Interview with Jen and Sylvia Soska (AMERICAN MARY)

Jen Sylvia Soska

ThrillAndKill.com: AMERICAN MARY has been one of the very pleasant surprises so far in 2013 and apparently a lot of critics feel the same way. After having only shot the tiny-budget-film DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK and some shorts, did you expect the positive reactions?

Sylvia Soska: Thank you so kindly for saying that. We were only in the situation where there was interest in a second film because we got such an out pour of support on DEAD HOOKER. We are so grateful for the opportunity, so we decided that making the next film as a thank you to everyone who stood by the first film felt appropriate. We wanted people to like it, but the actual reaction is extremely generous and kind around the world. Now the next one has to be an even bigger thank you.

Jen Soska: Oh, thank you. I was expecting about half and half for the response. Art is and should be interpretive. The worst kind of reaction you can get is no reaction. Even hate has a passion behind it. It was a hard sell to make a film about body modification, particularly when we said we were going to have underlying themes about perception and the struggles a working woman goes through told through the story of a medical student. I always had faith in the response of the fans. We were making this film for them. I’m so humbled by the response that we and the film has received at a global scale. It means everything to us.

T&K: A big part of the movie is about plastic surgery and body modification. You  two play a small part in AMERICAN MARY, which was creepier than a lot of other things in the film, not only because you asked to get your arm amputated and have it attached to your sister.
How much is body modification something you are interested in and can identify with (starting from quite normal things like tattoos up to rather extreme stuff)?  

Twisted Twins

Sylvia: We were introduced to the world of body modification through an online April Fool’s prank that was a story from two identical twin brothers who swapped limbs. Not only were there photos with the article about their procedures, there was also a testimonial from them about how only twins would understand why they did this. It was what started my obsession with the culture and also a huge influence on the characters that Jen and I cameo as in the film. My introduction to body mod started as fear, but turned to fascination, then admiration. I’m as vanilla as you can get though on the scene, my navel is pierced and ears. I do very badly want to experience a suspension. There’s a self-aware meditation and transcendence in something like that which I have never experienced – I got a hook as a gift from Russ Foxx, our flesh artist consultant, which I carry with me everywhere until I take the plunge. 

Jen: Most of us have had body modifications to some extent. Sylv and I both have our ears and navels pierced. Body modification has long held a fascination for us. We’re very into self expression and not into labels. We also can’t abide by a group of people being treated as scapegoats. We were bullied growing up being the „weird“ girls into comic books, video games, and horror movies. We have no tolerance for it. The treatment we’ve seen of the body mod community really upset us. There’s such a negative connotation associated with them and so wrongfully so. We wanted to give people a real look at these individuals. People with forked tongues are people, too, and honestly the mods we’ve met have been so kind and welcoming to us.

T&K: I read a comment by somebody who watched AMERICAN MARY and complained, because the film was not a horrorfilm. Do you think it is horror? Do you even care about genres?

Sylvia: Labelling art and then criticizing the work because it’s more complicated than that really seems ignorant. I’ve seen people call the film torture porn to slamming the film for not being gory enough. It’s a character piece based in reality despite the fantastical places it goes. It needed to keep itself in a real place to have the ability to go to those places. I think horror is one of the most interesting genres for story telling available to filmmakers, but with the onslaught of uninspired, paint by number horror and soulless remakes, it feels like a portion of the audience doesn’t know what to make of something original. Hopefully films like MARY and other original takes on the genre like THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEIGH, PONTYPOOL, MARTYRS, AUDITION, I SAW THE DEVIL, EXCISION, will find audiences and that will change the types of films we are seeing made in the horror genre. 

Jen: I hate labels. It’s such a North American thing to have to shove something under a single heading and leave it as is. Nothing is just one thing in this world. Look at people. Each and every single one of us is a lot of things. North American horror follows a very tired formula and by those standards, no, AMERICAN MARY is not a horror film. It’s not some stupid slasher where we make everything painfully obvious so even the person with the lowest IQ can get it. Art is supposed to be interpretive. You’re supposed to think about it. Everyone is different so the things they take from the film and art should be different. There have been very different reactions to the film internationally. Horror takes all sorts of forms. And a film should play on many different emotions. If someone didn’t like or get AMERICAN MARY, that’s fine by us. We’ve got a lot more coming and we’ll get you on the next one. If you want a blood bath, we’ve got scripts that’ll leave you soaked.

