Jen and Sylvia Soska (aka Twisted Twins) are out to start some shit. I have said it before and I’ll say it again: These chicks are 12 miles of bad road and they can make a movie that kicks your teeth in. DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK is easily one of the best films of the year. It is 100% pure exploitation that pulls no punches. The Soska twins work like they have been rocking the camera since they learned to walk. You throw some punky and pulpy dialogue on top of that and you have a fire that is going to burn for a long time.
This week, DG is smiling ear-to-fucking-ear because we have Jen & Sylvia as our Featured Filmmakers. In our exclusive interview the Twisted Twins talk about making movies, influences, marketing your flick, and other badass nuggets. Following the Q&A this week will be a full DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK review, a Soska authored TOP 10 SHES SO FUCKING COOL MOMENTS IN FILM, and more. So buckle up and get ready for the twins to drop some film knowledge.
Before we get started, for those lazy bastards that haven’t read anything on you guys or haven’t seen DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK (DHIAT) yet, tell us a little about the Soska Twins.
Sylvia Soska: My name is Sylvia and I’m the older twin by nineteen minutes. That’s because identical twins are one egg split in two and they develop together… yadda yadda… I almost ate Jen. I came out seven pounds, she was more like three pounds. But I didn’t kill her, so yay. We’ve always been a little on the darker side of personal interests and managed to make that into career. We had been acting since little girls, and loving horror, but as we grew up the roles went from stupid and childish to stupid and overtly sexualized. Which is fine, I’m aware this is a walking fetish.
We decided to leave acting to focus on stunt work as we were both extensively trained in martial arts. It brought us to a film school that had a fantastic outsourced stunt program and nothing even resembling a school after that. The last straw came when they took the budget for our final project and told us to merge with another group. Thank God GRINDHOUSE was in the theaters at that time, we had been watching it religiously. We walked out of the theater and Jen turns to me and says, ‘Dead Hooker in a Trunk.’ It would be the name of our own fake trailer for a movie that we would love to make. We wrote, directed, produced, starred in, and did the stunt work for the fake trailer and presented it as our own thing at graduation. Half the audience walked out while the other half was cheering and laughing so hard that you could barely hear the intentionally crude dialogue.
A couple days later, we were working on the feature length script and getting the project together. We started in 2007 and now the film is released worldwide, in Australia and the UK by Bounty Films, and all other regions by IFC Midnight starting with a limited theatrical run throughout the US. We go to camera on our second feature, AMERICAN MARY in a few weeks and it really doesn’t feel real yet. Like a pair of horror nerds’ greatest dream come true.
Jen Soska: ha ha, that’s so you to “yadda yadda” almost eating me. You didn’t absorb me, so yay. Apparently it’s uber common. Some of you may have had twins that you absorbed. It’s tiny of creepy. Just ask Takashi Miike.
We’re the Twisted Twins or the Soska Sisters. We get Twisted Sister, but that’s not us. I wish we had that kind of musical talent, ha ha, not to say you won’t more than likely be getting a couple horror musicals from us. Most people know us at the writer/directors of DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK, our debut feature. We also played Badass and Geek in the film. We love horror. We speak out against censorship. We encourage people to follow their dreams like we did. We’re hugely inspired by Robert Rodriguez and his EL MARIACHI. DHIAT is our EL MARIACHI, complete even with “El” himself making a cameo as God.
The first film that had an impact on both of you was POLTERGEIST. Can you walk us through that experience; why did it work? Where did you see it?
S: I can’t remember a time when we weren’t interested in horror. Maybe it was because it was so taboo, maybe because it was exciting, but Jen and me as little girls would just hang out at in the horror section of our local video store. It was done up like a Halloween display and we would look at all the images on the movie cases and share them with each other. Finally, our mom let us watch POLTERGEIST and we watched it together.
I think it was the driveway with the bodies coming out of the ground that really scared me. The mother just kept falling back into the bodies. We remained chill during the viewing, but come bedtime, we were pretty scared. Our mom did something that would forever change the way we looked at films. She told us that everything we saw from the bodies to the words that people were saying were all the result of a group of talented artists working together with the intention of scaring the audience. It was like being in on a huge secret.
My favorite horror movie is AMERICAN PSYCHO. I love the book. I love Mary Harron’s take on the film – it’s such a smart satire and the dialogue is so fun and the film is shot so beautifully.
J: POLTERGEIST scared the crap out of little me. I didn’t get all the plot points, sure, but I knew damn well to steer clear of clown dolls, closets, under the bed, and televisions. I was so terrified of getting trapped in a TV like Carol Anne. I became very aware that there was a tv between me and most places in the house I wanted to go. I had to pass by one in the living room that scared the shit out of me for a while. The clown doll was the biggest trauma, I’d say. By far. I mean, if you’re reading this, Google image search that thing. It’s creepy even today, though I’ve made a full recovery and have no clown phobias today. I did lock my own clown doll in the closet for a while. Which was pretty dumb as I secretly believed he was at his most powerful late at night inside his closet, ha ha.
