Sometimes the truly creative hand us a movie whose title packs as much punch as the movie itself, luring us in and giving us not only what the title promises, but more coolness to spare. Hot Tub Time Machine, Killer Klowns from Outer Space and Natural Born Killers spring to mind. In 2009 Jen and Sylvia Soska - two Vancouver film school drop-outs - wrote, produced, directed and acted in their own hometown horror-comedy, Dead Hooker in a Trunk, and the fruit of their labors is every bit one of those aforementioned pictures.
They delivered on the title, albeit without the putrefaction we so loved from the dead hooker in the mattress in Robert Rodriguez's "Misbehavers" short (from the anthology Four Rooms), and they yielded a 92-minute hodgepodge of heightened gore, deadpan gags and solid, admirably rough-and-tumble female leads with lines like, "You think dying's gonna kill me?"
Snake Plisken is proud. Rosie The Riveter is drying her eyes. And the rest of us are licking our chops, wondering what's next from these auspicious new indie film stars.
The Soska Sisters, a pair of Canadian twins with as much intellect as ass-kickery, are currently in pre-production on their sophomore effort, American Mary, and still enjoying the whirlwind of acclaim that was awarded their shoestring debut. Kotori had the golden opportunity of interviewing them before American Maryredefines their dark aesthetic and launches them even further up the ladder of little movie success. Here's what happened when our jaws started flappin':
What has changed for you, as individuals and as filmmakers, since Dead Hooker in a Trunk made its rounds on the festival circuit?
Jen Soska: Everything. I have been blown away by the incredible support from the horror community. And it really is exactly that--a community. We haven't just sent the film to festivals; we've never denied an opportunity for a screening. We've played at big festivals and we've played in bars.
Our most sincere desire for Dead Hooker in a Trunk was to make a film that was pure enjoyment for our audiences, and then share that film with as many people as possible. I humbly believe we've been able to accomplish just that. We look very forward to the release of DHIAT. We want to be able to share our 'Dead Hooker' with everyone. We are so grateful to everyone who's taken the time to watch it, review it, or tell a friend about it.
Sylvia Soska: The festival circuit really gave life to Dead Hooker in a Trunk. We didn't really know where the film was going to go afterward. The process of it getting to audiences and having it in the festival circuit was huge. The first screenings were at the Pretty Scary Bloodbath Film Fest in Texas and The Ghouls on FilmFest in the UK, which were Women In Horror Recognition Month film festivals. Very humble thanks to Hannah Neurotica who was the brainchild behind the month, and all the amazing people who came on board with her.
It was a big opportunity for us as independent and international filmmakers to get our film screened around the world. What happened next is because the horror community consists of the best people on the planet. People started talking about it. They wrote blogs, they did interviews, they tweeted, they Facebooked, they talked to anyone and everyone about the film and the word spread. This lead to movie press and more word of mouth and then more festivals.
Without the people who supported us, this wouldn't be possible. Huge studios know about the film, giant talent agencies have approached regarding the film, it's so very humbling. We are horror fans and to have our peers fight for us is incredible. Because of them, we have a funded second feature in pre-production, American Mary. A lot of the film is a thank you to the community that got us here and I guarantee that they won't be disappointed.
What has been the biggest difference between Dead Hooker in a Trunk and your upcoming project American Mary in terms of the process of bringing it to the screen?
JS: American Mary will have a much bigger release than DHIAT and that is understandable because, in all ways, Maryis a much bigger film. There is no comparison for the budget. DHIAT was grindhouse and Mary is very polished. However, Mary would not have been possible without DHIAT. It got us out there. The people that have supported us and the film are the reason we are able to make Mary.
Everything changes with more money. We don't have to be sacrificing things as much. We are creative directors and will always look for creative solutions for our obstacles before saying, "Fuck it, let's just throw money at it and hope it fixes things." Our budget opens a much broader window of possibilities.
