Sweetback (SB): Now, you first contacted me about your films after I ran an article summarizing advice from a collection of no- and low-budget filmmakers and you – rightly – pointed out that there was no female representation.That was quite an illuminating point, as it not only reminded me of just how little female representation there is in directing as a whole, but how in genre films – horror in particular – female directors are (or WERE) rare.
Do you think this is an issue of female horror directors simply not getting the attention of their male counterparts, or is the often misogynistic content of the genre something that naturally turns women directors away?
Katie Carman (KC): I think it’s definitely an issue of female horror directors, and female directors in general, not getting the same attention as our male counterparts. More importantly, we’re not getting the attention of the people who control the money to produce movies, or hire directors. They’re just not looking at women as options. I don’t think that they even consider them straight out of the gate, it’s just part of the way it’s been for forever.
I do agree that the horror genre being somewhat misogynistic is a turn off to a lot of women, but I would say that that’s almost the reason why a lot of women want to make horror films – they want to make a film that shows their own point of view, a film that proves that horror can still be entertaining even without those misogynistic overtones. I think a lot of men in particular are surprised to find how horrific female-directed horror can be.
SB: One of the nice things about frequenting no-budget forums and Facebook groups is that there seems to be a lot more female representation in general than in years past. However, Hollywood horror and genre films – aside from some notable exceptions – remain dominated by males. With notable events that focus on female horror directors (like the VISCERA FILM FESTIVAL), do you see the trend starting to turn?
KC: I definitely see the trend starting to turn, and I think that’s due to a combination of a few things — it’s social media and the internet, number one, giving us a lot more exposure. Once the internet came up it was like everyone felt they could have their voice heard, and it became a really great platform for people who weren’t being heard otherwise to get attention, a way for us to share our work to a whole new audience.
It’s also helped a lot of directors connect with each other and that naturally sparks great community and creativity. I’m actually about to participate as an instructor in a film workshop next week that helps veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress tell their own story through the creation of short film (a new initiative called the I WAS THERE Film Workshops), and we ended up hiring a fellow director, Christina Raia, who I met through a Facebook ‘Women Genre Directors” group as another instructor, so we’re making these connections offline too which is really cool. I’m super excited about it!
The second reason I think the tide is turning in a way, even slowly, is the proliferation of digital video. That huge barrier to making a movie is gone because you really can make a movie for nothing, you don’t have to worry about film processing costs, etc. Of course that doesn’t mean you’re going to make a great movie but at least you have that huge obstacle out of your way to actually get out there and try and see if it’s something you like and actually want to do.
SB: Let’s talk about your own beginnings as a film-maker. Your bio mentions a fortuitous ice skating accident that first sparked your interest in film. Can you talk a little about this incident, and how your family influenced the sort of films you gravitated to?
KC: This is actually a huge event in my life as you can probably imagine, since I included it in my bio, but I think its the thing that happened that kind of pushed me towards movies — very subconsciously I would say, because I didn’t actually decide to make movies until later in life.
But yeah, in the town that I grew up in, there’s an awesome rec center there and at a certain age the thing to do is to go to the ice skating rink. During winter you’d be there every Friday and Saturday. I guess I was a kid that was always messing around on the ice when I shouldn’t have been, but we were playing tag and I fell and slipped across the ice. I put my hands out in front of myself and wound up just totally jacking up my wrists — both were bruised really bad but only one ended up being broken. I wound up with a cast on my wrist and they wouldn’t let me go down and hang out at the ice skating rink because of liability issues so I basically had nothing social to do for the rest of the winter, so I wound up spending a lot of that time with my family, watching movies and my Dad and I would go up to our local VHS store and rent a bunch of movies and watch them all through the weekend — it was really fun. I can’t say I remember them all because there were also some stinkers in there but I remember definitely watching POLTERGEIST, and THE EXORCIST and the PUPPET MASTER series – I really loved that series of films.
I also admittedly watched a lot of TV and really loved watching shows like “Tales From The Darkside” and “Tales from the Crypt”, “Monsters”, “Twilight Zone” reruns, stuff like that.
