Jennifer Lee (she also wrote WRECK-IT RALPH), starring Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk, and Ciarán Hinds.
Check out the first trailer!
Like BRAVE, and hopefully more future fantasy features, FROZEN seems to have a strong female lead character which, you know, I can really get behind.
Fearless optimist Anna (voice of Kristen Bell) sets off on an epic journey—teaming up with rugged mountain man Kristoff (voice of Jonathan Groff) and his loyal reindeer Sven—to find her sister Elsa (voice of Idina Menzel), whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter. Encountering Everest-like conditions, mystical trolls and a hilarious snowman named Olaf (voice of Josh Gad), Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom.
Lee currently has another fantasy feature in the works: John Steinbeck’s “The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights” is being produced by Troika Pictures. Like KUNG FU PANDA 2 director Jennifer Yuh and BRAVE's almost-director Brenda Chapman, Lee is pretty much one of very few chicks on the block directing animated mainstream films.
Avant-garde director Cassandra Sechler has just released the teaser to her segment in the erotic thriller BLUE NOON feature anthology, "Tearful Surrender.'
Sechler does some things really well – like colors, emotions, and vivid atmosphere. Her films are more about experience and feeling than narrative, and they remind me of early 20th Century expressionist art. If you look at the concept art for the feature (all drawn by Sechler), you can see why. Her short entry into the feature-length BLUE NOON, a tribute to the work of Franco and Rollin "that intertwines several directors' visions of various time periods of the desolate immortal life of a mate-hungry seductress who has a mysterious connection to the sea" seems to resurrect some Maya Deren as well.
Check out the creepy, but beautiful, euro-rotic teaser to "Tearful Surrender":
BLUE NOON won't be out until 2015. But I like what I see. If there's one thing this film is going to do that I'll love, it's put Phthalo Blue next to Cadmium Red. My favorite color combo, ever.
Danishka Esterhazy has been making fairy-tale retellings since I can remember being interested in cinema directed by women (like, a decade). Her SNOW QUEEN and THE RED HOOD are chilling stories set against a modern Canadian backdrop. Her Gothic drama BLACK FIELD uses the Canadian wilderness in the 19th Century as a window into the violent and harshly beautiful. This time, with H & G, co-written with Rebecca Gibson) she's tackled the story of Hansel and Gretel, set in modern times as well:
Gemma (Breazy Diduck-Wilson) and Harley (Annika Elyse Irving) are the young children of single mother Krysstal (Ashley Rebecca Moore). Krysstal is not the most responsible parent, to put it mildly: in the second scene we see her use the kids to steal food from a church, and as the film goes on her selfishness and neglect increase. Eventually the young ones are abandoned on the side of a highway. Venturing into the woods, they come upon a strange display: garden gnomes and dolls, with a sign welcoming children.
Danishka Esterhazy’s film is a tale of survival against all odds, updating the story of Hansel and Gretel to reflect some grim contemporary realities: substance abuse, child neglect, pedophilia and serial murder. The style is both idyllic and realistic, with Daisy chains and romps in the sun sharing the screen with menace and tragedy. It’s a potent mix, and the performances are superb: newcomers Diduck-Wilson and Irving bring a warmth and innocence to their parts, and those traits are brilliantly played off against the corruption of the adults. Of those, the key players are Moore, superb, and Tony Porteous as a farmer with an awful secret. This is a provocative and challenging film.
Rachel Talalay's 1995 fantasy/action film TANK GIRL, based on the British comic book of the same name, is getting a long-overdue Blue-Ray release this November, 2013. Starring Lori Petty as the title character and Naomi Watts as her sidekick Jet Girl, they navigate an assortment of post-apocalyptic eclectica (is that a word? Can it be, please?).
The year's 2033 and since a humongous meteor hit earth, the world just hasn't been the same. No Movies, No Cable TV, NO WATER!!! A mega-villain, Kesslee (Malcolm McDowell), the leader of Water & Power, holds the world in his grasp since he controls all the H2O down to the last drop…or so he thinks. Two colossal enemies stand in his way: (1) The Rippers – an army of half-men/half-kangaroo people whose sole purpose is to bring down the W & P, and (2) a chick with a tank and tons of attitude – a.k.a. Tank Girl (Lori Petty). Kesslee had better get a grip on reality and his water jugs because not even a run in her stocking is going to stop her from saving the planet.
