Film! Girls! Horror! GREAT Interview with THE LADIES OF THE HOUSE creators Justina Walford & John Stuart Wildman
Ladies, we had a real rush watching fright thriller THE LADIES OF THE HOUSE, now Video On Demand @ iTunes.
We recently had the real thrill of having CoWriters Justina Walford and Writer/Director John Stuart Wildman, together creatively on and off screen, describe the process of making the film for us. You have to read this.
What were the inspirations for each of the female characters?
Justina: Because we wanted this skewed Normal Rockwell painting with the ladies in the house, we created the family dynamic and the three main roles of the nuclear family: maternal, patriarchal, and child. And we wanted to explore the archetypes, but keep the gender identity female. So it was really about exploring gender roles within a “boys vs. girls” setting. And the guys, the friends, were definitely a reflection of some archetypes within friendship roles.
John: Exactly. We wanted the women to be dynamic icons – each representing a traditional role within that typical 50s family dynamic. So, it would be easy to see the echoes of Donna Reed in the Lin character, the blue collar dad within the Getty character and of course, the pretty-in-pink princess with Crystal.
How does one design a feminist horror film?
Justina: I don’t think that can be designed consciously. I think it evolved into that as we explored the characters and story. And you know, I understand there is a fad to make movies that’s “just like a movie with all men, but with women!” I’m not a fan of that. I think the more we let women helm the writing and directing, the more we will organically see a feminist perspective.
John: I will say that we definitely wanted to clear the deck of what people routinely expect when it comes to what roles women would play in a genre film. No women as victim or survivor, no women as monsters. No – just make it a woman’s world and let the men have to deal with it for once.
Some horror films break up the tension with humor or camp. This is unrelenting.
John: Oh, the humor is there. It’s pretty dark, but still funny. I think Getty alone has some lines that rarely fail to make the audience laugh – and by design.
Justina: Yes, there is humor, but I admit our comedy is quite a dark gallows humor. And we try to make all humor come out of logical character action. So the humor is just enough to comfort the character, not the audience. So, we’re unrelenting to a viewer who isn’t as morbid as us.
There are several small touches that reference or serve as homages to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Blue Velvet, The Baby… Was there a language to 70’s style horror that you sought to embrace?
John: Most definitely. There is a warmth inherent in so many of those films. You feel it come off of the film and the grain and texture. We wanted LADIES to take you back to that grindhouse flavor, but with a vivid color palette.
Justina: Definitely. 70’s horror had a very specific pace and color to it that we love. It wasn’t until the 80’s that we started to indulge in the rapid fire plot points that we still engage in today. There is a very hyper real pacing so a current audience may feel like it’s dragging, when really the filmmaker was savoring a moment, be it visually or emotionally.
John: Yeah – there was one scene in particular, between Getty and Crystal, that a lot of people would have us cut for pacing (in fact, Farah fought us a little bit on keeping it in) and while we made a lot of adjustments and edits to pay heed to the need and benefit of having a sorter run-time, in this case we held firm and said that scene is one of the things that we felt set the film apart from a lot of cookie cutter stuff we see today. We knew it would irritate some people but we also knew the kind of movie we wanted to make. By the way, nice shout out to THE BABY. That is a weird and freaky little movie.
Talk about your goals in casting.
Justina: We wanted good actors. That’s pretty much it. Talent was more important than draw. And we wanted actors with different styles to really challenge our pacing in the film. And we feel very lucky we got who we did.
John: Yeah. We had some visual looks in mind, we had some personality traits in mind, but we really wanted people that could be directed and would be up for not just taking my lead, but also would embrace these characters and flesh them out. And they did – every single one. I will say that ironically, out of our three cannibals, two turned out to be vegan and had to really tough their way through shooting the dinner scenes and the smell of the meat. That was a little lesson learned on asking that one additional question during the audition process…
There are several douchey characteristics to the male characters that impel the audience to think they get what they deserve, but they are still sympathetic because they are young. Was there a conscious reversal to the women in peril syndrome common to horror or is there a more classical sense of fatality common to classical literature?
