Twisted Twins: Q&A with Jen & Sylvia Soska
Twisted Twins Jen and Sylvia Soska catch up with The Horror Hothouse’s Emma Knock to discuss Dead Hooker in a Trunk, American Mary and killing people to get a project greenlit…just kidding, of course.
Hi Jen and Sylvia, thanks for chatting with us. Firstly, can you give us a little background on how Twisted Twins Productions came about?
S: Jen and I started acting when we were seven years old to no real levels of success. The roles available to twins as we got older changed from cutesy and of little substance to super sexualized and of little substance – as long as something has a reason for existing I actually like sexuality explored in female characters – so we decided to take our extensive martial arts training to try our hand at stunt work. We might still be in bikinis but at least we’d be being thrown through windows. That led us to an excellent outsourced stunt program in something that claimed to be a film school, but was just a cash grab that preyed on people wanting to work in the industry. From that disappointing experience, we went on the write, direct, produce and so much more on our first film, Dead Hooker in a Trunk, following in the footsteps of Robert Rodriguez. Incorporating our own production company only made sense.
J: When Sylv and I decided to make our own film, it was the first step to a larger process. It was more than just saying: “hey we want to make a film for the sake of making a film”, we wanted to make a first film that would be followed my many other projects all with our own unique style and sensibilities intact. This year, on December 11th, we’re going to be celebrating our five-year anniversary with two feature films under our belt, several PSAs for our annual massive blood drive with several projects which will be wrapped before this upcoming anniversary. And we’re just getting started.
American Mary enjoyed a limited theatrical release in the US at the end of May and it’s already been received very positively in the UK and at film festivals worldwide. What was your inspiration behind it?
S: I never intended it, but it became a deeply personal project with a lot of our own experiences put into the film which is a lesson learned, I don’t think I will do that so literally again. At the time we wrote the script, we were incredibly poor, not able to afford food let alone pay any of our bills, we were in and out of the hospital with ailing loved ones which immersed us in the world of hospitals in a very sad way, all the while we were trying to sell the first film and meeting monsters in the industry. We gave ourselves two weeks to write the script, so even though a lot of it is an analogy for this or that experience, the writing of it was a hugely therapeutic experience.
J: Years ago we stumbled upon an April Fool’s prank online, which featured two identical twin brothers who decided to swap limbs. One ended up with his brother’s arm, leaving him with three arms, and the other ended up with an elongated ring finger, donated from his brother. That wasn’t the most disturbing part, but the love letter that accompanied it that explained that you have to be an identical twin to understand why they did it. It scared us and our mom taught us that if something scares you, it means you have a lack of education about the subject, so learn more about it and you won’t be scared anymore. Our fear turned to fascination [and then] to admiration. The world is obsessed with appearances and disregards any notion that a person is more than that and no group is as misunderstood as the body modification community.
Your first film Dead Hooker in a Trunk is a firm favourite amongst horror fans and critics on a global scale. We read on your website that the film was originally a self-funded fake trailer that you worked on during film school. Where did the inspiration come from?
S: When we were in that ‘film school’, thank God that the multi-collaborative Grindhouse was in the theatres at the time, which was real film school. We grew up on Rodriguez, he is the ‘make your own film’ guru of filmmaking. Inspired by Grindhouse and Rodriguez and, as an additional ‘fuck you’ to the school for wasting our time and cancelling the budget for our final project, we decided to make a faux trailer with everything that the school considered inappropriate material to put into school projects. The result was Dead Hooker in a Trunk, which we screened at our graduation to half the audience walking out and the other half cheering so loud that you couldn’t hear the intentionally disgustingly crude dialogue.
