Jen and Sylvia Soska (INTERVIEW)
Jen and Sylvia Soska can be found all over BloodGuts. We won't shy away from the fact how great they are and how fresh the movie industry is with them in it. In 2009 they wrote/directed/produced and starred in indie sensation 'Dead Hooker In A Trunk' with its twisted humour and plentyful of claret it proved an underground success. And it's follow up, 'American Mary' has already earned rave reviews on the festival circuit and will soon be available for all to enjoy with both a limited cinema release and it's release on DVD/Blu-Ray on 21st January. American Mary is based around the world of body modification and revolves around Mary Mason who delves deep into the underground world and taking a personal touch to the art. The Soska Twins don't hide any secrets as the beauty and the sometimes disturbing art becomes a masterpiece on the screen.
Was there any real life inspiration behind AM?
Sylvia: I don't think you can make a good film if there isn't honesty in it. There's a lot of Jen and myself in 'American Mary'. When writing it, I didn't even realize how much of our won experiences went into the pages until we were into production and it was so much more obvious to everyone but me. Like many people struggling in today's world, we've had some rough years from financial struggles to meeting monsters in the world to having ailing loved ones - all things that you only have so much control over in real life, but you put all that into a script and now you have that control. It was a very therapeutic experience.
I stumbled upon body modification online through, unbeknownst to me, an April Fool's prank where two identical twin brothers had switched limbs. The procedure didn't disturb me as much as the description written by one of the brothers explaining that you need to be an identical twin to understand wanting to have this closeness with your twin. It scared me. Whenever anything scares me, I become obsessed. I became so obsessed with the culture that I would research it and different procedures for hours. I would go on message boards pretending to be a person whose had this or that done to learn more. My fear turned to admiration and I wanted to represent these people as the interesting human beings that they are and not the monsters that mainstream media would want to turn them into. Everyone in the film is based on one or several different people that I have met in my life. Jen: Yes, quite a bit. I think it shows when you put yourself into your art and write what you know. The film itself is an analogy for our own ventures in the film industry. We used mainstream medicine in the place of mainstream Hollywood, doctors and surgeons in the place of producers and the absolute filth that walks around in sheep's clothing being needlessly respected despite their vulgar and disgusting actions, and the body mod community in place of the horror community and the indie scene.
After 'Dead Hooker In A Trunk', we were seeking to make our next film. We're in too deep now. We love film-making and we know there's no other career path that would fulfil us the way it does. So, it was only natural to seek to make our next one. We met monster after monster. People who would treat us as party favours rather than equals. Having started out our careers in the industry as actors, it was nothing new to us to meet people who are quite well respected in the business that are in truth misogynistic who try to use their power to take advantage of women. It came very naturally to put it into our story. It was what we'd been coming up against over and over again after DHIAT and sadly to some extent even during the making of MARY. It's something not enough people talk about and it's a story we felt had to be told. How much research did you do on the body-modification scene? S: A lot. An obsessive amount. That said, we had the script read over by doctors, surgeons, nurses, and members of the modification community to ensure that our story was existing in reality and that we had legitimate medical modification procedures represented in the most realistic manner. There are two things that are a stretch in the script - nipple augmentation that is actually through tattooing, but I loved the look so much that I wanted to include it in the story and the twin surgery which is only now being done with huge medical teams in Europe. It is done by two doctors in the script, but we had a modest budget and a scene with forty doctors would have been a bit excessive visually for the film. J: We were very grateful to have Russ Foxx come onto our film as our flesh art consultant. He's is a leading professional in body modification and is just the most down to Earth and educated man you could have asked for. I am not part of the body mod scene myself and my only alterations are pierced ears and a pierced navel which hardly qualify me. We wanted to portray the body mod community in the kind of light they're never shown in. A truthful one. There aren't many groups as misunderstood as the body mod community. You just mention body modification and the knee jerk reaction fro most people is to cringe. It's because all they associate with them are the harsh, out of context images you find during a Google search. Any surgery looks harsh out of context. I honestly don't see a difference between body mod and cosmetic surgery aside from the fact that often people get cosmetic surgery to fit into the general ideal of what is beautiful, usually the American ideal of what is beautiful, whereas those who engage in body mod do it for themselves, for their own ideal of beauty and self. Russ Foxx patiently answered each and every question we had, no matter how ignorant and was always available to us. He also read our script to ensure we hadn't unintentionally written something impossible or offensive. That being said, medical professionals also read our scripts with approval. How much of American Mary was you, your imagination and Katharine Isabelle? S: I think a lot of people, men and women, can relate to Mary. She's a type of person that the times we live in has created. I see Marys all the time, working hard from humble beginnings with ambition and drive to be something more, and the world takes its toll on them - you see their battle scars, but they would never let you see that they are hurt because if you stop in this world, you get left behind. We grew up watching a lot of horror films where you have Freddy, Pinhead, Jason, Myers, but there's a serious lack of female characters. The horror genre has given us the final girl from virginal super heroine to a more multi-dimensional realistic woman, but what if you took the final girl and blended her with iconic villain, what character would you have.
