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Interview with Sylvia & Jen of Twisted Twin Productions
Interview by: Chrisscreama|
I had the opportunity to interview two of Canada’s most talented ladies in horror, Sylvia and Jen Soska of Twisted Twin Productions. Not only are they talented but they are hot, they are twins AND they are geek girls! These film making twins are taking the film world by storm, recently making it into Cannes Film Festival debuting their latest masterpiece American Mary, which is featuring Ginger Snaps's Katharine Isabelle! In this interview I try to pick their twisted brains, enjoy an inside look on what beautifully morbid things stir in these gals heads!
What inspired you to make films? Were there any films or film makers that inspired or influenced your career?
S: We kind of always had these weird interest and this odd skill set that didn't fit in anywhere, actually, it's always been difficult for Jen and I to feel like we fit in. I liked film because it had this sense of escapism that reality just can't provide. I never set out to become a director or writer, we just kind of fell into it. We grew up admiring filmmakers like Rodriguez, Landis, Tarantino, Zemeckis, Barker, Craven, Raimi - and those unique, exciting, strange films really put a mark on us. EL MARIACHI - the film and the story behind it was what really gave us the inspiration on how to create our own film, we had the firsthand account novel - 'Rebel Without A Crew' on hand at all time making DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK. But it was GRINDHOUSE - the multi-collaborative throwback love letter that gave us the vision to make the film. It all started as a faux trailer and a 'fuck you' to the shitty film school that ripped us off and turned out to be the first step to creating the feature.
J: I've loved films since I was a little girl. I actually don't ever remember not loving them, particularly horror films. I don't think little girls are encouraged enough to be writers, directors, or producers. It's usually more common to be told that you can grow up to be an actress or a model or a singer. So, we started off acting and got some pretty expected roles that you'd find twins in. When we got older, the roles got even worse. Just stereotypical, overly sexualized, poorly written crap. I have no problem playing something sexy as we all know sex and violence sell, but we got pretty tired of chasing after roles we didn't even want just so we could be working. Our change into filmmaking came largely from that desire to take control of our careers.
A big part of that came from Rodriguez's REBEL WITHOUT A CREW. It's a must have for any and every filmmaker out there. Robert Rodriguez and his ten minute film schools and the way he makes films creatively with a modest budget inspired us to make DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK. There are so many filmmakers who influence me. Rodriguez, Tarantino, Miike, to name a few. I'm also a great lover of Joss Whedon. His story lines are masterfully executed, his dialogue is completely original and sets trends, and his characters are unique, flawed, and timeless. One of his favorite quotes of mine on why he writes strong females is, "because you're still asking me that."
What is it like being a Twin? Do you ladies have any special "twin powers" we should know of?
S: Yes, totally! I'm so glad you asked that. So there is this weird version of the house we grew up in and this forest - neither of us have ever been there, but we both dream about it. In the morning, we're all like - I dreamt of the forest last night. Holy shit, me too!
I love being a twin. I would actually be utterly useless without her. It's like we're one whole in two different bodies. When we work together, we divide and conquer, we pre-determine separate responsibilities and can talk without having to talk, just through looks. It comes in very handy. I honestly have no idea what it is like to not be a twin, I imagine it's very lonely and odd. I love have my sister there. We have a lifetime of in-jokes, it would be hard to get someone new caught up to speed.
J: It's awesome. I love my twin. I was born with a best friend who never bullshits me, a sparring partner, an incredible co-creator, co-writer, and co-director. We're very different, but we compliment and balance one another beautifully. People ask us if we'd ever work apart and we easily could, but why would we want to? We see things the same way, though we usually get there in very different ways. She's a real artist.
Twin powers? Yeah. We do. We can have a full conversation with a look. We can read each other so easily that we can very subtly communicate without others having any idea that we're even doing it. We do it right in front of people usually. If we're apart and something's wrong, we can feel it and have to call the other immediately. We've dreamed of fictitious place separately, but it's the exact same place. That's kind of weird.
So how do you get yourself started in the film world? Do you have any advice for anyone looking to create films of their own?
S: A lot of people get their starts by making the most of the opportunities in front of them and rolling with the punches. We didn't set out to make a feature, we were pissed that a film school ripped us off and wasted our time. They had a list of everything considered 'too inappropriate' for school projects, but because our faux trailer for DEAD HOOKER was our own project with no affiliation with the school, we decided to include everything on that list. Just to make sure, we added bestiality and necrophilia for good measure and a shock that they weren't already included in the list.
