Interview: Sylvia and Jen Soska (Dead Hooker in a Trunk, American Mary)

In today’s day and age anyone can pick up a video camera, round up a group of friends and make a movie (Hell, I’ve even done it a handful of times and the results were less than impressive). Unfortunately most of these movies end up sucking out loud due to bad acting, a lack of creativity, a poor script, etc. Every once in a while though a group of filmmakers come along and produces an independent film that kicks all sorts of ass. If you want to see an independent film done correctly then I highly recommend that you check out Twisted Twins Productions’ insanely excellent movie Dead Hooker in a Trunk. I recently had an opportunity to speak with the talented minds behind the film, twin sisters Sylvia and Jen Soska, and they are both lovely, intelligent, women who have a genuine love for the horror genre and filmmaking in general (which is something more so-called filmmakers need to have if you ask me).

Todd Martin: How long have you two been into filmmaking and how difficult has it been to make your films and get them distributed?

Sylvia Soska: Jen and I started acting when we were seven years old. Nothing really exciting happened for us, we enjoyed it and as we grew older the roles available changed from cutesy and of little substance to overtly sexualized and of little substance. When we reached our twenties, it didn’t seem like much was going to change for us. We had been extensively training in martial arts and decided to try our hand out stunt work. We might still be playing overtly sexualized characters, but at least we’d be kicking ass and having more fun. That led to our then-agent getting us into a film school that had an excellent outsourced stunt program and then little else that even resembled a place of learning.

The film school experience was hugely disappointing in an industry that had been nothing but disappointing for years. Thank God that GRINDHOUSE was in the theatres at the time. We loved the film and grew up on Rodriguez flicks, so going to the theatre and watching the film non-stop became our film school. When the school pulled the funding – $200 that they would allot to a project – for our final project, we were more than pissed. We walked out of another theatrical screening of GRINDHOUSE and Jen turned to me and said, Dead Hooker in a Trunk. We would make a faux trailer like the ones in the film and we would make it on our own. We ended up writing, directing, producing, starring in, and doing the stunt work for the short. We also included everything on the school’s ‘too inappropriate to include in projects’ list and added the oddly forgotten necrophilia and bestiality for good measure because our project had no affiliation with the school. We showed it at the end of graduation at the very end causing half the audience to walk out and the other half to be laughing so hard you can barely make out the intentionally offensive dialogue. After the screening, we were approached by the people in the audience that were interested in when the feature would be out. We wrote the feature script in two weeks and went onto creating the film with everything we learned from Rodriguez’s firsthand account of making his no budget EL MARIACHI, ‘Rebel Without A Crew.’

Jen Soska: Filmmaking isn’t without its challenges. Nothing worth doing is easy. It’s the reason why probably not everyone’s a filmmaker, but I am totally biased. I think it’s the greatest job in the world. Every day is different and there’s nothing like bringing a story and characters to life. Aside from our not so fantastic experiences with film school, I don’t feel that a film school can properly prepare you for what it’s like to be on a set and make a film. The only thing that can prepare you for that is getting out there and making a film of your own. Things will go wrong, they always do, and it’s never the stuff you prepared yourself for. Through making a film you learn to think fast on your feet and roll with the punches. It’s a vital skill. Things come up, but we can always find a solution. Being huge admirers of Robert Rodriguez, we try to always find clever and creative ways of dealing with our challenges rather than just throwing money at our problems.

Getting DEAD HOOKER made was very different from getting AMERICAN MARY made. We funded DHIAT ourselves so we just said, “f*ck it, Let’s make our own movie” and went. Without much of a budget, we had to be creative. Not having the money or at times the resources we needed was rough, but I think we were really grew as filmmakers because of it. AMERICAN MARY’s content, which you’ll see when the film is released, caused many investors to shy away. They felt it was too extreme. We ended up with some outstanding investors and people backing the film.