J: The amazing work of cinematic throw back art that was Rodriguez and Tarantino’s Grindhouse. We were particularly moved by Hobo with a Shotgun. To think a Canadian had made it in there with heavy hitters like Eli Roth and Rob Zombie. At first we thought: “hey, maybe if we make one and submit it, it can have a chance of being in Grindhouse 2“. After screening it, no one knew why we’d done a faux trailer and kept asking us when we were going to do the feature. So we did what every good artist/business woman would do. We lied. We said: “oh, yeah sure, we’re working on it now”. So we did. We’d never made a film before, not a short, not shit really, so we were armed with unwavering naivety and enthusiasm. The rest is pretty much history. We maxed out our credit cards, ran around with a camera, pieced it together, and began a long campaign to get people to give the film a shot and a look.
What were the pressures you faced as first-time feature film directors?
S: We knew what we were trying to do with the film. It wasn’t practice, it wasn’t just for fun and we had a goal to have it distributed and have some sort of theatrical release, which it accomplished, but not everyone was on the same page. You have to prove yourself time and time again. I’m still having to prove myself even with the amount of work and success I have seen with our projects. Everyone who came out to be a part of Dead Hooker came out for free because they wanted to make something different. You have to be the one to guarantee that those peoples’ effort wasn’t wasted. To this day, we still haven’t seen a dime from the film, but we have utilized every opportunity to get the film out and seen.
J: Being first time directors no one thought we could pull it off. Even on set people, probably light-heartedly (though we took it very seriously), would talk about films they were going to move on to and do next or what we’d do when we did a “real movie”. I took it as a real insult because to us, it always was a real movie. Doing it DIY style you have to be prepared to have a lot of people laugh in your face. Just remember that in the end, you’ll be the one laughing
Eli Roth, director of Cabin Fever and Hostel, said that Dead Hooker in a Trunk was “fucking awesome”. What was it like to receive such high praise from someone so well-known and respected in the industry?
S: It was a bit of a game changer. Eli was kind enough to talk about the film and our work in the press; he also got us in touch with Hannah Neurotica of Ax Wound who also started Women In Horror Recognition Month, which is the event that got us our first two screenings for the film. After that it kept building momentum and we’ve worked hard to keep it building from project to project. And Eli has been a wonderful mentor and friend. I can’t say enough good things about the man.
J: I couldn’t believe it. There are some truly wonderful, kind and giving people in horror. There’s this false notion that we’re all badasses and evil and get off on killing people for film, which is true to an extent, but I encountered some of the sweetest people working in horror. Eli is wonderful. He’s been such a great mentor to us and I must stress that he has had no reason to. He’s a very talented director and his work is more than enough to be grateful for. To have him say something so kind about DHIAT and put his name to it really changed things for us. It was suddenly okay to like our film at a much larger scale. He’s continued to give us the best, most honest advice we’ve ever received in this business. Eli is absolutely wonderful. We love that man.
With Dead Hooker in a Trunk you both worked across all aspects of the film, from writing the screenplay to directing it and all that comes in between, how was the experience different on American Mary?
S: I feel very blessed to have been so involved in every aspect of making Dead Hooker because it taught us how a film lives and breathes and what pieces must fit together from concept to final distribution [as well as] everything in between. In Mary, we weren’t the heads of every department; we had people who were masters at their craft: Brad Jubenvill our first AD, Brian Pearson our DP, Masters FX for our prosthetics and makeup, Tony Devenyi for our Production Design, and Enigma Arcana for our costumes. They brought everything to a higher level, because filmmaking is and should be a collaborative process.
J: With Dead Hooker in a Trunk we wanted to show off all that we could do. It was our first anything and we knew that gave us the ability to showcase everything we are capable of doing. In that respect, we did everything. It’s so important for a director to really have an understanding of what every department does. It was a challenge to wear so many hats, but the knowledge we received from it was essential. We did everything very loud and over the top with DHIAT. We wanted that film and how we made it to announce our arrival on the scene. American Mary was more to show what we’re capable of. Those two films are night and day and intentionally so. We didn’t want to get pegged as a certain type of filmmaker that can only do one thing. We want to make films in each and every subgenre of horror. The experience on every set and project is different. On Mary, we had such a phenomenal crew behind us, masters in each of their departments. I felt like the Avengers with SHIELD backing me up. It took a while to break the habit of getting up and running to get stuff. It’s like, “no, you just stay and direct, we have people to run and grab that prop”, ha ha.
