An Interview with the Twisted Twins about American Mary, female filmmakers and their next projects
The both Canadians Jen and Sylvia Soska, better known as the Twisted Twins,were able to make an international horror hit with their last movie American Mary. Kindly they took their time to answer some questions for us. How they both got involved into filmmaking, what they think about the situation of women in the business, how they prepared themselves for American Mary, what their next projects are going to be and what else they have to say, you can now read in our exclusive interview:
DVD-Forum.at: How did you two get round to filmmaking?
Sylvia: We started acting when we were seven years old. As we grew older, we were less and less impressed with the roles being written for identical twins and women in general. As we got in our twenties, we decided to use our extensive martial arts training to try our hand at stunt work, which led us to a film school with an excellent out-sourced stunt program and nothing else that resembled a 'school' existed after that portion was done. We were frustrated, but we were going to real film school in the theatres because GRINDHOUSE was playing at the time. When the school cut the funding to our final project, we decided to make our own faux trailer with a bit of revenge. We would include everything that was dubbed too inappropriate for school projects in it, as well as the oddly forgotten necrophilia and bestiality. When we presented it at graduation, half the audience walked out and the other half was laughing so loud that you could barely make out the intentionally crude dialogue. We decided to max out our credit cards and call in every favor to turn it into a feature. We made the film and never stopped, we've working ever since. It was like coming home, it was what we always wanted to do, but never knew until we walked ass-backwards into it.
Jen: As far back as I can remember, we had these weird skills that never went together. Story telling, drawing, love of super heroes, socializing, marketing and promotion, bartending, martial arts, time management, acting, writing.... then we found filmmaking and it all feel into place. If you think bartending doesn't fall into filmmaking, you've never made a film. It was like coming home. It's that feeling you get when you know you're doing what you're meant to. Even my worst day doing thins is better than my best day in retail or hospitality.
DVD-Forum.at: Would you say it is generally harder for a woman to establish in the the film business, especially in the horror genre?
Sylvia: Yes and no. There are some people who have the mind set that women cannot direct films. There are people who are misogynistic assholes, but you run into that kind of thing every day. There is sadly an epidemic of morons out there, but it's out dated and the nice thing about dinosaurs is that they die. I think the vast majority of people want to see something different and unique in the horror genre, and if that comes from a female filmmaker, cool. I've had an incredible amount of support from people in the industry that I have been fans of for years, if the work is good, then it doesn't matter what your gender is. That said, there is a startling small amount of well-known female filmmakers, I think it's changing, but it will take years before we see any real change. All artists can do is support one another and make consistently good work. One of my favorite quotes on the subject comes from Dorothy Arzner, the only woman director during Hollywood's golden age, she said: "I made one box office hit after another. If I had a failure in the middle, I would have been finished."
Jen: It depends. There are wonderful supportive people out there and then there are people who are praying for your downfall and waiting to watch you fail, just like any business. I'm sure being female has opened as many doors for us as it's closed. People have hated our work based on the fact that they don't care for us, and that's fine. We don't really care for people who judge others on their gender, age, or appearance. I feel the emphasis should be on the work. If we produce strong films, I feel it is good for women everywhere because it shuts up people who make idiotic blanket statements like "women can't direct" or "women can't write". Horror has been a place for female empowerment for ages, especially with the final girl character type. She's evolved from the frightened Laurie Strodes of the world into the fearless femme fatales such as Ellen Ripley and Buffy Summers. I feel that's a direct reflection of the times. Women and men each have unique voices. It's unfortunate but true that they say films about women and their struggles don't sell. That there isn't a market for it. That's something that has to change. It is, but not quickly enough.
DVD-Forum.at: "American Mary" is your second movie and the first one to be distributed worldwide and shown in the US-theatres - did you ever expect such a successful launch?
Sylvia: I feel really lucky to have had such a tremendous amount of support with the new film. We had a limited theatrical with HOOKER, so theatrical was always a goal with MARY. The only reason why the film has gotten to where it is is because of the people who have stood by the film from the teams that allowed it to be the film we set out to make and the people around the world that have watched it, shared their thoughts on it, and gotten the word out. A film is only successful if people watch it and this release is allowing just that. It's an honor for us as filmmakers to have this opportunity.