The three of us worked very closely together to create Mary. Jen and I knew Mary very well, but Jen and Katie gave her a heart. Jen has more optimism and a beautiful outlook on the world, Mary needed that. I couldn't ask for a more brilliant writing partner. Katie made Mary a real woman. Someone we all know. Despite the fantastic places the character goes, the ill choices she makes, you are experiencing those things with her. Katie took a lot of herself and put that into Mary; it was very brave and I think it's one of the main reasons people are getting so behind that character. J: Mary Mason is Sylvia. Entirely. By the end of it, the writing process, it really took form. Sylv wasn't intentionally writing herself, but after you include so much personal material and experiences, there's just no way it can't. Sylv is a very hard working personal who puts all of herself into her work. Her feelings on her work are perfectly reflected when she responds to Doctor Grant (played by the wonderful David Lovgren) who says, "everything else is forgivable if the work is good" with "I never really thought of it that way. Isn't the work just as much a part of yourself". Katie did a phenomenal job of bringing that character to life. Together, she and Sylv really created that character.
When you sent the script to so many classic icons including Eli Roth, Rob Zombie and Tarantino did you ever imagine a response? S: No. They get thousands of messages from people like me and Jen every day because their work is so inspirational. I just hoped that they would read the message and it would make smile a bit. Their work is their gift to us, something that makes us smile when we need it. The fact that Eli was and continues to be so kind to us, so just above and beyond anything I could have ever hoped for. He's become a mentor and good friend, I'll always be grateful to him for that. J: Never. And we didn't really send it to them expecting one. These directors get so many emails and just because they don't respond personally doesn't mean they didn't watch it or read it. It's awful to put that kind of expectation on them. They give us so much with their work. That's their response to us. It's selfish to want even more from them. I was so honoured to have Eli respond to us the way that he did. How did you get Universal to produce AM? Congratulations on adding Mary to the Universal Monsters. S: Everyone grew up watching that iconic logo for Universal, knowing that you were in for something really special. For horror nerds, like Jen and me, they are a staple in the genre with the Universal Monsters. I wish we had gotten together early with them as producers, but we met Universal at the Cannes Film Festival when 'American Mary' had her world market premiere screening. I cannot say enough nice things about the two gentlemen I met there, Mike Hewitt and Amit Dey, who had seen the film and were excited to release it under the legendary Universal banner. It's not just because of what their company is, with a giant company like Universal you don't expect to find people who have the same passion that you see the independents also have, but we did. These guys know what they are doing and they love films - we were blessed to meet people who believed in the film as much as we did and went to bat for it. J: Though it would be a dream come true to have Universal as producers, they are our international distributors. It's a huge honour. They are the masters of horror and have brought us so many unforgettable monsters. I feel Mary is a monster of our times, a result of the times right now, and to have them take her and the film on is just more than we could have ever hoped for. I'm not too tough to admit that I teared up the first time I saw the 100 year anniversary Universal logo appear in front of our film. It was at Fright Fest and no one had told us it was going to appear there. I've seen that logo my whole life and I never expected to see it on one of our films. Universal is very cool to support independent film the way they do. They've been incredibly kind to us and truly care about 'American Mary'. To them, it's not just another film and it shows. How have you taken the your reception within the horror community after the underground success of DHIAT and the mainstream applause of AM on the festival circuit? S: I don't even know how to react to it. You don't hear stories about people making a film for $2500, like we did with DHIAT, and that film going on to the levels that '...Hooker' did. It's a testament to the horror community and the power their support has. Not too many people realize that, big studios are watching the community, they see what they are talking about, it makes a huge difference for film-makers to have that kind of support. If it wasn't for the people who saw the film, shared it with friends, and kept sharing it - we would have never been able to keep doing this.
