I was lucky enough to have a chat with the Soska Sisters, otherwise known as the Twisted Twins. They are writers, directors, actors, and the list goes on... They are also the filmmakers behind DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK, and the upcoming AMERICAN MARY. I wish this had been a face to face interview, because the discussion may have gone on for days-- but there's some great information in here. Enjoy, but let me first give thanks to Jen and Sylv for their time!
Jen and Sylvia-
Thanks so much for agreeing to chat--even if it isn't in real time. I'm trying to interview people who are out there getting it done and I'd like to congratulate you on your success. I wish you much more.
First, how are you ladies doing?
S: Rad. The film is done and we're stoked with how it turned out.
J: Pretty fucking awesome, thank you.
Women are taking the horror genre by storm! More and more books and films in the genre are helmed by women, and I think it thankfully brings new life to a world formerly inhabited only by the scream queen… Aside from the director's chair, there have been some smart films and books created with strong female characters that not only survive, but kick some fucking ass, and not just in the shower scenes. I love 80's horror, but I have to ask:
*What is the importance of women in horror? I mean why should the fans stand up and take notice (and I think they should)?
S: There is this weird stereotype on what horror is and what women are. Women don't like horror. Horror is made and enjoyed by sick individuals. It's a mainstream, uneducated approach to gender and genre. Horror genre storytelling is a place we can really explore our roles in society, our greatest fears, the greatest fear of all death, and often, how to overcome spectacular obstacles. We live in a world where the most common role for a woman is a supporting character, a victim, the girl friend, something the makes characters strive to protect or obtain. You don't often see female roles attributed with strength, serious flaws, complicated human characteristics because you don't find enough story tellers with an interest in telling those stories.
Alice Guy was the first director of non-fiction cinema and she told stories like this. Dorothy Arzner told stories like this. But these are both women who were the only female directors working in their respective times in an abundance of films not being told by women. Now, there are many male filmmakers that write strong and interesting women - Joss Whedon, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Eli Roth, Takeshi Miike, and many more - but one thing that I found interesting about Alice Guy's approach to filmmaking is that she didn't seek to be 'one of the boys'. She stated that men and women are different - which we are - and women tell different stories than men. She went as far to say that women are more connected to their emotions and, hence make better storytellers. I'm not in complete agreement on that statement, but different people tell different stories. A female perspective on a rape for example is different from a male's perspective on rape, especially if she was real life experience to draw from, because it's a very different experience for her.
I feel mainstream horror has a 'paint-by-numbers' approach - look at what has already made money before and rip it off in order to make a big box office and who cares if the films are any good. It's an epidemic in the genre that is killing it's storytelling. We need unique stories to still be told. Women in horror films are the victim, but they are often the final girl who ultimately stops evil with a major ass-kicking. Sometimes, we even see the aspect of evil that can exist in women with characters like Asami from AUDITION being the terror of the film. Right now, I think the most important thing is that fans focus on supporting original, smart horror films that approach new territory - spending the ticket price on pieces of studio shit just fuels the fire for more shit to be created. We're at a time where horror fans are seeking older films and international horror films for their entertainment - and women's role in that, for the most part, horror has been one of the few places where women get to be those interesting, strong, complicated characters, and it's not going to stop anytime soon.
J: Some people have the misconception that women haven't been in horror long. They're dead wrong. Alice Guy first director of non-fiction and a pioneer of early cinema. Not first female director, the first director period. And she made tons of horror films. Women have always had a place in horror, whether it be in front of or behind the camera. Women have often been portrayed as the victim because an audience has a different emotional reaction to seeing a woman die than a man. It's just the truth. If a child or an animal is the victim, there's another kind of reaction as well. As the final girl emerged, the last woman or girl alive to confront the killer, the role of women in horror films changed again. She began to gain more strength. Then Ellen Ripley in ALIEN happened and the final girl really became something remarkable. Now she wasn't just running and screaming and hiding from her attacker, she fought back. Countless others followed her lead, including my personal favorite, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
I think fans should stand up and support what they want to see. I personally want to see women who are interestingly written with purpose more than a scantily clad and hysterical death (even though even that has it's place). I want to see more women writing and directing and not feeling like horror is a "boys club". I promise you it isn't. There are plenty of sexist, chauvinistic pigs, but I'm afraid to say you'll find them everywhere so it's nothing particularly shocking.