TANK GIRL, both as a comic and a film, exemplified that fleeting and daring post Riot Grrl, 1990s-era GIRL POWER sentiment that I nostalgically and passionately miss in this new millennium. Tank Girl was a shit-kicker, a tomboy, a powerful girl, a punk rocker, a misfit, and full of spunk and sass. Perhaps outdone only by The Spice Girls themselves (I'll tell you what I want, what I really really want), Tank Girl was a maverick woman in a sea of Pamela Andersons on Melrose Place: someone teenage girls with brains and dreams could emulate and epitomized 90s feminism and creative empowerment. And also, sci-fi.
No word on the special features except that we are being denied any new official commentary by director Talalay. But hopefully we'll get some behind the scenes stuff that has lain dormant until now.
Also, 2033 is really not that far away, and I'm a bit worried. Is the US government going to do anything about the whole kangaroo-people issue?
Here's some TANK GIRL to enjoy along with the Blu-Ray cover, which director Talalay says is "properly formatted and color-timed" with "no lame sexist tag line."
When Tara Cardinal's labor of love and sweat and tears, the fantasy/action feature LEGEND OF THE RED REAPER, was written, it was shopped at various distributors and production studios, as films are wont to be when their creators are seeking distribution or production funds.
A filmmaker is used to rejection, whether male or female, because HEY that's SHOWBIZ! Some films will sell well despite being piles of crap. Brilliant films will be rejected despite having talented people behind them, often because the genre is wrong or the timing is wrong. Sometimes the reasons for rejection make sense; sometimes it's difficult to understand why a film is rejected. I think all filmmakers expect rejection and most handle it with tact (not all, I said most).
But I think something all filmmakers, male, female (and everything in-between), don't expect is for their film to be rejected because of the sex or gender of the main character. Frankly, since we generally have two main accepted genders and sexes (let's not get into graduate-level feminist ideology here, folks, just roll with the "two genders and sexes" thing for my sake), a film is sometimes rejected because the lead character is female.
Don't believe me? Case in point: Cardinal shopped LEGEND OF THE RED REAPER script and concept to Legendary Pictures, offering them the property outright. It was rejected. The reject-or cited his reasons for passing on the film: 1) He found part of the back story confusing. 2) The market is over-saturated with epic fantasy right now. 3) There're no big stars or big directors or writers attached to it. 4) Oh yeah, and Female Action Heroes are a very tough sell because audiences didn't like SUCKER PUNCH.
'Cause, you know, SUCKER PUNCH did badly not because it was a pile of incoherent crap about insane-asylum inmates who have daydreams about being abused prostitutes to escape their insane-asylum world, who then realize they are the worst daydreamers in the world so they have to daydream away from their daydreams that they are slutty action kung-fu martial artists who fight robots. That's not why audiences hated it. They hated it because the leads were female.
Definitely. Audiences hate women leads in action and/or fantasy movies. They hated RESIDENT EVIL and UNDERWORLD and BATMAN RETURNS and TERMINATOR II and the entire ALIEN franchise and LA FEMME NIKITA and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, KILL BILL, and especially THE HUNGER GAMES. They literally will not see any movies that have women in lead action roles.
On the other hand, action films with male stars tend to be far better bets. Like JOHN CARTER and HUDSON HAWK and SPEED RACER and THE 13th WARRIOR and R.I.P.D. and GREEN LANTERN and JACK THE GIANT SLAYER and CONAN THE BARBARIAN (the new one, of course) and THE WOLFMAN (new one. Remember that?).
I just don't buy that audiences prefer male leads to female leads, especially in action films. I have yet to see hard data that mathematically proves that audiences definitely don't see movies with female lead characters. There are plenty of films in the fantasy and action genres with male leads that are total flops, and plenty of films with female leads that are total flops. And plenty with female leads that are hits. And plenty with male leads that are hits. So, why does Legendary Pictures think having a female lead is generally a bad idea? Could it be that it's based on this one guy's personal feelings about watching women in movies rather than any larger truth about women leads being unmarketable to the masses? Yes, it could be about him.
The guy has a right to use his personal preferences when making a decision whether to acquire a film or not for his company; that's not what bothers me. What bothers me is the assumption that films with female leads naturally are not what people want. I want them. If you're reading this blog post, it means you want them (or that you REALLY DON'T in which case you will probably leave a nasty comment).