SB: What other films were your favorites as a kid?
KC: I’d add to that list films like GHOSTBUSTERS, THE NEVER ENDING STORY, LABYRINTH — stuff that was fantastic in some way, shape or form.
SB: I don’t mean to gloss over your educational background, but you studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York – which included being taught by a variety of established filmmakers. One of those was a favorite of mine: Abel Ferrara. He’s known for his occasionally caustic personality, so I’m awfully curious how he was as an instructor.
KC: Oh, he was quite an interesting guy. From what I remember, he would often have a 40 oz. of beer in a brown paper bag by his side during class. But yeah, he had a lot of odd nuggets of advice to dole out, mostly in talking about his experiences directing his different films. I think he ultimately ended his relationship with SVA because he refused to give them his personal information (his address, social security number, etc.), which was the only way he would’ve gotten paid — some sort of weird dispute like that.
SB: After graduation you gained experience working on a variety of projects, before tackling your first feature with the low-budget zombie film EAT ME!. I know both star/writer Elizabeth Lee and yourself worked on the KNOW YOUR NABE? web series previously, but how did your collaboration begin, and what prompted the two of you to form your COLD HANDS production company and tackle the occasionally overstuffed genre?
KC: Well, truth be told, Liz and I are about to become sisters-in-law. I’m marrying her brother in about a month! But yeah, we wound up hanging out a few times and became really good friends, and of course me being a director and her being an actress, it seemed natural that we’d end up working together. Our first film, a short called THE DISPATCHER which we shot over one week in my office while my boss was on vacation, was a really fun learning experience for us both, and I think we both came away from it knowing we wanted to continue working together.
But yeah, we made THE DISPATCHER and made a few shorts for Big Apple Channel together, which was really fun. Once we realized we needed some sort of banner to be working under (and eventually, hopefully, accepting checks as) we realized we had to form an actual business, which we did, though it was a HUGE pain in the ass admittedly. But still, you have to deal with that side of the business if you want to make movies.
SB: I’m hoping we can discuss EAT ME! in detail when we feature the film in the future, but what were some of the biggest lessons you took away from tackling the project? What was the process of touring the finished project and getting distribution like?
KC: EAT ME! was a risky experiment for us. Like I said, we’d made that one really no-budget short film together and had no experience making feature films. We really just kind of decided to do it best we knew how, and faked the rest. The whole experience was really wonderful though — we were working mainly with friends, and a few extras we’d cast through auditions but they all became like good friends by the end of the shoot. Liz Lee smartly described it as similar to putting on a small wedding every weekend for 3 months, which it was very much like! But well worth all the effort to experience the process and learn so much.
SB: While EAT ME! was a horror comedy, your follow-up OFF SEASON takes a more sedate and measured approach to suspense. How did the idea of focusing your attention on a guilt-ridden Ruth Madoff-like character develop?
KC: It really kind of developed as an idea ripped from the headlines — if I remember correctly actually Liz came up with the idea as we were returning from a trip to Atlantic City. It was a really bleak winter day and the Madoff scandal had just broke. So we were just brainstorming in the car and tossing ideas back & forth. We both agreed that focusing on the character of Sylvie Stone, the wife of a guilty financier, would be an interesting perspective to focus on. Everyone at the time was talking about Bernie but we wondered what Ruth was going through, what kind of demons she must harbor knowing so much about what her husband did (though she denies knowing anything). There was guilt enough there that his own son committed suicide, so, yeah, it felt very topical and was something that interested us from an anthropological perspective, but then we also wanted to inject some other problems for our character and see how she reacted when outside forces, supernatural forces, were acting against her. And the result eventually become “Off Season.”
SB: Your photography and cinematography background are on full display in OFF SEASON, which features some beautiful compositions; rare for a low-budget production. What equipment did you shoot the film on, and were there specific challenges in shooting on a beach-side property?
