Divine Convention: CVLT Nation Interviews The Soska Sisters & Tristan Risk
Next-generation horror auteurs and “twisted twins” Jen and Sylvia Soska carved out a name for themselves on the thick hide of the film industry with the release of their first film, Dead Hooker in a Trunk. Inspired by Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk Til Dawn, El Mariachi) and his DIY guide to filmmaking, their low-budget exploitation flick was lauded by Eli Roth (Hostel), loved by fans and critics alike, and featured a cameo appearance by El Mariachi himself, Carlos Gallardo. Like a pair of budding serial killers perfecting their craft, the twins raised the stakes with their next film, American Mary. Starring Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps) as a cash-strapped medical student who loses herself in the bizarre underworld of extreme body modification, the film is a singular contribution to contemporary horror for its unique characters, compelling imagery, and clever allegorical commentary on the state of the film industry.
Recently, the Soskas attended FanExpo Vancouver to promote their upcoming film from WWE Studios, See No Evil 2, due for release in September.
Normally, I wouldn’t do this – post an interview almost verbatim and preface it with a note in first-person – but in this case, I have to make an exception.
The evening before this interview was conducted, I attended the Soska sisters‘ Q&A panel at FanExpo Vancouver (huge thanks to the Rue Morgue Magazine crew for all their hard work to bring the Festival of Fear expo back to Van City for a second year). It was my first experience seeing the twins interact with an audience and I was completely unprepared for the atomic burst of enthusiasm, confidence and passion they detonated in the room with the help of their guests, actress Tristan Risk (Beatress in American Mary) and film music collaborator, Kevvy Mental. When it ended, I reviewed my list of prepared interview questions – no one, I realized, is ever prepared for the Soskas; I thought “fuck it”, and tossed the list.
Incidentally, during the subsequent transcription of our conversation, something about the Dante references caught my attention. I looked up The Divine Comedy and discovered that the story told in the poem begins on the night before Good Friday (i.e. the Thursday of Easter weekend – the same night I started this assignment). At the outset of the poem, the narrator (Dante) describes himself lost in a “dark wood,” his path blocked by fearsome creatures. It was only a coincidence that our interview should have been conducted on the convention floor at Rue Morgue’s booth – a ring of tables laid out with back issues and horror-film guides, and every cover displaying some sort of beastly monstrosity – and it was only a coincidence that Risk, the Soskas’ professed muse, was first admired from afar, just as Dante had admired, from his childhood and onward, a real woman named Beatrice (for those of you unfamiliar with the poem, Dante endowed her namesake with a key role in The Divine Comedy – and again: the name of Risk’s character in American Mary is “Beatress”.) To compare the layout of the convention hall during FanExpo to the nine circles of Dante’s hell may seem like I’m reaching; however, as anyone who has ever navigated the labyrinth that is the convention floor on a Saturday afternoon will tell you, it’s really not that much of a stretch. Most significantly, one will note that our discussion begins with the subject of darkness and Sylvia’s remark that, “I feel like the world is filled with terrible things, and I kind of want to hold everyone’s hand, walk over, and look at it with them.” Arguably, this either casts the twins together in the role of Virgil, or else with one as Dante and the other as Virgil. Either way, a thematic progression emerges over the course of the discussion (albeit one not entirely linear), from the actions by which evil is defined, through to the choices we make, and ending with the ideals that people aspire to achieve. Sound familiar? Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso.
As The Divine Comedy describes the life and worldview of the medieval Christian, so does the contemporary genre convention reflect the views of those who live in mass consumer culture, their memories and experiences indelibly linked to mass media. The convention provides important opportunities for fans and content creators to connect with one another, share their stories, and have real and meaningful experiences together; for many attendees, it is The Divine Convention.
When the time came for my meeting with the Soskas and Risk, I asked them to consider the interview a collaborative process rather than a straight Q&A. I didn’t want to know what exactly would emerge – I was content to leave it to chance and confident that I would not be disappointed (ultimately I can’t help but wonder if all the Dante parallels were a clever allegory in twinspeak, subtly woven into the conversation.) My thanks to Jen, Sylvia, and Tristan for a genuinely enlightening experience.