But I want anyone reading this to consider that making sweeping judgements about the viability of women actors and filmmakers and their potential box office success based not on truth and numbers but instead on personal prejudice has a bad general affect on women's ability to succeed in filmmaking (and in any other profession wherein that same logic is used to hire or fire or promote) , especially because most of these people making these decisions are male, straight, and white.
Here is the email from Legendary, unedited:
"Thank you for letting me take a look at your script this weekend. While I did enjoy the mythology behind the story, I found myself a little confused with regards to the ‘Red Reaper’ world as a whole. While I was not closely familiar with the world before reading, certain aspects felt either unexplained or redundant – most specifically, illuminating Aella’s past, demonic powers, etc. I feel that it would be difficult to bring on another project with our currently saturated slate of epic fantasy fare, especially without any significant cast/director attachments or large-scale brand recognition . Also, while I am personally drawn to the presence of a female action hero, it is currently a tough sell with the less than stellar way SUCKER PUNCH was received. Ultimately, while I don’t think this is for Legendary, I think the property has potential."
His points about story and preference for general genre and big-names are valid concerns for any money-minded film company. If the exec had described the lead character as unappealing because of her actions or her motives or the story itself, I wouldn't be riding his ass. But to dismiss a character because of gender alone is just a little silly and strange and completely out of tune with, you know, the present day. I'd be less surprised if this had happened in 1985.
The executive states that he is drawn to the presence of a female action hero; why does he believe that you're not? Seriously, that's not a rhetorical questions.
LEGEND OF THE RED REAPER was made anyway. I haven't seen RED REAPER and it isn't out yet, so I can't say whether it is good or bad. I can only say that if I don't like the film, it won't be because the lead character is a woman with a sword.
Bad Hat Harry also allegedly passed on the project citing that they don't feel female action leads are bankable.
Cady McClain is certainly no stranger to the film business. She’s worked predominantly in soap operas, playing Rosanna Cabot on AS THE WORLD TURNS and reviving the character Dixie Martin on ALL MY CHILDREN throughout the 90s and 2000s. In fact, she’s resurrected Dixie once again on AMC’s revival, which can currently be seen on Hulu, Hulu Plus, and OWN (and can be purchased on iTunes). Working as an actress in daytime for over two decades has taught Cady a lot about getting the most out of every minute of performance, with little in the way of rehearsals and retakes. And now this 2 time Emmy winner is applying that one-of-a-kind-know-how as the writer, director and producer on her first short film, FLIP FANTASIA. Her film tackles personal issues about life and death, while also addressing the cultural issue of binge drinking. FLIP FANTASIA, which is currently in post-production, is an ambitious project that should prove to extend on Cady’s already long list of accomplishments. The filmmaker graciously took a few minutes to answer some questions about her new short, which she calls a “labor of love.”
You are an artist, a published author, an accomplished singer, and an actress with an impressive resume. What made you take the leap into filmmaking?
Thank you! I have always enjoyed working in many mediums. I have been studying film and dancing around directing for some time – developing scripts and ideas, building my own vision and voice, learning the elements of producing… finally it just took a couple of dear friends shoving me from behind to take the big jump into the pool. They just said "You can do it, so do it," and I chose to believe them. Having the hiatus from AMC this summer seemed like perfect timing.
On the movie’s website you mention you have several other projects brewing. What made you decide to shoot FLIP FANTASIA first?
It was an email from one of the actors, asking if I minded if he shot the film himself. I knew I wanted to work with him and he was available. I wrote the script with him in mind, and we had done a reading of the script in 2011, so his being "ready and willing and able" so to speak played a big part. I knew I was going to need a partner on set, a cheerleader for the project so to speak, so I made him an associate producer. He would have been awesome and supportive anyway, but he rallied the cast and some essential set elements, as well as was a great partner in crime when I needed creative input. So his involvement was integral to this piece becoming reality.
Can you tell me a little bit about the story for FLIP FANTASIA?
It's about four guys and a dead girl. It takes place in NYC, over about 36 hours. When it starts, the group has been out all night. They don't realize that the girl isn't just passed out anymore. One of the guys is her boyfriend, her true love, and he goes into complete denial about it. The film is about how we respond when something really bad happens, how we choose to get through it, and how it changes us forever.
How long did the actual shoot take?
