Jen and Sylvia Soska on ‘Dead Hooker in a Trunk’: Interview by Adam Wolf (replacing Alan Kelly for the time being)

October 30th, 2010

Welcome back to The 9th Circle of Horror Reanimated….

On this gloriously grim night, Alan Kelly lies bound and gagged in a sulphur pit! I, Adam Wolf, his blood-rag twin brother have replaced him! Horror Reanimated HQ think Alan is shooting his new TV spot ‘Alan K in the Mornin’ (those editors would believe anything I say - curse of looking sweet and easy I s’pose) but the truth is Alan Kelly’s got no talent. Wait ‘til they get a load of me!

Today’s guests are twisted twins and writer/director double act Jen and Sylvia Soska, whose debut feature ‘Dead Hooker in a Trunk’ is a genre bending, taboo-breaking melting pot of sexploitation/horror/grindhouse and just about every thing else. It’s one fucked-up adrenaline-fuelled ultra-ultra-violent psychosexual whodunit which has been making bloody waves on the underground film circuit and rightfully fucking so Sir. What makes this film more distinctive than any other are the iconic characters, the cleverly conceived storylines, and the talent attached who’ve delivered a high-concept action-horror thrill-ride that would make Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino go all girlish at the knees. Just check out the fast-paced and unapologetic narrative which undoubtedly has a resonance for perverts everywhere. Myself and the staff of HR included!

Jen and Sylvia had little more than an unconventional idea and a lot of odds stacked against them but persevered despite overwhelming criticism and accomplished their ambitious goal. They hope to inspire others to set out and take the bull by the horns and get what they most desire; not just filmmakers but folk from all walks of life and having checked out their film – twice – I wholeheartedly agree…

Adam Wolf: Good Evening Girls and welcome to Horror Reanimated, I hope your trip down here wasn’t too perilous?

Jen Soska: It’s our esteemed pleasure to be here. Thank you most kindly for having us.

Sylvia Soska: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us.

AW: You both wrote and directed your fantastic first skull-fuck of a feature ‘Dead Hooker in a Trunk’- when did you come up with the idea and how long did it take to successfully get it onto it’s feet, from your original concept to full-blown furious and frenzied film?

JS: Once upon a time, we were actors. We’ve actually been acting since we were itty bitty. We ended up going to a film school that had a kick ass stunt program, but little else. After the incredible stunt portion ended, we quickly realized that the film school wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. We had a short film project where our funding, which was supposed to be included as part of our tuition, was pulled. The school told us to just absorb into another group. But, as you may guess, that wasn’t going to happen. It was during the time that Rodriguez’s and Tarantino’s “Grindhouse” was in the theatres and we found ourselves leaving class more and more to watch the film and learn from the masters. We’d always been very inspired by both directors, especially Rodriguez with his “do-it-yourself” attitude and “ten minute film schools”. We decided we were going to make our own trailer as our short film. We came up with the title “Dead Hooker In A Trunk” before we had anything else.

We needed a title that would cause a strong emotional reaction, whether it be positive or negative. It had to be something that would make us stand out and be remembered. From there, we came up with several “trailer” moments that would be stand out moments in the film. Now our film school had a list of “inappropriate” content that was not allowed in our films. Not having the school back us up, we decided to pool our resources, get our own cast and crew, and pay for the whole thing ourselves. Additionally, we made damn sure to include EVERYTHING on the “inappropriate” list and even added a few things that weren’t on the list. They seemed to have left out bestiality and necrophilia… When the trailer showed at the school during our graduation, half the audience got up and walked out. The other half was laughing and cheering so loud you couldn’t even hear the trailer! We knew we had something special. Everyone kept asking when we were going to make the film and during the shooting of the trailer, we kept joking and saying, “we’ll do this in the feature” or “we’ll have to put that in the feature”. The feature was inevitable.

SS: After the initial trailer, we had more roles to fill and lost actors for various reasons – it was hard to find people who would commit to a project with our subject matter, even though it was mostly tongue-in-cheek, and with the knowledge that the only budget would be what we could get by maxing out our credit cards. That said, the people that we did get on the Hooker team are some of the best talents in the industry. In the end of 2007, when we started production, there was a writer’s strike in LA and all the work that usually trickles up to Vancouver disappeared leaving people that would usually have full schedules free to help out.

