Haunted Honeymoon

An Open Letter to Horror Actresses and Filmmakers

With the advent of the prosumer camcorder, more and more “filmmakers” are coming out of the woodwork in a similar fashion to the infamous GWC’s of the modeling industry. 

Basically a GWC is a “guy with a camera” or “guy with camera.” These are males with little to no equipment who hold nude modeling shoots usually for their “private collection.” Often, once they’ve gotten the model naked, they’ll either proposition the model or push the boundaries even further.

Unfortunately and regrettably, our own industry has seen the rise of male “filmmakers” who follow this same formula. 

While the horror industry has flourished in recent years, there’s a fine line between consensual exploitation and taking advantage of young women who want nothing more than to be successful actresses. Competition is extremely high and jobs are extremely scarce, so often these “filmmakers” in question take advantage of these conditions by either pushing the boundaries of nudity or pushing the personal space that an actress would agree to.

Due to a rise in real-life horror stories being relayed to me by actresses in our industry, I felt a need to write this column to not only raise awareness within the acting world, but also to horror fans. I’m not arguing against “exploitation” films or nudity in horror films or even p*rnography. These films are done among consenting adults who have discussed the script and agreed to the content of the shoot well in advance of the shootdate.

However, borderline snuff and mistreatment of women by some of these so-called “indie filmmakers” is not only wrong, it’s becoming more of a reality that aspiring actresses have to protect themselves against. Moreover, they are a blight on our horror community and are beginning to tarnish the reputation of our industry. If we allow this to continue, all of the horror industry is likely to be wrongly accused of supporting or promoting such behavior simply because most horror includes violence and nudity. 

Below, I’ve offered not only two examples from friends of mine who have been taken advantage of, but also some suggestions for aspiring actresses who really have every intention of making it in this industry – and conversely, they are points that aspiring filmmakers should follow if they want to be taken for as legitimate horror directors.

The first example is a friend of mine who was offered to be in a “horror film.” She showed up for the day of the shoot and she brought a friend as she knew that the scene was going to require nudity – and being that she had only met the filmmaker once, she wanted to feel more secure. When she arrived on the “set,” there was no crew, just the director and his digital camcorder. The scene called for her to roll around naked in a field. She played out the scene, wrapped, went home, and the next day discovered that the field she had rolled in was covered in poison ivy. Well, she had no insurance and, no big surprise, but neither did the director (fyi, worker’s comp for a $50,000 film should run a filmmaker about $300 to $400…though don’t expect most indie films to have worker’s comp). The director didn’t bother to scout out the locale beforehand and he refused to pay her medical bill. Instead, he attempted to make it up to her by offering her a role in his next indie film. However, the role required for her to have a simulated sex scene with the main character in the film…not so surprisingly, to be played by him. When she asked if she could do the scene with her boyfriend instead, he threw a fit claiming to be “an artist” and “a professional” and promptly rescinded his offer.

The second example is from a friend who agreed to be in a slasher film. It was meant to be the lead role, which she took on with a great amount of excitement. However, on the day of the shoot – after having been driven out to a location in an urban setting by the director and the lead actor – she was told that there were changes made to the script which required not just nudity, but a fully simulated sex scene. She refused. The director became irate and told her to either do the scene or find her own way home from this locale at 2 AM. Regrettably, she relented and followed through with the scenes. Something she regrets to this day.

If you’re aspiring to be an actress in the horror industry or indie film industry, read the following points and hang onto them. As an indie filmmaker myself, these are points that I fully expect any actress who auditions for me to raise, and any filmmaker would happily respond to each of these questions to the best of their ability. 

1. Ask about the crew.
Is this guy working alone? If yes, um…why? Think to yourself, is there a single successful film (in horror or otherwise) in the history of cinema where a one-man crew’s final product catapulted the filmmaker to stardom?

If he does have a crew, who are these people? How does he know them? Are they buddies of his? Or, are they hired workers? Or, are they people the director is friends with only after having established a working relationship with?

The bare minimum crew should have a DP (a director of photography also known as a cinematographer), a PA (production assistant), a makeup artist, a production designer, and a sound mixer. If any of these are missing, ask why. Sometimes there’s a logical explanation. If there isn’t, be wary.

If the director gets offended or doesn’t want to answer the questions, then walk away from the project. No filmmaker will shy away from being forthright about their production.

2. Ask about the medium.
Is this to be 8MM, Super 8MM, 16MM, Super16, 35MM, HD, HDV, or DV? 

If it’s DV, ask why DV and ask what their plans are for sound. Will it be boomed? Will it be a simple attachment?

DV’s never a reason to turn down a project, but it is worth questioning.

3. If there’s nudity, ask why.
If the best answer they can provide you with is, “it’s a horror film, so of course, there’s nudity.” Then, you may want to reconsider if you’re not interested in being in an exploitation film. Many horror films have nudity, but the respectable horror films tend to make an attempt to address women’s roles as well as to address nudity in general. There’s a difference between the nudity in a Jim Wynorski film and the nudity in I Spit on Your Grave. Both are marketable products, but one of them is clearly using nudity as a selling point while the other makes an attempt at a social message.