My mom was very cool about it. When she explained it, I couldn’t believe people got to scare people for a living. I still have a profound love and respect for prosthetic artists. You won’t see a whole bunch of CGI in our work. We like to add it for little embellishments, but there’s no substitute for the real thing. We love films like JACOB’S LADDER and John Carpenter’s THE THING for their creative use of actual amputees and prosthetics.
AMERICAN PSYCHO is by far my favorite horror film, too. Aside from loving and idolizing the incredible Mary Harron, the film itself is how I best like my horror, a blend of horror and comedy. Of course, my sense of humor tends to be a bit darker than most. I thought DHIAT was a comedy, ha ha.
As obvious fans of horror, can you talk a little about what you like and what you don’t like in the horror genre right now?
S: I’ve always been drawn to the genre because fear itself and what causes it fascinates me. I love seeing these unique, high concept, and beautifully executed independents like A SERBIAN FILM or HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN or I SAW THE DEVIL getting recognition. What bothers me is that the horror genre has become a scapegoat for people upset at real life horror and looking to place that anger somewhere. Films like THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 are banned before being released with the main horrific sells being given away to shock the public. Montreal prosthetic artist, Remy Couture, was charged with moral corruption for the effects displayed on his website. The festival director of the Sitges Film Festival was charged with exhibition of child pornography for screening A SERBIAN FILM.
I’m not saying that these films and this material are for everyone, some people don’t want to talk about all the horrible things that do or hypothetically can happen in life. I don’t agree with it, but it’s their right to see what they want to see. Same can be said for those that want to see these movies. The thing that is more horrible than the events that take place in A SERBIAN FILM are that there are huge child solicitation and prostitution abominations taking place in the world and we’re frustrated at a film screaming at its audience to be horrified by it. Remy Couture is being penalized for being good at his job. It’s ridiculous.
What I do like is the horror community is using these outrageous acts of censorship to start an intelligent dialogue about the genre and the defending the merit behind the films. A theater in Canada banned DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK because of its title without anyone even bothering to watch the film (more on that later on). Then it banned HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN for good measure. It was shocking. When the word got out about it, people from around the world wrote in intelligently and eloquently to defend the film and we even had festival directors who had screened the film before speak in its behalf. Both films got screened at another theater, and it was nice to show ignorant people that horror fans are not morons that defend their passion with a curse word before running away with their tails between their legs.
J: We love horror. Absolutely. I think you should do what you love and it seems that some of the people making horror in Hollywood aren’t only not real fans of horror, but they don’t get it. Horror that was relevant in the past, doesn’t necessarily have the same effect now. The work should reflect the times. I don’t really like remakes. I especially hate remakes of foreign films. I think it’s just plain lazy. It’s not that hard to read subtitles. I respect that if no new stories are written for characters we love, they die out. I’d hate to live in a world without the Ghostbusters or the Addams Family.
I don’t like that horror is still seen as a sub genre. I hear that it’s because there are so many crappy horror movies out there, but I know there are just as many shitty dramas and comedies out there to. Part of the blame falls on the piss poor horror films that come out that are really there just to make a quick buck. People love horror and I’m just as guilty as anyone else of going to see some new horror abomination telling myself, “maybe it’ll end up being good”. Sadly, that’s usually not the case. The emphasis shouldn’t be on the horror alone. The focus should be placed on making a good film with horrific aspects to it.
I love how much is going on in the independent horror scene. Maybe it’s because I’m so close to it I get to see so much of what’s going on, but there is so much originality and creativity going on there. It seems like there are only two types of films that are making waves these days. The studio giants with their huge cash flows and the little indies with their high concepts, originality, and creative execution. It’ll be interesting to see what the future will hold. I’m happy to be part of it.
What were some of the other films you saw that gave you a cinematic ass kicking or served as inspiration to get you where you both are now?
S: DESPERADO changed my life. It was my first Robert Rodriguez film and I just love the stories that he creates. Not only were his movies cool as hell, he also has a very independent spirit, as you can see in his ‘Ten Minute Film Schools’. It was afterwards that I saw EL MARIACHI and read ‘Rebel Without a Crew’ and really started to love not only the films that Rodriguez made but also how he made those films.
J: I second everything Sylv just said. I knew DESPERADO was damn cool before I even knew why. It was the style, the writing, the dialogue, the casting, the camera work, the cuts, the soundtrack, the sound design, the works. You know when you’re watching a Rodriguez film because you leave feeling just that little bit cooler for having seen it. And you are that much cooler after you see a Rodriguez film. We based much of Badass on Robert’s El. He was just so damn cool.
Not to mention Tarantino. He is the master of cool. The way he perfectly blends cinema with music is outstanding. A film I love that not enough people have seen is FOUR ROOMS. The movie was directed by Allison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell, Robert Rodriguez, and Quentin Tarantino with each of them directing one “room” of the film. The Misbehavers was Robert’s room and it’s so good that if you haven’t seen it, you should hunt it down on Youtube right now. Quentin’s room, The Man From Hollywood, is a classic and a must see, as well.
Rodriguez comes up all the time when we are talking to young filmmakers. Can you tell us why he is such an influence and what ideas or tricks you pull from him?