Soska

T&K: Most times, the directing of brutal films is done by men not women. Women die in horror movies and only one is allowed to live as the final girl.
You write the scripts, you direct and the main-actress is not the typical screaming girlie. While this is quite refreshing for the genre, I would imagine there were a lot of (male) persons, who asked for a more conservative film and didn’t want to break the “rules”…?

Sylvia: Ha ha, it’s like you were a fly on the wall. We had a great team that came together not because of the money, but because they cared about the film that we were making. They sacrificed so much and put everything they had into the film and it was our responsibility to make sure the soul of the film and the story we set out to tell would stay intact. I do like the premise of the final girl, especially how she has evolved from the virginal angel to a real flawed woman, but I wanted to meld Mary with the role of the antagonist and not just create some supernatural killer, but a real woman that you could relate to, appreciate the flaws in, and keep her more feminine qualities in a unique character. The fake nice thing that women do, the saying that you’re fine when you’re anything but, the fact that she never asks a man to save her. She is given several escapes or get out of jail free card opportunities in the film, but it would mean she would have to reach out to someone else, so she doesn’t do it. I like the strength in not screaming or crying in Mary. I like that she reclaims her sexuality without being victimized by it. The most interesting conversations I had was when a forty something year old man was trying to tell me how twenty something women are like today and I had to tell him, I’m a twenty something woman today and I based the character off of my own experiences, you will never know what it is like to be a woman as I will never know what it is to be a man.

Jen: It definitely is a challenge to write a strong, complex, not stereotypical female character and then try to explain to men that this is actually what women are like. There were so many fights that came from people just not getting what it’s like to be a woman. Women really feel for Mary because each and every one of them can relate to her. The story of a woman’s struggles is not by any means a foreign concept. Unfortunately, it’s so common that’s it’s actually uncommon if you are a woman and haven’t had to come up against blatant sexism or ageism. Being a young woman in the work place is by no means an easy task. Most people are lovely and decent, but there are some real idiots out there. And I’m not limiting this to the film industry though this business does attract some truly disgusting types. For every sexist, weak, „just the girlfriend“ role that’s out there, we had to make Mary the woman we can all be and want to be. She never relies on a man to do her dirty work. She’s strong and takes care of herself. She has a realistic vulnerability, but there’s an overwhelming strength to her. From the beginning to the end of the film, she becomes unrecognizable. So much of Mary is based off our own stories and struggles. Her personality is Sylvia. It was vital for us to give women someone to look up to. As weird as it is to say, we feel Mary is a great role model.

T&K: They say twins always have a special connection to each other, but not all work together. Could either one of you even imagine to write a script or direct a film by herself? And are there parts at work where one is much better/worse, more/less interested in than the other?

 Sylvia: Jen and I are born collaborators. I don’t know what it’s like to not have a person with me who shares every life experience with me, who understands me, loves me despite my many flaws, and challenges me to be better. I need that to create the work that I do. Jen is a brilliant person with a beautiful outlook on the world. We joke that she’s the Joss Whedon and I’m the Lars Von Trier – she puts the heart into the work and I tear it out. Jen is much better with people than I am, she’s compassionate, and very detail oriented. We both love prosthetics and FX but she’s obsessed with it. It’s her field in all the films, even though I am a part of it too. I get so focused on the film, the concept, that I don’t look into reality when making a film, Jen makes it so I can have that kind of focus.

Jen: Sylv is the „why“ and I’m the „how“. As similar as we are, we’re just as different. It’s our difference that come together and really turn out work into what it is. Sylv is so darkly creative. She comes up with the most amazing charcaters and situations and, in our field, deaths. She says I’m the heart, but she’s so passionate about her work and you see that just pouring out of every single frame. You can read one of our scripts or see one of our films and not be able to tell who wrote what. Sylv challenges me everyday to be a better version on myself. When you’re with the right kind of person, they make you the absolute best version of you. Sylv does that for me. We are so passionate about what we do. We talk about work and films all day long. We love what we do. We couldn’t possibly do anything else. Could we write and work apart? Sure, but what we have is so special and unique, I don’t see why we’d ever want to.

Twisted Twins

T&K: You grew up as real horror fans and as far as I know Stephen King was an important influence but also Robert Rodriguez, when it comes to filmmaking.
Do you still feel like the “average” fan or did this change with becoming a filmmaker on your own?