SS: With Dead Hooker in a Trunk, we knew what our limitations were. It was El Mariachi, go out and film a movie style. It was loose and crazy, so we made a story that would adhere to that style of filmmaking. That's the romance about grindhouse, because that's how they made their movies too. It worked very well and I'm really proud of the insanity that DHIAT is.
American Mary intentionally uses all the aspects of what we couldn't do with Hooker. It is a very intricate and meticulous story with very complicated and interesting characters. The joke of Hooker was that everyone - except the dog named Billy - had no one. It was all stereotypes to add to the almost anime-esque quality of the film. Everything with Mary has been planned to the tiniest detail. Much like the title character, that will be portrayed by the lovely Katharine Isabelle, Mary is controlled yet very dark.
Because we have the funding and the time to plan, we can control the elements to give this very personal feeling to the underground world in the film. There will be names and faces that you recognize, along with some of the Hooker team coming back.
A huge difference will be in the prosthetics and effects. They are a huge part of the storytelling, and there are some things you will see only in this film. The blood and gore always fascinated us as fans, so it has been a dream of ours to make something that other fans will be blown away by.
Can your fans expect another guest appearance like the one from Carlos Gallardo in Dead Hooker?
JS: Oh, yes! We love our Mariachi! He is an incredible human being. When I was reading Rodriguez's Rebel Without A Crew, I would dream about one day meeting Robert and Carlos. I was not let down. The way Carlos supports independent film is astounding. He is a true artist and supports the indies wholeheartedly. I highly recommend that everyone read Rebel Without A Crew and see El Mariachi. It's just so inspirational. And you never know when Carlos will be making a special appearance once more. We'd love to work with him for the rest of our lives. Anytime.
In addition to Carlos, I'd certainly say keep your eyes peeled for cameos from other talented performers. Sylv and I are always looking for a way to thrill those who are kind enough to take the time to watch our work. We like to pay them back in small ways like that. American Mary is a big thank you in a lot of ways.
SS: I talked to Carlos the other day about Mary. He's one of the most genuine and down to earth people in the world, with a real passion for the independents. It's always so nice to meet someone you admire and they are even better than you were hoping for; Carlos is of that ilk.
As for other cameos, we're putting a lot of effort into getting some very well-known and very fucking good at what they do actors for this piece. Some of the casting choices might seem odd as names are released, but we have been obsessing over the details and we know what we want with each character. I think people are going to be surprised with who turns up on the screen.
What sort of martial arts have you two studied? And what's the easiest way to separate a disinterested studio exec's nads from his body?
SS: We studied sport kickboxing with certain aspects of karate, hapkido, weapons training - cobudo - and self-defense tackling and grappling. We trained with a private instructor and we trained five days a week. It was a way of life.
It's funny that you mention studio execs being pricks. The worst: one asked me for the film, then told me that he won't do anything for us unless we ask Eli Roth to put his name on the project. It was a backhanded way to try and get our friend's name associated with his company. I wanted to hit him, but he taught me to be cautious. When something sounds too good to be true, it is.
Best martial arts move, actually, is an eye gouge and throat rip. If someone actually threatens your life, there are no rules or fairness - do what you have to to survive. Put your thumbs into their sockets and bite out their throat. Mwa!
JS: Everything Sylvie-san said. I love martial arts. It's not simply the physicality of it that appeals to me, but rather the philosophy behind it. The Book of Five Rings is a great read. I have so much respect for the martial arts. I always wanted to be a superhero and felt drawn to martial arts. Studying them, I quickly learned that they are so much more than just a way to kick some serious ass. The meditations, the controlled breathing, the intense focus. It's a beautiful, timeless art form.
I also firmly believe that every woman should be able to defend herself. It's not a sexist statement; it's realistic. Even in this day and age, many people see a woman as an easy target. We can change that. It's great for your self-esteem and confidence, as well. I would highly recommend them to everyone. Look into different art forms, see which appeals to you, and go do it.
[Laughs] Nads are too easy, I like to go for the throat and preferably with my sais. [Note: In martial arts, "sais" are twin katana, usually made of forged steel.]