Jen: I had nothing but faith in the response from the fans. I knew they'd "get it", but their out pour of support has us floored. The tattoos, the cosplaying, the fan art, the tribute videos, the photos, the screenings they've held, the girls who have cut their hair to look like Mary... it's just so much more than we could have even dreamed for. Our fans are just the best people in the planet. They're just better than everyone else. I love them so much. They're the reason we do what we do and they're the reason we get to keep doing what we do.
DVD-Forum.at: The topic of your movie is rather exceptional, how did you prepare yourselves for your work on body modification?
Sylvia: I had stumbled upon body modification online through an April Fool's prank that featured two identical twin brothers who swapped limbs. It scared me. My mother always taught me that if something scares you, it's from a lack of education on the subject. I became obsessed with the body mod community. My fear turned to fascination to admiration. Here was a group of very self-aware, brave, interesting people that are villainized because people haven't taken the time to understand them. For the film, we brought Russ Foxx on to be our flesh artist consultant to keep the realm of body mod authentic even with the fantastical elements of the story. The body mod community has been so warm and welcoming to us, it was our intention to re-introduce the community to the world in an honest way.
Jen: We're not members of the body mod community ourselves. We have our ears pierced and our navels pierced, but that's about it for mods for us. It was important for us to not unintentionally say or write something ignorant. Russ Foxx was wonderful in working with us in that regard. He is so well educated about body modification and is very down to Earth. People have this false and negative idea of who the people in the body mod community are. We wanted this film to be their first true introduction into this world and the people in it.
DVD-Forum.at: In your cast appears a very well known actress, Katharine Isabelle - how did you connect?
Sylvia: We are big horror nerds and we have been fans of Katie's work for years. I met her briefly on the set of JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS where she was sweet to fan girl me. I decided that one day I would work with, which I suppose sounds crazy. I kept watching her films, but wanted to see the next step from GINGER SNAPS where this high calibre actress carries a film with a masterful performance. We wrote the script for her, we sent it to her, she read it, and we had a meeting. The meeting ended up with us closing down three places and passionately talking about body modification, radical feminism, and the recession til five am, we became best friends. She's so talented and down to earth, I can't say enough good things about her. Even if you hate the film, you can't hate her performance in it.
Jen: We'd been watching Katie and her career for years. We have a feel for people. You have to when you're a writer and director. Your job is to recreate life and you need to be able to pick up signals and qualities off of people. Most of life is people talking without coming right out and saying what they really mean. You have to read between the lines. You can pick qualities of strength, intellect, bravery, humor, vulnerability... all those attributes were so important to the character of Mary. We saw all of that in Katie and more. She's got this amazing presence. You see her and you just know she's special. We never write for an actor because you just don't know if it'll work out. You end up seeing an actor instead of the character, but Katie IS Mary. We broke our rule for her. There never was another Mary and we never asked her to audition. With a body of work like she has it's just ignorant to ask her to. It's all out there. She has that power and can show her vulnerability in such a beautiful way. She is one of our generations great actresses and she's more than proven that with the film and in her body of work. You'll certainly be seeing us working together again. We've fallen hopelessly in love now.
DVD-Forum.at: You two are twins - did this lead to confusions within the team during the making?
Sylvia: Jen and I born collaborators, we've spent our lives as a team, so I don't even know what it would be as a separate entity. We have vastly different personalities, but when it comes to ideas and our work, we're almost always on the same page. We knew two directors could potentially be confusing, and imagine two directors that look the same that are saying two different things. Often cast and crew would ask us the same questions apart from one another to marvel how we say the same thing. We share a brain essentially.
Jen: Not at all. We're one person in two bodies. On set, we are a unified front. We're so in tuned with one another that we can easily divide and conquer. If one of us is called out of a meeting or off set, the other can carry on seamlessly. If we're asked the same question, we will answer the exact same. Often word for word, much to the amusement of our cast and crew.