KC: We shot the film on the Panasonic HMC-150, sort of a mid-range HD camcorder. It was really sweet getting to shoot on the beach, but yeah, there were definitely challenges. It got pretty windy and so our sound would get choppy occasionally, and it would definitely get pretty cold on certain days. The beach house was on wooden stilts in the dunes so when it got really windy the whole house would sway. It was pretty eerie.
SB: Speaking of which, the actual location is incredibly impressive. How did you get access to it, and what was your shooting schedule like?
KC: We shot for around 3-4 weeks out in West Hampton, Long Island, though we had the house for a bit longer. The timing worked out actually that Liz and her husband were using it as their home for the months we were there, as they’d been traveling around the globe through pre-production and didn’t actually have a home at the time. Another fun part of the experiment: Liz and I held all our production meetings via Skype between two countries (wherever she was at the time – Costa Rica, India, etc. and me in New York). Each time we chatted she’d be in some different exotic locale. So yeah, we rented the house for those weeks and we all stayed in the bottom section while we shot the movie on the top floor. It was my first experience shooting so many days successively which was tough but felt really satisfying at the end of each day.
SB: What has been the response to OFF SEASON so far? It’s a nuanced piece, which can sometimes be a hard sell to traditional, gore-hungry genre film fans.
KC: So far it’s been very positive! It’s interesting to hear the different interpretations of the ending in particular, but everyone seems to enjoy getting to know Sylvie Stone, the lead character, and they genuinely feel for her by the end of the film. I think though for fans of my previous film, they will hopefully see the thread of my style as a director and also see the progression from that first film to this, production-wise. I want to keep learning and growing with each film so hopefully they see that progress.
SB: For readers who are interested in seeing EAT ME! or OFF SEASON, what would be the best way to do so? Are there any upcoming screenings of OFF SEASON that fans should be keeping their eyes out for?
KC: “Eat Me!” was just picked up by SnagFilms actually, so people can watch it for free on their site (at www.snagfilms.com/films/title/eat_me) as well as streaming through certain devices (Sony Blu-Ray players, etc.). The film is also available for sale on Amazon.com.
As for OFF SEASON, it’s currently being submitted to festivals so we don’t have any other screenings lined up just yet, but hopefully we’ll have a few more screenings scheduled soon, with the movie becoming available to watch shortly after.
SB: What projects are in the pipeline for Cold Hands Productions? What would be the best way to keep up on your current and future work? (Opportunity for social networking links, links to the film websites, etc)
KC: We’re hoping to get started producing our next feature, THE CABINET which is a loose reimagining of the old classic German expressionist film, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI. The script has gotten some great feedback — it was accepted into this year’s Fright Night Festival, and has already gotten positive feedback from the Slamdance Screenplay competition in early reviews. It will be our most ambitious project to date though so we’re waiting to do it until we have the right budget in place. That said, we are currently working on raising the funds for it, and invite anyone interested to get in touch with me at katiecarman(at)gmail(dot)com.
SB: Anything else you would like to promote?
KC: I guess I’d just like to mention where people can learn more about that film workshop for veterans I mentioned earlier, the I Was There Film Workshops. You can learn more about it at www.iwastherefilms.org or the pattonveteransproject.org
SB: And, finally, what advice would you have for young or inexperienced filmmakers looking to tackle their first feature length production? And, perhaps more importantly, do you have any specific advice for female directors attempting to make their mark in genre films?
KC: Advice for making your first feature. Hmmm. I would have to say the experience of shooting our feature during weekends spread over a couple of months was really great. It gave us time between each shoot to assess where we were with the footage, and to refine what we needed to get. But you really have to have a dedicated group of people helping you out to shoot a film that way, so make sure everyone is on board and understands what they’re getting into!
For female directors getting into genre films, I would only really say to charge ahead as if your sex doesn’t matter. In all my films, I never really consider that I’m a woman directing, I was just directing. So just stick to your guns and charge ahead. Be fearless! And make great movies.
- [NO-BUDGET NIGHTMARES] PODCAST #80: PLAGA ZOMBIE (1997) - July 25, 2016