The four of us sit, huddled in a circle behind the tables of Rue Morgue magazine’s booth on the exhibition floor at Vancouver Convention Centre. It is the last day of FanExpo Vancouver, and Easter Sunday. Jen Soska on my left, in-costume (complete with black-sclera contact lenses) as “Evil Willow” from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sylvia on my right, and Risk opposite. It is a unique experience to speak with Risk while the twins’ mirror images move or nod independently in my peripheral vision.
ME: What is “dark”; what is the thing that drives you, that you’re trying to connect with when you make a film? More simply put, and perhaps as a starting point, what is the meaning of “evil”?
SYLVIA: The interesting thing with horror films, for me, and what makes me really interested in making them, is I feel like the world is filled with terrible things and I kind of want to hold everyone’s hand, walk over, and look at it with them. When I first heard about body modification I was so afraid of it; and my mom always said if something scares you, it’s from a lack of education, so learn more and you won’t be scared anymore, and that’s exactly what I did. I find that’s what you can apply to every type of phobia, as well as things of a darker nature; around the world, there are things that happen that are horrendous, that are awful – for example, the trouble the filmmakers got in with A Serbian Film, and the Sitges Film Festival. They were given charges of child pornography, but it seems like it’s so much easier to attack a filmmaker than to attack child pornography, and we shouldn’t stop talking about child pornography. If anything, we should talk about it more, we should have it graphic and shocking, because if everyone is upset then we can go out and actually affect it. A funny thing is, with Dead Hooker in a Trunk, it was banned in Saskatoon because they said that we were encouraging violence against women, especially women who work as prostitutes. If you watch the movie, the only person treated remotely respectfully is the body of the dead woman. They were saying that they have a lot of streetwalkers who are murdered – and I was like, the Pickton Killer was from BC, so I know about that – but it was a satire too, because the cops knew about it and they did nothing, it was up to the people in the community to push the agenda forward. I think that’s the really interesting thing, especially about horror, because you can tackle these real-life issues, but with one foot in reality and one foot in fantasy. You can get more of an audience than with a drama – nobody likes to be preached at.
ME: It’s like there is a liminality to horror – the fact that you can experience something without it being part of you.
JEN: Absolutely. I attribute our upbringing largely to our attraction to darkness and evil, because we were raised Roman Catholic, and when you’re Roman Catholic they want you to stay away from anything dark and evil. You get this list of “you cannot do this, you cannot do that.” Sylv and I were actually the first female altar-servers in Western Canada. There’s this amazing priest that we had who was a real-life exorcist. The other altar-servers couldn’t give a fuck about what he’d done, but we’d already seen The Exorcist – and every Roman Catholic person goes to see The Exorcist – and we begged him and begged him to tell us stories. It’s a life goal of ours to sit in on a real exorcism, probably not a Roman Catholic one unless we get a sex change or hide under the bed or something…
SYLVIA: …or are possessed.
JEN: …or are possessed. I mean there’s that feeling of, “will they say my name, or will they know my name?” I want to hear my name and I don’t want to hear my name at the same time. But because of that, it always seemed so fascinating that the more we looked into it, the more we were drawn into it. Our parents never said, “Oh don’t hold tarantulas, don’t like the dark stuff” – they completely embraced what we liked, even despite the preconceived notion of what Catholics are like.
JEN: You have to give them that choice, just like with religion. The exorcist-priest always said, “you should question your religion, because if you’re not questioning it, you’re just following it blindly.” I’ve met some really awful, judgemental Roman Catholics and I’ve met some of the sweetest pussycats of Satanists in my life. In fact, I have never met a cruel, hateful Satanist, or a judgmental Satanist!