DVD-Forum.at: Did you ever in a film like this experience situations when the actors said they didn't want to do special scenes?
Sylvia: I find that kind of thing only happens when there is poor communication or vision with a project. Everyone involved in the film, cast and crew knew the film we were making and why we were making, why every element was there. We had a modest budget and a horrid fifteen day shooting schedule, so no one was there for an easy time, they were there because they cared about the story we were telling and wanted to be a part of making it great. We all knew what we were getting into and we became this big film family, even with impossible obstacles, we kept the film's soul intact. It was a good environment and that added a lot to the safety the actors felt, we had closed sets for the higher content moments. We've both been the body double girl and we know what makes a positive experience and what makes it dehumanizing, it's important to us to have everyone feel safe on our sets.
Jen: No. I've in the past had actors complain about blood and prosthetics, but I do not tolerate that. The work that is done by MastersFX and prosthetic artists is an honor to be a part of and such a vital part of performance. I don't understand actors who don't get that and I have no patience to work with them. No one on MARY had any problems with any of the scenes. I'd never ask an actor to do something in a film that I wouldn't be comfortable doing myself.
DVD-Forum.at: What are your conclusions on the making of the film?
Sylvia: I am very proud of the film that was created. I love my team. I cannot wait to bring them back for the next one, and the one after that and the one after that. I remember facing a lot of opposition before making the film regarding the themes, the characters, how the film would be shot - we stayed true to our vision and fought hard to have the film that we have made. I learned a lot making this film. I don't think I will ever make a film as personal as this again. I'm a private person and now people know me a lot better than I am necessarily comfortable with. I know I needed to make this film at this time in my life, I had to have this experience, and it will greatly affect how I make films in the future.
Jen: AMERICAN MARY was a film that had to be made right now. It's a "right now" story and brings to light many issues that are very relevant. I love the team that made it possible. My crew are just the most talented and capable people I've ever had the pleasure of working with and I cannot wait to bring them together on the next one. I love my cast. I feel that even though things were changed from our original vision, the story we were trying to tell is still there. It's very hard to make such a personal film. I say we won't do it again, but we will. Every film is very personal. it should be. It has to matter. If it doesn't, why are we making it? The film is not ours anymore. It's out so it belongs to everyone. As it should.
DVD-Forum.at: Can you give us an idea of what you are planning to do next?
Sylvia: The next film that we are in the prep stages of right now is called BOB. It's an original monster movie where we will be teaming up with Masters FX for something very unique. The tagline is: There's a monster inside all of us, sometimes it gets out.
Jen: We're also going to be part of the ABCs of Death 2 which is a huge honor for us to be a part of. The line up of talent is just phenomenal and I love the producers. This project is going to really blow people away. It's like the first one on LSD, ha ha
DVD-Forum.at: Could you imagine to come to Germany or Austria to meet your fans to during a horror convention?
Sylvia: I would fucking love to! We were hoping to come over with the film this year, but were unable to. We're planning to remedy that with the next film - cannot wait to visit and meet everyone. The nicest thing is that the way communication works in this world, so through twitter, facebook, and tumblr, we are able to talk to people across the world until we get the pleasure of meeting in person. I dig that.
Jen: Oh, we'd LOVE to!! I've been dying to go to both. We're Hungarian and have family in both Austria and Germany. Please let us know of any and all conventions going on and we'd love to try to make it out. We were going to go to Germany last year, but didn't get to which really broke our hearts. We've been plotting and scheming to come over ever since, ha ha
DVD-Forum.at: Is there anything else you'd like to say to your fans here in Austria and Germany?
Sylvia: Thank you so kindly for supporting the film, thank you for getting the word out about it and sharing it with friends. We promise to have a lot of cool new projects coming up and cannot wait to come over and see how the films play in front of Austrian and German audiences.
Jen: We love you! Wir lieben euch. I promise to brush up on my German before I get there, but we're going for you. Both of you. And hopefully Hungary, too. Thank you so very much for your out pour of love and support. You have a HUGE place in our hearts. We'd love to come shoot in Germany.
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