We started with four of the originals from the teaser – Jen and myself (writers, directors, producers, actors), Loyd Bateman (producer, stunt coordinator, camera, and actor), and Maryann Van Graven (producer, key-makeup artist, and stand-in) and started to build our team. The first was our Hooker, the incredibly tough and lovely Tasha Moth, our original Goody Two-Shoes left the film two days before shooting and we ended up rewriting the role as a male part and cast CJ Wallis who ended up not only acting in the film, but also cameraing, soundtracking, editing, and doing all the post-production with us, then we lost our second Junkie due to scheduling conflicts but found the ridiculously talented Rikki Gagne who is not only an incredible actress but also an amazing stunt performer. After that we started filling the rest of the cast and crew – we got the ultimate gentleman and wonderful actor John Tench (Intellegence, Brokeback Mountain, The Watchmen) to be our Cowboy Pimp, special effects master and great character actor David Barkes (District 9, Alice) to be our perverted Motel Manager, and in the brief cameo role of God, we were lucky enough to get one of the founding fathers of low-budget independent film, Carlos Gallardo (El Mariachi, Desperado, Grindhouse).

Carlos Gallardo and Robert Rodriguez worked together on El Mariachi which launched both of their film careers. While working on the film, Robert kept a journal that was later published as Rebel Without A Crew that illustrates how he made such a grand film on such a modest budget. It suggests that creative problem solving is your best tool on set and it really is. We came up against quite a few problems during filming that we figured out thanks to that book. I highly suggest it to any film maker that wants to make their own film – it saved us several times.

AW: You both involved yourselves in every aspect of putting the film together. From casting to stunt work to character craft and even gore clean-up. Was raising funds to get the film completed difficult and is there anything you would have done differently looking back?

JS: Ha ha, we kind of skipped the whole raising funds thing. When we were first approaching people, trying to get cast and crew members, getting all excited and saying this is what we want to do, a lot of people said it would never happen. They said it was WAY too expensive and there was no way to pull it off “our way”. We wanted to figure it all out creatively, but they told us we had to do it the “right way”. As you may guess, we weren’t dissuaded. Most of it came out of our own pockets. We produced the film with help from our fellow producers. It was important to us to not rely on anyone else or to go begging for money. It seems like something a lot of people get hung up on. No money doesn’t mean no film. It simply means that you have to be creative overcoming your obstacles and spend the funds that you do have wisely. I firmly believe that low budget doesn’t have to look cheap. We had things in DHIAT that we cut out simply because we couldn’t pull them off with the desired look.

As for what I’d do differently, that’s a hard one. Even the mistakes and hardships from the project I wouldn’t change because they’ve helped shape me into the film maker I am today. Sure, there were some very tough, valuable lessons learned, but in the end, I’d do it all over again. Also, it was important for us to do as much as we possibly could on the film. We doubtfully will be able to do so many jobs on a single set again and we wanted to show the world how many things we could do. We really put our everything into the film and wanted to be a part of it all.

SS: We applied for VISAs and Mastercards and maxed them out more than the traditional way of raising funds. We didn’t have the kind of budget that other films do, so we had to be creative and maximize what we could do. There were nights before filming where Jen, CJ, and I would go to the place where we would be shooting and spend the night set decorating so that it would look cool on camera the next day. There was one scene that takes place in a ‘Sketchy Building’ and we wallpapered the rooms with newspaper – cheap, but really nice on film. After filming was done, usually at a friend’s place, we’d stay to make sure it was back to its original form – clean and blood free!

There are so many more costs than I really knew about, not to dissuade anyone, but we had to choose between our personal costs (food, clothing, rent) and costs for the film. We chose the film every time, had cost-efficient meals (toast and peanut butter) for months, made arrangements for stacking up bills, but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. 

AW: Dead Hooker in a Trunk pays homage to the work of Quentin Tarantino, Greg Araki, Eli Roth and other members of ‘The Splat Pack’ and is a cool collage of Grindhouse, Sexploitation, Horror and Murder Mystery. Is that an accurate assessment, how much is your work influenced by other people?

