Interview with Elza Kephart, director and co-writer of Slaxx
By James Whittington, Sunday 25th October 2020
SLAXX_Elza_(C)photoB-Calmeau_0125FrightFest is all about originality and new talent and 2020 has been a belter of a year for such things. Slaxx from Elza Kephart is a prime example of the new and exciting creative talent that's out there at the moment. We chatted to Elza about this superb shocker.

HC: Are you a big horror movie fan?

EK: Yes, huge! I started my horror adventure when I was a pre-teen, reading Agatha Christie, R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike, Anne Rice. If there wasn't a death I wasn't interested. From that, I migrated to horror films; when I was about ten, I watched Aliens, the Fearless Vampire Hunters, Exorcist 2. I might have been a little too young, I remember being really affected by Exorcist 2 even if it wasn't a great movie! After that, I would force my younger cousin to watch horror films at Christmas; it became a twisted tradition. And when the Fantasia Film Festival started in Montreal, around 1996-97, I immediately started going. I wouldn't miss it! That really started my horror "education". But funny enough, when I went to film school, I never thought I would make horror films. It was only when I decided to make my first feature, Graveyard Alive, two years after college, that I realised that genre was definitely my thing. And touring the festival circuit with Graveyard Alive confirmed it; genre filmmakers and audiences felt like my tribe, my people. All my other projects have a horror or fantasy, or death element. Usually there's a woman in there killing someone. Ha!

HC: Where did the idea for Slaxx come from?

EK: It was totally random! I was on a road trip from Gainesville, Florida, to New Orleans, with Patricia Gomez Zlatar (co-writer and producer of Slaxx), and another friend. We are like immature sisters (we were about 24 at the time), and because it was such a long road trip, we started to go a bit bonkers. To pass the time we would tease each other by repeating over and over words that we hated- our other friend hated the word "slacks" so I started repeating it over and over to really bug her. And eventually, it just started to sound like an evil pair of pants coming to get you. Patricia and I were totally obsessed after that, we knew there was a story in there, we just didn't really know what.

HC: The movie has a lot to say about fake/self-obsessed people, sweatshops and the viciousness of fashion and hype, was this your intention from the start?

EK: Not at first. The very first glimpse of the idea was really just about killer pants! We wrote a terrible first draft, put it aside because it was just bad, set in a high school, just killing high school girls willy nilly, but we loved the killer pants elements! Years later Patricia, who had worked at The Gap, suggested we set it in a store. That's when the story really started taking shape. We knew we were onto something, but we still didn't have the full-on social criticism yet. We again put it aside, and years later I felt again it was time to pick it back up, so, while doing research I saw all these documentaries about fast fashion, and the thing just finally gelled really quickly after that. So in the last draft, yes absolutely it was a social commentary. It's like the film was lying in wait, waiting for us to be ready. It came out really quickly after that; in a few months we'd written the new draft. It just took a while to get there!

HC: Did it take long to write and was it written with a cast in mind?

EK: Yes. We came up with the initial concept of killer pants, back in 2001, and the 3rd draft, which is pretty much was you saw, was finished in 2016. But we didn't spend 15 years writing it! We did it in three very short burst. So, all in all it probably took 6 months to 1 year all told. No, I didn't write it with the cast in mind. I only met them when we started the audition process.

HC: What did that cast think of the script when they first read it?

EK: They loved it! They thought it was so crazy, yet thoughtful and emotionally grounded, they really dug it.

HC: The film is wild, what was the atmosphere like on set?

EK: It depended on the day. Some days were awesome, hilarious, we just laughed, but some days were really hard. We had a short shoot for something so complicated; almost every day there was something insane we had to do; pants dancing, a guy getting his limbs torn off, even the mannequin writing was really complicated! I would say it was mostly moment by moments - we would be struggling to achieve something really complicated in the morning, then laughing our asses off after lunch, or vice versa. But usually the feeling at the end of the day was good. We had a great cast and crew who really believed in the film, so their good humour and professionalism kept the shoot light yet focused.

HC: There are so many stand-out moments, which ones were the hardest to achieve?

EK: Lord's death. There were so many elements that had to work together: VFX, SFX, blood, pants, puppetry, and Kenny Wong (Lord) had to basically be covered in blood for a whole day, screaming over and over again. He was such a great sport! He was so amazingly stoic about it. And then we had to do reshoots, and he was like "OK! No problem!" And in editing it was also very tricky to make the scene work because we didn't have a huge amount of material, and it was hard to get the tone right - it had to be gross, but funny. Finding the right music for this scene was also hard; a lot of trial and error; it couldn't be too serious, or we would lose the absurdity of it, but it still had to feel disturbing. In the end it's one of my favourite scenes; like a diamond you had to polish over and over.

HC: Main character Libby is experiencing the worst job of her life, what was yours?

EK: Temping as a receptionist in an internet company. The job itself wasn't terrible, but the cheesy corporate atmosphere made me want to gag. The office coordinator took me around to introduce me as the new receptionist and I wanted to cry! HA HA! I was young and hadn't broken into working on film productions yet, so I was panicking: is this what the rest of my life is going to be! Ordering lunches, sending packages, having to wear "semi-professional" outfits that I would never wear in real life (when I started working in film and learned we could just wear jeans and sweatshirts I was in Heaven!). We had to go on this cheesy corporate team-building boat cruise, and they made everyone wear Hawaiian shirts, which I refused to wear; I pretended it was because I was a temp and didn't feel it was right, since I wasn't really part of the "team". But I did win a 50$ gift certificate on the cruise so it made up for it! So, like I said, the job itself was not terrible, it wasn't hard work, but it was disturbing to see this corporation trying to indoctrinate everyone into the corporate mindset; it was a sense of people having to twist their soul around, to pretend to be part of this fake family, that was disturbing. Even at 22, I felt this was wrong.

HC: Will you be nervous when the film is shown at FrightFest?

EK: No, since I won't be there (crying emoji). The FrightFest programmer said he loved the film so I'm not too nervous about it. The reception in general has been really great, so I can't imagine why the British would hate it all of a sudden! ?

HC: Would you contemplate a sequel?

EK: No. To me Slaxx said everything it had to say. Although Patricia and I are working on a short film about Jesus' loincloth, which I guess is a sequel of sorts, being about another inanimate cloth object.

HC: So, what are you working on at the moment?

EK: I've got a bunch of projects in different stages of development; one with Patricia, where nature takes revenge (like Slaxx but with trees!). It's set in the Medieval era, back when religious orders were taking over land for their monasteries and cutting down a lot of pagan forests. It's viewing the current ecological crisis from a historical perspective. I'm also working on a possession script in French with another friend, set in Quebec. The protagonist/anti-heroine is a woman in her 50's diagnosed with a degenerative disease, who finds the key to eternal life through her relationship with a violent yet sassy ghost that's occupying her house. I'm also writing another script, by myself, called A Mid-life Apocalypse. It's about two middle-aged, middle-class women who have found refuge in a small country cottage the woods after the ecological and climate crisis has decimated populations and caused social collapse. They have to bring a young woman back to her father's bunker in order to get supplies to survive, and shenanigans occur along the way. It's a comedy!

HC: Elza Kephart, thank you very much.

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Peter Daskaloff Anitdote

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Francesco Erba As In Heaven director

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