Distribution is a different beast. I wish someone would write a book on distributing a film these days. No one gave a sh*t about DEAD HOOKER when we finished it. They said, “No names and independent? Who’s gonna wanna see that?” But the horror community and the fans embraced the film. The festivals picked it up. Major thanks to Nia Edwards-Behi for giving DHIAT its world premiere at the Ghouls on Film Festival in the UK and Andrew Rose for giving HOOKER its US premiere at the DOA Pretty Scary Blood Bath Film Festival in Texas. From there, it exploded. Film festivals, frat parties, bars, we didn’t turn down anyone to screen the film. We sent out so many screeners to everyone who asked. Bloggers, vloggers, independent sites, and major sites. No one was refused. We’d wake up every morning and get online promoting the film and then hit our day jobs. We’d come home and get back online and then hit bed and repeat it all over again the next day.

We sent the trailer to every director who had a hand in GRINDHOUSE who inspired us. Two days later we heard back from Eli Roth. He asked to see the film and spoke publicly about how much he dug it. He’s amazing. Just having him say, “it f*cking awesome” made so many people take notice of the film. We’ve become close friends and he still is always there for us with invaluable advice today. We love the man. He’s incredibly talented and knows his sh*t like no one else.

Distribution for AMERICAN MARY is very different. No one knew who we were when we made HOOKER. that film was in part to get people to know we’re here and we’re here to stay. We wanted people to take notice and get excited. With MARY, people know us, but we did have to fight against the stereotype that we’re the directors who made DEAD HOOKER. MARY has to be another Grindhouse slasher, but nothing could be further from the truth. MARY is haunting and thoughtful and disturbing and painful. It’s stylish in a completely different way from DHIAT while keeping the humor and horror that we love. With MARY, people have come to us and there’s a lot of interest in the film.

TM: Tell us a little about yourselves. What do you do when you aren’t making movies? What kind of movies, music, etc are you into?

SS: I work all of the time, so I make a point of working with people I like because those people tend to be the friends that I spend the most time with. One of the stars of AMERICAN MARY is this fantastic actress and burlesque dancer named Tristan Risk. She’s just phenomenal, I try to never miss a night when she performs, so we get our cast and crew together and have a night of beautiful women doing these amazing acts and catch up with one another. Last week, I met the British Columbian Ghost Busters and Tristan did a Ghostbusters act – it was one of the coolest horror nerd evenings out ever.

I collect tarantulas. I really love those little buggers – they are incredibly misunderstood animals. I have fourteen in my collection right now, and they are cool pets to play with and take care of. The biggest tarantula in captivity has an 11 inch leg span, but in the wild they have been known to have a thirteen inch leg span. I have three Ts in my collection that have the potential to do thirteen inches, so my inner nerd is trying to grow them to that size.

Jen and I are both hardcore gamers and comic book geeks. Been playing since we were five and have saved all of our consoles up until this point. I have a deep love of the old side-scroller games, especially since most of my childhood was spent gaming with Jen – we didn’t have too many friends growing up. We stuck out being twins and loving horror so much, so we got dubbed ‘weird’ early on. It’s cool though, I love fantasy. I love that I played D&D,that I know a lifetime of nerd facts on my favorite comic book heroes, and I’ve seen almost every horror movie ever made. I’m a big horror junkie – I can never get enough.

JS: I’m married to my career. There is rarely a moment when we’re not working. We maintain a massive online presence and make ourselves available as much as we possibly can. We get restless and have to do something. We take on a lot of projects and that’s really the best thing to do. Garry Marshall says to never put all your eggs in one basket because you’re going to fail. Everyone does at something. Shit just happens so always have something on the go.