TRISTAN: I find that the duality is so important to keep balance, because you look at the three of us and people say, “You’re so nice, you’re so sweet, you’re so friendly,” and then they see the films that the Soskas do, and then they see my gorelesque, and they’re like, “That was disgusting and disturbing.” But I need the balance, I need that push and pull, because if there’s just one extreme all the time, there’s nothing; you’re flatlining, essentially. The more dark there is, the more light there has to be eventually, and if you go all the way dark all the time, eventually the pendulum will swing the other way. But if you can be mindful of keeping balance and focus, you can appreciate the dark for its qualities and you can appreciate the light for its qualities.
ME: One thing I wanted to ask: I noticed in Dead Hooker there’s the eye thing; you were talking about that yesterday, saying you know it just hangs there, it doesn’t actually pop out, and that’s not my point – just the sight aspect of it, losing sight – does that have significance for either of you as directors? Is it like a phobia?
JEN: I’m a Daredevil fan, so I’ve taught myself how to use braille. If I lost my sight, I would hope that my other senses would kick in, but in Dead Hooker in a Trunk, they are in purgatory, and the reason Geek loses her eye is because she’s seeing things very one-way, a one-dimensional sort of way, and when she loses that eye she’s able to gain that sight with her sister. And when they’re torturing that one guy, you see that the twins are very similar, which is why we put that in there. And also, eye gore – no one really likes eye gore, I wanted her [Sylvia], when she got up, to step on her eye, but Sylv said she couldn’t watch the movie.
ME: [to Sylvia] Couldn’t do it?
SYLVIA: I’m actually relatively squeamish in certain things, but I want to push myself to that level of being uncomfortable so that I can say, I did something good – because if I feel this, other people will feel that way. We actually won 2008 Eye-Gore of the Year award for that, and I was so proud. They were actually pig eyes, and they come in blue, hazel and green, just like people eyes. They’re a quarter a pop and you can get them from the butcher shop – but don’t smell the bag – that was a joke on set. We were like oh, I can handle it – no! – it’s so rancid (and I’ve smelled dead bodies, don’t ask me why), and the eyes are the top of the list.
TRISTAN: It’s because they’re filled with water, I think, and they’re like the first thing to go when a body starts to decompose, the eyes sink down. The first time I saw Dead Hooker in a Trunk when it screened at the Rio, I threw up into a cup between my legs when Jen’s eyeball popped out. I didn’t think I had any decent revulsion left in me, I thought “I’ve seen it all, all of it, nothing can – oh – blaurgh! Guess not!” I was impressed, I didn’t think I could still do that, and they showed me the light. Again, the balance.
ME: That dovetails neatly into what I said to Kevvy [Mental, lead vocalist of Fake Shark, Real Zombie! and music collaborator on American Mary] earlier – “They get questions all the time, I don’t want to ask the same ones,” and he said, “Ask them what’s the most extreme thing they’ve seen, what’s shocked them?”
SYLVIA: I went through a phase where I wanted to watch all of the classic, super-gore movies – you know, Cannibal Holocaust. Men Behind the Sun was too much for me, and I’ll say why. They had cadavers, real dead bodies; they had a little boy and they microwaved him and his intestines came out of his asshole; but that didn’t upset me as much as the cat that they fed to all of those rats, and they actually killed two cats to do it. I know it was a commentary on communism and all of the smaller [ones] rising up against whatever dictatorship, but to me it feels like such a crutch for a filmmaker to do that, because of course you’re going to be shocked if you kill an animal. I don’t think that’s good filmmaking and I’ve argued with so many people about Cannibal Holocaust as well, and I’m like, that turtle scene – I can’t even look at turtles anymore. I shouldn’t have watched it, because I’m a big pussy and I thought I was hardcore enough, and you watch all of these images and you get desensitized. I have so many vegan friends and they’ll show me slaughterhouse videos and I’m like, I feel bad that I don’t feel anything anymore, because I tried to shock myself to that point. I think there should be some things that are upsetting, like cruelty against animals or kids – those should be upsetting to us. I think that was probably too much for me, because I have cats, and every now and then I’ll be touching my cat and I’ll think of that rat scene and be like, [mock weeping] “how could someone hurt a kitty?”