Justina: Yes. I think that male fear is very different from female fear. And I think how I, as a woman, react to fear on screen is different than a man. Women live in fear. That’s our life. We plan our days for safety. Many of us know how to make a weapon out of our keys, our purse, our shoes, our clothes. We are vulnerable so all of our choices are motivated from a place of danger. What’s interesting is that while I can enjoy a movie with a final girl, I can’t relax during that movie. The character I relate to is the character in the most danger. Sometimes that’s what I want, but sometimes I rather watch a movie where I can escape and not indulge in that fear. I want to see me in a place of physical power. I think this movie gives women that moment to feel strong but also fear for a character. This time, the mental gymnastics of relating to a different gender aren’t needed. But we still get to enjoy one of the points of a horror film, and that’s fearing a character will die.
John: We also loved the idea of the audience’s loyalty or sympathy maybe shifting back and forth a little throughout the course of the film or at the least, for people to be conflicted about being on one side versus the other, so to speak. We didn’t want it to be a slam dunk for either side.
Can you talk about your directing /writing method?
Justina: I can talk about the writing. And it was fairly easy. I wrote a draft. John came in and did a rewrite. And then we took turns rewriting the script. It was simple. Sometimes we fought tooth and nail, but overall, it was a smooth journey. As soon as we were shooting, he was the director. I didn’t interfere with that process. Which I think and hope is why as we were in the editing stage, he gave me the respect to be producer and be part of major editing decisions.
John: I could see us potentially directing as a team in the future but I wanted to make sure on this first outing that there wouldn’t be any confusion as to who the cast and crew would be looking to whenever there were any critical questions and we were under the gun. We were still talking about every single thing and she was weighing in on everything, but I wanted to play it safe there. And truthfully, I’ll take ideas from anyone if I think it will improve what I was coming in with. I’m not precious with this stuff. So, I would go in with a plan, a shot list, goals, etc. and then adapt within that structure I built for us. Meanwhile, Justina was reminding me about things as was Farah, as was Eve Butterly, our invaluable script supervisor, as was quite a few people. I’d distill much of that, act immediately on some of it and then proceed to coax the actors along to get the stuff I thought we needed – and then got everyone off the set as quickly as we could before we all perished from the heat.
Is collaboration easy or difficult between couples writing together in independent film? How did you resolve plot/ structural/ character disagreements?
John: Of course, you’ll have disagreements and flare ups because your passionate about your ideas and your viewpoint. You expect that. But, we also think the other is really good and really smart and clever and has a definite clue about what they are doing. So, it’s never dismissive.
Justina: We talked it out. We came at each other with mutual admiration and knew if we had a good argument, we’d be heard. I won’t say collaboration is easy. In fact, I’d say before a couple collaborates at work, it’s good to get through any issues at home. If I’m tired and cranky and don’t have the emotional ability to be patient through a tiff about what’s for dinner, I’m certainly not going to be ready to have a tiff about creative differences.
The sets back at the house had a lived in quality but also delivered a great sense of suspense and claustrophobia. How was that achieved?
Justina: Adam Dietrich and his team in the art department really put their all into filling the spaces. We wanted lived in, and that team, along with John and I and even members of cast and crew, brought items from our homes and filled the space. John and I even gave the front door of our real house and had it delivered to set. Creating that set was a labor of love from the whole gang.
John: Empty walls and spaces on a set are like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. I hammered home that idea to Adam and he took it to heart and he and Wynona Yu were maniacal with filling in those spaces with the characters’ lives. There was one time where I actually had to stop Wynona from putting more stuff on the set because we had already shot a take for one of the scenes and she hadn’t realized it because she was so focused on getting more stuff in there and making it perfect.
There is a sense that these women have done this before.
John: Normally, you would say this isn’t there first rodeo. Here, I would say this isn’t their first cookout.
Justina: Definitely. These ladies define themselves by what they eat.
Justina, you’re a woman creating horror– what’s that like? Describe your motivations for a horror movie with feminist undertones.
Justina: I don’t really come at my writing as a feminist, but I guess I don’t know how to come at it any other way except as a woman. I love horror. I was a huge horror fan as a child. And to be honest, for years, I thought I couldn’t write horror. I assumed my brain didn’t work for it. But I was looking at slasher films with final girls. To this day, I don’t think I can write a final girl film. But I can make a horrific film with women. So that’s where I go.
Is this a field you will continue to mine?
