The Unfair Business of Being a Woman Director in the Boys Club of Horror Filmmaking

The horror community is often regarded as a "boys club." Do you find it's hard to network?
Jen: It is harder to network, but also, on the flipside, being two female twin directors who direct, write, and produce their own horror films, it's very easy for us to meet people. If we're at a convention, try not to meet us; if we're at a convention, you just try not to meet us. We are all over the place. Maybe if somebody's a little more reserved, it could be more difficult for them. If you're looking, as a woman, to find other women to speak with, it will be difficult..

Sylvia: After Dead Hooker in a Trunk, people didn't know what to expect. Some people loved it, a lot of people hated it. You could tell that we were just running around with $2,500, our friends, and a camera. After American Mary started screening, though, it was weird because I got a lot of apologies from people I know didn't like me, saying, "I'm sorry that I didn't give you the time of day, and that I didn't think you and your sister had much to offer as directors. I'm sorry about what I wrote and published about you."

My working mantra comes from the comic book Preacher. There's a villain named Herr Starr, and the panel starts with him saying, "Kill the women first," and it turns out that he's talking to his superiors about what to do in a terrorist situation. In his mind, if there's a female terrorist, not only is she trained as much as the men, she's trained so much so that they had to overlook her gender and let her be there. She's going to be the most deadliest person there and you have to destroy her first. She's going to be your most dangerous target. And I take that with me anytime I go into a meeting or networking. The first thing people notice is how you look, and you have to break that down to where it doesn't matter if you're wearing a pencil skirt and stilettos.

Being a white guy in this genre, trying to sell stuff, you disappear into everything. I'm lucky that Jennifer and I are very brandable. Branding and iconicness have always been very important to us. It helps us stick out from all the masses.

Jen: It's such a huge part of who we are, but I would also attribute that to us being jacks of all trades. We spent a lot of time doing promotions, and, of course, a lot of that was smiling and mindless waving, but it was also contingent on us approaching people. Once in a while, when we're going to an event, we'll decide whether or not we want to do the twin thing, where we dress the same and do our makeup the same. We usually do that if it's for a TV show or somewhere where people will see us at the same time.

Sylvia: Even when we were in high school, Jennifer and I always wore crazy superhero stuff, like snake prints and leather. I wear makeup because I don't always feel like a very confident girl, but Jennifer always says that our outfits are our body armor and our makeup is our war paint. Dressing up like that makes me feel stronger. To us, we're just foaming-at-the-mouth fangirls, but we've had people ask us, "Are you aware how you're presenting yourselves to the public?"

Anytime we work on set, we're wearing stilettos all day long, and people ask us why we're not wearing something more comfortable, and I'm like, "Well, if I can do an 18-hour day in stilettos, that dude over there in sweatpants should be able to do his day stilettos." When you're trying to spearhead a company or a brand, it all has to trickle down from who you are as a person. Sam Raimi always wears a suit when he's directing, and I've always thought that's so cool. I want to have that kind of reputation.

Jen: It would be beautiful if we lived in a world where your art spoke for itself, but we live in a world that's all about social media and online. People have a desire to connect with the artists. You see directors like James Gunn and Eli Roth who are very active on social media. Even Clive Barker, if you look at his Tumblr you can see tons of beautiful young men all painted up. If I hear an independent director or artist say, "Why isn't it working for me?" I'll say to them, "Well, you're not putting yourself out there." If someone doesn't have time for Facebook or Twitter, they don't have time for their career then.

People want to know who you are. If you're just a guy in T-shirts and jeans, there are a billion guys in T-shirts and jeans. Maybe it's a Captain America shirt, or maybe it's a shirt that says, "My other shirt is your mom." The most successful bands have great music, sure, but they also have looks that distinguish them. It comes from our geekiness and our love for superheroes—we want to have a costume. If you look at Spider-Man, people get pissed off whenever his costume changes, because it's something you know. It's a symbol, and you should be a symbol for your art.

I can tell what I imagine Tarantino looks like that if he goes out. Look at our hero, Robert Rodriguez—he always has the cowboy hat on. They become this icon for their art. If you don't have that, and you're unable to put your personality into your art, there are just so many other people who areable to do that. Everybody out there has something weird about them, and they want to be able to see that there's somebody else out there who's the same way.

Now that American Mary is making tons of noise, and it's even being distributed internationally by Universal Pictures, has Hollywood been calling?
Sylvia: Yes and no. A company like Universal distributed the film internationally. It was really cool to see a big company like that have the same soul as us indie brats. They're like, "I do this because I love filmmaking," like Mike Hewitt from Universal. He's the same guy who fought for A Serbian Film and fought for it. But some people don't get it.

