By James Whittington, Friday 8th July 2011
Jen and Sylvia Soska are twins who enjoy the darker side of cinema and their first movie, the wonderfully titled Dead Hooker In A Trunk is getting its UK TV premiere on Horror on July 29th. It's so cool Eli Roth called it "F***ing awesome" so we decided to have a quick chat with this talented pair.
HC: Would you consider yourselves to have had a normal childhood?
Jen: I would say so, but what do I know? It was my childhood and it's all I've ever known. To me, it was very normal. People ask me all the time what it is like to have a twin and it's kind of funny. I couldn't possibly know what it's like to not have a twin. It's wonderful and I couldn't imagine what it must be like in this world to not have a partner in crime. We have a very close Hungarian, Roman Catholic family. We got together for special occasions and made a pretty big deal of birthdays, Christmas, Easter, and all that stuff. I still talk to my parents almost every day. We went to Church every Sunday and then went home and played with bugs in the yard or played video games. We did very well in school and were always striving to do our best and be our best. We seem very normal, whatever that is. Even these days when people find out we make horror movies they say, "But you're such nice girls." It's funny. Like "nice" people don't like horror. The best people in the world love horror. We've loved all that creepy stuff all our lives. Halloween was a very big production at our place with hand made costumes each year.
Sylvia: I believe so, yet I don't think I nor my twin would fall into the category of 'normal'. There were always things that had a certain taboo about them that attracted our attention. From early childhood, I have loved spiders. They are interesting little critters, but much more interesting is the reaction they bring from the general public. People get so frightened, yet there is a very small likeliness that a spider will harm you. Tarantula's venom is completely harmless to humans, excluding those with particular allergies. We were very lucky to have very supportive parents. There were still rules, but instead of trying to get us to change our interests, they chose to educate us about them. Jen and I loved horror movies. At the age of nine, we had not yet seen one, but that was something we were desperately trying to change. The two of us would haunt our local video rental store's horror movie section and look over the movie cases for the best gore and the scariest monsters. If we found a winner, we would share it with the other and make assumptions as to what happened in the film. Our first film was Poltergeist. We made it through without losing our cool but bedtime was a different story. My mom had watched it with us and afterwards she told us the truth about what we saw - the result of a number of talented artists working together with the intention of scaring the audience. It changed the way I looked at the world, as if I was in on some big secret.
HC: So it’s true Poltergeist was the first horror movie you saw?
Sylvia: Yes and it was awesome. After that, my mom had a very particular rule about horror. It was OK to see the movie if we read the book first. She was an avid Stephen King fan and let us borrow her books. My first book, then movie in Mr. King's horror land was Cujo. Any word or scenario or what not that I had questions about while reading, my mom wanted me to come to her and we would talk about it. It was such a reasonable and intelligent way to deal with mature subject matter.
Jen: Yes! That movie scared the sh*t out of me. I had this clown doll (that looked nothing like the Poltergeist clown aside from the mere fact that it, also, was a clown) and I started to have nightmares of it getting me. My parents put a lock on my closet door, upon my insistence, and I would lock him in there at night, right at the back of my closet, aka the scariest part of the closet. He oddly was permitted out of the closet in the daylight hours. He was only powerful in the dark. I would avoid TVs. I didn't want to get trapped inside one. There was a TV in my living room that you had to pass to leave the house and I can still remember running past it when I had to go out. I've recovered. I've never had a fear of clowns aside from that doll from that film. I LOVED Tim Curry in It. Masterful. I also get a kick out of Twisted Metal's Sweet Tooth.
HC: Did many of your friends share your passion for horror?
Jen: Not really. We didn't have too many friends. We had each other. We've always been outsiders and found ourselves sticking up for and banding together with the underdogs. That's more than fine with me. I love my fellow weirdos. Normal scares me.
Sylvia: Being identical twins, Jen and I stood out a lot growing up. Add a fascination with horror and that just made us stand out more when it was difficult enough to fit in. Luckily as you grow older, you realize that not fitting in and having your own interests is the best way to be. That said, it sucked to be spit on in school and called witches. After we made Dead Hooker In A Trunk, we started to really learn about the horror community and the people who love the genre. It was incredible. It went from not being able to find people that could relate to us and our interests to us having great friendships with people around the world. I feel very lucky to be a part of that community.
