With the release of exploitation gem DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK, twisted twin filmmakers Jen and Sylvia Soska have shown the world that they’re not only passionate genre film fans but a formidable film talent to keep an eye out for; so our very own Stu Willis very much welcomed the opportunity to catch up with the Soska sisters to discuss Dead Hookers, cinematic inspirations and incoming projects…
Stu: Hi, I’d like to begin be congratulating you on making a very entertaining, energetic film. It has ‘cult status’ written all over it.
Sylvia: That is very kind of you to say. Thank you very kindly, making a fun film was the idea that we built everything on.
Jen: Yes, thank you so much. We really wear our hearts on our sleeves and I do hope that comes across in the film. It was a passion project in every sense of the word.
Stu: When you came to write the film, did you have a clear eye aimed towards cult appeal?
Sylvia: When we wrote the script, we knew the limitations we were going into the process with since we would be self-financing the piece, so we tried to keep things interesting with what we knew we could get. The film started as a fake trailer as inspired by the collaborative mashup genius that was GRINDHOUSE. Trailers have the best scenes, so we made up these crazy scenarios that we would want to see in a film. I think because we wrote it together, trying to entertain one another, we came up with something that is a whirlwind of fun insanity that is very reflective of our personality and interests.
Jen: It was an ambitious undertaking to say the least. Did we want to make a cult classic? Abso-fucking-lutely. It was a big dream of ours. Cult classic films are very special. They take hold of their audiences in a unique way that gives them a life like no other film. ROCKY HORROR, EVIL DEAD.... those films survive from generation to generation. People dress up like the characters and quote lines. They're downright magical. It's a thing of beauty. I had hoped we could reach that kind of standing. It was a pretty big challenge considering how many films get made every single day. We wanted to stand apart from the rest. Naming our baby DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK set us on the right path in a big way. I humbly do hope that DHIAT will live on for many generations. I'd make a cult classic over a blockbuster any day.
Stu: The cast of unknowns are very good, all giving 100%. Could you tell us a little more about their backgrounds and how they fell into the production?
Sylvia: They were the best people in the city. Everyone came out and waived their fees because they were stoked about this project. They honestly loved filmmaking and that's why they were there. There was a writer's strike at the time that opened up a lot of local professional's schedules and that helped us in acquiring talent. The Vancouver film community is really supportive of one another and this film is a testament to that.. There were a few people who thought the film and the ambition behind it was crazy or the material too crass, but that worked as a tool to filter out the people who didn't get what we were doing.
The cast started with Jen and myself, being the only ones from the fake trailer that were able to/wanted to come onto the feature. We had the actress playing Goody Two-Shoes drop out two days before we went to camera which should have been a disaster. We couldn't find any actresses interested in the role or the film. After going to a screening of his work and seeing a cameo performance, I asked CJ Wallis if he would be interested in the role. Jen and I rewrote the part and the script that night and I'm thrilled with how it turned out. Not only is CJ's performance one of my favorite parts of the film, but he also brought his years of experience in the industry ranging from directing to editing to cinematography to sound tracking to the film. He has been a real gentleman, always there to support Jen and me as we made our writing and directorial debut.
We had our Key Makeup Artist, MaryAnn Van Graven, who with her husband Don Charge would become co-Producers from the trailer come onto the feature and she was a huge staple on set. Her makeup and gore, mixed with the prosthetics from our friends at Aly Kat FX were phenomenal. The other person to come over from the trailer was Loyd Bateman a talented stunt coordinator and performer who would not only act in those roles, but also a co-Producer, cameraman, and actor. He used his expertise to bring these high action scenarios in the script to life with us. We had the best and the brightest in the stunt world come onto the team with Lauro "Lash" Chartrand coming on board to coordinate the Hooker's death scene, Jacob Rupp to coordinate our shovel day, and Kim Chiang to coordinate an incredible fantasy fight sequence that was unfortunately had to be cut from the final version of the film but can be seen in the DVD extras.