TRISTAN: Anything with cruelty to animals really gets me. People ask me what’s the horror movie that scares me the most… well, it’s a toss-up between either Blackfish or The Cove, because honestly, the way people treat each other is terrible, but the way they treat animals is horrific. They’re actually talking about expanding the captive breeding program for whales at the Vancouver Aquarium, which I’m against. I’m all for rehabilitation, and if there is an animal that cannot be returned to the wild, that will not survive but you’re able to save its life, that’s totally fine. However, I don’t know how we can sleep at night knowing that they’re in there, and that these are cognizant, self-aware beings. I used to have these terrible thoughts, like I wonder if the whales in Stanley Park can hear any whales in the Burrard Inlet – the ocean is so close, yet so far – I actually get [makes a shocked face] thinking about that because it’s terrible to think about ourselves in that situation, that we could be so close to the rest of our species, yet we’ll never see them, we’ll be in isolation forever. It’s very Dante-esque that way, in my mind.
JEN: [To me] Are you familiar with a site called Heavy R?
JEN: Well, you’re going to go home and look at it. Heavy R is extreme pornography, but it’s also videotapes of suicide videos in third world countries, and just awful-fucking-shit. The first video I ever saw on it was train suicide, and at that point I didn’t realize it wasn’t pornography – I was like, what is this? And it was just the security camera at the front of a train, and it was just going and going, and I was like, well, this is weird, but sinister with the hidden videos, and then there’s someone standing with arms outstretched and it just mowed them over and blood splattered – and I was [speechless]. I realized it wasn’t just pornography, but horrible things, third world executions, chainsaw beheadings, men set on fire, just absolutely awful shit. There is one video that I have refused to watch – have you heard of Three Guys One Hammer? In Russia, there were these three boys who wanted to go around being serial killers and they did, they took a hammer and they killed children and the elderly – they got caught because they, like the “Canadian Psycho”, put their video online, and there’s a taxi driver that they beat to death with a hammer and he’s begging for his life through it. And actually, Conor Sweeney from Astron-6, another Canadian little horror troupe, we were talking one evening and he asked us about it, and I decided at that point, I don’t need to see everything, I don’t need to see some poor man suffering. I mean, there’s a huge difference between art and just some fucking horrible shit, because that horrible shit – it has nothing to do with film. I mean, the James Vance thing, with the whole Judas Priest thing, that had nothing to do with Judas Priest’s music, that was just some fucked up kid crying for attention.
ME: How does twin-ness inform your filmmaking? When you’re watching a film, you have that twin psychology informing your identity, so when you’re watching a film like Dead Ringers, or any film at all for that matter, you’re still half of a whole, assuming that’s how it works for you guys…
JEN: You’re very right, it’s like having a hive mind. People ask, what’s it like working with a twin, and it’s completely different than having a collaboration with another person. It seems like a shitty situation to find somebody that you don’t know from conception and just say, let’s work together and hope that it works out, just like a marriage – that seems like a horrible deal, because I already have a soul-mate, and we finish each other’s sentences, we have the same thoughts, we’ll make the same jokes at the same time, we’ll pitch the same ideas –
ME: (to SYLVIA) – Do you do the [arched-]eyebrow thing too, like Jen does?
SYLVIA: Oh no, Jennifer has a much more angular face…
JEN: And fangs…
SYLVIA: …when I was born, I was born seven pounds – we were actually delivered by two different doctors, it was so complicated. It’s so funny, I actually don’t know what happened to my doctor, he was an abortionist and they drafted him to deliver me because he knew the same stuff as the twins specialist, and I was named after a dead baby, so I feel like I’ve had a very strange kind of experience. For twins, we’ve had different little steps along the way. Anyway, they were wondering what happened to Jen, and 18 minutes later she was delivered, but she was half my size because I was “eating” her in the womb, so I’m a little bit more roly-poly, and Jen’s a bit more lithe – I think she looks like a Vampira in comparison; Maila Nurmi, and I’m a little bit more of an Elvira.
