ARTIST SPOTLIGHT - WOMEN IN HORROR

dionne copland

Interview by Nate Ludwig

NL:  Your short film Inferno seems to have a lot of influences, including everything from Argento to Franco, but still manages to be its own thing. Can you talk a little bit about your inspiration for making it how it came to be? 
 
DC:  Something that seems to surprise people is that my biggest influence on the piece, from a style perspective, is Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls (1995). I am a huge fan of the film, perhaps not from a narrative stand point, but no matter anyone’s thoughts on the film, there’s no disputing how beautifully shot and production designed the film is. There is also a splash or two of Argento; I’m a huge fan of his Three Mother’s Trilogy (including Inferno (1980)) and he’s a master at crafting light. 

As for the narrative itself, I am a practicing Witch and I wanted to see more female written and directed Witchcraft stories. There are plenty of fantastic Witchcraft films, but very few are female helmed. I was over the moon to see Anna Biller’s The Love Witch released the same year as Inferno and I was lucky enough to have my short attached to her film during Vancouver’s Cinemafantastique II.
 
I find Witchcraft a great way to express myself as a woman and it was something classically used against women, as is their sexuality, so I wanted Inferno to make a point of having women use what’s been used against them to find power.
 

NL:  You've directed several shorts and have some features in the pipeline. What drives you creatively and how do you keep up such a dynamic pace?
 
DC:  My first passion is writing, so whenever I have the chance to dig in deep into characters I find myself falling in love with them and needing to tell their story. My second love is directing, because I like working with actors, and I’ve been fortunate to have such a great group of collaborators that I have continued to work with over the last three projects. It’s easier to get the ball rolling when I can bring a project to willing and passionate artists happy to come on board again.
 
My partner, Turner Stewart, is one of the most driven Producers I could be lucky enough to know, he’s great at pushing us to take every opportunity and we encourage each other to dive in and take risks. We’ve just finished shooting our first feature this past December, which was a big commitment, but we realized that we cannot wait for the perfect time or for opportunity to fall into our laps, so we decided to just go for it.
 

NL:  What brought you into the world of filmmaking? Is it something you always wanted to do or did it just happen organically?
 
DC:  I was a huge film fan from an early age, my parents and I spent every weekend at the video store picking rentals and I was encouraged to enjoy movies. However, I would always gravitate to the Horror section to peruse the VHS covers of the movies I wasn’t old enough to watch yet, dreaming about what terrors awaited in from inside the box. Amityville 1992: It’s About Time (1992) was particularly enticing and I still stand by the fact that it’s one of the strongest instalments in the franchise. Anyway, I wore my parents down and started watching horror movies regularly from age eight forward; it will always be my favourite genre.
 
I was also a drama kid in high school, so originally I went to college for acting, but in group projects I found that the other students would look to me to tell everyone what to do, that’s when I realized I preferred directing, I wanted to see the whole piece on its feet. I dropped out of my acting degree two years in and transferred to UBC to take Film Production and to focus on Directing.
 

NL:  You have a feature film you just wrapped called Cold Wind Blowing. Tell us a little about that. It looks intriguing.
 
DC:  Both Turner and myself were born in Saskatchewan, raised in Alberta, and are now living in B.C, so we wanted to focus on a story that was unapologetically Western Canadian. We shot on location in Saskatchewan to tell a story about a group of friends that vacation at a cabin to spend Christmas together when a tragic incident occurs. It’s an exploration of trauma through a genre lens, touching on divorce, siblings, betrayal, surrogate family, loss, and growth.
 
I wrote the screenplay in three months, spoke with actors that I’ve worked with in the past including Inferno’s Angela Way (Amber), Dallas Petersen (Jason), and Alex Lowe (Brad), and Haxx Deadroom’s Nalani Wakita (Lucy) and Shannon Kehler (Foxfur), and introducing one new face, Griffin Cork. Everyone was on board, which we really wanted a level of trust that comes from having worked together before considering how much work it was going to be living together for twelve days between a haunted cabin in the woods, my Meema’s house, and a little B&B in small town Saskatchewan. We were also lucky to have other frequent collaborators on board such as Tara Thorburn (Key Makeup Inferno and Haxx Deadroom), Michelle Grady (Special Effects on Computer Hearts and Haxx Deadroom), Graham Trudeau (Soundtrack Inferno, Computer Hearts, and Haxx Deadroom), as well as my best friend Jessoa Hepfner (Set Decoration), and Turner’s cousin, Colton Hutchinson (Sound).
 
Turner and I pooled together our resources, asked my parents, as well as some of my relatives to crew up, and headed into the Saskatchewan wilderness with our six cast and our four to eight crew members, and shot 101 pages over ten days. There were days where we were the best versions of ourselves and some days where we were all the ‘I have been awake for 72 hours’ worst versions of ourselves, but it was an incredible experience and we all grew as filmmakers, artists, and people. I wouldn’t trade my time in the haunted cabin with my fellow artists for the world.
 