JS: I think everyone is influenced by somebody, whether they let it reflect in their work consciously or not. Though we are very inspired by a number of film makers, Tarantino, obviously, and especially Rodriguez, we tried to ensure that our work would still be our own. We don’t want people looking at our work and saying, “That’s just some Tarantino rip off”. We have a very definite style and tastes. We try to make our dark senses of humor shine through in all our work. Since we were little reading Stephen King novels, it just seemed natural to us that some element of fun would exist even in horror.

Being twins, we talk to each other. A lot. Sylvie and I have a vast range of things that we like. Many of those things don’t seem to go together, but to us, they totally do. Our tastes do come through in our work. If we see something that disturbs or upsets us, we remember it and try to put it into our work.

SS: I have a huge amount of respect for the ‘Splat Pack’. There is something undeniably impressive about all of their styles – the culture-creating dialogue of Tarantino, the honest to goodness horror of a Roth torture scene, the gritty violence and harshness of Zombie’s films – I just love watching their work. I am definitely influenced by their work as well as my other favorite directors like Mary Harron, Takashi Miike, Robert Rodriguez, Paul Thomas Anderson, Dario Argento and so many more. Jen and I are total film nerds.

Since we were little girls, we have always been fascinated by horror movies and novels. I saw Poltergeist and got terrified. My mom rewatched it with me and made jokes the entire time; by the time the bodies were coming out of the ground we were killing ourselves laughing. We took humor and horror hand in hand. Whenever something actually awful happened, we used that humor to deal with it. Much later, it became fodder for scripts. I remember in elementary school a little boy getting hit in the back of the head by a baseball bat and it knocking his eye out of its socket. That’s in Dead Hooker in a Trunk and there are a lot of creepy things from our actual lives that make their way into our scripts. So, I guess, our story-telling is a mix between what we love and weird shit that we’ve been witness to. 

AW: Each character (Badass, Junkie, Geek and Goody Two-Shoes) begins as a stereotypical template only to turn around and give you a good hard kick in the Jones. While filming did you do a lot of improvisation or work only with the original script?

JS: We wanted the film to have an epic, larger than life feel to it. Sometimes when you see an action movie or a horror movie, you have these characters that are the heroes that you never really get all that much time to get to know, but their personalities stand out big time and when you talk about them later you describe them as the cop or the slutty girl or the tough guy. We wanted to bring that element to our characters. We wanted them to be memorable. That’s also why they never change their outfits. You get to know that Badass will always be in dyed jeans, shit kicking boots, and a low cut black tank top. It helps people know them better. Look at any comic book hero. People like to know their super heroes. When Spider-man first changed his costume, everyone freaked out. Rituals like that are important.

SS: I love that no one has names, just the stereotypes that they would be labelled with. The only character with a name is Billy, the Hooker’s pug dog. The characters in a way are all stereotypes, but there’s so much more to them than that. As the story goes on, it’s nice to see how they interact with each other.

We stayed pretty close to the script. CJ is really funny, at the end of the scenes he would add a line or two to crack us up. There were some times that the batteries were dying or it would spontaneously start to snow and we’d have to tighten up the dialogue and change lines just so we could get what we needed. We had trouble finding a gas station to shoot in, so we had Badass get thread to fix her pants and find a clue in the locally famous Amsterdam Cafe. There were a lot of times like that where people would hear what we were doing and offer to help out. It’s like a warm, indie film-making hug.

AW: You both epitomise the creatively trigger-happy – well blow me,  I’m bringing euphemisms back into fashion – and are working on something that is making me salivate all over  my keyboard. Dogfight. Women are captured, broken and forced to compete in vicious death brawls? Tell me more please, spare no details?