JEN: You should have heard the shit I took as a kid growing up about my fangs. My dentist always wanted me to get rid of them – he always said, don’t you want to have a beautiful smile like your sister? He was such a fucking asshole. I said, I like them; he said, well what do you want to do when you grow up? I said I wanted to be an actress; he said, you can never be an actress, because you’ll never be able to smile, your teeth are too unattractive for television. Now, I’ve met people that have had their teeth fanged and been like, I did it like you, and I’m like, well I was born like that, but I’m honoured that you did, and then I tell them the story and they’re like, who would say that to you?!, which is very nice. I’m very against changing the way you look because of somebody else – even if it’s your dentist, saying that every checkup for your entire life growing up – if you’re comfortable with the way you look, own it, never change yourself for somebody else. That’s why I like body modification so much more than plastic surgery, which is kind of a conformist thing – you’re trying to fit into the North American ideal of what is beautiful; and body mod, obviously, that is your idea of what is beautiful because it’s, you know, choose your own adventure, whatever you want, there you go.
TRISTAN: Follow your bliss.
SYLVIA: Yeah. The funny thing is, teachers don’t suggest that twins have the same classes, that they’re together all the time, because they find one twin will develop in one way and the other one will develop in another and they work as a unit, which I always enjoyed. My parents were always called to the principal’s office, not only because we were macabre, but also they were called in because the principal was like, it would be better if they were in different classes because they’re so loud and outspoken with other kids. My parents were like, no, they’re always going to be together, and that’s the way it should be – all of our jobs we’ve worked together, we’ve worked everything together, so when it gets to set, it’s almost like I don’t even need to talk to her, it’s just little looks – and it’s complicated things we’re saying to each other, through little looks. And we get it done, and everyone’s like, how do you manage to make movies in 15 days – American Mary, 15 days; See No Evil 2 we shot in 15 days – and I’m like, well, there’s two of us, we’ll grab a camera and split off and we know exactly what the other person is doing. But my biggest fear – and I think it’s Jen’s biggest fear too – is, what are we going to do if we lose the other one?
JEN: That’s my ONLY fear. Everyone thinks that I’m afraid of clowns or heights or some irrational fear. Fear is a taught emotion, I mean, we were holding tarantulas like most kids were holding kittens, and we’re like, oh it’s so cute, why are people afraid of it, it’s lazy! But losing my sister, I don’t know what I would do, that’s why Dead Ringers is such a sad movie, it’s horrible – but that’s also similar, anything Beverly and Elliot experienced, they would explain to each other, oh I went on a date, or I went out and this happened – there isn’t a piece of my life that she isn’t aware of. When people say, well tell your sister something she doesn’t know – I’ve described poops to her, there’s nothing she doesn’t know about me.
SYLVIA: I’m glad that’s in writing now, somewhere, that people will know we’re like, oh look at that one!
JEN: People are going to be jealous though, it’s like, when are you going to have that complete intimacy?
ME: That’s got to change your perception of horror as well, because your view of the body, as psychologically half of a whole – Dr. Grant in American Mary, he gets the amputations and he’s literally half of a body by the end of it – for the two of you, body perception; how do you feel about that?
JEN: We’re actually mirror identical twins, and that means, for the first two to nine weeks, we were one entity, and that’s where Siamese twins come from, and I think that’s part of the reason we are so close. We know that because I’m left-eye dominant and she’s right-eye dominant, and there are things along our halves that are opposite.
TRISTAN: It’s actually interesting to watch them have a silent conversation – you know they’re having words, they’re just not using their voices.
TRISTAN: Yeah, it’s amazing. I don’t know if anyone else is ever aware when they’re doing it, people are like, whoa, that’s spooky, how do they do that? But they just do, they’ve never done it any other way. They can be at home and have no words but full conversations.
ME: I’m glad you’re sitting opposite me, so you’re having the same experience with them sitting on either side of you, do you find that weird sometimes? It’s like a stereo – you know there’s that twinspeak kind of…
TRISTAN: Well, the first time I met them…
JEN: We’re even sitting the exact same way!
TRISTAN: When I met Jen and Sylvia for the first time, we’d been corresponding online, which was awesome…
SYLVIA: I stalked her for two years online because I thought she was the hottest, most interesting thing in the world, even before I met you – now I’m even more in love.