S: Robert Rodriguez and Carlos Gallardo are true independent cinema pioneers. What they did with EL MARIACHI was dissolve all pre-conceived notions that there is only one way to make your flick happen. There is one thing that you have that big budget productions never will – you have no choice but to use your creativity to make up for your lack of funding. Robert not only had the coolest tricks, but he also showed you how he did it. In his Ten Minute Film School on the ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO dvd, he shows how he did the eye gag on Cheech Marin. We used that exact same method for the eye gag in DEAD HOOKER.
J: Robert Rodriguez is a master of his craft. He can do so many jobs on his own. He shoots, he writes, he cuts, he directs, he soundtracks… the man is a living legend. And the best thing about him? He isn’t one of those people who keeps all his secrets to himself. He has his infamous ten minute film schools on his DVDs that show you how he does it. His REBEL WITHOUT A CREW is a must have item for any filmmaker. The best lesson he has ever taught me is that it doesn’t cost millions to make a movie and the only thing stopping you from doing it is you. I meet so many people who go on and on about the “right way” to make films. We need to have this and we need to do that. A lot of the time I hear this coming from filmmakers who have never even made a film of their own. They’re usually just sitting on a script, waiting for someone to come along and make it for them. And you know what? They’ll wait forever and still have nothing. Nothing comes to anyone who just sits and waits for their lives or careers to happen for them.
At the end of his book he says go make your movie and I’ll bring the popcorn. No truer words have ever been spoken. We’re further living proof that it can be done.
Not to detour too much, but how did you get Carlos Gallardo in DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK (Gallardo has a cameo in the film as “God”)?
S: It was while the film was still in production, that he had read a post that a friend had made about us on an indie horror site – that we were following in his and Robert’s EL MARIACHI foot steps and creating our own no budget/DIY film. He was so amazing to talk to. There is absolutely nothing like talking to one of your heroes while you do what they inspired you to do – go out and make your own flick. He had these fucking insane stories first-hand about making EL MARIACHI, then he played ‘God’ in the flick for free. Just the nicest, coolest guy on the planet. I remember showing him the semi truck scene and he said Badass was acting like El. That made my life.
J: Carlos is amazing. Not only is he a talented actor, but he’s a gifted filmmaker himself. He and Robert made EL MARIACHI together and I can’t tell you what a dream come true it was not only to work with El himself, but to be treated to stories from behind the scenes of EL MARIACHI and working with Robert. There are people who say they care about independent film and support what indie artists are doing, but not a lot of those people will actually be there for you when you really need them. Carlos is a true supporter and lover of independents. He was so kind to us and he was completely behind what we were doing. It’s amazing to be able to work with one of the people who inspired you to make films in the first place. You don’t get a lot of heroes in this world who are still heroes in your eyes after you meet them.
So when did you guys first start playing with the idea of film? What was the first thing you shot?
S: We never really set out like, we’re going to be writer/directors now. We were just pissed at the roles we were being offered, then pissed that the film school that we decided to attend was a complete embarrassing rip off that pulled our funding.
The first thing that we shot was the horse drag with Badass. One stunt gone array and I ended up losing a few inches of skin from skidding down the street. Part of the reason why our lovely stunt coordinator and co-producer on the film, Loyd Bateman, brought in the brilliant Maja Stace-Smith to help with all the ass kicking. We ended up with a fantastic stunt team on the flick guest coordinating on different sequences like Lauro ‘Lash’ Chartrand, Jacob Rupp, Jeff Sanca, and Kim Chiang.
J: Throughout the making of the faux DHIAT trailer, we joked about doing this or that in the feature length version. After the reaction from it’s screening, it seemed like the only logical choice. We wanted to make a film. We wanted to do our own EL MARIACHI. We had already come up with these characters that we really loved, a title that we couldn’t beat, and a handful of WTF moments to build on. We started on the script straight away, fleshing out each scene, and asking ourselves what we’d like to see when we watch a film like this. You ever watch something and think, “oh, shit, I hope this happens” and it never does? We wanted it to be like you never knew what would happen next and I think we succeeded.
The first scene we started with was what we called our “scene 15”. It was the downstairs bit when Badass drives the lot of them to Junkie’s ex-boyfriend’s place to pick up drugs. We thought it was the easiest scene and part of it was. The dialogue between Goody and Badass after Junkie heads upstairs was the first thing we shot. The rest was probably the most challenging bits to shoot in the film. We always put special effort into our blood and gore days. If something didn’t sell or look real enough, it was gone. You’ll never see bright blood from us, ha ha.
Walk us through the creation of the feature length version of DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK?
J: Whoa, that’s a tough one. There was so much that went into making it. After the screening of the trailer, we went about writing the script. We read about how Robert would put his “stand out scenes” on cue cards and place blank ones in between them to see how much time he would need to go from point A to point B. That’s how we wrote DHIAT. From the trailer, we already had quite a few scenes, but we had quite a few more blanks. We’ve since moved on to starting with a time line and jotting down key events and then filling in the in between bits.
