Interview on May 22nd 2013 by Fright Meter committee member Michael (Mad Mike) Nagy.
After watching their debut feature Dead Hooker in a Trunk, I've been a big advocate of Jen and Sylvia Soska's American Mary. I got my chance to see it last November (2012) at the Mayhen Horror Film Festival in Nottingham (UK). With American Mary being on general release and eligible for the Fright Meter Awards this year (2013), I thought it was only fitting to interview the Jen and Sylvia Soska. Here's my interview with the twins from back in May.
The both of you have been very busy recently, travelling up and down the UK, attending American Mary screenings, so how has this effected you physically and mentally? It must be draining?
Sylvia: "It's been really wild, the last few years have been a blur. I'm one of the luckiest people I know in the regard that this is my job and not only do I get to do what I love, but I get to travel and meet the people who are supporting the work and allow me to continue to do this. When I'm at a screening or a convention, we don't feel tired or worn out, it's too exciting. Like when we were shooting MARY, I couldn't sleep because I was too excited for the next day. It's the moments in between, when we are on the plane or when we get home that we crash pretty hard. Last trip, we got home and slept fourteen hours straight. I get to do this with my best friend, Jen, and she's always been such a great support in any situation we're in, so at least I never have to be alone."
Jen: "It's surreal. It's a dream come true. We weren't popular in high school so this more than makes up for it, ha ha. I feel so blessed to be doing what we're doing. First and foremost we're fans ourselves and I think that comes through in our work. We're just as excited to meet people when we travel as they are when they come out. It's just blown us away to have so much support all across the world. It can be draining, but we are very work orientated and have A type personalities, which is probably pretty obvious, so we are so tunnel visioned when we're working. We always throw ourselves into our work and try to take photos and take a few moments as much as we can to just sit back and appreciate all the opportunities we have these days. It's literally a dream come true and we are so eternally grateful to the people who support us and our work."
How did you come up with the idea of American Mary, what and/or who inspired you?
Sylvia: "I learnt about body modification years ago, it started as fear because of an April Fool's prank about limb exchanging twin brothers that scared the shit out of me. My mom taught us from an early age that if something frightens you, it's due to a lack of education about the subject. So, Jen and I studied body modification online and that fear turned to fascination to admiration. We didn't set out to make a film on it, but wanted to see the community represented not as monsters but as real people in a film. We put a gun to our heads and gave us two weeks to write the script - we gave out a list of ideas we knew we could write fast and one was one 'about a medical student'. That got picked and we wrote our hearts out. It's hugely inspired by Asian and European cinema which we just love the artful, beautiful approach to storytelling in."
Jen: "The film is very much an analogy for our own ventures in the film industry. Doctors and surgeons took the place of some of the monsters we've encountered in positions of power who absolutely prey on the inexperienced, many of which see young women as party favours rather than peers. The body mod community was in place of the horror and indie communities that have truly embraced us. The tag line is "appearances are everything" and that rings true on many levels. Often the people that seem to be trustworthy and sincere and respectable are anything but and people who may come off as a little different or even scary are just being honest and forthcoming with who they are. People keep up appearances so you don't know their true intentions. It seems like something we all learn early on, but you cannot judge someone by their appearances. Often "normal" means anything but."
|Sylvia, Jen & Katie at Film4 Frightfest 2012|
Sylvia: "When Jen and I were in school, we were relentlessly teased and picked on. One of the things they called us were the Fitzgerald sisters, we didn't know what that meant, so we rented GINGER SNAPS and we thought it was cool. That film had a big impact on teen girls because it was speaking for our generation but in a smart horror way. I kept watching Katie's work, but was frustrated not seeing the new Ginger because she is so talented that it just makes sense to have her carry a film with one of her masterful performances. I met her on set and she was nice to me and that was it, I decided that I would work with her one day."
Jen: "We never write for one particular actor. It's a smart rule to have because you never really know what they're like or if you can work together or if they'd even be available or interested until you sit down with them. But Katie broke that rule for us. She just has this enormous capacity for emotional depth and a presence that blows you away. The role of Mary was so vital to the success of the film and being able to convey the story we wanted to tell that we needed someone with so much natural ability and charisma and intensity. We'd long watched and admired Katie and her work. She's so talented that she makes it look easy. You meet her and she just floors you. You can't see her without knowing that there's something special about her. We never had any other choices for Mary. When we got to sit down together it was very clear that not only was she more than perfect for the role, as we already knew, but she is just about the coolest human being you could ever hope to work with."
After watching the special features on the Blu-Ray, i saw a genuine excitement from you both, something that I rarely see from directors. The only person I could think of off the top of my head was Quentin Tarantino (my favourite director outside the genre)! Has he had any influence on your work at all or even just on your outlook to making movies?