When we screened the film at graduation, the first time anyone had seen it, half the audience walked out and the other half was laughing and cheering so loud that you could barely make out the intentionally raunchy dialogue. After that, people started asking us when the feature was coming out, so we bullshitted and said we're working on the feature length script right now. We went home and in two weeks had the script ready, started casting and crewing up, maxed out our credit cards and called in every favor we could to make it happen. When the film was done, we sent it to everyone, we promoted it when no one wanted it until it got a buzz, hit the festival circuit, and eventually got distribution.
You can't take no for an answer. You're going to get a lot of people trying to discourage you and tell you that you need certain things to make a film. Right now, making your own film is more achievable than ever. High level cameras are easily available, you have access to the world to market your project online, you can learn from your favorite filmmakers through DVD extras, interviews, even talk directly to them through twitter and Facebook, and there are phenomenal resources like 'Rebel Without A Crew' and Lloyd Kaufman's 'Make Your Own Damn Movie' series. The hardest thing is to get started, but you can do it. Learn as much as you can, make a film that is marketable but also unique and means something to you - you're most likely going to be with that film for years in the process, so make sure you pick something that you can stay passionate about. Like Dead Hookers.
J: We kind of fell ass backwards into filmmaking. At the time we wanted to make the shift from acting to stunt performing. We attended this god awful film school that somehow had this outstanding stunt program. When the program ended we were stuck and ended up having our funding pulled for our final project. Then we gave the school a middle fingered salute by doing the film anyways and incorporating their list of "inappropriate content" into the film. We even added a few extras that hadn't made the list. That project ended up being a faux trailer for DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK and that was where it all started.
My best piece of advice is don't give up. If you want to be a filmmaker, it's going to be damn hard. No job has higher highs and lower lows. But there's nothing more fulfilling. When you sit in a darkened theater about to watch your film for the first time with a full audience? It beats a wedding day every single time. I'd suggest, don't start by writing a 20 million dollar epic. If you have it in you, write it. But I'd recommend by coming up with an idea you're really excited about because you will be talking about it for the rest of your life. For Robert Rodriguez, it was a man with a guitar case filled with guns in EL MARIACHI. For us? A dead hooker in a trunk. Make your own film. Don't ever wait for someone to come along and make your career happen for you. Make it happen for yourself. Write a list of your resources. You'll be amazed what you have available. A friend with a horse, a business that can be used after hours, a school, a cabin, a classic car, a weapons collective, a tarantula, anything. And then write around that. Be creative and overcome your obstacles in ways that don't require throwing money around. It will get you more respect and it will teach you a lot more. Anyone can make a movie with money. Well, mostly, ha ha
So you, the "Twisted Twins" produce, write, direct, act and so forth in your own films, does it ever get overwhelming? How do you ladies cope with the stress?
S: The only thing that tends to throw me is acting and directing at the same time because with small independents, there is always a time issue - you never have enough of it, and you have to have faith that you're shooting exactly what you what and how you want it. It's part of the reason why we are stepping back from acting after our cameo in AMERICAN MARY. I want to have full control over the creative and the story telling - being behind the camera makes more sense. It never seems overwhelming because I want to be a part of everything. We tend to be a part of every department and have a good relationship with the team - you get to share ideas and create a stronger piece that way. I've had the most amazing crew in the world.
I do get stressed a bit. I have Jen and she's the most lovely human being. I very lucky to share my life with her. We laugh a lot about things. Even when everything is going to shit, we can find humour in the situation and that's invaluable.
J: I'm a control freak. Like Batman. I just have to be involved in every aspect. Making a film is like bringing a world to life and I want to be there for all of it. It can be a bit intense, but I have had the pleasure of working with some truly amazing people. And I have Sylvie. We never stop working. We're very married to our careers.
The best way to deal with stress? A killer sense of humor. If you can't laugh when everything goes to shit around you, stay out of the film business cuz let me tell you, it's hilarious.
What do you think of the horror films being released in the recent years? Any of them stand out to you? What are some horror films you personally enjoy?
S: I'm actually really disappointed in the recent horror films that have been released, actually more accurately the studio/mainstream horror films being released. It's a majority of unoriginal paint-by-numbers horror or pathetic CGI-laden soulless remakes or re-imagining or re-raping of childhood fond horror memories. There is this really disturbing trend that the film being made doesn't matter, whether the film is good doesn't matter, only making money matters. There are ways of marketing, casting, hyping a pile of shit to guarantee a certain box office opening and once the public sees the film as the turd it is, it can die and fade away for the following weekends. Sadly, a lot of people in filmmaking couldn't care less about films.
Not to say everything that has come out lately is an abomination, but the real gems don't often get the attention that they deserve or the publicity to spread to a larger market. A lot of indie films are genius, but not enough people forgo the studio crap to see them or even know they exist. Some of my favourite recent(ish) horror films are I SAW THE DEVIL, THE SKIN I LIVE IN, ANTICHRIST, INSIDE, SLITHER, BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, RUBBER, and HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN. I know I'm forgetting something rad.