It was a five-day shoot. We had two brutally early mornings because of set availability and for the "morning after" look I needed, two brutally long days indoors, and one day upstate where we had to shoot really fast to catch the light. I had a great crew, though, so we got it done!
This film deals with issues regarding alcohol poisoning. What inspired you to take on this subject?
The film is really more about letting go than it is about alcohol poisoning, but that is the truth of how this girl dies. It's a sad fact that young people dying this way has become very common. I felt it was a choice that matched our time. When I first wrote it, she was just dead. I hadn't decided whether it was drugs or alcohol or both. When I became aware of how binge drinking has become almost the norm on some college campuses I felt it was the right choice for this young woman's character. I've also seen my fair share of wild days.
You are writer, director and producer on your short. Did you prefer one of these tasks over the others? Why?
That's a tough call. I like writing because it's totally private. I like directing because people actually listen to you, or they are supposed to. If they don't listen, I like to be the producer so I can fire them! Being all three has allowed me to work without compromising on any level. Even though I'm not in love with how much work producing is, I will probably keep doing it for my films so I can keep my autonomy.
You’ve been writing for a long time. Have you written many screenplays? Are they feature length or mostly shorts, or a combination of both?
I have re-written many screenplays, which sounds funny but it's actually a lot of work. It's taught me a lot about what works and what doesn't and why, as well as the importance of a good structure. I really like working on dialogue. It's the most fun part for me. This is the first short I have written, but I already have a second in the works about a man who falls in love with a balloon. I spent the last three years writing a book I might turn into a screenplay. I learned a lot about myself in that process, let me tell you!
FLIP FANTASIA has some darkly comic overtones. How did you balance the darkness with the humor?
I really just went for what made me laugh. I love laughing when you recognize things are so bad you can't believe it. That's really the best laugh I've ever had. I've been around my fair share of death and suffering, and there is simply nothing you can do but laugh at a certain point. Life, sometimes, is not pretty and people, sometimes, are really stupid. But that doesn't make those people unlovable nor life not worth living. It's all how you deal with it.
On an episode of MORE ALL MY CHILDREN you mentioned that working on a soap has given you the skills to make decisions fast. What was the biggest decision-making challenge for you when you moved behind the camera for FLIP FANTASIA?
There have been so many challenges it's hard to say exactly. I guess it was just continuing to believe in my vision and not compromise, no matter what. That I had to decide all day, every day. As I am now in post-production, I still have to decide that. This is not to say I don't allow the people I ask to work with me to have their creativity and input, but bottom line, this is my film, my vision. Since I have been used to working for others up until now, this was a BIG switch for me. Some days I was more graceful dealing with being a leader than others but I think 99.9% of the people who worked on the shoot would come back and work with me again. I only leave out a .1% for the X-factor! I really love everyone who has worked on this and respect the hard work they have done.
On your Facebook page and website, music seems to take a large precedence in not just your film but also in your inspirations. What can you tell me about integrating music into your short? Did you know what music you wanted before you shot the film or did it happen afterwards?
Music in this film is very important because it really sets the tone of these young people's lives. I heard music in my head all throughout the shoot. The title of the film is inspired by a song in fact, called "Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)" by Us3. I think I even heard that song in my head while I was writing the opening. However, ultimately I went for one of Chris's songs as the opener because it just suited the characters and our time better. Chris is a hip-hop artist, and even does a little of his stuff in the film. I also had a chance to feature musicians I had discovered on the street in New Orleans, a band called Firebug, as well as a musician I have known for many years, Peer Bazarini, who is an undiscovered songwriter with amazing talent. I love being able to give people I believe in opportunities to be heard and seen.
I know FLIP FANTASIA is still in post-production, but what venues are you looking at to distribute your film?
Well I am pretty sure I am going to make it available online in a "donation" type of structure. I want people to see it. If they can and want to donate to the film, that would be great but if they can't and just want to see it I think it's important to make it available. It sure wasn't cheap to make, let me tell you that. I plan on also donating some percentage of any proceeds to a charity. This film was a labor of love, and I want to keep its distribution in the same energy in which it was created. People are trying to convince me to submit to a couple festivals, so if do that, it would be the only hold up for it getting online as soon as it's done, which should be the end of August. I'm really torn on that. I like being free and doing my own thing, plus I feel like I am finding my audience more and more online. I like being able to have that communication with the audience at my fingertips.