HC: Dead Hooker In A Trunk stems from a short you made with the same name. How difficult was it to extend the original premise?
Jen: With a film like Dead Hooker In A Trunk, there are no limitations. We had no rules. We suspend your belief from the get go, even the title of the film itself is intentionally ridiculous to give our potentially audiences a taste of the oddity that awaits them. It was very liberating. The film is just a series of escalating WTF moments and I'm very proud of that. When we were making the short, which was a faux trailer in the Grindhouse style, we would joke and say, "Oh, we'll do this in the feature" or "We'll have Badass do that in the feature". In a way, we were writing the feature the entire time without even realizing it.
Sylvia: The short that we started with for Dead Hooker In A Trunk was a fake trailer for the feature, so we already had the most high action and interesting parts mapped out. We knew we wanted a crass dark comedy with quality gore like the old style grindhouse films. Actually, Grindhouse was playing in the theaters at the time and it really introduced to that style of filmmaking. We have been huge Rodriguez fans since we were little and loved his ten minute film schools - now making a film seemed even more possible. We had his book and first hand account of making his no budget feature - El Mariachi - with us. We nicknamed it the Bible, but its actual title Rebel Without A Crew is almost as appropriate. In it he talks about using creativity to overcome obstacles that a big studio would throw money at to counter. We wrote a script with our limitations and strengths in mind. We chose a style that would be more forgiving in its rougher feel. It was made mostly to entertain each other and hopefully that would translate to people with similar interests.
HC: How do you two write; does one type whilst the other paces around the room?
Jen: Ha ha, Sylvie only paces when she's on the phone. Like a tiger in a cage. We used to write with the recipe card method that we read that Robert Rodriguez used. It worked well for a film like Dead Hooker In A Trunk. We wrote our "stand out scenes" on cards and spread them across the floor. From there, we filled in blank ones for how much time we would reasonably need to get from point A to point B. We have retired that method, for now. Now, we sit on opposite couches and throw ideas back and forth until we get one that we're both really excited about and we flesh it out from there. We write out a time line and then decide who wants what scene. Even then, we know who wants first crack at what.
Sylvia: We play video games usually and tag the other in. Our writing process is really fun when it's not completely stressful. That last part was a joke. What we do to first come up with a concept is just start talking about something cool we would like to see. If an idea is too mainstream, boring, or whatever - the other usually rips it apart before it has a chance to exist. It's a bit harsh, but it's important because the ideas that survive are the goodies. Then we plot out the story line in three acts, plan the main story elements and moments, and plan it out. We'll tell the story back to the other and mess around with different tweaks here and there. We call different sequences that we want to write and have the ability to tag the other in if we get stuck.
HC: Budget wise was it hard to get funding?
Sylvia: I think a lot of projects don't get made because there is this notion that there is a proper way to make a film and only through those means can a project grow and exist. It's hard as hell to get funding, especially today. We didn't want to wait for things to be a certain way to make the film, so we decided to bite the bullet and just make the film. We maxed out all our credit cards and called in every favour we could to make the film, but the film was made. It was an incredible experience because everyone who was there was there because they love making films and wanted to be a part of the project. We had the greatest team ever.
Jen: We weren't funded for Dead Hooker In A Trunk. That film is the result of credit cards maxed out, savings depleted, and the support of our loved ones. I can't say how much the film itself cost just yet as we are finalizing things with our distributors at the moment, but let's just say we wanted to maximize on what we could do with nothing. We had very little support at the beginning, only a few true film makers who could see even back then staring at a script written in Microsoft Word with a pair of fledgling film makers holding it proudly out, smiling, that it could come as far as it has. We're living in a rough time. No one really wants to say it, but everyone's feeling the pinch. Even established, proven film makers are having a hard time getting their work funded. It's scary. It's like what chance does everyone else have to get funding for their work? You have to stick to your guns. So many people quit when it gets hard and it is hard, but you have to stick it out. There's always a way.