Do you guys have any specific distribution plans for American Mary? Will you be toying with any of the more recent methods such as digital release, VOD, streaming?
JS: Times are changing. I have no idea what will be the best method when the film is completed. Technology is changing every day. We want to bring Mary to theaters. There's something very romantic about a theatrical release. However, we cannot deny that theatrical releases aren't the same now as they were when we were little. There is a big change happening in the film industry right now. The music business got hit with it already and they had to adapt.
We will be exploring different mediums to ensure that the film gets to the people. With piracy running rampant and no real way to control it, the sad truth is that films are in trouble. It's harder to get funding these days. People don't really realize how much the industry is being hurt. Perhaps the people downloading the films themselves aren't able to afford to pay ticket prices or to purchase DVDs. That's not really lost revenue because it wouldn't be revenue; the money isn't lost because it was never there to begin with.
SS: American Mary will be making her premiere at one of the big film festivals. I can't say which one, but it's the best place for her to be introduced.
What's the gnarliest thing you have in store for people with American Mary?
JS: [Laughs] Mark Shostrom is going to give everyone nightmares! Among many effects, there is this one...let's just say, when, in the film, you hear the score from the teaser trailer, make damn sure you're not eating anything. You've been warned!
SS: There is one sequence in the film that is extremely fucked up and is our big prosthetic effect scene. It will be hard to tell which it is while watching because there is a lot of unusual graphic scenes throughout the piece. The most I can say is, it will keep people talking for a long time.
I'm sure you've gotten this one before, but what's your favorite scary movie? Do you share a favorite?
SS: American Psycho, directed by the incredible, and Canadian, Mary Harron. I have a lot of respect for that film and how she brought it to life. The name 'Mary' was highly inspired by her.
JS: We love the shit out of that film. We're always quoting it. Mary Harron is a hero of ours. Personal favorite.
You've already said that Rodriguez's Rebel Without A Crew was a big inspiration. What other inspirations informed your path to filmmaking?
SS: One person who has stood beside us and helped us considerably is the wonderful Eli Roth. After the film was finished, we sent the trailer to all of the directors that had inspired us with Grindhouse. Eli got back to us and we sent him the feature. It disgusts me that he takes so much shit, because he loves independent filmmaking and is a huge feminist. Hostel: Part II has so much girl power in it, you feel like a real ass-kicker watching it. The lead didn't use tricks or tears to escape her fate, she bought her way out like a businesswoman. Eli has been very generous with his advice and promoting our work. We wouldn't be at this level without the support he has given us.
Other filmmakers that inspire me: Lars Von Trier, Paul Thomas Anderson, Mary Harron, David Lynch, Takeshi Miike, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Wes Craven, Dario Argento. I just love their work.
JS: So many. Hannah Neurotica is a huge inspiration for us. She lives and breathes her art. She has been through so much and she never stops going. She's amazing and we just love her. She's family to us. Seriously, if you haven't read AX WOUND ZINE, you're missing out. Go to the site, get a copy, and thank me later.
I'm a helplessly addicted gamer and comic nerd, so Stan Lee is high on my list. Some of the greatest stories ever told have been told in comic books. Hideo Kojima is a hero of mine. I am in love with his Metal Gear Solidseries. The direction and story line and characters...just wow! And, yes, I would marry Solid Snake if I met him. I'd love to meet him some day.
Eli Roth, of course...anyone that has anything negative to say about the guy clearly doesn't know him. Honestly, I will warn you right here and now, if you have something bad to say about the man, have the good sense to not say it in front of us. He is an extremely talented filmmaker and pushes the envelope big time. His work is provocative, and terrifying, and upsetting, and hilarious. And never dull.
Tarantino and Rodriguez are legends. I adore their work, but I think everyone who loves film has the good sense to. I love Joss Whedon. His dialogue in particular and the way he writes such strong female roles. Stephen King. I grew up on him. I hope to one day have the honor of meeting him and, perhaps, even adapting one of his novels for the big screen.