I feel very lucky to have a twin. We think similarly, though differently enough to compliment each others’ style. Sylvia is incredibly creative and thoughtful. She also has a knack for coming up with the most disturbing shit you could imagine. When we write, we tag team. First, we discuss who wants which scenes. Usually it’s a trade off like “okay, you can have this one if you let me have that one”. Then we get on it. One of us writes and the other usually plays video games. We figure out how far in the story we each go and when we get to our “ends” we switch it up. The writing twin gets gaming and the gaming twin reads over the others work and gives their feedback. Then they go onto their bit and so on and so forth. I love writing with my twin. I don’t know how you “normies” get along without duplicates.
S: We auditioned then like we audition now. I’ve never really cared for the auditioning process. As an actor it would always put my stomach into knots. I prefer to sit down with potential cast or even crew, talk with them, get to know them, ask about their tastes, themselves, everything and go from there. You can get a real feel for a person and if you can work together by simply just talking with them. We made DHIAT during the writers strike so we got lucky and some of the top people in this business were suddenly sitting around and waiting for the whole ordeal to be resolved.
We direct similarly to how we write. We choose who has final say that day or a combination. We both work together, but as any sibling can tell you (especially any twin) there has to be someone who gets the last word.
How did you guys get financing for it?
S: Ha ha. We didn’t we maxed out our credit cards and starved to make sure the movie was taken care of. Not too many people can do that, but Jen and CJ have been amazing through everything. We got really close making the film and have been working closely together for years now. CJ and I started dating a couple months into filming.
J: We have to hold off on saying how much the film cost, but let me tell you this. No matter how little you have, don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done. Learn from the masters. Think it out creatively. You may even want to start by making a list of resources you have that are high production value. Got a store you can film at? A horse? Everyone has connections to something. DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK was paid for out of our own quickly depleted savings and as much money as we could put on our credit cards. People looked at us like we were crazy when we told them we had no money backing us and maybe we were. But it was that kind of crazy that made the film happen.
Did you have defined roles coming into the project or had you planned on co-directing from the start?
S: There was a very independent spirit on the set of DEAD HOOKER. We would be the first ones to get to set, either early on the filming day or the previous day, and we would set decorate the location for filming. Every location was donated to the production, so we would set up and then be the last to leave as we cleaned up the bloody messes we made. My grandfather told me that if you treat people with respect and kindness, then the whole world will open up to you and it’s true.
We had the best team on the fucking planet. MaryAnn Van Graven was our makeup artist from the original trailer and she came on as our Key Makeup Artist and co-producer with her incredible husband, Donald Charge, on the feature. She was there getting everyone glammed and punked out for the scenes. CJ Wallis came on as a last minute replacement for our original Goody, a female character in the first script, and became a cameraman, editor, and one man army of post-production for the entire film – as well as soundtracking. Loyd Bateman was also our cameraman, co-producer, actor, and stunt coordinator on the project. Everyone worked for nothing and acted as though they were making millions – they had so much heart and I think that’s a huge part of why the film has been so successful because it was made by people who truly love making movies.
Everyone had defined roles, but no one was too big to not lend a hand. People with bad attitudes didn’t want anything to do with our flick and we want nothing to do with them. Jen and I always knew we wanted to take a Rodriguez/EL MARIACHI approach to the film and team together to write, direct, act, and do the stuntwork for the project. It was a crazy notion that first time directors would get to create such an ambitious project, but we weren’t going to let anything stop us. Too many people talk about making a movie, we wanted to actually make one.
J: We planned to do everything together from the start. We knew that this was our first film, the first time anyone anywhere would be hearing about us, and we wanted to show them what we could do. We wanted to direct, write, produce, act, and do our own stunts. Of course we ended up being involved in every aspect of the filmmaking process from set dec to location scouting to clean up. It was a passion project for all of us. If you watch the credit scroll at the end of the film, watch to see how many times the same names appear up there. Almost no one did only one job. The cast and crew were absolutely outstanding and the best of the best. They were all the people who truly love filmmaking.
What was the most difficult scene to shoot?
S: It wasn’t necessarily the most difficult but it was the most awkward – the sexy scene with Badass and the two Cops was a weird one. We had rented this room in this super sleazy motel – they have actually had bodies there, so we felt it fit the vibe of the flick – and like the entire cast was there that day. I had to get into my lingerie and seduce these naughty cops – it kind of plays like an odd porno. Anyways, everyone who wasn’t in the scene was in the adjoining room, all squished together, while CJ filmed Badass tricking, licking, riding, and knocking out the officers as she moans in an exaggerated porno fashion. Not too many guys are so supportive of their girlfriend’s art that they would film her doing that scene and be totally cool about it. When we cut, everyone came out of the other room blushing and laughing. We always had fun, strange days like that.
J: That’s a tough one. It was a fun set, it didn’t feel like any days were harder than others. Sure, we had plenty of hard days. I guess the most difficult single scene would have to be the demise of our title character. Tasha Moth (our Hooker) and Loyd Bateman (our Killer and producer) did phenomenally. The fight itself was choreographed by the amazing Lauro “Lash” Chartrand and shot by the irreplaceable CJ Wallis. It was a long day and they really went at it. There were a few missed hits and they both got a bit beaten up by the end of it. Especially Tasha. She is one hell of a performer. It may have also been the serious tone that made that day a bit difficult. We moved fast, but slowly enough for our set ups and to be as safe as possible. I can’t even remember how long the whole thing took. It felt like all day.