However, in the rare times we do have down time, I’m uber nerdy. I love comic books and video games and drawing and sketching and reading. I’m a massive Marvel fan. I game like no body’s business. We have every system. We’re into Skyrim right now. We still play our classic Sega games or Nintendo or SNES. I love martial arts. I collect weapons. Not firearms. I only have one rifle named Peter. I have mostly Okinawan weapons like tonfa, sais, nunchucks, bo staffs, and all that fun stuff. I have numerous styles and kinds of knives and swords that range from practical to fantasy. Also whips, ball and chains, claws… You know, girl stuff. Oh! I have a stake, too. For vampire slaying.

Sylv and I watch a sh*t ton of movies. We watch something new every day. Good movies and bad movies. Mostly horror. I find you can learn from anything you watch and you actually learn more from a bad movie than a good one. When we have the time, we’ll each pick a film we haven’t seen and watch them back to back, then judge one another accordingly, ha ha. One day we watched MARTYRS and INSIDE back to back. It was a good day.

TM: Dead Hooker in a Trunk was an awesome film that a lot of people really enjoyed. Where did the idea for the movie come from and how long did it take to film it?

SS: It came out of Jen’s beautifully twisted brain. It just popped out of her mouth when we were walking out of GRINDHOUSE after one of the million viewings in the theatre. It would be the title for a faux trailer we would make on our own. Seeing GRINDHOUSE, in particularly Jason Eisener’s HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, mixed with our deep love of Rodriguez filmmaking and being disappointed once again by the film school that was that in name alone, we were filled with enough piss and vinegar to make something that would leave a lasting impression at our graduation.

After the reaction at our graduation, we took two weeks to write the script and then we started to film it. Pre-production took a few weeks, we lost almost every actor from the original, we had to rewrite the script a few times to modify it to what we had and didn’t have. We shot for about thirty days – some days were complete busts, some days we shot over twenty scenes. Then came post, which took a few months considering we had only so much footage for each scene and we had to tweak the quality of the sound and colour to make it really pop. Then, we recut it, then came film festivals and distribution.

The whole process until it had its final DVD release by IFC Midnight (Bounty Films and Monster Pictures bought the rights and released the film in the UK and Australia May 23, 2011) took about five years. It took a lot of work, a lot of time and dedication, but I’m very happy with how the film turned out. A lot of people want to make films and I think they should because anyone can educate themselves and learn a lot making one, they just also have to realize that you and your film are going to be working together for a long time too.

JJ: The idea almost came out of nowhere. The idea to make the film was largely inspired by our love for Robert Rodriguez and his story behind making EL MARIACHI. And GRINDHOUSE, of course. We walked out of the theater one day and I turn to Sylv and say, “Dead Hooker In A Trunk”. She says, “What the hell is that?” and I tell her it’s the title of our movie. No idea what it was going to be about at that point, but we kind of figured we’d have to put a dead hooker in a trunk at some point to keep from disappointing everyone who came to see the film. It just grew from there. We talked about the style and tone of the film and the stand out scenes and developed the characters.

TM: What was your favorite part of filming Dead Hooker in a Trunk? It seems like it was a very fun movie to shoot and I bet the cast and crew had a blast while working on it. Is there one particular moment (good or bad) that took place during filming that really stands out?

S: I got to do a lot of cool stuff in the film as Badass. I think my favorite thing to shoot was shooting the triad going through Weirdo’s guts and then shooting Weirdo and getting splattered in the face. We had Thistlehead FX with two blood cannons in the tub of this tiny bathroom and it was f*cking epic. It was like a cool bloody opera.

J: That’s a tough one. There were so many moments that are pretty much burned into my memory forever. Also, we moved very fast on production. I doubled as our stills photographer for much of the shoot (cut clearly acting and directing wasn’t enough every day, ha ha) which was nice because we got to look back at what we had done and have it sink in. When you’re moving so fast, it’s almost like you aren’t there. You’re just acting without thinking, like instinct. I love martial arts, like I mentioned, and it’s kind of like “munen muso”. It’s the state of having an empty mind, no thought, no intention, just natural reaction.