We made 'American Mary' as a thank you to the people that supported us to get this point. You stood by us when we had a lot of ambition and a shoe-string budget, this is what we will do with a little more money, we hope you like it. I really really hoped that people would like the film, but the response has been even more incredible than anyone could have ever predicted. I am so humbled by the out pour of kindness. This was a very different film to make and it was a battle to keep its soul intact, I feel like I've aged decades over the last few years, but I meet someone who the film struck home with and it means everything to me. J: It's been incredible. The support of the horror community is the reason we are able to do what we do. We have the greatest supporters in the universe. Big studio films have a shit ton of money behind them, but it's the people who give independent films a life and a future. We get seen by word of mouth and blogs, and reviews, and on social media. We can't afford to have trailers that run every hour. The horror community is the reason we are where we are. They been so supportive of us and our films. We will always make films for them. We're horror fans ourselves first and foremost and there isn't anything we do or write without taking them in mind. We love them so damn much. What do you have in store next with the mysteriously titled 'Bob' and 'The Man Who Kicked Ass'? S: 'Bob' actually almost got made before '...Mary', but I was possessed by telling that story, so 'Bob' got put on the back burner for a bit. It's our first script with a male protagonist and it's a very different take on the forgotten original monster sub-genre. The tagline is: "There's a monster in all of us, sometimes it gets out." We're already working with Masters FX on the monster and it's perfect. I feel in love with horror because of the work of brilliant prosthetic artists, it's such a fangirl moment to have the best in the business showoff like this with what they can do. J: 'The Man Who Kicked Ass'? Oh, he's a special one. As you might guess, it's more in the vein of DHIAT than 'American Mary'. It's over the top, very violent, and original. It's an action horror film, the likes of which you haven't seen before. It was actually written at the same time as '...Mary'. We'll get to him as that film is so big, so epic it would be impossible to do on a small scale without ruining what it is. We'll get to him sometime after BOB. I think fans will really dig it. I can already see the cosplay options, ha ha If you could take any franchise and make it your own, what would it be? S: 'Hellraiser'. I love Clive Barker's beautiful work and I would love to reintroduce it to a new generation of people. It's like nothing else out there, I saw it when I was twelve and it left its hooks in me ever since. It's intelligent, visceral, visual horror. Of course, I'm not the creator of the world. I would want to collaborate with the legend himself, to create the story and feeling he wants to have out there. I think that would be a really cool opportunity. J: Wow. That's a tough one. As much as we feel negatively about remakes, there is a risk of franchises dying out if they don't have new stories coming out. It would be ideal if people watched old movies, but it just doesn't happen enough. To many people, Sam Raimi's 'Spider-Man' was their first introduction to Spider-man and that's important to remember. Remakes will continue on, whether we like it or not. The hatred comes from remakes being made that have no respect to the fans or to the original. The fans are the most important consideration when making a remake. If I could take on any franchise? It's a tough one, as I love so many things and so many franchises have shaped who we are today. I'd like to take on 'The Addams Family'. I'd like to make it in the vein of Charles Addams' original work rather than the slap stick, over the top, 90s humor beast that it became. Though I loved much of the original two films, I shudder at the third film with Tim Curry as Gomez and Daryl Hannah as Morticia. Tim Curry tried hard, but it's the wrong casting at the wrong time for him. It deserves to be brought back to life in a truly original way that respects the original and gets back to the brilliant commentary that it was intended to be. You said at Frightfest that there you had a comic deal. Was this for AM or Twisted Twins Productions and what can we expect? S: The graphic novel union is between Twisted Twins Productions and the fabulous First Comics. These are guys that have been fighting for the independent artists since they started and they don't censor the work - they empower artists to tell the stories that they want to tell. I'm so excited to be collaborating with them. J: We are massive comic book and video game nerds. It's a goal of ours to be deeply involved in both. We are so happy to announce that we'll be working with First Comics to bring our films to comic book life. They will be in full. They'll be our director's cuts. I'm so excited. And there is a comic book writer that we just adore that we hope to be working with very soon, too. It's too early to say, but it's a match made in heaven. Or hell. Your preference, of course. Finally the most important question. We know you're huge comic book fans so if Iron Man, Deadpool and Batman were in the ring, who would die, who would leave with Jen and who would leave with Sylvia. S: If the last Nolan film is any realistic indication of Batman, he's a goner. Batman with a bad knee, c'mon, I don't want to see that. Deadpool has a healing factor, so he's not going anywhere. Except home, with me. I hope it isn't creepy for him that I have his shit all over my apartment. Jen can have Tony. I think they'll be happy together. J: Ha ha, YES!! this is likely the most important question we've ever been asked. We both love DP. He's a Canadian treasure. But, because I'd be JUST as happy tearing Tony's clothes off, Sylvie would get mister Wilson, I'd take mister Stark, and poor Bruce gets the dirt nap.