If you’re not interested in exploitation and the filmmaker cannot articulate the purpose of nudity in the proposed script (or he does articulate as “in order to sell” and you’re not interested in participating in that), you may want to walk away. There will be better projects to come your way.

Some of these “filmmakers” don’t understand what it is they are asking of an actress when they’re asking them to take off their clothes for the camera and for an audience. Often, they will hide behind the concept of “professionalism” without realizing that they’re asking another human being – and not some object of affection – to be completely naked in front of a camera.

One of my close friends who is now a well-respected scream queen veteran also asked that I be sure to point out the posterity of film. Once you’re filmed nude, you’re nude on film. If you’re not ready for the consequences of that or you’re “on the fence” then don’t agree to do it.

Moreover, you may also consider asking for a stipulation that the film not be advertised using your nude scenes. As an actress, you’re required to sign a waiver giving the production the right to use your image and voice on film. Before you sign the waiver, read it over. If you want a stipulation about not using your image in advertising, then ask the director to add it in. If it’s on the spot, then tell him you’ll write it out and both of you can initial right next to the added line. Then, get a copy of it! If the filmmaker then uses a still or a clip of your nude scene in advertising, you have every legal right to take action. This is a small industry, almost familial, make a bad rep for them, word will get around to anyone who would have the power to help them out with their career. 

You may ask, what’s the benefit of this if websites will wind up grabbing the still frame anyway and posting it all over once the movie is released? Well, adding that sort of stipulation in the release form forces the filmmaker to advertise their film on the merit of the work rather than as a skin flick – assuming that you are under the impression that what you’re involved in ISN’T a skin flick…if it is, and you’ve agreed to be in the film anyway, you’d be unnecessarily handcuffing the filmmaker with such a stipulation.

Horror auteur and highly-respected director (and someone who I’ve personally relied on for advice) Stuart Gordon infamously had a body double refuse to do the nude scene for Re-Animator prompting Barbara Crampton to take on the role rather than lose the day of shooting. Gordon, to this day, continues to praise Crampton for her bravery in the scene. If a body double has the courage to walk away from a director who, though not famous in the horror industry at the time, was a highly respected stage director hired to handle a $500,000 budgeted script, you should have no anxieties about passing up a nude role in a film being shot for a mere fraction of that budget.

4. Talk to actresses the director has worked with in the past.
First, look for actresses who have been nude in his past work and try to contact them on your own (that is, if you’re being asked to a nude scene in the first place…if you’re not, then you’ll still want to ask around about the filmmaker and people the filmmaker has worked with). If after doing so, you can’t find any, THEN ask him. 

The rationale being that if you ask him upfront for references, it’s more than likely he will only direct you to actresses who will give him glowing reviews. Sometimes, actresses will be honest despite their friendship and that’s to be commended (so part of the impetus falls on the shoulders of other actresses out there to be forthright about the director, his behavior, and his product).

Ask the actresses anything you can think of. How were they treated? Were they paid? Did they receive copy? Were they happy with their overall experience?

5. Ask about gore effects.
Sometimes, the “filmmaker” won’t ask you to be naked, but will require a near equivalent. Moreover, let’s face it, horror requires a lot of gore effects and sometimes applying latex prosthetics require an invasion of what is normally considered private space.

So the first thing you want to know is WHO is handling the gore?

If it’s the “filmmaker,” again, be wary. Why would the filmmaker handle the application of prosthetics onto a boob, a thigh, a stomach, or any other body part? Why would they spend the money to hire an actress to get half-naked (or fully naked) but then not spend money on someone who is a specialist in gore effects? 

Unless they’ve spent several years working under Tom Savini and are a gore effects expert, there really is no reason for a director to be applying the prosthetics directly onto your body.

Moreover, why would a filmmaker handle the gore effects if they are not handling the application of general makeup? Your mascara will be in more scenes than that bloodied body part will be. 

If there’s no makeup artist/gore effects artist to be found. Ask if you can bring your own. Prosthetics are surprisingly easy to apply. If you can apply makeup, you can apply a prosthetic. So offer to bring a friend who can apply both to you (have them practice a couple times before coming to the set so they feel comfortable with whatever materials the filmmaker supplies them with), and pose the issue to the director as you need this person to handle it for “comfort’s sake.” If the filmmaker turns down the offer and you walk away, then you may have escaped a rather uncomfortable situation.

Remember, a true filmmaker – even legitimate softcore and hardcore p*rn directors – will be more than happy to accommodate you for comfort’s sake (especially if they’ve already offered you the role based on talent).

Ultimately, we are a community.
The horror industry is a community of people with a similar passion – horror films. Which means as fans, as actors, as filmmakers, and as media we must band together to make the community the best that we can so that we all benefit. Fans ought to consider the boycott of filmmakers who take advantage of actresses and actresses ought to inform other actresses of the “questionable” ethics of filmmakers. Moreover, as filmmakers we should support one another in protecting the many, many brave actresses who allow themselves to get cut up, slashed, eaten, torn apart, and mutilated for the pleasure of our fans on a regular basis. This means passing around references regarding actors, PAs, DPs, writers, sound mixers, and makeup artists who can assist us in making great films as well as informing one another to be on the lookout of those who have generated a reputation as sometimes outright abusing the talent.

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