Dragging Sylvie at the back of a truck to get the “horse drag” bit was pretty intense. In the faux trailer we did for DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK she ended up getting hurt because the actor playing our original Cowboy Pimp was a total hack and incredibly unprofessional. Our stunt team was incredible on the feature and I knew she’d be fine, but having her lie on her stomach holding onto a rope before we went was just like, “okay, here’s hoping.”

TM: Tell us a little bit about your newest movie, American Mary.

SS: AMERICAN MARY follows the story of medical student, Mary Mason, as she grows increasingly broke and disenchanted by medical school and the surgeons she once admired. The allure of easy money and notoriety sends her into the messy world of underground surgeries that leaves more marks on Mary than her so-called ‘freakish’ clientele. It’s a very unique and different story, but we based it a lot on our experiences in the film industry and feeling like outcasts growing up and different struggles that a twenty-something goes through today, so it’s very relatable despite its content.

J: I wish we could say more. It’s tough to talk about because there are a lot of things in the film itself that we don’t want to spoil. Trailers seem to give everything away these days and it’s nice to have something that surprises you and catches you off guard. The film is very different from DHIAT. After our first film, there are people who made assumptions as to what kind of filmmakers we are and what they think our limitations are. AMERICAN MARY shatters those assumptions. I think many people who know us from DHIAT will be very surprised and very blown away by MARY. Whereas DHIAT is completely ridiculous, in your face, and harsh, MARY is extremely dark, haunting, horrific, unsettling, beautiful, and it will stay with you long after you see it. It’s a very mature piece and a real love letter to Asian and European horror where we find the most exciting stuff seems to be coming from.

TM: I so envy you guys because you got to work with the awesome Katharine Isabelle who is in one of my favorite movies of all time, Ginger Snaps. What was it like working with her?

SS: I first met Katie years ago as an extra on JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS. She was really nice to me and it was one of the first times I met an actress in real life. Jen and I were relentlessly teased and one thing that we got called were the Fitzgerald sisters. Well, at the time I had no idea who they were, then I saw GINGER SNAPS and thought that that isn’t too bad of a thing to get called. Katie is just an intoxicatingly talented actress. She works hard and she’s just brilliant as Mary in the film. I have been a big fan for years, so it was an honor to have her as the title character and she was even cooler than my already ridiculously high expectations.

JS: Awful. ha ha, No, just kidding. From the moment we met her, we just loved her. We had always wanted Katie for Mary. She truly embodies the character in a mature and seamless manner. It’s an incredibly challenging role and we really put her through the sh*t on this one, especially mentally and emotionally. She’s a real professional. She’s been acting forever and it shows. She had great insight into Mary Mason and we spent a lot of time beforehand meeting up and talking about the film and the character. You are really going to love her as Mary. It’s the film I always wanted to see her in.

 

TM: What is up next for you guys? Are you working on any projects right now?

SS: We have a few cool projects in the works that we would love to get started on, as well as some other projects that we are discussing with people’s work that I truly admire and would love to be a part in making a bug screen adaptation. BOB is something Jen and I wrote, which I think after HOOKER and MARY would be the end of our coming of age/finding your place in the world films. It’s extremely dark but also the most comedic piece we’re ever written.

JS: It’s tough to tell which one will be next. We have several scripts ready to go and also write very fast. We’re lucky that way. We’ve been talking about directing stuff that isn’t our own and that’s pretty exciting for us, too. We have things that we’re working on at the moment, but nothing we can talk about just yet.

TM: If you could work with anyone in the film industry who would it be and why?

SS: I wrote something for Bob Saget. I’m not sure if he’d be interested or disgusted or both in the role, but I would be very happy to work with him. Besides, we totally wouldn’t be his first set of twins.

JS: Right now it would be Matt Stone and Trey Parker. I’d really love to do a horror musical. I do the horror part, but I’m a little lacking on the musical side.