My all-time favourites in no particular order are AMERICAN PSYCHO, AUDITION, SUICIDE CLUB, MARTYRS, HOSTEL 2, THE EXORCIST, THE THING, JACOB'S LADDER, 28 DAYS LATER, DEAD RINGERS, HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, and PIECES. I absolutely certain I forgot something rad here too.
J: Some films are being made by the wrong people. Horror should be done by the people who LOVE horror. Not people who seem to think we horror fans are a collection of idiots who'd be happy just to see some blood thrown around and the occasional tit with some lame "twist" at the end that a preschooler could have seen coming. And horror films seem to be oddly defined these days. I classify any film with horror in it as a horror, though it can fall into other genres, too. I SAW THE DEVIL was wonderful. I like how, unlike many North American films, foreign protagonists and antagonists are just black and white, but shades of grey which much closer reflect reality I find. I really enjoyed REC. The remake was pretty ick. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN was masterful.
My favorite horror film is AMERICAN PSYCHO. Love the film, love the book, LOVE Bret Easton Ellis, love his boyfriend, the 25 Year Old. The whole deal. I also love Cronenberg's DEAD RINGERS, but I guess that one's obvious, ha ha. Sylv and I like to go by Beverly and Elliot Mantle when we're hiding our identities. We think it's hilarious. THE SHINING, THE THING, THE EXORCIST, ALIEN, POLTERGEIST, INSIDE, IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, JACOB'S LADDER... I'm a big fan of prosthetic and practical FX over CGI, especially poorly done CGI. I think CGI should be used to enhance an image.
How would you describe your films in 3 words?
S: Very fucked up.
J: What the fuck.
Do you consider yourselves geeks? If so, who do you think is the geekier of the two of you? And what are your geekiest interests?
S: We are total geeks. We grew up on horror movies, comic books, and video games. We actually have all of our systems from our NES to XBOX 360 and everything in between, all consoles, still out to play. My Genesis adapter is fucked up, which really bums me out because I love those old side scrollers as much as the uber advanced new ones like Skyrim. I have over a thousand comic books, but I've really fallen behind on my collecting since we stared with indie filmmaking racket, so I hope to start making a little money so I can catch up. Like, seriously, is Spider-man ok? I haven't commitedly checked up on that dude in forever.
Also, pre-filmmaking days, I had high hopes of becoming an arachnologist. I talked to some of the leaders of the profession in the world and they (kindly) let me know that studying spiders isn't really a steady source of income, so I switched occupations. I still have my passion for those eight-legged beauties. I collect tarantulas and have three giant breeds. I wanted to discover a new species of spider and name it after myself, but I'll settle for having the largest in captivity. To date, the largest captivity arachnid was 11 inches, but have been seen in the wild to get up to 13 inches. It is my intention to grow one of my giant types to that size. Like a (geek) boss.
I would say we are both die hard geeks, but the cool thing is that I think a lot of people in our generation are geeks. We've grown up and now we're seeing more geek culture become cool pop culture. Just please don't fuck up my favourite video games and comic books with shitty movie adaptations please!
J: Oh, we are UBER geeks! It's incredible to be alive in a time where geek is chic. I mean, we get to see video games and comic books come to the cinema and spawn even more video games, of course with mixed results. I'm sure I'm the bigger nerd. I know we'd both erupt in tears when we meet Stan Lee at Comic Con this year. It'll be our first Comic Con. It's been a BIG and long time coming dream of ours. We're planning multiple outfits. So far we've decided on Catwoman (me and Tim Burtons style) and the Black Cat (Sylvie and incredibly designed by Engima Arcana from AMERICAN MARY). It'll be epic.
I love comics and video games. I prefer Marvel. We started collecting when we were little, BEFORE we could even read. We'd flip through the pages and picked the ones with girl heroes in them. We started with classic X-men, moved onto Spider-man, Daredevil (I LOVE Daredevil), The Avengers, Ironman, and then pretty much the whole Marvel Universe. We have every system. We love Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill, Skyrim, any good RPG or survival horror. We still play our SNES and SEGA, too, ha ha. I loved Buffy, too. The idea of someone that looks little and weak actually being so strong physically and on the inside had a lot to do with the woman I ended up being. I also attribute my love of martial arts to my desire to be a super hero when I grew up. I haven't totally abandoned that dream. I could out geek most. I'll drop issue numbers and argue over writing continuity issues happily. I'm a fairly well rounded geek, though I lament that I've never really gotten into Star Wars. I also thought I'd find the geek of my dreams and they'd show me the magical world of Star Wars.