What is the best lesson you learned from shooting DHIAT that you are using in your next feature?
S: Being able to think creatively in very stressful situations very quickly. It’s something Rodriguez talks a lot about in his book – Rebel Without A Crew. Using creative problem solving is something that independents will always have over the big studios because they just throw money at their problems and we indies have to use our imagination. There were so many things that would come out of left field shooting HOOKER to fuck us over, but we always worked through it. That’s coming with us on MARY and every future project.
J: That attitude is extremely important. I’d rather work with someone less experienced with a great attitude than the most experienced person who’s going to be bitching and complaining the whole time. A bad attitude is poison on set. You’re working for long hours under stressful circumstances and you have to surround yourself with people who are at their best even at their worst. AMERICAN MARY has the best cast and crew you could possibly ask for.
There are exploitation influences throughout DHIAT. Can you talk a little about the films you paid homage to or used as examples? Were there films you wanted the crew to see before you started production?
S: The work of Robert Rodriguez set the tone for DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK. We wanted to make something with fucking insane energy and explosive situations. The MARIACHI trilogy was a huge inspiration. We were making a slick action-filled independent horror with a true independent spirit and that was the top priority. Everyone who worked on the project was well-acquainted with Robert’s work and filmmaking philosophy. We kept Rebel Without a Crew on us at all times – it was nicknamed the Bible.
Each character was based on the characters we grew up loving. Geek was a female Egon, GHOSTBUSTERS, but was also based on the nerdy girl whose actually a knockout without her glasses and her hair down stereotype. Our favorite hero growing up was El of the MARIACHI flicks. Badass was based on him as well as every movie hero – those untouchable badasses, except she was a she and I liked that. It was really important to have interesting female characters in the film because there’s nothing more insulting than the onslaught of blank, boring female characters that are written poorly in scripts. Junkie and Goody were both based on friends we’ve had growing up.
VERY BAD THINGS was a big influence since the characters were so flawed and every bad decision led to some new insanity. Also, WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S for obvious dead body buddy comedy hijinks. TRUE ROMANCE for the severity of the fight between James Gandolfini and Patricia Arquette for our own Hooker’s death. There’s a lot of cheeky violence in the film, but it was important to us to show the horror and the anguish of taking a life. We didn’t want her to die offscreen, we wanted to force the audience to experience it. That was she wasn’t just some nameless Hooker, she was a woman who dies tragically.
Playing on the whole flawed character vibe – because the heroes of the story shouldn’t be flawless, no one is – we had them take a wrong turn with Weirdo who is tortured to death while being strapped to a chair. We really dug HOSTEL – I remember it being very hard to find friends who would go to the theater with us to check it out – so that scene definitely has that strapped to a chair, torture vibe to it. We actually wanted to shoot it from the POV from inside Weirdo’s mouth which was something we loved from one of favorite childhood movies – LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.
J: DHIAT was greatly inspired by EL MARIACHI. Not the theme, but the style and, most importantly, the heart. Almost everyone on the crew had seen it and knew of Robert’s story, but those who didn’t got sent off to pick up both the film and REBEL WITHOUT A CREW. If you’re reading this now and don’t have it, do yourself a favor and go grab a copy. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to pick up the book with the EL MARIACHI trilogy. We’re much more specific with MARY and I think that has to do with how much we’ve grown as directors. I shouldn’t tease because I can’t really give away too much on MARY just yet.
I love a film that has replay value. It must come from me being a gamer. Replay value is key and you want to make a film that people enjoy watching over and over again. It’s a dream of ours to have DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK be a cult classic. Nothing would make me happier than to see people in costume shouting out lines. We put in a lot of stuff that you may need to watch more than once to catch. It’s no secret that I am a huge admirer of Joss Whedon and his work. There are a few shout outs to him throughout the film, but I won’t spoil where.
There are references to video games throughout, too. We had three main baddies as any RPG gamer can tell you a final boss usually switches up three times. We have a reference to SILENT HILL in the Triad scene if you keep your eyes on the wall. The eye loss was partially inspired by childhood trauma and also an homage to Big Boss from the METAL GEAR SOLID series. I made sure to lose the same eye. We love comics, too. That’s a big part of the reason our characters never changed their clothes. We wanted them to be instantly recognizable and larger than life. Having the same outfits was like them each their own costume.
Music plays a huge role in this film (the track that plays when you are walking to pick up CJ Wallis (Goody Two Shoes) from the Church is all kinds of tough). Can you talk about how you use music in the film and how your love of punk kind of influenced the shooting style a bit?