TM: What is the scariest movie ever made in your opinion? Have you ever seen a movie that freaked you out so bad you slept with the lights on?

SS: MARTYRS didn’t scare me as much as it scarred me. It stayed with me for two weeks after I saw it and I think it’s incredibly beautiful in a very horrific way. It didn’t make me want to sleep with the lights on because I felt its effect regardless of the fact that the lights were on or off. Truly brilliant film.

JS: Probably the Exorcist. It’s kind of funny because I’ve met Dick Smith and I’ve seen tons of the behind the scenes making of featurettes, but it still freaks me out. Or at least it did the last time I saw it. It was incredibly ambitious when it was made and it’s still true today. Sleeping with the lights on? Nah, I never did that. Everyone knows if you hide under your blanket nothing can get you, ha ha

TM: What would you say has been the best experience so far in regards to filmmaking, attending film festivals, etc? What has been the worst?

SS: Seeing the audience reaction to the worldwide market premiere screening of AMERICAN MARY at the Cannes Film Festival was pretty amazing. When you make a film, you get in this bubble. You know what you want and why you want it there, but after spending weeks in dark rooms for post, you don’t know how anyone is going to react to it. Seeing an audience react to the film, laugh at the funny bits, get shocked by the shocking bits, one lady ran out in disgust, it all makes the process very rewarding. I feel very lucky that the audience loved the film, you don’t always get that.

The worst is how people can treat another in this industry. I’ve met too many people claiming to be producers which believe the only way a woman can be successful in this industry is to attach herself to a successful male – a he’ll pay for this and make this happen for you if you’re his person sex toy. It’s really disgusting. But there are f*cking morons everywhere and a lot of those guys act like that because that line actually works on some women.

JS: Having AMERICAN MARY premiere at the market at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival was pretty epic. It was a very challenging journey to get the film that far and there were a lot of battles. To sit down there with a full theater expecting far less and hearing an audience react to it for the first time was indescribable. I felt very humbled and privileged to be able to be there. Another thing that makes me want to wake up in the mornings and do what I do is the messages from the fans and people who say we inspire them. It makes me happier than anything.

The worst experience is something that happens quite a bit and is very sh*tty. It’s when someone who you think is your friend turns out to just be using you to try to get ahead or has never actually been a friend at all. It’s ugly when a friend reveals their true colors. People get bitter, they get a mean case of the “it should be me’s”. It’s nice in the way that I have a real sharp sense for bullsh*t these days and though my friendship circle is very small, I can say that among those few I have true friends.

TM: Are you guys going to be attending any horror conventions in the near future? If so, which ones are you going to attend?

SS: We’ll be at San Diego Comic Con this year. We’ll also be at Son of Monsterpalooza in October. It’s going to have some fun MARY stuff involved, so I definitely recommend coming by and saying hi. We’re trying to hit as many as we can. We were at Monsterpalooza this past April and it was a blast.

JS: I know we’ll be at Comic Con this year. We’re still confirming if we’ll be speaking on panels. I know we’ll be signing stuff, so please feel free to bring us your stuff. We’ll also be going as fans so we’ll definitely be suiting up. As for other conventions this year, we’ll have to see. We’ll be doing a lot of AMERICAN MARY promotion and we wouldn’t likely turn down any offer to attend a convention. If you want us there, tell ‘em.

TM: Who (or what) would you say are your biggest influences in regards to making movies?

SS: Robert Rodriguez and Carlos Gallardo for sure. They were what started us on loving indie filmmaking and I loved watching their films growing up. Everyone involved in GRINDHOUSE had a big influence on us, especially Jason Eisener, Quentin Tarantino, and Eli Roth. I’m a fan of Lars Von Trier’s films, too, they are so macabre and lovely. Sometimes weird things happen in my life and I don’t know what to do with these events other than put them in a script. I think reality is much stranger than fiction.