S: It's a tag team. I actually have no idea how solo writers and directors manage to get everything done - it sounds like everything is much more difficult a process. Having a good partner can make even the biggest obstacle something you can handle. My whole life, Jen has been the one to push me to be better, Jen has been there when I need strength, Jen has been there to bring her beautiful optimism into my relentlessly pessimistic thoughts, and she's the one that will go tooth and nail to tell me that something I'm doing to wrong and will fight to make the best film possible. I can be pretty bull-headed in my one-track focus that I can miss things that are right in front of me. The two of us are very different, those differences are what make our stories what they are.
It's confusing enough to have two directors, let alone having two directors that look the same, so before we step onto set we make a game plan. We split duties and touch back together to make sure we both know everything that is going on. Again, we're very different. Jen deals with a situation differently than I would - depending on the situation, we decided whose going to do what. I wouldn't want to direct without her, it's an invaluable resource to have her with me for every project we do.
J: I feel very blessed to have Sylv. I'm sure that sounds kind of lame, but I've seen a lot of co-directors and co-writers struggle. I've seen writers spend lifetimes going through writing partners, never finding one for always. I have that. I was born with another me. We are both very driven and passionate with our work. We divide and conquer. It's very easy to communicate. We can have a whole conversation with a look. It's more difficult for you "normies" to do that. People ask us what it's like to work together and we don't know what to say. We're very close and always together. Even when I'm by myself it's with her. I don't know what being a normal person on my own is like. It actually sounds pretty sad and lonely. We could work separately, sure, and have in the past, but why would we want to. Directing, we can break up duties or cast or departments and divide and conquer. It's amazing.
Writing we take turns. You can't write at the same time. We start by throwing back and forth ideas until we get one that we both get equally excited about. Then we throw it all down on a time line, breaking down the acts, and writing in the "stand out scenes". We decide who wants what and just take it from there. We read over each others' work, make changes as we feel, strength it, and keep going till we're done. Then a couple re-writes. When one of us isn't writing, they're there playing video games. It's a total collaboration and I'm really lucky to have her. Sylv's very fucking good. She's got this incredibly dark imagination and mind and comes up with just the coolest ideas and characters and situations.
S: Title is so important. I know people who have seen the movie, bought the T-shirt, or put the bumper sticker on their car based on title alone. I have met producers who have just loved the title and I ask them what they thought of the movie and they reply that they haven't seen the movie. I tell them that it is good. And they reply doesn't matter with a title that good. It's true. A standout title is a great way to grab people's attention, especially when you don't have all the bells and whistles that big studios have to pimp their projects.
Jen came up with the title. Your titles are sick, Dan. (Thanks!) It does a lot of the work for you. It isn't enough to have a good project, you have to think about marketing, and how to entertain a wider audience even while making something unique that means something to you. We kind of explore the different schools of thought as to what to do with a dead hooker that you find in your trunk. It's actually a lot more sweeter of a story than the title suggests, even with all the gore and potty mouth.
J: ha ha, thank you! We're very proud of DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK. The title of that film was the most important part. A title can make or break your movie. I don't get why filmmakers, especially indie filmmakers, don't see that. A title is your first impression of the film. It's like noticing a cute girl across the room. You don't look at her and get to see her personality or her IQ, all yo get is one look, one moment, and you know if you want to go through the trouble of going over to her. It's the same with a movie and it's title. There is so much fucking competition out there. Everyone is a filmmaker and everyone says their film is the greatest film that was ever made. You need to make people want to see your film. They have to want it so bad. It needs to stick out from every other film and stick in your head and it should be something that gets a strong emotional reaction from your desired audience. DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK is all of that. We literally had the title before we had any clue about the movie.
*Do you have a creative process or is it more organic, taking a life of its own?
S: All our lives, we have been avid video gamers, comic book fans, and horror movie lovers. When the game or comic or movie was over - we would make up what might happen next or what might be cool if it also happened. Reimagining our favourite characters or made up characters in different situations and stories. We would draw them out. We would always be doing that sort of thing. It was just daydreaming, silly stuff, until we went into writing and directing - it seemed like a useless talent, now it's something that really aided us in being creative. A lot of our stories take on their own lives - there are two characters in MARY that just kept popping up and taking a larger role than initially intended. I like that organic feeling and Jen and I practically share a brain, so the initial creative part is really fun for us.
J: We've been making up stories our whole lives. It comes pretty naturally. Things inspire us. A definite part of the writing process is to entertain one another. More times than I can remember, I'll get onto my turn for writing and read over Sylv's last bit and just be all like, "DUDE! What the fuck?". But it's a good "what the fuck".