How did you go about attaching the lovely Katherine Isabelle to your new film? I loved her inGinger Snaps and she was easily the funniest character in Freddy Vs. Jason.
JS: We fell in love with her when we saw Ginger Snaps. Being Canadian, she hasn't gotten the recognition she deserves for her work. We aim to change all that with American Mary. I can't begin to tell you how many actresses we considered for the role. Whoever was going to be our Mary had to be capable of playing this very challenging role. She had to be strong and vulnerable, sophisticated and mature, capable of being sexual and terrifying, all at the same time.
Katie was the only actress we actually approached. She IS Mary Mason. This role is going to do for her what American Psycho did for Christian Bale. We couldn't ask for a more pitch-perfect Mary.
SS: Finding the perfect 'Mary' was huge for us because she and her performance carries the film and it is a very difficult role. She is an every-woman that people of my generation can relate to, but there is something sinister that grows there too. You have to be really good to be able to have those elements and make her real. Luckily, Katharine Isabelle is perfectly suited for the role.
We did it the old-fashioned way: We had our casting director, Tiffany Mak, contact her agent and pass along the script. She read it and she dug it. She loves it as much as I do, which makes me happy because I feel so obsessed with this story some days that I feel like my heart is going to burst. I was worried about finding someone who could make that passion. You are going to love her in this, she is going to be phenomenal. It's also a bit of a trip, because I've wanted to work with her for years and things just came together perfectly for this project.
What do you see as the being the most prominent distinction between US-based films and Canadian productions?
SS: Money is a big one. There are a lot of independent studios in Canada that make great work, but Hollywood has the big money to make whatever they please - in comparison. It's harder to get your voice heard sometimes as a Canadian filmmaker because we're naturally less boisterous. That works against us, especially in an industry that goes around saying this or that is the best movie ever.
JS: I hate to say it, but money and production value. It's well known that American productions will shoot up in Canada to save money. The Canadian film industry is still forming its identity. It's a real challenge with our big brother down South. There is still a stigma about what kind of content is coming out of Canada. I think American Mary is going to change that perception in a big way. It was very important to us to film it here.
When one thinks of Canadian-based horror auteurs who have had a substantial degree of success in the States, David Cronenberg naturally springs to mind. Do the two of you feel any connection to his work?
SS: I love his work, and him being a Canadian fills me with Canadian pride. There is a common understanding that as a Canadian artist, there is only so far you can go in your career before heading across the border to the States where there is more of a business for film, and because it is bigger, there is more opportunity. That said, that also makes the competition much greater, so you need to know what your voice is and what you want with you career before making the move.
JS: David Cronenberg is a genius. He knew that to make it, to really truly make it, he had to make the trek to the States. It may change someday, but it's true. We'd be foolish not to be inspired by his story and his work. It's an honor to be a fellow Canadian. I'd love to sit down with him someday and talk about the Canadian and American film industries. I could learn so much from him. I think we owe a lot to him; he paved the way for Canadian filmmakers such as ourselves.
If there was just one thing you could change about the filmmaking industry what would it be?
JS: [Laughs] I'd like artists to be able to talk with artists more easily. There are just so many people handling them. Agents, studios, managers. It is a necessary evil. If artists could just chat freely, no one would ever get paid for anything. I'd do what I'm doing for nothing if it meant I could make films for the rest of my life. I just love it so much.
SS: I wish there was more of an opportunity for independent artists to get their work made. It's a constant battle and you need to work very hard to get anything made. It would be nice if bigger studios put, say, twenty million dollars aside to fund twenty different artists. I feel a lot of the material out there on the big screen lacks originality, and some new voices would help with that.
What is your process like when it comes to conceiving of a story to bring to the screen? Do you go the index card route or just bounce ideas back and forth until there's enough to constitute a script?