Jen: Good people are vital on set. It's a funny, kind of common sense thing to say, but it couldn't be more true. When you're working with no money on long, challenging days, you need people around who are at their best even at their worst. A bad attitude is poison on set. One day egg can turn a happy set into a shit storm in record time. As a result, we sought out friends and friends of friends to work on DHIAT. Having started out as actors, I've always passionately hated auditions and the auditioning process. It's terribly impersonal and bizarre. It's pretty much telling an actor to blindly read your script, completely understand what you want from the character purely based on assumption, and then perform to a room of virtual strangers who they know damn well are sitting there to silently judge you. As a result, we "audition" by sitting and speaking with our would be cast. You can get a much better grasp who a person is and if they are right for the project.
I remember we had to go through a couple "Junkies" for the film. Rikki Gagne had been recommended to us by both Tasha Moth and Loyd Bateman. They knew her as a stunt profession that had a background acting. Sylvie and I had met her before as extras on some very long set days for shows that I don't think ever even aired. I remember scheduling a meeting with her at a Starbucks and wondering what she'd be like and if she'd be into the script. As you can imagine, many people were quite put off by the title. From the moment she walked in I knew she was perfect. She is one of those people that just brighten up a room. When she sat down and began talking I kept thinking to myself, "how long do we talk before I just say you're the one that I want."
Many of our cast and crew came through similar recommendations and sit downs. It's just so much more personal and, for us, when you sit down with someone, you get a feel for who they are. I hope there aren't any actors reading this getting nervous, ha ha. I imagine it's kind of intimidating to sit down with the two us enough as it is. It just makes it that much worse knowing that you've got twin eyes carefully watching you and figuring you out, ha ha.
Stu: How difficult is it to co-direct? Especially with a sibling? Sylvia: It's a blessing and a curse like super powers. But in all seriousness, it's pretty awesome. Every since we were little girls, Jen and I have functioned as a unit. There were teachers in grade school that wanted to separate us because it was made certain teachers uncomfortable. I just don't think they knew how to tell us apart. We are fiery Hungarians, so sometimes our discussions might seem a bit intense, but we really are each other's best friends. I wouldn't want to work with someone who isn't that passionate about her work.
We do a lot of pre-planning, especially for directing days. It's confusing enough with the fact that we look like each other, it would be even worse to have us saying two different things. We complement each other's work, there is a good collaboration there. We decide on scenes that we want to direct specifically and the other supports the other. We work together, but try to keep one of us as the voice for the day.
Jen: Ha ha, we never seem to have an issue directing. I have a touch of OCD, I guess we both do, and that makes us very organized. Before we set foot on set, we've literally talked about everything for hours. Who has "final say" that day, every possible scenario of what could go wrong and what our options should be, who needs to be talked with, when and if we'll have to split up and cover twice as much ground, and so on and so forth. We work very well together.
That being said, we're sisters. We fight, of course. It's the writing process that seems to make us the most combustible. It's only because we're so passionate. No one ever wants to back down. We are our own worst critics. We've shot down and slaughtered some pretty great ideas, but, like a phoenix, greater ideas have risen out of the ashes. I have a lot of respect for Sylvie and her work. She's an outstanding writer and director and I sometimes catching myself looking over at her and thinking that I'm so lucky to have her.
Stu: What are the benefits of working together?
Sylvia: We don't have to speak in full sentences to understand one another. We can express very complicated ideas together using only fragments of communication and it gets understood. That's a huge benefit.. I tend to be a bit of a downer with what interests me in story telling whereas Jen has these crazy abstract ideas that are insatiably fun. Every idea starts with us trying to entertain one another, if we do then that's an idea we build on. If it's not, then that idea is mercilessly taken apart and discarded. I love my little sister.
Jen: Dammit, dude! I'm only 19 minutes younger, ha ha.
There are so many benefits to working with your own personal doppelganger. She knows what I'm saying even if my sentences come out as fragmented train wrecks. We've spent our lives together so we get all of each others' references. It makes the creating process a dream come true. You know how they say when you're with the right person they make you the best version of yourself? That's how I feel working with Sylvie. She makes me a better version of me.