Who is your favorite famous geek girl in the media?
S: Natalie Portman. She's brilliant, totally cool in all her geeky interests. I adore her.
J: Oh, easy! Felicia Day! She's my kind of geek girl. And I'm a big Dr. Horrible fan.
Who is your favorite "Scream Queen" and why?
S: Eihi Shiina. She's the anti-vicitm scream queen, actually I'd be terrified to fuck with her. In AUDITION, she rocks out in her performance as Asami, beautiful, quiet, feminine, and totally fucking crazy. She was also fantastic in TOKYO GORE POLICE. She brings this unique and interesting quality to all these over the top characters, I just love watching her in anything.
J: Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley. It's a touch one because there are a lot of scream queens I adore. I love the ones that smashed the final girl stereotype like Buffy, but it really all started with Ripley. I remember watching her in ALIEN with my mom and I was so worried that the Alien was gonna get her and my mom told me, "it's okay. Ripley's strong and always wins." In that moment I regarded her with child like awe and decided "I want to be her." I hope that the work we do inspire little girls to look at us and feel the same way.
We are very excited about your upcoming feature "American Mary" which is premiering in Cannes Film Festival! What were some of your biggest struggles working on this film? And what were your biggest triumphs and favorite moments?
S: Shit, me too! The Cannes Film Festival is something I dreamed of having the opportunity to go to and it's still sinking in that I head over on Tuesday. I think the biggest struggle we had is the same thing every independent film has to struggle with - modest funds and tight scheduling. Without the team that we had, the film that AMERICAN MARY is would have never been possible. Everyone killed themselves to create this world, this story, these characters. Everyone took a hit on what they would have gotten on a bigger production because they were working on the project because they felt passionately about it.
You can just tell when people are on your set for the right reasons. That was our set. We were these indie rebels, working with modest time and cash and creating something that looked like we had all the money and time in the world. People who rock - my parents for mortgaging their home to start the financing for the film, the team at Industry Works for believing and backing an extremely unique film like this and letting it be that unique film, Riaz Tyab and 430 Productions for producing the film and being incredibly supportive, creative producers, Brad Jubenvil - our killer first AD, Brian Pearson - our visionary director of photography, Cliff Hokanson - our badass steadicam operator, Tony Devenyi - our brilliant production designer, Jayne Mabbott of Enigma Arcana who was our phenomenal costume designer, Todd Masters and the team at Masters FX which created effects that brought MARY to a whole new level, Ann Forry our casting director who fought for all our cast and got us them, John Wittmayer who got us every location we could have asked for, Brad Shemko our master props master, Bruce McKinnon our beloved editor, and Kris Siegers and his amazing sound team. Also, we had the best cast on the planet - Katharine Isabelle (Mary Mason), Antonio Cupo (Billy Barker), Tristan Risk (Beatress Johnson), Paula Lindberg (Ruby RealGirl), David Lovgren (Dr. Grant), Clay St. Thomas (Dr. Walsh), Nelson Wong (Dr. Black), Twan Holliday (Lance Delgreggo), and John Emmett Tracy (Detective Dolor). Every time I walked onto set, saw everyone hard work, watched the scenes play out was a triumph. I don't know how I ever got so lucky, but I know I have these people to thank for it.
J: Wow. That's a good question. There were definitely some massive challenges on the project, but they were out shined by the victories. AMERICAN MARY was intended to be made much later in our careers. It's a dream project. Though it follows Mary Mason through her medical profession struggles, the film tells of the struggles we've been through in the film business. It's a dark place filled with lions in lambs clothing. The people you think you can trust rarely are. I've always felt like an outcast and I feel more at home with my fellow outcasts. We've always taken joy in standing up for the underdog. There's a lot of that that went into the making of the film. Struggle and sacrifice and survival.
Taking the film to Cannes is a dream come true by a lot. We've always dreamed of attending the Cannes Film Festival with a film of our own in place of dreaming about our wedding days. It's incredible and I am so honored and humbled by the experience. I truly want to thank our outstanding crew and cast for their unending hard work and dedication to the project. I feel what we have is truly unique and beautiful. We've loved Katharine Isabelle since we saw GINGER SNAPS and she could not have been a more perfect Mary. She's really an amazing actress and this is a very challenging and mature role, by no means was it an easy one to play, but she did it like she was born to play the role. Working with MastersFX, the geniuses behind SIX FEET UNDER and TRUE BLOOD was another dream realized. I've loved prosthetics and their work for years and to be working with them and even friends with Todd Masters? I just don't know how I ever got so lucky.