JS: Yes. Dogfight is a project that we’ve written for two fellow incredibly talented femme fatales, Tara Cardinal (pronounced “Tar” like in heart, not hair”) and Devanny Pinn. Last year, during February’s first annual Women In Horror month (created by our now very dear friend and third Soska sister, Hannah Neurotica of Ax Wound zine), we started a Twisted Twins’ Massive Blood Drive as a way of giving back. We tried to encourage people to donate blood everywhere in the name of Women in Horror. Tara and Devanny organized a huge blood drive in California and we began talking back and forth. We met during this year’s Viscera Film Festival where their films, Song of the Shattered and Legend of Red Reaper, were previewed. If you haven’t checked them out yet, treat yourselves to a little google. These ladies are amazing and you just have to see these films.

Dogfight is and will be everything you’ll want it to be and so much more. Absolutely there will be very beautiful women tearing the living shit out of one another and being broken into submission, but there is, if we do say so ourselves, so gripping and deep of a story that you’ll be touched and sucked in not just by the babes. It will be totally horrifying and strangely beautiful. I wish I could give you every delicious detail, but for now, my wicked lips are sealed.

SS: Dogfight is going to be very different from what you’ve seen before. It’s quite a dark piece that really goes into the human fascination of blood sports and what it is like when these women are captured and trained as human dog fighters. The script has the undertones of the more brutal cinema you would see in European films like Martyrs or Inside. The women involved in the film are so strong and talented, we wanted to make sure that the story is captivating while the violence is shocking and horrifying. I think the common misconception would be that a film revolving around a female underground fighting rink would be more eyed-candy than horror film and I want to erase that idea. Think of any time you’ve seen two women fight or brawl. When I used to spar in martial arts class, I would partner with guys and girls. The girls were intense. Women can be vicious when they fight and that will be reflected in the film’s script. Unfortunately, we’re only able to participate in the script writing aspect of this film, but I have the utmost faith in the producing powerhouses, Tara Cardinal and Devanny Pinn, and their director, Sean-Michael Argo.

AW: Eli Roth and my dear friend Hannah Neurotica (of Ax Wound fame) have sung your praises and deservedly so! You were in Tarantino’s MTV Basterds competition. Is there anybody who is a mentor for you two?  And also, what is Eli’s phone number?

JS: Eli Roth is a great friend and mentor. His support of us and our film have really meant the world to us. It’s incredible to know that someone at his level of success still cares about independent artists and work. He’s just incredible. Robert Rodriguez, who we always sing the praises of, is a big inspiration for us. We kept a copy of his book, “Rebel Without a Crew” on the set of DHIAT all the time and called it “the bible”. The way he creatively makes things work is just amazing. I love his “Ten Minute Film Schools”. At the end of his book he tells the reader to go out and make a film and he’ll bring the popcorn. I can’t wait for my popcorn, ha ha

As for Eli’s number, it’s 424-….hey, wait a minute!! You can’t hornswoggle me!

SS: Eli Roth and Hannah Neurotica are wonderful people. We sent Eli our trailer for Hooker to see if he liked it and he responded with interest in seeing the whole feature. He has been an incredible friend and supporter. He gave us advice that got us to our final cut of the film, he has passed the film along and promoted it, and he introduced us to Hannah – which was the start of our friendship. I feel so lucky to know someone who is such a strong voice for women in horror. Growing up, I felt like I was this weird girl who would never fit in and now it’s like I’m part of this whole generation of people who grew up loving the same movies I did. My mom was a big mentor to me – she and my dad were always very supportive of our love of horror.

We did compete in the MTV competition to parody Tarantino’s work to get tickets to the Toronto premiere, it was a lot of fun. We were one of the top three finalists. We didn’t get to go to Toronto, but we did get to meet up with Eli for the Vancouver premiere a couple of days later. He’s a really nice and down to earth guy. I’m really grateful for all that he’s done for us, his support has gotten Hooker far.

AW: For those of us who aren’t in the loop or too preoccupied by psychiatric assessments (I’m not being self-referential) could you give us all a bit of back-story on Twisted Twins productions and what are your plans for the future?

JS: Twisted Twins Productions is our company. All of our projects and scripts are made under the Twisted Twins name. When we were making Dead Hooker In A Trunk, it became very evident that we’d need to have a production company to do all the legal business under. Sylvie came up with Twisted Twins and I was dumb enough to disagree with her. I wanted Soska Sisters. She told me that we had to do Twisted Twins Productions because, aside from being overall better, it was a more appropriate name and, besides, our films would be called “a film by the Soska Sisters”, like the Cohen Brothers. What can I say? We’re suckers for alliteration.