We're twins, but we're opposites in a lot of ways. She loves to explore the darkness of human nature in our films. I'm an idealist and not at all meant for this world. I like to escape in films. Together, we make something strangely beautiful, yet still fun and cheeky.
Stu: The film has lashing of old-school gore which is sure to please the grindhouse crowd. What films/FX artists do you take your inspiration from in this respect?
Sylvia: The eye gag in the film comes from the Ten Minute Film School DVD Feature from ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO. The film is hugely inspired by Rodriguez and his fun use of gore and over the top violence in his films. I had the pleasure of working in the industry and meeting quite a few prosthetic artists during that time that I have become good friends with. The makeup and FX have always fascinated me in film, so I have asked a lot of fangirl questions about it. I was told by a friend that real organs can be bought at the butcher shop for a good price and can easily replicate human anatomy in films. Pig eyes even come in human colors, but they smell disgusting - don't breath it in and you'll be fine.
Films that inspired the gore would also include VERY BAD THINGS - I love seeing the leads get banged up, FOUR ROOMS - The Rodriguez room, The Misbehavers, especially the part with the dead whore, and TRUE ROMANCE - You don't get too many epic beatdowns that force the audience to watch and I loved the power in this scene.
Jen: Tarantino and Rodriguez's GRINDHOUSE was a big inspiration for us. I know I talk about them in every interview we do, but they're living legends. I just loved the dialogue in PLANET TERROR in particular. I loved the badass one liners. You know when you leave a theatre and the movie you saw just makes you leave feeling somehow cooler? If you don't know that feeling, watch a season of SOPRANOS and grab yourself a cigar. I dare you not to feel like Tony after that. I'm a tiny little chick and I even feel like a badass after watching the SOPRANOS, ha ha. I wanted to give DHIAT that feeling. I've long admired Robert's dialogue for that. I fell in love with Antonio Banderas in DESPERADO before I was old enough to fully understand why that character was so damn cool.
We've long appreciated and admired practical effects. CGI instantly dates your work. Some of it is timeless, but most can't stand up to the testament of time. Films like JACOB'S LADDER and THE THING have amazing effects. They did it all (as far as I can tell) with practical effects and those films are just as awesome today as they were back then.. I have so much respect for prosthetic artists. It's something I aim to keep learning more and more about.
Stu: How has the film travelled in festivals? Do any experiences in particular stand out?
Sylvia: I remember the first time the film played internationally was part of the Women In Horror Recognition Month celebration in February, 2010, that was the brainchild of Hannah Neurotica of Ax Wound Zine. It played first in Birmingham, UK, at the Ghouls on Film Festival then in DOA Bloodbath Entertainment & Pretty Scary Blood Bath Film Festival in Texas, USA. It was a huge honor to have the film out there and in front of audiences. After the first screenings, people in the horror community started to really get behind the film and spread the word. That led to more festivals and with every screening, the word spread farther. Now the film was played all over the world, in Canada, in the UK, in Australia, in Scotland, in Brazil, and in the US - Texas, California, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Illinois, Indiana, New Hampshire, Portland, and Oregon.
I have just been blown away by the reception that the film has gotten all around the world. We had one unfortunate circumstance where the film was banned from the Roxy Theater when it was set to play recently in in Saskatoon, Canada. The most ridiculous part was that the film was banned because of the title without anyone in the decision making positions bothering to watch the film. The theater went on to cancel a screening of HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN as well, all the while claiming it was in efforts to bring attention to actual crimes being committed locally.
Despite the misplaced frustration, it gave us and members of the horror community an opportunity to educate people about a genre and the people involved in it. I suspect they expected us to just say something ignorant like 'fuck you' and that would be the end of the matter. Instead, we had intelligent people from around the world defending the artistic merit of the satire and standing up for freedom of expression through the arts. DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK and HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN were picked up locally by another theater, The Broadway Theater, that found no reason to censor the films. The screening occur in front of a large enthusiastic audience with no incidents.