Justina: I love writing drama and comedy, but I think I got bit by the horror bug now as a writer.
John: We have a few things we need to get out of our system within the horror and thriller genre. There’s other stuff too, but we definitely have some scary things to work through on screen.
What are the plans for the next film?
John: It could be a love story with zombie potential, could be scary religious fundamentalists, some more kick-ass women…
Justina: We have a few scripts moving around. I think we’ll see what sticks. Robots, zombies, bounty hunters, on and on. We played with a lot of stuff.
Describe your planned aesthetic?
John: I think it will always be particular to the film and the subject. But there will always be a well defined style and there will always be a rich attention to detail.
You’ve been all around the country. Was the film designed so that some themes resonate more for some parts of the audience and other themes have a more regional kick to them?
John: Not at all. I definitely agree that a lot of different people pull a lot of different things out of this film. And we LOVE that. The reviews have come at it from many different angles and ideas of what the inspiration was, as well as projecting what the intent was. It’s fascinating to read and hear and thrilling that the film obviously (as modest as it is in some ways) has got people thinking about it and working it out long after they’ve seen it.
It’s a good date movie.
Justina: OLDBOY is our date movie. I’m not sure if our idea of a date movie works for all couples. But yeah, I think it certainly opens up a lot of conversation. I think one’s interpretation of scenes and characters is a sort of Rorschach test.
Are you encouraged by the new style of indie horror that is springing up along with your film? Do you detect a personal indie movement for horror?
Justina: A million times yes. IT FOLLOWS and THE BABADOOK and even a few years back with THE WOMAN and GRACE, I’m so excited to see what’s in store.
John: A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, HOUSEBOUND, WE’RE STILL HERE, AMERICAN MARY, AFFLICTED, PROXY, CUB… It definitely gives you hope as a film fan that there are a wealth of cool new filmmakers dishing out the genre stuff.
There is sex and there is gore and there is a lesbian love scene. Were you worried about a backlash from any quarters?
Justina: Yes and no. We wrote what we wanted to see and I personally love seeing sex and gore and love scenes. If someone is offended, it is not our intention. But it’s also not something we can avoid as artists. We will not be for everyone.
John: I was very sensitive about getting the love scene between Lin and Getty right, just as I was about that relationship in general. I wanted a real, loving, supportive, and sexy relationship between those two very strong characters. I did not want to mess that up and did not want to easily play into any cliché traps. I leaned on Justina, Farah, and Melodie quite a bit with that.
There is a family, but not necessarily a positive role model. Is that necessary in horror?
John: I don’t think so. People are conflicted, no one is perfect, and life is decided in the gray areas, yes? So, this family is loving and supportive toward one another. They also happen to be lethal and cruel toward others that are not in their family. We traditionally celebrate that family structure and that loyalty but add this other element and now what do you do? Condemn them outright? Maybe. Or maybe not.
Justina: Nothing is necessary in horror except horror and even that is up for debate. For us, I don’t think we could create something that didn’t have anti-heroes or at least relatable villains. We don’t want to create role models, but we do want to create characters who do horrific things. And I don’t think a character can be horrific unless they are also relatable.
John: And yes, we can relate to this charming family of women…just…a little bit.
THANK YOU, JUSTINA and JOHN!
May 14, 2015 - Posted by luckygirlmedia | ART, BUSINESS, CULTURE, ENTREPRENEURS, FILM, HOLIDAY GUIDES, LIFESTYLES, opportunity, Uncategorized, We Recommend | #art, #authors, #cannibalism, #culture, #entrepreneurs, #feminist, #film, #filmmaking, #FinalGirl, #girls, #Grace, #grindhouse, #horror, #JohnStuartWildman, #JustinaWalford, #sex, #TheLadiesOfTheHouse, #women, A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, Adam Dietrich, AFFLICTED, AMERICAN MARY, CUB, Director, Donna Reed, entertainment, Eve Butterly, fear, fun, gender, gore, HOUSEBOUND, humor, IT FOLLOWS, John Stuart Wildman, Justina Walford, lesbisn love scenes, Norman Rockwell, PROXY, set design, THE BABADOOK, THE BABY, THE WOMAN, WE'RE STILL HERE, Wynona Yu
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