SS: It is a good name, eh? We founded Twisted Twins Productions on December 11 of 2007 to do all of our film work under it. Jen and I have quite a few projects that we want to do with scripts finished – American Mary, Bob, The Man Who Kicked Ass – and a some that we’re been working on since we were fifteen – it’s a television series. We’re waiting to hear back on distribution for Hooker, complete our Youtube personalities documentary, Please Subscribe, and finalize funding for our next film, we’re really excited to start on a new project. Making movies is the best job ever.

AW: Like so many of the best of us, you both are possessed of such a wonderfully sick, smart and depraved mind(s) – is there sibling rivalry between you two? Do you have vicious sisterly clashes? Any graphic details you wish to divulge will improve our readership and raise my popularity (that’s what I’ve been told to say)

JS: Like all siblings and, I guess everyone for that matter, Sylv and I do disagree at times. Being so passionate about our work, it’s good that we care enough to stick up for what we love. It can get pretty heated, but we’ve discovered better ways of communicating and getting our feelings across to one another. We used to get in brutal cat fights when we were little. I think women are naturally more violent when they fight than men, but I digress. We’d throw each other into walls and tackle the other to the ground. Eventually we’d sort ourselves out and let up. The best thing to do was just let us work it out. If anyone ever tried to get in our way or get involved in our argument, we’d just turn our combined wrath to them. When we began training in martial arts, we made an agreement to never physically fight again (outside of play fighting which we both still engage in and would never dream of giving up!). We could probably do some serious damage to one another now. I collect weapons and have them all over my room, so it could get messy, ha.

Actually, that might make a good short film…

SS: There is a definite rivalry between us, but there is a greater camaraderie. When we have opposing ideas, there are raised voices and arm gestures, but I think that’s just our European background shining through. If Jen has an idea that I don’t like, I’m very blunt with her. She’s the same. We don’t waste time dancing around each other’s feelings – which is good practice for dealing with other people in the film industry who don’t give a shit about your feelings. Ha ha.

Before studying martial arts, Jen won any scrap – flawless victory. This will sound odd, but after training in martial arts, we talked through disagreements and scraps ended altogether. We do spar with one another to keep in shape. Jen’s kicks are brilliant whereas I’m more of a boxer.

AW: Well we’ve come to the end of our journey, She-Devils, and you’ve gained a loyal (and murderous, depending on the cut of the cheque) fan in yours truly! Would you like to offer us all here a parting shot or a shower of bullets?

JS: Thank you so much for having us! It’s been an absolute pleasure! We’ve been sending Dead Hooker In A Trunk to festivals everywhere and have been trying to get it shown in every place it’s requested. Please check out our site, www.twistedtwinsproductions.net and drop us a line! We’d love to hear your thoughts on DHIAT and our work and if you want us to send Dead Hooker to a city near you. We also have a blog on our site that we are constantly updating. You can get up to the minute details on all of our misadventures and upcoming projects. I’d like to send out a special thanks to everyone who’s seen and supported us and DHIAT. It really means the world to us every time you tell a friend about the film. All we’ve ever wanted was to make Dead Hooker as pure enjoyment for our audiences and share it with as many people as possible.

And we promise, the best is yet to come…

SS: You have two new twin friends, sir. Thank you so kindly for this opportunity to talk Hooker with you. Jen took my answer, so I just want to thank you, the reader, for checking out this interview. If you check out Dead Hooker in a Trunk please do message us and let us know what you thought – it’s rad to hear from you!

Entry Filed under: Interviews

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Horror Reanimated… …  |  February 17th, 2011 at 10:08 am

    [...] chat with Shannon Lark. (BTW Adam Wolf has paid for his crimes – abducting me and claiming the Soska Sisters interview as his own! I still can’t get the smell of sulphur out of my hair! Adam’s punishment involved a [...]

  • 2. Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2…  |  June 30th, 2011 at 12:01 am

    [...] horrorreanimated.com [...]

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