Jen: The hardest thing was to not be able to travel with the film. It means the world to us that so many people have supported us and the film. We would've more than anything loved to be able to be there to personally thank everyone for coming out and to talk to them about the film. I'm so happy that that is something we will be able to do with AMERICAN MARY. Let's just say there are a lot of people to meet, hands to shake, and drinks to drink, ha ha.
Stu: Dead Hooker In A Truck definitely has that feel of ‘audience participation’ about it. Was this intended from the offset?
Sylvia: There are these very cult-feeling films that we grew up watching relentlessly. Those films have this insane energy about them that just hits home with people. We are total nerds - we love horror, video games, and comic books - and those influences tend to trickle into what we do. I think because we made the film to entertain ourselves, it also entertains people who have those same nerdy influences.
The film plays with this crazy energy in front of an audience. Even at screenings we have done to fresh audiences in town ends with a lot of reaction from the crowd whether it be laughter at some ridiculous piece of dialogue, cheering during a high action stunt sequence, or people yelling lines back at the screen. I've had people come over to me and say 'You ever been skull fucked after an ass rape' and it's very flattering. Also, to people who haven't seen the film, those quotes tend to confuse people as they are vile and I am very happy to hear them being said to me.
Jen: There isn't enough excitement in going to the movies anymore. When I was a little girl I would mark movie release dates on my calendar with countdowns to when there would be a midnight or advance screening. I lived for those releases. Now it seems like people can't be bothered and who can blame them. There's so much soulless crap coming out these days. Maybe I don't remember as many bad movies from my childhood because we all tend to romanticize our childhoods to some degree, but it's seems inescapable these days. We wanted DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK to get people excited from the get go. That's a big part of the reason we chose the title DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK.
It would be a dream come to true if DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK became one of those movies that would show in theatres with the audience getting all dressed up in character costumes and quoting lines along with the actors. We wanted our characters to be memorable and lovable, despite never really doing anything all that lovable. To make them more memorable, we had them stay in their "costumes" from beginning to end without ever changing. That decision was very comic based. From the very beginning we had two desires for the film. One was to make a film that was pure enjoyment for its audiences. Something fun, something cool. Something exciting. The other was to share that film with as many people as possible. It makes me so happy to have the film coming out and that dream realized.
Stu: The grindhouse retro scene is in a great place right now. What’s your own takes on this? Is the bubble about to burst?
Sylvia: Now more than ever, people have the tools needed at their disposal to make their own films. You can buy a camera for a couple grand and film an entire film. You have people like Robert Rodriguez telling you how to make high budget effects on a dime. You can grab your favorite film and have your favorite director tell you what they did on the commentary. We have freedom of expression on the internet and can share ideas so freely that all you really have to do is go out and make your own opportunity. I know extremely talented filmmakers - men and women - that can't get their films made because they are trying to do things a certain way. The world has been in a bad economic state and there aren't too many companies making multi-million dollar projects with first time filmmakers.
That's where the whole grindhouse, DIY movement comes into play. Grindhouse flicks had these huge ideas that had to be done on a certain budget and that's the beauty behind it. People can go out with these huge ideas and make the movies they want to on little to no budget. I feel like artists, especially new filmmakers, have this fantastic opportunity to get there films out there like the filmmakers of yesterday did with Grindhouse. An onslaught of original ideas being supported by the filmmakers themselves, putting the power and creativity back in the hands of the artists - that's what I'd like to see.
Jen: I fully agree with everything Sylvie said. I love grindhouse. It's often humor meets horror and I just love that. In the age of DIY, grindhouse is a genre that can easily be done on a dime because its classics were done on a dime. Even with Rodriguez and Tarantino's GRINDHOUSE they worked with a limited budget to help further demonstrate that it can still be done. I've seen some great films coming out and I do feel that that film ignites the grindhouse fire.. Even if they didn't do it single handedly, GRINDHOUSE brought popularity back to the genre and it's a great thing for indie filmmakers.