JS: Robert Rodriguez, Joss Whedon, Eli Roth, Quentin Tarantino, Stephen King, and a lot of video games and comic books. It’s too bad more people don’t game or read comics. Some of the greatest stories ever have been told through those mediums. We also put a lot of our experiences and observations and feelings on life and the world in our work. There are often religious undertones, though we try to make them subtle. No one wants to get smacked over the head.

TM: What advice would you give to any aspiring filmmakers out there?

SS: I would say go out and make your film. We have access to technology now more than ever to create our own work. You can learn from so many different resources like Rodriguez’s ‘Rebel Without A Crew’ or Lloyd Kaufman’s ‘Make Your Own Damn Movie’ series. You can see interviews or listen to commentaries with your favorite filmmakers, you can even tweet or Facebook them. You can learn how to make the kind of movie that you want to and make it today if you dedicate yourself to it. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be the most rewarding experience of your life. You don’t need a lot of money and experience to make a movie – learn everything you can, use an original idea that means something to you, work like a motherf*cker and you will be successful.

JS: Go do it. Make your own film. The hardest step is to actually make the decision to go out there and do it. It’s never been easier with digital taking the place of film and it’s much more cost efficient, too. It’s also nothing new. Robert Rodriguez went out and made EL MARIACHI with little more than a camera, an idea, and a whole sh*t load of ambition. I’d recommend writing out all your assets because you’ll be surprised to see how much you already have available to you whether it be someone’s place or a workplace after hours or on weekends, a car or classic car, a horse, a tarantula, a gun, a sword, some wild props, fireworks, costumes, just write it all down and see if whatever you want to make you can write those things into it. Be sure to pick an idea that you’re really excited about because you’ll be talking about it for the rest of your life and career. For Rodriguez it was a man with a guitar case filled with guns. For us, it was a dead hooker in a trunk.

There will be people who will try to tell you it’s not possible, it’s too expensive, or you need to have “realistic” goals. Those people are mostly people who have given up on their own dreams and are too bitter to support anyone chasing their own. Because if you can and do chase after your dreams, they’ll just be stuck wondering why they never had the balls to chase their own. I can tell you my worst day filmmaking is a billion times better than any of my best days working retail or cleaning tables, or bar tending. You find something you care about and it feels like coming home.

TM: If you weren’t into filmmaking what do you think that you would be doing right now in terms of a career?

SS: Probably actually killing people. Thank God for filmmaking, eh?

JS: I don’t know. I might be Deadpool. I’m a wicked shot and I love his little tagline of traveling, meeting interesting people, and then killing them. Let’s face it, I’d have to let it out some way. Good thing I have filmmaking.

Thanks to Sylvia and Jen Soska for allowing me to interview them!

Interview: Sylvia Soska and Jen Soska (Dead Hooker in a Trunk, American Mary)

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About Todd Martin

Todd Martin grew up in Irvington, a small town in Kentucky. Thanks to his mother, father, and favorite uncle he started watching horror films at a very young age and has been a horror geek ever since. He is basically a walking encyclopedia of horror flicks (especially the 80’s slashers), comic books, and pro wrestling, and has been writing for the biggest majority of his life.

His first book, Nightmare Tales was published in 2006 and he has had several short stories published in several collections. He and his wife Trish published their book “The Gardener,” a horror novel that is a throwback to the slasher films of the 80’s in 2011 and he is working on a collection of short horror stories When he isn’t reviewing movies and books or doing interviews for Horrornews.net he has been known to act from time to time as he has appeared in a handful of low budget horror films. He also enjoys writing screenplays and enjoys making movies as well. He wrote the segment “Angel” which appeared in the 2004 film “Tales from the Grave 2: Happy Holidays!” which was produced and directed by Stephanie Beaton, and recently appeared in Tim Ritter’s film “Deadly Dares: Truth or Dare 4.”. He resides in Kentucky with his wife Trish, their cat Buffy, and their wiener dog, Cujo

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