The concept behind American Mary is original and truly genius. Where did the inspiration come from?
S: Thank you for saying that. It was very much where we were at that time in our life, what was important, how we saw the world, the relationships we had in our life. I like films that have a philosophy, that comment on the world around us but ask questions to promote a dialogue in lieu of telling the viewer what they should think. Making that film was one of the most challenging things in our life – to be new writer/directors with this very high concept film. I am eternally grateful to the horror community who made it the success that it has become.
J: The film is very much an analogy for our own ventures in the film industry. We started out acting and modelling and as you can imagine we came up against so very unsavoury characters. I heard the stories, I thought I saw it all. Then when we made Dead Hooker in a Trunk, we saw a whole new ugly side to this business where as much as we struggled to be seen as equal to our male counter parts, our gender and usually our age became the object of discrimination with many monster producers and execs. We found that the people you’re meant to respect and hold in high regard are often the real monsters and the outsiders, the indie brats and the horror community which can appear to look a little different or seem intense are in fact the sweetest, most generous and honest people you’ll ever meet. That’s largely where our theme, “appearances are everything” came from.
We must admit, when we first heard that Ginger Snaps star Katharine Isabelle was starring in American Mary we laughed as we could easily imagine an alternative version of Ginger Snaps whereby you two play Brigitte and Ginger. How did Katharine become involved with the project?
S: It’s so funny that you say that because Jen and I were relentlessly teased in high school and were called the Fitzgerald sisters. At the time, we didn’t know what that meant so we rented Ginger Snaps and thought it was actually a pretty cool thing to be called. It made us fans of Katie, we would watch anything and everything with her in it, but were frustrated that she wasn’t getting the roles we wanted to see her doing. She’s so effortlessly talented and interesting that, despite how cruel it might sound given the nature of the film, everything in the film was written for her because we wanted to show off what a superior actress she is. I loved her before we met and worked together, and she’s surpassed my highest expectations of her, I don’t know if there is a word to describe how I feel about her now. She read the script and dug it, I’m grateful because there was no one else who could have played Mary.
J: We have a feel for people. You have to when you’re a writer and director. Your job is to recreate life and you need to be able to pick up signals and qualities off of people. Most of life is people talking without coming right out and saying what they really mean. You have to read between the lines. You can pick qualities of strength, intellect, bravery, humor, vulnerability… all those attributes were so important to the character of Mary. We saw all of that in Katie and more. She’s got this amazing presence. You see her and you just know she’s special. We never write for an actor because you just don’t know if it’ll work out. You end up seeing an actor instead of the character, but Katie IS Mary. She has that power and can show her vulnerability in such a beautiful way. She is one of our generation’s great actresses and she’s more than proven that with the film and in her body of work. You’ll certainly be seeing us working together again. We’ve fallen hopelessly in love now.
What are your aspirations for American Mary following its theatrical release in the US?
S: My greatest dream was for the film to get out there and for people to see it. With the theatrical, now DVD & BD release of the film, they can. I learned a very important lesson on this film, it’s mine and Jen’s during the creation of the film, but once it’s released it’s the audience’s film. Whatever the film is to them, that’s what it will be. They like the film, it’s been sold out around the country which is the dream realized.
J: The film, now that it’s out, isn’t ours anymore. You put all that work into it before it’s released and then you work your ass off to get it out there when it’s released. Now that it’s out, it belongs to everyone. It’s up to their interpretations where it goes now. I’d love to continue to see people moved and inspired by it. I hope it’s a film that will really hit home with people and be something that’s part of horror culture for a long time.