S: Robert Rodriguez and Carlos Gallardo are the reason why we even had the tools to make DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK. We learned from EL MARIACHI and the tell all on making the film book, 'Rebel Without A Crew'. Jason Eisener's HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN was a huge inspiration. Here was this Canadian guy who was making this unique, take no prisoners style flick and it made us feel like we could do it too. Mary Harron and Lars Von Trier are two of my favourite directors who make controversial films that have really left a mark on me. Clive Barker's work had a big influence on us for AMERICAN MARY and did the horror filmmaking styles of European and Asian horror. Eli Roth's work brought horror gore content back in the 90s when PG horror was running rampant and he's one of the most inspirational and generous filmmakers I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.
J: So many. All the ones Sylv mentioned. I'm a firm believer that some of the best stories have been told in video games and comics. I have so much respect and love for Stan Lee. I mean, how many characters has he given us? I don't know many people who don't have a favorite super hero he created. I love so many of his and so many stories that have come from them. I love Hideo Kojima, the genius behind the METAL GEAR SOLID franchise. I've never played anything so moving or cinematic. I'm dying to see those games turned into films. Dying. Stephen King started us off loving horror. His way of blending horror with humor is something that made us feel even today that true horror has to have elements of comedy in it.
And I can't talk about inspiration without mentioning Joss Whedon. Buffy is a big part of the person I've grown up to be. He has such an incredible way with dialogue and turn of phrase. His characters are so unique and so much thought and care go into them. His story lines are outstanding. The way he tells a story is insane. How some little thing that happens season one can pay off four seasons later. I just love Joss. Instead of "like a boss" I say "like a Joss".
*What book/film/music can you two not live without? Do your tastes differ?
S: We've different, but I think the book we both can't live without is AMERICAN PSYCHO. I also couldn't live without my Spider-man, Punisher, Preacher, or X-Men comics. I love those stories. I couldn't live without horror movies - AUDITION, AMERICAN PSYCHO, SUICIDE CLUB, MARTYRS, FUNNY GAMES - the list is actually pretty stupid big. I love rock, punk, and metal. One of my favourite bands right now is Fake Shark-Real Zombie! - you'll be hearing a lot from them on the AMERICAN MARY soundtrack.
J: Our tastes are pretty similar. We only disagree in our tastes in men. Usually. A few make both our lists, but a precious few. What book/film/music? All in one I'd say AMERICAN PSYCHO. LOVE the book, people should really read it. It's much more severe that the film and hilarious and beautifully written.
S: Thank you so much. We wanted to do something different and overshot a lot to make something that you haven't seen before - there's a lot of firsts in this film. It follows medical student, Mary Mason played by Katharine Isabelle, as she grows increasingly broke and disenchanted by medical school and the surgeons she once admired. The allure of easy money and notoriety sends her into the messy world of underground surgery which leaves more marks on Mary than her so-called 'freakish' clientele. There's a lot of Jen and my experiences in the film industry in this film. The world is filled with monsters and most of them don't look like that and the people that are different and perceived as monsters are quality human beings. There's a heavy focus on appearances here and the struggle to make it at any cost in the world today.
J: It's a love letter to Asian and European horror stylistically. DEAD HOOKER was very much inspired by Grindhouse style filmmaking. Where it was visceral and insane and totally random like a rabid dog, AMERICAN MARY is thoughtful and surgically deliberate and haunting and deeply disturbing. After seeing DHIAT, I think people will be very surprised to see AM from us. There are themes of "appearances are everything" throughout the film.
S: I'm building myself up to do a suspension. From my experiences with body modification, I'm really interested in being more of a part of the community that was more than welcomed Jen and I and our film into their world. There's something really beautiful about having that level of self-awareness with your body and what you want to show to the world. I have a hook on my cell phone as a gift from Russ Foxx, our flesh artist consultant from the film, it's there until I'm ready to go up.
J: ha ha, no. I wish I could make up my mind for something. I'm so vanilla in comparison to the characters in the film. I have my ears pierced, one per ear, and my navel pierced. That's it. No tattoos even.
*Canada has produced some excellent horror films. Is that because US films have sucked lately (my opinion)?