Stu: How have you found the promotion of your film? Have you encountered sexism in what is a predominantly male genre?
Sylvia: We have been absolutely spoiled by how the horror community has stood behind us and the film. In all honesty, I wouldn't be speaking to you now and working on AMERICAN MARY had it not been for the out pour of support from people just telling their friends about the film to writing reviews to blogging about the film. They are the ones that have given this opportunity to us and that is something we always keep in mind. If people put themselves out to make it so you can follow your greatest ambitions then you are not just working for yourself, but also to try to somehow deserve such kindness from strangers how have fast become close friends.
When DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK first went to the market with our sales team at Industry Works, they had huge multi-million dollar companies coming over and asking about this Hooker movie that they kept hearing about. It's unreal. I think because Jen and I are horror nerds and fans first and foremost, our work is stuff that we make to entertain each other and that translates to our fellow horror nerds and fans.
The only sexism I've ever encountered is people saying things like we are only here because of our looks or we fucked our way to get where we are which is pretty funny. Jen, CJ, and myself have been in through extremely hard times together because we always put the movie first. We would rather send out screeners to reviewers than buy groceries. It's a tough business and you have to stay focused and steady to see success. The fucking to get ahead is a very strange thing to say and I find it pretty sexist. I didn't know there was a person out there to fuck that makes you not have to work hard, I think the state of the economy probably has that guy fucked too.
Jen: We're very business orientated. We get some negative feedback from multiple anonymous folks, but you really can't take that kind of thing seriously. The internet has made it possible for the anonymous to be quite brazen. Everyone gets their fair share of that kind of hate. We have been very fortunate. The horror community has really welcomed and embraced us and our work. They're just the best of the best. I am eternally grateful to each and every one of them.
Sure, we've had some ignorant comments about having it easy because of how we look and being identical twins. We probably get as much negative feedback based on that as we get positive reactions. It's funny considering how much we've struggled to get as far as we have. If there was an easy way where I could've just stood around and batted my eyes, I wish someone would've told me about it. We've long admired some very hard working filmmakers. Robert Rodriguez was a huge influence of ours. When we read his REBEL WITHOUT A CREW, we read a great deal about sacrifice, struggle, and overcoming obstacles. That's what we modelled our work ethic after.
The worst situation would have had to have been during the Saskatoon banning at the Roxy theatre. We were accused of being in-compassionate and insensitive and sexist. That was bizarre. I was more insulted by that level of ignorance than any level of sexism I've encountered.
Stu: I see a lot of nods to Tarantino and Scorsese in your film. Is there any other influences you’d care to point out? Any direct homages, perhaps?
Sylvia: I remember Bob Saget directed a film starring Norm MacDonald called DIRTY WORK which consisted of two guys that formed a revenge business. One scenario had a bunch of hookers in trunks of cars at a used car dealership to which Norm said, 'I've never seen so many dead hookers in my life'. That brought Jen and me to tears at a very young age. It played so perfectly into our sense of humor as did the Misbehavers Rodriguez room in FOUR ROOMS. There is a lot of Robert and Carlos' work influencing what you see in DHIAT. I remember showing a sequence to Carlos where Badass goes to kick some ass and he just smiled at me so knowingly and said, 'You're El, aren't you?' in reference to the protagonist in the MARIACHI TRILOGY. We grew up watching their movies and we dreamed of being El. Carlos saw it immediately, and dug it. It makes me smile to think of sharing that with one of my heroes.
Jen: There are so many influences in DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK. The Hooker's death scene was an homage to Tarantino's TRUE ROMANCE beat down in the hotel room with Patricia Arquette and James Gandolfini. That scene is so hard to watch and I even know how it turns out in the end, ha ha.
The character costumes was a shout out to comic book and video game heroes. Often, they'll stay in the same outfit all series or in each game. It makes them instantly recognizable and memorable. It helped us give our heroes that larger than life feel.