S: It’s so cool that you dug the walkup music that plays over the title reveal. It’s called ‘Downside Up’ aka the DHIAT theme and it was written and performed for the film by CJ. It’s funny when you hear that uber slick track and then we go into the church where Goody is singing ‘I Need You Now (Jesus)’ which is totally different and also written and performed by CJ. He did a huge part of the sound-tracking including the song that plays over the campfire scene – ‘Ballgown Turns Black’, the Cowboy Pimp Theme, the ending brawl techno beat – ‘Grindhouse Garage’, and the ending credits song – ‘No Dialogue Just Plot’.
J: Picking the right music for the right sequences was key. The film was independent and it was very important to us to showcase independent musical talents as well. We had looked for the right indie bands and music to compliment the film. You’ll hear the Awkward Stage throughout, especially their song “Heaven Is For Easy Girls”. It’s awesome. As for our punk influence, Fake Shark – Real Zombie? and Incura are featured throughout. That style really lent itself to the grindhouse feel of the film. The band featured during the triad blood bath is a Japanese band that is sadly no longer together. They were the Titan Go Kings and they were fucking awesome. I hope that they’ll reunite. I love Japanese music and you couldn’t have asked for a more perfect song than “High Tension Girl” for when Badass lets loose.
Did you have a marketing plan in mind for the film?
S: It was very important to me that we do everything in our power to get the film seen. I really hoped for the opportunity for festival and theatrical screenings and got very lucky. We knew we were going to be with the film from the beginning to the very end, so after the film was finished and the three of us – Jen, CJ, and myself – started to work on getting word about the film out there.
The three of us grew very close working together, CJ and I started dating a couple months into filming, and have been working together on projects ever since. We’re very career-minded people, so every dollar and waking hour was spent on moving the project forward. CJ is a very talented, he made visual marketing for the film. We worked closely together to create an overall look and feeling for the indie flick.
The multi-collaborative GRINDHOUSE were a huge inspiration to us, had that film not been in theaters at the time, I don’t think we would be here today. After the first cut was finished, we sent the trailer and a message about how their project changed our lives to all the directors involved with the project. What I definitely didn’t expect was an incredibly kind and gracious message two days later from Eli Roth who dug what he saw and was interested in seeing the feature length. He has really been there for us by giving us advice and standing behind the project. When people started to hear that Eli dug the flick, the interest really started to snowball. Also, he’s one of the nicest, most down to earth, honest to goodness horror geeks on the planet. We became good friends talking back and forth about the project.
J: The title was a big part of the plan. Being independent filmmakers, you have to find a way to stand out. There are thousands of filmmakers out there and even more films. A title is like an introduction. It’s the first thing anyone will ever know about your film and it has to make a strong first impression. It’s like claiming to be able to see a personality across a room. You can’t. It’s impossible. You notice the physical before anything else and you hear a title of a film before you know anything about it. The title should make someone want to “walk over”. It should be memorable. It has to stick out. It really ought to get a strong emotional reaction from whoever hears or sees it, whether it’s good or bad. And it has to be enough to make someone look into the film, tell their friends about it, and say to themselves that they HAVE to see it.
I hear some film titles and just think, “for fuck’s sake, you couldn’t pick a more instantly forgettable, boring title if you tried”. Especially independents. We already have more than our fair share of work cut out for us. Why make it any harder than we have to, right?
Each film is going to have its own path, but can you talk about the how important the festival circuit is, which ones work, which ones don’t, and the best advice you have for filmmakers trying to get their product out there?
S: The film would have never been able to grow in notoriety the way it has without the generous outpour of support from the horror community. Getting your film seen is so important and the first place – other than self-manufactured screenings – to get in front of an audience is through the film festival circuit. It also gives buyers and distributors an idea of the interest level people have for your film.
At first, no one wanted to screen us. The title enticed many people, but also put a lot of people off. We got the response ‘we don’t screen those kinds of films’ a lot which was strange because the festival directors did not watch the film, they were making their decision based on the title and what they assumed the flick would be. We got our big break during the first annual Women In Horror Recognition Month – brainchild of Hannah Neurotica, a horror writer and feminist that we were introduced to by mutual friend, Eli Roth. The February-long celebration brought forth an onslaught of amazing female-focused film festivals. Our first screening was at the Ghouls On Film Festival in Birmingham, UK, courtesy of the fabulous Nia Edwards-Behi, then we had our premiere US screening at the DOA Pretty Scary Bloodbath Film Festival in Addison,Texas, courtesy of the wonderful Andrew Rose.
After that, word of mouth spread like wildfire. People dug the flick and the story behind it. They started to pass word along. The festival heads were hugely supportive and promoted the living fuck out of the flick. One thing that I will never forget is the outpouring of kindness and support from the horror community. They are the best people on the planet. By the time we went to the film market with the film, it had played in festivals all around the world and every major studio had already gotten wind of the project.
J: The film festival circuit is a must. It’s vital to have your film known. No one wants to see something no one has ever heard of and, let’s face it, that goes double for horror films. Word of mouth couldn’t be more important. Submitting to the festivals, and I’m not just talking about the Sundances out there, I mean every single festival, gets your film seen, and will give you feedback that you likely wouldn’t get if you were standing in the room. If you get the same feedback again and again, you’ve got to take into serious consideration that you’re either missing your mark or what you’re trying to get across isn’t getting to your audiences. Two years ago during the first annual Women In Horror month, DHIAT premiered to the world at two wonderful film festivals that celebrated women and their contributions to horror. Today, the film has been picked up by IFC. Some of the biggest studios in the world know who we are and I don’t think it would have been possible to get to where we are today without hitting the festival circuit.