I read this horribly depressing article about a script doctor who goes over your script and changes everything to make it have similar qualities to blockbusters. For example, if you have a demon, it's more interesting if it's been following someone, like in Paranormal Activity, instead of being summoned. It's the bane of creativity. I think there are only going to be two types of movies in the future: the big soulless, carbon-copied, money-sucking movies made solely to get bums in the seats, like how The Amazing Spider-Man seems like a ripoff of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight movies, and some executive said, "Let's make him angsty like Twilight." And it's like, dude, no one read Spider-Man because he was this hot, emo babe who got all the girls.

Jen: What Hollywood films really have is the money for marketing. There's this piece-of-shit film from last year called Fun Size, and one of our favorite games to play when we go to Los Angeles is to pick out the films that have the most and biggest billboards and advertising, because, usually, like with Fun Size, they're the absolute worst films being made. But what smaller independent films have is social media. They have the artists, casts, and crews putting everything they have into connecting with the people.

I wish we could say more about the people we've been approached to work with, but I will say that studios have really negative reputations, where someone will say, "I want to stay independent so I'm not controlled by anyone." But I would love to work with studios. There are a lot of studios that are into doing things that are creative. I loved The Avengers, I loved Pitch Perfect.

Sylvia: I can't say who exactly will be on-board for our next movie, Bub, which is our original monster movie. The tagline is, "There is a monster inside all of us, and sometimes it gets out." Because of what we've been able to do, a lot of people are excited. Bub is a script I think a lot more people can get behind; it's not as niche as body modification, but it's also very much our tastes and sensibility.

It's really cool because I'm having meetings in offices I'd never thought I would ever be in, looking at the things they've done in the past and realizing their films are the reasons why I got into filmmaking.

Do you anticipate it being even harder for to make name for yourselves in the studio system, where it's famously more difficult for women than the independent scene?
Jen: We've had meetings with women who've had to climb very high to get into positions of power at studios, and they say, "I see myself 10 years ago in the two of you girls, and that's why you're in here. If there weren't people who gave me the opportunities at that age, I wouldn't be where I am today. I love to see women who are fighting hard for what they do." I really do wonder how many women would still be working in this industry if they didn't come against those walls of youth and gender.

Sylvia: We were at a meeting with this very well-known company, and they were like, "Oh, they like you and everything, and they like the script—is there a role for the producer's girlfriend?" I started laughing and asked, "Can she act?" The answer was, "No, but she's very pretty and it can be green-lit immediately if you give her a starring role." Fuck, man—I'm not going to be that person. I can't do that. But that exists.

Do you think a change is coming?
Jen: There is a change coming. You see a lot of men who are real feminists too. One of my favorite directors is Joss Whedon, and he was famously quoted as saying, after someone asked him why he always writes strong female characters, "Because you're still asking me that question." I was very awkward growing up, and Buffy was one of those things that made me feel stronger and that I could take on the demons in my own life.

 
With so much negativity out there, it's so easy to get dissuaded and think that nothing will ever change. Even if it doesn't happen, the thing that will happen is that there will always been men and women fighting for that change. - Sylvia Soska
 

It's a really inspiring, great time for your young girls who want to become artists of any kind. We get letters from young girls saying they want to become prosthetic artists, or writers, or directors, and how they didn't think they could do it until they read an interview of ours where we said anybody can do it. At the very end of Rebel Without a Crew, Robert Rodriguez writes, "Go make your movie. I'll watch it, and I'll bring the popcorn."

Sylvia: With so much negativity out there, it's so easy to get dissuaded and think that nothing will ever change. Even if, in my lifetime or Jen's lifetime, it doesn't happen, the thing that will happen is that there will always been men and women fighting for that change. We still have problems with racism, with sexism, and with same-sex issues, but right now you're seeing a lot of people speaking up about things.

I remember one time when somebody asked me to name my 10 favorite female directors, and we were only able to name eight, and we couldn't name any actresses turned directors. It's really hard. It's not that they don't exist, it's that the media on them isn't out there.

I feel really lucky that Jennifer and I were born as the spectacles that we are: identical twins who make horror movies. Regardless of what your opinion on anything is, people are drawn to that. There's a curiosity, oddity factor involved with us—we're very aware of that. But we also know that it's something that puts a spotlight on us and allows us to make films and try our best to bring about a change. There are a lot of us little rebels out there who want to see things change. Maybe if Jennifer and I keep having success, then other people will see that and want to hire other female filmmakers. That's really the goal here.

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