Sylvia: "I love Tarantino and Rodriguez - I grew up watching them and loved that they not only made cool films but they loved what they did. I've been on sets where people don't give a shit about the project they are working on, where it's just a payday, but it's also a venomous, unpleasant, and horrible place to have to work. I heard that Sam Raimi always wears a suit to work because you create the set attitude and life of the production more than just what goes on the screen. It's a privilege to get to do this. I love films and I'm a big fan girl, I think that comes off with what we do."
Jen: "Tarantino just drips with love for what he's doing. People blame him for glorifying violence, but it's his love and passion for what he's doing that just emanates from every frame. It's a big part of what makes his films so damn cool. With horror and a lot of film, too many people are doing it for the wrong reasons. It's important to be a fan of what you're doing because it shows. If you don't give a shit or are in it just for the money and fame, that shows, too. Tarantino is the perfect example of a film fan director. He truly loves what he does and watches everything. Rodriguez would be the reason we ever picked up a camera. I love Joss Whedon. You always hear how kind and giving he is as a director. And he's an outstanding writer as well. Plus, he is so good to his fans and is so connected with them. You don't see that often. I just love the way he does what he does. He's a real hero of mine in a lot of ways."
With Dead Hooker in a Trunk being such a long process from start to release, how did the short period of time shooting American Mary compare?
Sylvia: "With DEAD HOOKER, it was completely volunteer, which sometimes meant that people would become unavailable or not show up at all. Which is fine because it teaches you high stress problem solving on the spot which is an invaluable lesson as things go to hell on every set and you need to creatively solve issues as soon as they arise. Originally we set out for 24 days and then we had to make concessions in order to make it work. I never worked with a full crew before, there was a lot that I didn't know, so when I was told 'I wouldn't wish fifteen days on my worst enemy' I didn't know what that meant. Now I do. That said, the cast and crew that came together on MARY were the most talented, hard working, and brilliant artists that I have ever had the pleasure of collaborating with. Our first AD, Brad Jubenvil, and our DP, Brian Pearson, and us went through the days and the shots constantly to make the film work within our tight schedule and modest budget. With a team like that, there was nothing we couldn't pull off, but I'll never put them on fifteen days again."
Jen: "It is a huge difference to having a full crew rather than just running around with a camera with your friends. I wouldn't say I prefer one over the other. I love my crew. My crew is the best and most wonderful crew in the whole world. 15 days, without any allowance to go over 12 hours, is truly challenging. You never shoot without a game plan, but under such tight restraints every second counts. Every shot has to be going into the film. You don't just try something to see if it'll work out. You have to be sure of everything. We ran out of time for somethings and our experience on DHIAT really taught us how to roll with the punches and that came in as imperative to overcome our obstacles. And then there was Brad Jubenvil, our astounding 1st AD. The man is a wizard. He is so cool and collected and he knows his shit. He's had years and years of experience and he's seen it all and nothing can shake up Brad. I love that man. Our entire crew was phenomenal, but Brad and Brian, our DP, really made this happen with so little time."
|On the set of Dead Hooker in a Trunk with 'Badass' & 'Geek'|
Sylvia: "AMERICAN PSYCHO for favourite horror and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS for non-horror. I'm pretty obsesses with DREDD right now, too. I watch that film constantly like a little treat at the end of the day."
Jen: "Oh NO!! Do I have to pick another one now? Well, my favourite horror film, that isn't AMERICAN PSYCHO, is John Carpenter's THE THING. It's everything I love about horror and Rob Bottin's FX?? Just WOW. Can we take a moment to appreciate just what a genius that man is? And my favourite non horror film? It's been the same since 1988. WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? It's an outstanding work of art, cutting edge, unforgettable, and something for every age. I still sleep with a Roger Rabbit stuffie. He's the constant man in my life."
What got you both into horror and why?
Sylvia: "I don't remember a time that we didn't like horror. I don't know if it was because it was 18+ or because it was taboo for little girls to watch horror, but we were always attracted to it. We would haunt the decorated horror section of our local video store, reading the boxes and looking at the monsters and gore. Eventually, at ten, our mom decided to watch POLTERGEIST with us and that changed everything. We made it through the film, but were terrified. She sat us down and explained what we had actually seen - the director, the writer, the actors, the sets, the costumes, the monster makers, all collaborating together with the intention of scaring the audience. Knowing that the monsters were made and it was all pretend made us even more attracted to the genre."
Jen: "It's a part of us. There was never this moment where we got into it. We were always into it and we were very fortunate to have parents that didn't shelter us from our interests. We were taught the difference between make believe and reality a long time ago. Horror just is something so exciting that allows you to come right up close to your greatest fears and face them and walk away fine after. It's fun and it's cool and it really attracts the best of people. There's a reason there are tons of horror conventions, but you don't see any romantic comedy or drama conventions, ha ha."