I would advise people not to let themselves get discouraged if they are rejected from festivals. It happens. Why didn’t they pick you? You may never know, but don’t let it stop you from submitting. DHIAT has played at huge festivals and it’s played at frat houses. We didn’t turn down a single potential screening and that made a shitload of difference for us. It further proved that DEAD HOOKER belonged to all of us. It was our hope from the very beginning of this process to make a film that was pure enjoyment for its audiences and then to share that film with as many people as possible. And we’re not finished yet.
How important was social media for DHIAT?
S: The only reason why I am here today is because the people in the horror community have made it possible. When I was a little girl, I was at the fish market with my Grandfather. I decided in my little girl way that I was going to use my spending money to buy a fish for my cat. He told me to ask the fisherman myself. I went over, explained that I’d like to purchase a fish for my cat please and thank you. The man smiled and got me a fish – free of charge. I was shocked – that’s not the way the world works. I went to my Grandfather to find out why that would happen and he told me something that I carry on today – ‘If you treat people with kindness and respect, the whole world opens up for you.’
That’s what happened with this project. The people who supported the project opened up the entire world to me and I will continue to conduct my actions and behavior to earn that great honor I have been given. There is no one that we are ‘too big’ to talk to ever. There’s this stigma that a lot of people in the industry have where they are too cool for school. We’re the opposite. We’re nerds and yet we get this amazing opportunity to make these stories and talk to people around the world about the work. I feel very lucky to say that we have had the film screened at festivals, bars, movie clubs, fraternities, and everywhere in between. It’s important to me to be able to talk to these people who made all this possible because I love them very fucking much and want to get to know them. Afterall, we’re all just horror nerds.
J: Social media can be a necessary evil. I’m sure we’ve all been on facebook for hours before realizing it and thought, “I’ve wasted my whole day doing nothing.” Social media is part of our lives. Regardless of your profession, you will suffer and fall behind if you don’t have an online presence. With filmmaking, it goes a long way in passing word of mouth. And I love being able to connect with the people who dig what we do. Some of them call themselves fans, but we see them more as friends. It’s very cool that we can make something that inspires someone else or makes them laugh or cry or say, “what the fuck was that?!”. We’re fans of horror and cinema ourselves. We make our films for everyone else just as much as we make it for ourselves. We try to think about what we’d like to see in a film.
I love chatting with people who have seen the film and are excited about what we’re doing. It’s wonderful that we live in a day and age when someone in Poland can see DHIAT and we can talk about it the next day. I can’t begin to thank the people who support us and our work. Without them, we couldn’t do what we’re doing. We respond to each and every person who messages us or tries to get in contact with us. The only messages we never reply to are the ones that say, “make my career happen for me” or “I wanna fuck you.” Those kinds of messages couldn’t be more unnecessary.
Your film was banned from playing at The Roxy Theater in Toronto and you guys were having the posters vandalized. That ban, it could be argued, helped the film. Having said that, most directors, particularly with the debut film, don’t want to see their film banned. Can you talk a little about this?
S: That was so shocking because the film is a very dark satire – it would be ridiculous to title your film DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK and make something socially irresponsible towards the homicide victims in this particular targeted field – and it was never even given the smallest amount of respect of being viewed and then judged. It was completely outrageous and was the result of a cowardly anonymous phone call that led to vandalism of the marketing material that promoted the screening. None of these actions were called into question but rather enough reason for the screening to be banned from the Roxy Theater in Saskatoon.
Jen and I are fighters. We don’t back down from challenges and we certainly do not succumb to bullying tactics from anonymous callers. We addressed the theater in an open letter defending the project, the satire, and the merits behind the Canadian made feature. We were never responded to. Other festival director, who had previously screened the film, came to its defense explaining what the film was like and what the audience reactions at their screenings had been. The man who made this decision, Tom Hutchinson, had a different excuse for everyone who addressed his censorship. We even went as far to put words in the mouths of the Christians that sometimes rented the theater as he was trying to protect them. The pure ignorance of anyone assuming what offends others is ridiculous. We filmed at our Roman Catholic Church, parishioners’ houses, and even had a huge chunk of the congregation come to the screening and no one had a single complaint – they actually loved the film.
After that, they banned HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN. People from around the world and different walks of life from hardcore horror writers to university professors came to the defense of the film and what happened was something I’m sure Tom Hutchinson didn’t expect from ‘horror people’, an intelligent dialogue not filled with ‘fuck yous’ but strong arguments about upholding freedom of expression through the arts. But the film would never be screened at the Roxy. When the Broadway Theater heard about the banning, they not only welcomed us to their theater, they also took the newly banned HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN. The screening went without a single incident. Everyone enjoyed both films.