NL:  One of the other features you have in development is a feature-length version of Inferno. How will you expand on that narratively and what are some of the challenges that face you here?


DC:  I wrote the feature length version of Inferno in January 2016, which I’m sure I would alter a bit now that some time has passed, but it’s a lot of fun and has a very 80s sensibility.
 
In the feature the short film is the opening of the movie and the rest of the film follows two cops, Gillian and Jimmy, as they try to solve the mystery of all the recent murders piling up that seem to be connected to the club. The movie, of course, also features our Witches trying to outfox them.
 
The film would require a larger budget so it’s a project that will remain on the shelf until we can see the resources we’d need to do it the justice it deserves.
 

NL:  Your longtime collaborative partner is Turner Stewart. Tell us a little bit about how you came together and what it's like to work so frequently with each other?
 
DC:  Turner and I met while volunteering at our campus theatre and discovered we liked all of the same films and had the same career aspirations, we started dating about a month later, on Halloween 2013.
 
During the first six months of our relationship Computer Hearts completed principal photography and then we were both accepted to the Film Production program for the fall. While in film school we completed Don’t Look Down (2014), S.I.D.S (2014), Inferno, and Haxx Deadroom (2017). Cold Wind Blowing is our first project since graduating in May.
 
It can be difficult to run a business with your partner, but we both have different areas of specialization, which makes us a good team. Given how important film is to both of us, it would be difficult to imagine a life where we didn’t have CyberCraft Video Productions and didn’t work together. We’ve been making films since we started dating so it only made sense to go into business together.
 

NL:  I see you're involved with the Cinemafantastique Film festival in Vancouver. How did that come to pass and what's it been like being a part of it?
 
DC:  Both Turner and myself were involved in Cinemafantastique during its first two years. We had met the director of the festival, Vince D’amato, through our Cult Cinema class, where he was a frequent guest speaker.
 
As his company and ours have so many personal projects on the go, we are no longer involved due to schedules, but it was a lot of fun and the festival continues to show great content and is always worth supporting for both fans and filmmakers.
 

NL:  What's been a defining experience in the world of filmmaking for you so far? Anything that has informed your career so far?
 
DC:  Seeing my first major piece play festivals was important for me. Inferno is a deeply personal piece for me and it really is my rambunctious first child, a film without which I wouldn’t have met most of the people I still work with today. It was my first major solo directing project and the biggest budget I had worked with at that point, and it means the world to me that it made its way on the genre festival circuit and that there are people who liked it. Especially when I felt like a bit of a weirdo through film school, Turner and I were the only people in our cohort working in genre and sometimes that made it really lonely. Seeing Inferno do well was vindicating that I could be who I am and make what I want to make and that genre matters. Inferno taught me that I’m where I should be and that there are plenty of people that know and love horror and that we’re a great community.
 
I think finding your niche is important. You need to find your voice and to be true to yourself and your vision, there are people who will love you for it, and people who will hate you for it, but you have to make yourself proud. That’s what Inferno did for me.
 

NL:  What advice can you give women looking to get into the indie film industry that could help them navigate through all the bullshit?
 
DC:  There are plenty of people that are going to stand in your way. You’re going to find people disliking you or thinking you’re ‘bitchy’ for standing up for yourself, and all I can say when that happens is ‘Fuck ‘em’. You don’t really want to work with people that would find working with a woman that gives a shit about herself and her voice a detriment. Please don’t make yourself smaller for these people, reach out to other women in film and collaborators that have your best interests at heart. Call your mom (or your best friend), she’ll think every word you write is brilliant and sometimes that’s the call you need to remind you to push forward.
 
You’re going to be misunderstood more than your male counterparts, but don’t let that discourage you, tell the stories you want to tell, and have each other’s backs. Champion your fellow women in film whenever you can, hold onto the collaborators you trust, and above all, always trust your gut.
 
I support you, keep going.
 

NL:  Seen any good movies lately? 
 
DC:  I work at a great video store in Vancouver called Videomatica so I spend a lot of my time watching home video releases and Blu-Ray reissues instead of going to the theatre, but I did go see Shape of Water, which I loved, but I didn’t expect anything less from Del Toro.
 
On home video I’ve recently watched the entire Wishmaster (1997- 2002) collection and while everyone shits on the fourth installment, I personally found it charming and ridiculous, I loved it. I also watched Ken Russell’s The Lair of the White Worm (1988) for the first time and it blew me away, absolutely magnificent, and the Vestron Blu-Ray release is gorgeous. I also picked up After Midnight (1989), which I hadn’t even heard of, but it ended up being a really great little anthology piece.