Twisted Twins Productions have also worked on some other great projects, including a PSA to raise awareness of blood duration during February’s Women in Horror Month and a few shorts films; The Hornet, Doppelganger and Bad Girls. Out of all of your projects, what have you been most proud of and why?
S: I’m too self-loathing to like anything that is completed. The film I’m making is the one I’m most proud of, which in this case would be The ABCS of Death 2 and Bob.
J: Oh, that’s like a parent picking their favorite kid. I’m always growing as an artist and changing every single day and learning and striving to be a better version of me and that goes into our work. My favorite project is the one I’ll do next. It always will be.
We’ve read that you have another couple of projects in the pipeline The Man Who Kicked Ass and Bob. Can you tell us about them?
S: Bob is our original monster movie that we will be partnering with the geniuses at Masters FX to make something like you’ve never seen before. The tagline is: “There’s a monster inside all of us, sometimes it gets out.”
J: Oh, The Man Who Kicked Ass! We wrote that at the same time as American Mary. It’s very bloody. It’s a love letter to westerns. I LOVE Westerns. It’s a horror action western with a little something I can’t say just yet. It’s very stylistic and likely pretty pricy as I am a practical girl over CGI girl. It has a lot of heart to it, too. It’s very special to me. I look forward to finally being able to make it.
Are there any other projects that you are currently working on?
S: We’re working on the ABCS of Death 2, which I am beyond stoked to be a part of. We’re in a tricky place right now, I think there are at least five additional projects in development or that have been greenlit, but I can’t say those until the team is ready for us to announce them. The success of Mary has given us the opportunity to continue our own brand of horror filmmaking and you’re going to see a lot of totally different and massively fucked things coming up.
J: Ha ha, the same. I WISH I could make announcements about everything, but I can’t run my mouth as much as I used to, ha ha. I can tell you that we’re writing every single day and have no intention to slow down anytime soon. We’ll sleep when we’re dead.
If you could work with anyone who would it be and why?
S: Dan Schaffer, Laurence Harvey, Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Connor, Martin Olsen – I surround myself with people who are not only extremely talented, but genuinely great human beings. I am a fan of all of these guys and I would kill a man to work with them. I don’t think there is a person to kill to get a project greenlit, wouldn’t that be fun though? Filmmaking would be so much simpler.
J: I have the same list. I’d love to bring much of my cast and crew back together. They’re like a family. When you find good people, you tend to hang onto them.
Finally…what are your favourite scary movies?
S: Audition, Suicide Club, I Saw the Devil, Martyrs, Let The Right One In, Pontypool, Hostel 2, Hellraiser, A Serbian Film, Human Centipede 1 & 2 (and my money is on me really liking the third one too), Suspiria, Tokyo Gore Police, In The Mouth of Madness, and fuck it, Dredd, everyone should see Dredd, that was some high quality filmmaking.
J: I love the same ones, but here’s a few more…. Man Bites Dog, Grave Encounters, Excision, The Thing, Dead Ringers (more of a sad one for twins than a horror), V/H/S 2, Macabre, Donkey Punch, Splinter, and The Exorcist.
S: Thank you for giving this opportunity to chat and being so accommodating with our increasingly insane schedules. If you’re reading this and you want to be a filmmaker, go do it. I spent so much of my life not knowing what I wanted to do, where I fit in and I didn’t think I could be a filmmaker. Work your ass off, learn as much as you can, and make it happen. I want to see your movies. There is a famine of creativity in the horror genre and we need people with unique visions to tell their stories.
J: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. And, you, readers, thank you so much for reading. We are fans ourselves first and foremost and absolutely adore the people who support us. You guys and girls are the reason we wake up in the morning and the reason we do what we do and the first thing we think about when we set out to do anything. Thank you for existing. We’re all over online, please reach out. Follow us on Tumblr and Twitter and YouTube and Flickr and find us on Facebook. If you can’t find us online, you’re not looking 😉
For more information on the Soska Sisters, click on the links above or check out their website.