Sylvia: I think the reason why we make the films that we do with the weight of importance in the areas of it is because we are fans. We want to make something we would watch but not only something we would watch. I think when you love something and it means something to you tend to make something that other fans can relate to. Jen and I are fans that get to work in the genre that we are fans of. That will never change for us. When we do conventions, we’re there to get pics with people cosplaying our favorite characters, buying nerd must-haves, and meeting artists that we love. I feel like we’re rabid fans.

Jen: We’re fans first and foremost. If you’re not still excited about what you do, you’ve lost something vital. You see so many shitty movies and I feel it’s because the people making them aren’t fans anymore. The passion is gone. they’re just going through the motions. I am so in love with this industry. I’d be at each and every single festival and convention as a fan if I didn’t have the amazing opportunity to be there as a guest. We are fans and will always remain fans. it’s part of the reason we love the fans so much. They’re the reason we get to do what we do. They were behind us before anyone else was. They are the reason we get out of bed in the morning. We love them. So much.

T&K:What would you recommend young horrorfans who want to write a script or book or make a film?

Sylvia: I would say go out and do it. Make something unique that actually means something to you – that means a lot, actually, because you’ll be dedicated to that project for a while. We were with DEAD HOOKER for five years from beginning to full release and it is something that will always very much be a part of our careers and lives. AMERICAN MARY is heading towards a three year commitment now. You have to love what you’re doing, you have to have a reason as to why you’re creating what you are or telling the story that you are. Make sure that there is a philosophy behind it. Learn from your favorite artists – most of the best films made were made by people thinking out of the box under incredibly difficult circumstances, using their creativity to troubleshoot. ‚Rebel Without A Crew‘ is a great resource for the aspiring filmmaker – we called it ‚the Bible‘ on set and used it for reference constantly. We live in a digital age where information is even more attainable than ever – you can find interviews with your favorite artists, firsthand telling you how they made your favorite movie. You can even tweet or FB some and get advice. Learn as much as you can about everything from set decoration to shot composition to sound choices. Arm yourself with all the knowledge you can and go out and make your film.  

Jen: Be sure it’s what you have to do, not just what you want to do. If you could be just as happy being a teacher or a parent or a doctor, go do that. It’s such a rewarding business, but it’s hard. Very hard. It has the highest highs and the lowest lows. You will at times feel like total crap and regret ever getting into the industry. We all go through it. Some people, like me and Sylv, can’t be happy doing anything else. If you’re reading this, something inside you is telling you either you have to work in this business or you’ll never be happy doing anything else or you’re not sure. If you’re not sure, go do something else. But if you’re like us, buckle up. Stay true to yourself. Stay true to your word. You’re only as good as your word in this business. Never let anything stop you. So many people try, don’t succeed right away, and then give up. Most people give up, but you have to keep going. There’s this great quote from the DAREDEVIL comics, „the measure of a man isn’t in how man times he gets knocked to the mat, it’s how gets back up.“ It’s very true for this business. Surround yourself with good people, legally protect yourself, don’t sign just anything, and make your own damn movie. Do it DIY style and make it so everyone can see what you can do with no budget. Don’t sit around and wait for someone to make your dreams happen for you. Make it happen for yourself.

Twisted Twins

T&K:What comes next? Any new projects already?

Sylvia: We just got announced at the Cannes Film Festival as part of the team of directors coming on the multi-collaborative ABCS OF DEATH 2. I’m really looking forward to being a part of the project – I was such a big fan of the first one. Even when it was first announced, it got me excited about the genre and how this anthology is really shaking things up.  

Jen: We’re really excited to make BOB. It’s our original monster movie. It’s been a long time since someone created a new monster and that’s no good for us. We grew up as 80s brats with so many cool, original, unique monsters done practically. We’re on a mission to bring that into this decade. We’re in dire need of it. We’re working, again, with the wonderful people at MastersFX to bring it all to life and it’s already looking astounding. Our tagline is, „there’s a monster inside all of us… sometimes it gets out.“ We can’t say too much more about it, but it’s not like anything you’ve ever seen before. It’s going to really blow people away.

T&K: Thank you for the interview!

Jen & Sylvia: THANK YOU!!!!

Wer das Interview in Deutsch lesen will…klickt hier

 

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