Badass was a nod to Rodriguez's heroes. They are always so damn cool. I hate it when a female hero is written to be more vulnerable and, in ways, less capable than their male hero counter parts. We wrote a strong hero character and never stopped to think if she would have any limitations. I think that's part of what makes her such an appealing character.
Stu: The soundtrack is great. Can you fill us in a little more on that. Like, is it available to buy?
Sylvia: It was really important to us to have a real independent spirit in every aspect of the film, so almost every track you hear is from a local independent artist. Even the Japanese Punk group is an independent band from Japan called the Titan Go-Kings. We wanted to really show off that there are incredible independent artists making great music that you haven't heard of, so why not feature those tracks in a film to help get the word out. The film starts with alternative punk group, Incura, who also appeared in the film and donated their band's house for very bloody days, then you hear the crooning pop rock from the Awkward Stage that leads to original music from our Goody Two-Shoes, CJ Wallis, who did a huge chunk of the score into the insane punk rock of Fake Shark-Real Zombie, and ending the film on original music from Adam Nanji. It's a very diverse medley and after we finalize the world release of the film - just a little paperwork away - we will start to work on getting the sound track out.
The coolest thing about the bands, like all the people involved in the film, is that they donated their tracks to the film to help us out. I don't forget when people go out of their way to support one another, so we're making sure that they are getting taken care of - especially with a soundtrack release.
Jen: We'd love to release a DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK soundtrack. It would be nice to have bits of dialogue from the film on there, too, like many of Tarantino's movie soundtracks or the wonderful AMERICAN PSYCHO movie soundtrack. We'd also like to release with that some of the originals from the film like the DEAD HOOKER MAIN THEME and CJ's/Goody's (Jesus Christ) I NEED YOU NOW. We'll likely put I NEED YOU NOW up on our sites for downloads. We get quite a few requests for it.
Stu: Anything you’d change, given a bigger budget?
Sylvia: There was this one scene that had to be cut because the animal was being difficult, but after a certain character loses her appendage a bear was supposed to come out of the woods, rip it off, and run away with it. That would have caused Badass to chase it down and punch it out while saying the unfortunate cut line: Fuck you, bear. It was so ridiculous and fun, but we couldn't risk having the animal pull a prosthetic off of our actress, so it had to be cut.
I find that despite the money, you tend to keep the spirit of what you are doing with every project. AMERICAN MARY is a ten million dollar movie that we are doing for much less. You have to dream big, but keep creative to get it done on a good budget. We write all of our scripts to keep them at a low budget to create, except Jen wrote a hundred million dollar script with me for some reason. It will be spectacular, but we have to work hard to get to that playing field.
Jen: We would punch a bear. It sucked not being able to have a trained grizzly for the film, but you don't really want to go with a "discount" grizzly. Some things, you've just got to pay for. We've chatted a bit about what if we were offered to remake DHIAT with a budget like EL MARIACHI being remade as DESPERADO. I'm not sure if we'd do it. It would be interesting to see if a remake with more money would be able to hold onto that beautiful indie feeling from the film. I'm incredibly proud of the film. I think its budget is part of the magic.
Stu: And is it right that I’ve heard a sequel is in the planning?
Sylvia: We have been asked about a sequel a few times which has sparked us putting together a lot of rough ideas of where they would go next. We have about two thirds figured out, but I don't think we'll be working on it anytime soon. I love the idea of trilogies and it certainly makes sense to continue in the MARIACHI spirit.
Jen: I wouldn't say no to coming back to those characters. We talk about them like old friends. Like, "what do you think Junkie would be doing now?" or "do you think Geek would have done anything cool with her free socket?". It would be really nice to meet up with them again, somewhere down the road, and pick up with them. I really like the idea of a trilogy, too. I'd love to have the opportunity and it would be fun to make a couple sequels with even more WTF moments.
Stu: Thank you for your time, and all the best for the continued success of your film.
Special thanks to Jen & Sylvia Soska and Steve at Eureka Video. For more information of the Soska Sisters check out their official site here.