Cult Projections: You’ve acted in over seventy productions, what made you decide to want to direct? Where there any specific movies that inspired you? What is it about horror that appeals to you as a director?
Jessica: Honestly I never initially wanted to direct, at all. I had co-written Truth or Dare and my team and I had made a short list of directors who we felt would do a great job. Alas half of those directors wanted to tone down the script, which was something I refused to do. The second half needed to push the shooting dates due to schedule conflicts which meant we would have to recast, and since we had written the script for most of the actors I didn’t want to do it without them. My team suggested that I go behind the camera to direct since I knew and loved the material so very much. I did and have no regrets. I learned a lot, had a great time and now try to direct at least one film a year, it helps me to make sure that I am involved with content that I love.
CP: How easy or difficult was it to get Truth or Dare financed and made?
Jessica: Financing was not as hard as I thought. I raised some with private investors then additional funds via crowd funding. Crowd funding was harder then I thought, though I loved the ability to connect with the fans all around the world. The ability to have them come along for the ride was powerful and they were, and are, a constant source of support.
CP: As a director making a horror movie, what part of pre-production, what part of principal photography, and what part of post-production do you find easiest and hardest?
Jessica: Truthfully, each aspect is hard in its own way. For me pre-production has the benefit that its overall calmer, as the team is smaller and you have greater control of everything, and not so much can not go wrong ‘till filming. Principal photographer is harder then pre-pro as anything and everything that can go wrong on a film set usually does. You have to really think on your feet and move fast, you need a clear vision, and have to fight to make that vision a reality. The hardest for me is post-production; as I could tinker with a film in post for years, which, obviously, would be counter-productive, especially at the independent level, as there is just an endless amount of things that you could do. That being said, any day working on movies is a great day.
CP: The depiction of delusion and madness is often portrayed in horror movies, what are some of the ones that you love. Were there any that directly influenced or inspired Mania?
Jessica: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was a huge inspiration, I have been a fan of Michael Rooker ever since. I was blessed to speak extensively with director John McNaughton at FrightFest last year about this film and his career, that man is such an inspiration. Natural born Killers was an inspiration – more with regards to the dream sequences, which show glimpses of alternate personas. Thelma and Louise was also an inspiration, and though it’s not a horror film it does show regular women pushed over the edge of normal behaviour in a hard situation.
CP: How important is atmosphere, tone, and mood in a horror movie? How do you, as director, help to create these elements?
Jessica: It’s crucial for me in all genres of films, though in horror films it’s mandatory. A horror film is an experience; it’s a ride, a journey, a roller coaster of emotions. As a director I try to make sure that my vision is translated to film in every single aspect and to do that I have to hire the right people who are the best fit (at a price I can afford) for the film I am creating. The DP must love the vision I want to create, as much as I do. The set decorator needs to understand my intentions and atmosphere. The FX, grips, gaffers, sound, and everyone else involved needs to be on the same page. For me filmmaking is a team effort, and it takes the right team to really sell atmosphere, tone and mood.
CP: What are your thoughts on the role of the horror filmmaker, in terms of providing fans the necessary goods, but also appealing to as broad a demographic as possible so the movie hopefully makes a profit?
Jessica: I think that marketing and branding is crucial to everyone working in the film world today. That said I don’t believe in trying to appeal to a large market if that is not “your thing”. For me I love the films that no one else is making, the films that I, as a horror fan, want to see and shake my head and wonder why it hasn’t already been created. Now the benefit is that no one else is making them, but the downside is no one else is making them. However, I am a big believer in truth and that is mandatory in everything I do, so I can only brand myself as myself. Which means I will not, nor will my films, appeal to everyone. That is ok. I actually don’t think horror films should mass appeal to everyone. Horror will, by its definition, not appeal to everyone. I think by trying to mass appeal you can far too easily turn off the horror crowd who are surrounded by a bunch of people doing the same films that are trying to mass appeal to the world. I think knowing what type of filmmaker you are and making art that reflects that, is the key to longevity in the horror genre.
CP: Are there still taboos left in the horror genre, and if so, what? What movies have you enjoyed that pushed the boundaries?
Jessica: According to the mainstream public much of the horror genre is taboo. However, I think within the genre the only thing that’s really off limits are snuff films, or the actual filming of a real human/animal getting hurt or killed on screen. I love Martyrs, which to many people pushes multiple boundaries, but I think it is a spectacular film. Yes, it is a hard watch, but the torture depicted is the whole point of the film itself, and I do not find it excessive for that reason. Oldboy is another favorite of mine (the original, obviously).
CP: What’s your take on performance within the horror movie genre; do you like to give actors (including yourself) the room for improvisation? Do you rehearse much, or at all?
Jessica: Allowing good actors room to really own their characters and improvise helps a project tremendously, I encourage it on my sets. As an actor I know how much work goes into crafting a character and when the actor has done that work and is in that headspace they should have room to play around. I rehearse as much as scheduling allows. For Truth or Dare we rehearsed every night before the shoot the next day. For Mania there was little time for rehearsing, so much of it was done while camera and lights were getting set up, as we blocked the scenes. That being said, I think the more rehearsing the better.
CP: If you could have remake any movie and have your dream cast, what would it be and whom would it include?
Jessica: I would love to remake Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom. Although I love this film, and appreciate the fact that it is very 70s in its style, I would love to remake it in a more vicious tone, and show it from the POV of the captors. I really wanted to know more about them and the first film is quite vague with who they are and their motives. In a perfect world my captors cast would be led by Jamie Lee Curtis, Vera Farmiga, Sheri Moon Zombie, Michael Rooker, Doug Bradley, and Jeffrey Combs. I would love to see Kiernan Shipka, Evan Bird, Ty Simpkins as victims. For a wild card I would like to throw in Miley Cyrus too, if for no other reason than I suspect horror fans would like to see her fighting to survive. Obviously that is a dream cast, but dreams happen in Hollywood ... Right?
CP: Thanks Jessica, good luck!
Mania is screening as part of Sydney’s A Night Of Horror International Film Festival, Saturday, December 5th, 11pm, Dendy Newtown.