ARTIST SPOTLIGHT - WOMEN IN HORROR

Mia'Kate Russell

Interview by Nate Ludwig

NL:  What's your story so far? What inspires to to make movies?
 

MR:  You know that scene in FAME when all the kids start dancing on the street? That's where my heart goes when I'm working on a film. I come from a theater background starting at 15, and just thrive on the feeling of Comradery.  A group of passionate people (who are poor because they don't have 9-5 jobs) going above and beyond to create a singular vision between them, was, and is, what inspires me most. It's like making a baby with your mates without the sex and you can put the baby down and make another one when you get over it. 

 

NL:  Liz Drives is a visceral gut punch thriller of a movie. It's heartfelt, gripping and ultimately tragic. It takes you on an emotional roller coaster in less than ten minutes. What has the reaction been like for this film and has it met your expectations and vision for it in the end?
 

MR:  Thank you for those kind words! I know what I wanted to get on the screen, and the result I was after. I always find post production such a gut wrenching experience trying to get the finished product to match the film in my head. I was so lucky to have Liz Drive's cinematographer Tim Egan come on as editor. Thanks to his skills (loyalty and determination)  the film represents the message and mood I was trying to get across. The response has been pretty great, and I love watching people see it for the first time. Sitting in a cinema there's nearly always one woman who I'll hear whisper 'oh no' at the end. And inside my head i give a happy air punch.

NL:  Has anyone told you the ending is too much? Or has it been universally praised?
 

MR:  No I haven't heard the end is too much, though last night I heard myself say "If i put maggots in her eye then we shouldn't have the corpses in the next scene" then marveled at what a fun sentence that was.
 

NL:  You're from Victoria, Australia? I'm fascinated with your home country. Coming from an American suburbs boy like myself, what is that like? Are the horror stories of "everything can kill you" overblown, or are you Australians just used to it all by now?
 

MR:  Oh completely overblown, but it's fun to scare people. Victoria is fabulous though, a great city and a 40 minute drive in each direction and you have beach, bush land, even rain forests - basically if you do die here the scenery is gorgeous as a back drop. 

I was doing SFX on a film in Florida last year, and a local asked me about dangerous Australia. I said 'Mate don't ask about koala's, while we're standing in an Alligator swamp'. But lets face it the biggest threat to everyone is people, and they're just everywhere. 

 

NL:  You've a few other short films before Liz Drives. Tell us a little bit about them. 
 

MR:  My first three - 'Auditioning Fanny', 'Swallow', and 'Death by Muff' all share the combination of humour, colour, blood, and one of my favorite actresses Lulu McClatchy. 

'Auditioning Fanny' was fun and camp, and being over excited i crammed as much in as i could, I'm lucky I had actors that could pull it off .  Swallow was my first attempt of commenting on how I feel about society through my films, and my first 'monster' movie. The sight of Jay Bowen as the gay werewolf, eating the homophobic Christian neighbors, will always be vision I am truly proud of (check out the werewolf design by '3rd eye FX studio').   'Death by Muff' was for the ABC's of Death comp, which was great because it introduced so many horror hounds across the globe to each other. Have to say, the horror community is one of the most supportive communities I've been in, and just attracts awesome, generous people. 

 

NL:  You also do makeup and special fx work for feature films in Australia, including Red Hill, which I thoroughly enjoyed. What was your experience on that set and how is the film industry in general there these days?

MR:  I infamously rolled my car off a mountain 7 times on the way to that shoot. I found myself lying in this small town hospital emergency room after locals found me on the side of the road. Was so looking forward to meeting the producer  Al Clarke (he produced '1984' 'chopper' 'Priscilla' etc) and as nurses are getting glass from my head, I heard this gentle voice say 'I'm so glad you're still with us dear' and turned to see Al holding his hand out. I shook his hand with my filthy blood spotted hand, and needless to say we felt quite a bond after that. 

The shoot was great fun, and ended with the 'burning barn' scene. The director Pat Hughes gave us an Impromptu break dancing performance in front of this huge blazing fire, and ended saying 'That's a wrap'. Everyone walked from that job with a big smile on their face. 

 

The Australian film industry is incredibly frustrating. I doubt there would be any 'Cate, Hugh, Nic or Margot's at the Oscars if they hadn't left here and gone to the states. I'm not exaggerating, but the quality level of cast and crews here are amazing. All we need is one rich producer to come here and do a Blumhouse. Give five productions one million each. One will be a hit. Then give ten productions one million each. That man has turned genre films around over there, over here it would turn our entire industry around. And it's desperately needed.


NL:  What are some of your own thoughts, feelings or emotions that you try to make sure end up in your films, either consciously or subconsciously?

MR:  In Swallow the overriding theme was homophobia, and in Liz Drive's it's inherent racism. But I'd never advertise those films like that. I am very, and probably often annoyingly, opinionated. If I see a fence sitter all I want to do is push them and see what side they land on. This is predominantly a female trait of needing to please everyone, I see many more men standing by their convictions. I do think if you want to make films, you have to feel passionately, and tell stories that are meaningful to you. 

 

NL:  Have you had a chance to go on tour with Liz Drives much via the festival route? Any interesting stories or adventures to tell?
 

MR:  I adored a festival called 'Terror Molins' in a small town in Spain last year, and also the 'Women in Horror Film fest' in Atlanta. The WIHFF was just great and I met some brilliant ladies there. Found myself sitting by the two leads of the original 'Nightmare on Elm st', I wanted to say 'I've loved horror since I saw you getting ripped to shreds on the ceiling' But I was too shy and just smiled awkwardly instead, 

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NL:  What's next for you? Do you have another short in the works or are you working toward a feature?
 

MR:  I'm shooting another short in 2 weeks and have two feature scripts ready to go when I get the funds. But I might just become this old broad that makes horror shorts forever, gets tattoos and hangs out with dogs..

 

NL:  Seen any good movies lately?
 

MR:  My recent favorites are 'I,Tonya', 'Three billboards...' and 'Get Out'. They're all intelligent, entertaining, and have great female characters. I think because I watch so many horror films, half my female character viewing is naked chicks getting killed or having sex because it's 'exploring sexuality' (because that needs more exploration). When I see films that keep a woman's clothes on, she's not completely revolved around a man, and by the and of the film I can't tell you what kind of underwear she wears, I just want to buy that director a drink. For me, nobody is saying 'no more white, male stories' or 'no more naked women screwing men' on the screen. It's more that, we've seen so much of that for a long time. let's get adventurous and shake it up a bit. 

 

NL:  What's the one thing you see young women coming up in the film industry struggling with that you'd like to give advice on, to help them be successful?


MR:  The best advice i'd give to young women, is to trust yourself. Years ago I wrote the outline of a psychological horror around a single mum and her son, and a couple of people said a middle aged woman and her son story wouldn't get funding, or an audience. The next year The Babadook came out. The most creative people i know are the most insecure in their work, but because you're insecure, it doesn't mean the confident people giving you advice are right. Trust yourself.