What's your process in writing a screenplay?
Sylvia: "OK, so we're Hungarian twin sisters, so we throw ideas back and forth and viciously rip them apart. Whatever idea survives the process is a keeper. We come up with scenarios, characters, locations and make a three act timeline to decide what goes where. We fill out the timeline roughly, then pick what we want to write. One of us plays video games while the other writes, then we swap out. If one of us gets stuck, we swap out. When we take over, we read and tweak what's been written - the fun thing is to throw in things the other isn't expecting. We write a lot to amuse each other."
Jen: "We totally tag team it. We write largely to amuse one another. There are layers to everything we do. There's the surface level where anyone and everyone can enjoy films, but we don't think anything should exist without a reason. We like to put deeper meanings in our work and force people to think for themselves. I'm so lucky to have been born with a business partner and collaborator. She's [Sylvia] so brilliant. It's so easy to write together. There's no writers block. We just see this world open up and try to capture it in a way that our audiences can feel like it's real, too."
Do you both have an even input to the whole film making process, (directing, writing, ideas)?
Sylvia: "Yes. We are identical twins, but we're very different. We joke that she's the Joss Whedon and I'm the Lars Von Trier. She puts the heart in and I rip it out. You need the other to make it work. I don't think my films would be watchable or even good without Jen's part in it. She's also the person who you can always count on for anything on set, I'm bit of an overly focused artist at times."
Jen: "Absolutely. We constantly challenge one another to be better and to grow as artists. We're very different, but we want the same things out of our work. We divide and conquer. If we have to break apart, we can do so seamlessly. If we're in a meeting and one of us is called out, the other can carry one effortlessly."
Do you think you have an advantage when it comes to film making as there is two of you?
Sylvia: "Jen and I are born collaborators, I don't know what it would be like to have only one of me. We would divide and conquer, there was always someone on set while the other, Jen, would 'put out fires' and troubleshoot anything that threatened the day. We are very close so we can communicate with looks and have the same mind set on everything or we go to a corner and come up with a unified answer. Nothing worse than having two directors that look the same that are telling you two different things. We work hard to make sure it doesn't happen."
Jen: "I think so. I don't know how people do it on their own. Between the work itself and interviews and social media and trip planning and writing, it's a lot of work. We work everyday and we really have to to keep on top of things. We can get twice as much work done and because we know each other so well we hardly have to talk much. We get each other and we know what has to be done."
What directors and films have inspired and influenced you, on a personal and a film making level?
Sylvia: "Robert Rodriguez and Carlos Gallardo are who inspired us to pick up a camera and make our own film. The 'Ten Minute Film Schools' and behind the scenes sharing of film making tips taught me more than I learnt in any film school. Same with Dick Smith who not only revolutionised prosthetics with his art, but shared his tricks for everyone to learn. Eli Roth has been a mentor and a friend, I have so much respect for what he does and I'm very grateful for how he supports other artists in the genre. DESPERADO, AUDITION, BREAKING THE WAVES, SUSPIRIA, BLUES BROTHERS, POLTERGEIST, JAWS, AMERICAN PSYCHO, HELLRAISER, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, IRREVERSIBLE, GRINDHOUSE - have all heavily influenced my tastes in film."
Jen: "Everything and everyone Sylvia just said."
Obviously there's still a lot of promoting of American Mary happening over the year as it has it's home video release in various places over globe, but, when can we expect your next project to happen?
Sylvia: "We've done a fair bit of travelling in April to different conventions which I love because I can nerd out pretty hard and meet cool people. Then we have the VOD and theatrical North American releases for MARY this month. We have a couple cool things coming up, but dying to get back to set with the new film which we're focusing on to be BOB, but we also have two other films that I would be just as happy to have as the next project. Hopefully later on in the year we'll be getting the band back together and making something new."
Jen: "We're already working on several new projects. You can never stop. You can't take a break. Any time you take time off, someone else is just going to pass you. As artists, we're most happy when we're working and creating. It's very much a part of who we are."
With the interview being last May, the twins are now actually hard at work on the WWE Studio's See No Evil 2. Just days ago (September 16th) it was announced that Scream Queens Danielle Harris (the Halloween franchise) and Katharine Isabelle (American Mary, Ginger Snaps, Freddy vs. Jason) join already confirmed cast members Michael Eklund (The Call, The Marine 3: Homefront, The Day) and WWE Superstar KANE.
I was impressed by their first feature and loved American Mary. Can't wait to see what Jen and Sylvia do with See No Evil 2!