JS: We start with an idea. Something that we love so much that we are more than happy to talk about it for the rest of our lives. For Robert Rodriguez, it was a man with a guitar case full of guns. For us, it was a Dead Hooker in a Trunk. It depends on the type of film we are making. If we can pitch the idea, we know we can make it into a reality. For something like Dead Hooker, the title came before the film. Before ANYTHING. We just grabbed onto it. It was the same with our other script, The Man Who Kicked Ass. We decide on what kind of weird genre we want and often go from there.
DHIAT was written via the card method. We wrote the "stand out" scenes, arranged them on the floor, and filled in the blanks. We now do a time line. Before that, we have a pitch-fest. Sylv on one couch, me on the other, and we go back and forth. It can, to the untrained eye, appear like an argument. We are each others' worst critics. We always challenge one another to be better.
SS: To the onlooker, it can seem cruel. We rip apart each others' ideas mercilessly, this way only the highest concept ideas exist.
Then we draw a line on the paper and break it into three acts with x's for the big points - end of act one to lead into act two, middle of act two, and beginning of act three into epilogue. We throw out random sequences and ideas, many times not in order and tell each other the story. If both of us are 100% with the points, they get written down. This is usually where all sorts of insanity comes out and goes into the story.
Finally, we pick our sequences. The twin who thought of the idea usually writes the sequence, but we go back and forth. We do rewrites as we tag in the other to polish out any roughness. The process takes about two weeks. Then we rip it apart again in rewrites to make sure it is perfect.
The finished script is then sent only to our close and personal friends and family to get their perception. This might encourage another series of rewrites, too. That's our process. Pretty fun.
Outside of horror, what other kinds of stories might you see yourself tackling in the future?
SS: We actually have quite a few non-horror films written and planned. There will always be some horrific elements in the stories because, like life, that possibility is ever-present.
Since 15, we have been working on a television series. It's not typically horrific, but it will have its moments. We have the whole five season arc planned with every episode neatly outlined. It's a completely different process because there are a lot more complexities and direction required for a good series.
JS: I'd never pigeonhole us into doing only horror. Admittedly, our work will always have moments of true terror, even if it's not a "horror movie." I LOVE westerns. The Man Who Kicked Ass is a new take on classic westerns with a lot of flair, gore, and, yes, even heart. It's a very special project to us. Bob is a coming-of-age horror/romance. It's really going to explore some new avenues. We'd never do "just a horror movie." We like to add a little Soska Sister spice.
There's a drama that we're going to do, too. I can't reveal any details just yet, but it is a story that left a huge impression on our young lives.
Also, we have Please Subscribe. It's an awesome documentary that follows YouTube sensations Tay Zonday, David Choi, Happyslip, and Daxflame as they tell us their stories and explore how YouTube has forever changed entertainment as we know it. YouTubers are the masters of the short film. The documentary is really incredible and filled with a lot of heart. It'll be most likely doing the film festival circuit this year. If you don't know any of the YouTubers I mentioned, treat yourself to a little YouTube tour :)
Complete the sentence. "If I wanted to make a movie about some idiotic cardboard cut-out girl with shit for brains I'd____________.
SS: If I wanted to make a movie about some idiotic cardboard cut-out girl with shit for brains, I'd have a lot of competition because there is an idiotic notion out there that that sells.
JS: If I wanted to make a movie about some idiotic cardboard cut-out girl with shit for brains, I'd be drunk. Please don't let me near the expensive equipment.
SS: Don't let anyone discourage you from following your dreams. If you want to make a movie, go out and make it. I'll be there with the popcorn. That's something I love that ends Rebel Without A Crew.
JS: The only one standing in your way is you. It's your life, chase your dream. No one is going to make it happen for you. I firmly believe you've got to set impossible goals. That way even if you get close, you're doing pretty fucking good. Now, go make a movie. We want to watch it.
And thank you to everyone who has taken the time to check out our work and share it with others. We are more grateful to you than we can ever express. We'll be showing our gratitude with American Mary. This one, boys and grrls, is gonna be a real motherfucker.