I was proud to be a part of that, but saddened, even to this day, that we still have a ways to go as a culture. Some people are far behind others in free thinking and horror is an easy scapegoat. AMERICAN MARY hugely focuses on appearances and misconceptions held therein, I’m really looking forward to seeing what healthy discussions it stirs up.
J: There is no such thing as bad press. I was happy to have this incident occur because in a time where horror has become a scape goat, we were able to open up an intelligent dialogue about censorship and it’s place in the world. I personally believe that censorship is bullshit and it breeds ignorance. Just because you hide something away doesn’t make it go away or not exist. People who don’t like horror often tell me that it’s because it’s too much. It’s too extreme. That those kinds of things don’t happen. I think that the horror of the real world is too much. Art imitates life. There are some truly awful things that happen in this world and turning a blind eye to them doesn’t make a difference. Horror films can allow the viewer to experience horror, but from the safety of their own home. It’s therapeutic. Not allowing someone to see horrific stories is a real disservice. How are we ever able to deal with real horror in our lives that way? It would be devastating. It’s almost like buying a pet for your kids. Yes, it will one day die, but it will make it much easier for that child to deal with the death of a relative or a friend when that time comes.
We had the opportunity to speak out not only on behalf of our film, but on behalf of the others that were being scrutinized and it has become a trend. We even appeared in Rue Morgue Magazine, an indescribable honor, alongside Tom Six in an article written by the wonderful Aaron Berman speaking about this recent trend of horror being censored. Had we not been banned, we would not have had the opportunity. It’s each and every single person’s right to choose fro themselves what they do and do not want to watch. We don’t need someone else telling us what we can or cannot handle.
It looks like AMERICAN MARY is next. Can you give us the rundown on that film?
S: AMERICAN MARY follows the story of medical student, Mary Mason – played by the intoxicatingly talented Katharine Isabelle – as she grows increasingly broke and disenchanted with the medical profession and the surgeons she once admired. The allure of easy money sends Mary into the world of underground surgeries that leaves more marks on her then her so-called ‘freakish’ clientele. It’s a very different picture – lots of firsts in this script.
J: As I mentioned earlier, we have a fantastic cast and crew for the film. MastersFX, the geniuses that have done the effects for SIX FEET UNDER, TRUE BLOOD, and countless other films and television shows. I couldn’t be more honored to be working with them. The film is very different from anything you’ve ever seen. We’ve been careful to keep a lot of it to ourselves. We’ll be releasing a trailer later this year and it’s going to really show you what we can do. This film will change the way people see horror. I want to say more, but , dammit, I’ve been so good and not ruined anything so far and I intend to keep that streak going. Besides, Sylvie would kill me. I really can not wait to share this film with the world. It’s a love letter to horror and a big thank you to everyone who has believed in us and supported us and our DEAD HOOKER.
Anything else you want the fans to know?
S: If you want to make a film, it doesn’t matter if you have money or know someone working successfully in the industry. All you need is heart to create something that means something to you and the balls to focus on making it happen. Reading Rodriguez’s Rebel Without A Crew is a great resource as are all of the Ten Minute Film Schools. Think about what high production value things you have – a car, a horse, a special skill, a cool location – and put those into your script to make it look high budget without spending anything. Write your script knowing the limitations you have – writing a space saga in the future is useless unless you can make a futurist space saga.
Don’t let people discourage you. I had a lot of people tell me that I was wasting my time and nothing would ever happen. It was a special moment when those people saw the film and scorned themselves for not doing it themselves. We need unique interesting work to counter-balance the soulless crap that is being shoved down our throats by the big studios and called horror. Make your own movies happen. If you don’t know anything about filmmaking – go online, listen to director commentaries – you have all the resources in the world around you. To quote the great Mr. Rodriguez, you make the movie and I’ll bring the popcorn.
J: That we love them and appreciate the hell out of them supporting us and our work. Seriously. I wouldn’t even begin to tell them all how much they mean to us. DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK was only the beginning and AMERICAN MARY is the answer to all these shitty horror remakes. A little originality goes a long way and no one’s ever seen anything like our MARY. If you like, please stay in touch with us. You can see all our work on our official site, http://www.twistedtwinsproductions.net/. You can subscribe to our Penny Dreadful Diary. The best kind of diary is one left out in the open. You can find ours at http://twistedtwinsproductions.blogspot.com/. We work very closely with CJ Wallis, and more often than not collaborate on our projects. He’s an insanely talented filmmaker, composer, and can do just about every other job there is under the sun. You can see his work at http://www.fortyfps.com/. We’re on Twitter, too, naturally. You can follow us at http://twitter.com/#!/twisted_twins and we can have some good ole fashioned back and forth tweeting. And you can’t forget about facebook. We have a Twisted Twins group at http://www.facebook.com/pages/tWIStED-tWINS-PRODUCtIONS/122032761355 and if you want to be friends with me you can add me at http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002663968959. I’m “Bob”. Why? Aw, I’m not telling. You’ve got to guess. Extra brownie points if you can figure it out. There are hints on our site.
There it is bastards. Stay tuned, more from the Twisted Twins later this week.
see you on forty deuce,
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