HC: Did you use any of the cast from the original short in the feature?
Jen: Very few. Things didn't work out with most of the original cast. It's a huge undertaking to go from a short to committing to do a feature. We lost a couple Junkies do to scheduling. We lost our Goody Two Shoes, originally a girl in the trailer, just before we started filming and we had to re-write the script. MaryAnn Van Graven, our wonderful Key Make Up Artist and one of our Producers was there from the very beginning. She was outstanding. She was with us through all of it and she always believed in the project. She came onto the feature with us. Only myself, Sylvie, and MaryAnn came onto the feature from the trailer.
Sylvia: It's a testament to the ever changing, think fast on your feet mentality you need if you are going to work in this industry. I thought the same cast would want to come to the feature, but we lost almost everyone for various reasons. Directors lose actors all the time and it's what you do when curve balls are thrown at you that really speak to the person that you are. I absolutely f***ing love the team I ended up with. The fact that no actress would play Goody Two-Shoes and the part had to be re-written for a man was one of the best things that happened on this project. CJ Wallis was a phenomenal Goody and was brilliant with all his jobs behind the scenes. We were very blessed with the team we ended up with.
HC: Was it a long shoot?
Jen: Ha ha, it felt long! You should've seen how much we fit into a single day of shooting. Driving all over Vancouver, chasing the sunlight. It was about 6 months shooting on and off. We drove down to LA just to shoot Carlos Gallardo. That was fun. We met on Cinco de Mayo.
Sylvia: I would say under thirty days all inclusive, not mentioning timelines and scheduling. We had some pretty epic shooting days.
HC: If you’d had larger budget (without giving any plot away) would you have shot it any differently?
Jen: We would've punched a trained bear in the face. Seriously. We had to write it out. There was this ridiculous scene where a grizzly steals Junkie's detached arm and Badass chasing it down through the woods. She catches up to it and says, "F*ck you, bear" and one punches the bear out cold. We couldn't get a trained grizzly that could do what we needed so we had to cut it. It was just too complicated. There were a few more explosions and fancy stunt bits that we had to cut down on. Just too dangerous and too expensive. Maybe one day we'll get the opportunity to do a Desperado version of our DHIAT like Rodriguez did with El Mariachi. Then we can punch all the bears we want, ha ha.
Sylvia: It would have been nice to have that money to pay all the people who came out, but I don't think it would have made a difference. The people who made up the cast and crew of this film came out not only for the story but the story behind it. They knew what we were out to do and the inspiration behind it and that's what they wanted to be a part of. You don't get too many instances where cast and crew work together, everyone with multiple jobs, and work such long hard hours with zero compensation.
HC: So what projects are you working on at the moment?
Sylvia: We are in pre-production going into production on American Mary our second feature film. It stars the lovely Katharine Isabelle in the title role and is a very unconventional subject mattered film. We're keeping details relatively quiet, but you can get hints from the set on http://www.abstrakt.me/ We also have a documentary called Please Subscribe that follows YouTube personalities David Choi, HappySlip, Tay Zonday, and Daxflame in this new and ever growing medium of online entertainment. We plan to have it out on the festival circuit later this year.
Jen: American Mary is our everything right now. We go to sleep thinking about it and wake up thinking about it. It has been a much different journey than that of making Dead Hooker In A Trunk. This film will be in a lot of ways the polar opposite of DHIAT while keeping true to our style, colourful characters, witty dialogue, and, of course, our WTF moments. Mary will be much more polished with a much deeper storyline and complex characters. We just can't wait to share this film with the world. After that, who knows? After DHIAT, people wanted to see what we could make with a little money behind us. American Mary is our answer. And wait till you see what we can do. We have such an astounding cast and crew assembled, many of which I believe will be going on to work on our upcoming films as well. The likely "next one"? Probably Bob. He's the favourite right now.
HC: Jen and Sylvia, thank you very much.
Sylvia: Thank you so kindly for taking the time to speak this us. We look forward to sharing the new flick with you very soon!
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Tuesday 29th August
Friday 25th August
Monday 28th August