S: I'm really happy with that. Canada for years because of tax breaks and dollar value has been a service country for American productions, which is great, but we have lost our national identity in many ways as to what films we create - Canadian productions with Canadian cast and crews, generating their own material. I love international films - there are so many countries with strong identities in the films that they produce, I'm glad that we are seeing more of that with Canadian films. HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN was a huge step for us and I know Jason's work has been a big inspiration for a lot of us. Another great Canadian film is PONTYPOOL - a great new take on the zombie genre. Jovanka Vuckovic's new film, THE CAPTURED BIRD, is just fantastic. I'm so happy to see these filmmakers creating original stories. I think mainstream is getting tired, at first it was a smart money grab because horror always makes a good box office, but people aren't stupid and we're tired of the same found-footage ghost piece of shit. We're tired of being able to predict the entire film in the first five minutes. It's a great opportunity and encouragement for different filmmakers, indies, internationals to get their stories out there. When people get bored of the same shit, they look elsewhere for their entertainment.
J: I feel that horror has been in the hands of the wrong people for far too long in Hollywood. They seem to think horror fans are stupid and are happy with a little blood and some tits. It's insulting. It's been a long time since SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Then you look at Europe and Asia and you get these really fucking cool, original, and scary as fuck films coming out. And THEN you see a shitty US remake of them. Why? It is so hard to read the subtitles in LET THE RIGHT ONE IN? QUARANTINE was a total piece of shit. REC scared me shitless. I saw one still online from it and instantly had to see it. It was so well down and that's saying a lot cuz I'm getting pretty tired of these "found footage" films. Some are awesome and really well down, don't get me wrong, but people tend to make them purely because they're cheap to make. That all. And these remakes? It drives me crazy that people go see them, say they're shitty, and wonder why they keep getting made. Because you went out and saw it. A good movie in Hollywood is a movie that makes money. That's it, plain and simple. If we all stop seeing remakes, then they'll stop making them. We want more cool indies and original movies? Go see them. Tell all your friends and co-workers to go see it and THEN go see it again. That way the filmmakers will be able to keep making films.
S: We've come to a time where box office rules and it's a focus on making money rather than telling stories. The artists aren't making films, it's the bean counters. The thought process is that this was a hit, let's shine it up and serve it again. New effects, grab some current flavours of the month, and throw a big marketing campaign behind the turd and by the time anyone realizes it's a big pile of fecal matter, the opening box office already made what it needed to. Onto the next one. I don't like remakes, reboots, rehashes, reimaginings, or whatever label they give unoriginal ideas. On the other hand, I really love comic book stories and I want to see them done right and there are so many stories from those pages to be told. I'd also like to see an Addams Family in the vein of Charles Addams' original New Yorker satirical illustrations. But the same shit being reserved over and over again - it actually depresses me.
J: ha ha, given my last answer, I'd say pretty negative. There's a difference between trying to revive an old series to a generation that may not be familiar with it and trying to make a quick buck. Studios know that franchises hold power with the fans and the fans will go see it. I hated the X-men films, but I saw them a shit load of times cuz I love the X-men and figured it's the best I had for the time being.
*What's next? Anything up your sleeves following AM?
S: I fell in love with horror because of prosthetics and monsters - we have two scripts that have a heavy focus on that and are heavily comedic, despite their horrific elements. Really looking forward to getting a start of either of those two. Also, we have had some amazing opportunities to bring some the work of some people we truly admire into a big screen adaptation, so we're really excited about potentially doing that as well.
J: It's hard to say, but that's a very good thing. There are a lot of options for us right now which is amazing. We have several scripts up and ready to go and we've also been talking a bit about directing someone else's work. I'd love to do BOB next. Stylistically, it's a mix between DEAD HOOKER and AMERICAN MARY. It's very funny, but it's equally fucked up. It would also be our first film with a male lead. It's a familiar story, but with a Twisted Twins twist. It's dark and uplifting, heart breaking and hilarious. We'll have to wait and see what's next. We'll always make what our audience wants to see and never what they expect.
Thanks so much for your time!
S: Thank you for chatting with us! We're going to be having a panel for AMERICAN MARY at San Diego Comic Con on Thursday, July 12 at 11am-12pm in room 5AB with a look at the film as well as a discussion with us, Todd Masters (the man behind the characters and effects in the film), and Paula Lindberg (who plays Ruby RealGirl). Then on August 27, in the UK at Fright Fest, AMERICAN MARY will be having a special screening. It's going to be super rad. You can check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and our site - www.twistedtwinsproductions.net for all updates!