JEN: She’s our muse.
SYLVIA: But that’s the thing, this is the happiest internet stalking relationship ever, because now we’re best friends.
TRISTAN: It had a happy ending.
ME: Do you [Tristan] have upcoming projects with [the Soskas] as well? Can you say, should I ask?
JEN: See No Evil 2 or ABCs of Death 2, one of them you will see Tristan in and I can’t say which because I’m not allowed to say anything about either. Sometimes I have a role that I know an actor will have hangups about, or will need some coaxing into, but I mean, not only is Tristan so beautiful and so intelligent and trusting, she is very mentally sound and very secure with her body, so there is nothing I can ask her that she can’t do or that she won’t be 100 percent comfortable doing. Usually, if I ask her to do something totally out of left field, she’ll guess it before I say it and then say [Jen imitates Tristan’s Beatress voice], “Oh, I always wanted to do that!”
TRISTAN: It’s true. All the shit that no one else is going to do, or is too crazy, like “I would not touch that shit with a ten-foot pole,” I’m like, “gimme that shit, gimme it yesterday.” It’s nice to have people to work with, working with the Soskas, who have demented visions like me, saying that any idiot can be pretty – you put on enough makeup, you work out, you get a personal trainer, you buy clothes – you can fool anybody, but being pretty, smart, weird, ambitious and all these other things that all of us have – drive, passion – that’s what’s interesting to me, and we have a lot of interests that dovetail.
SYLVIA: It’s so nice because I don’t have to be restricted in anything I do. We actually have a script called Bob, which is our original monster movie, and we wrote Tristan in before we even met her…
JEN: Like the perfect alt-girl…
SYLVIA: …everything, there’s so many parts of her personality…
JEN: …the anti-love interest…
SYLVIA: …can I say the werewolf part?
JEN: Yeah, you can say that – Exclusive!
SYLVIA: Her character writes werewolf erotica; Tristan writes erotica.
TRISTAN: Mermaid erotica, but erotica.
SYLVIA: Still, pretty close!
TRISTAN: When I read the script for Bob, I thought, do they have cameras set up at my house that I don’t know about?
SYLVIA: I wish!
TRISTAN: I’m sorry about that sex stuff with those people…
JEN: Never be sorry about that!
TRISTAN: …the goat, the thing with the Shetland pony, so on and so forth – you can put the pony thing in there, I don’t care – everyone likes pony rides. I don’t have a pony, but I’ll settle for being ridden like one! You can put that in too, I don’t mind. Now I made you lose your train of thought!
ME: Yep, it’s gone.
JEN: The thing about Bob is, even though it’s an original thing, and people loved Dead Hooker and they loved American Mary, it’s so hard to just push your own work. After American Psycho, Mary Harron couldn’t find work – and everyone LOVED American Psycho, but there is still a lot of sexism in this industry, and it’s a shitty thing. It’s not everyone – there’s people like WWE Studios, who you would think big sexist, super-male-oriented company – they’re so wonderful to work with and they’re so embracing of us.
SYLVIA: And they care about their female audience so much, because they’re like, we want to make sure that we’re putting content out for them, because the audience for horror is forty percent male, sixty percent female. Because women love horror movies, and if you put out a movie where we’re represented as the modern woman, we love it even more – we’re going to go see it twice!
ME: Where do you want to go from here, and again sort of coming back to extremes – is there a thing that you want to do, to go further in a certain direction, bigger-better-faster-more, darker, scarier..?
SYLVIA: Never to repeat ourselves at all, in any way. And we’re huge Robert Rodriguez fans – we were treated to be able to go to his Troublemaker Studios – and Jen and I have an ambition to open Twisted Twins Studios here in Vancouver, where not only do we self-finance our own projects and have our own crew there, but we go and find people like a Ricky Bates, or an Astron-6, people who are brilliant…
JEN: Or Jeremy Gardner, who did The Battery…
SYLVIA: …People who are so talented, and just not given the opportunity; give them money and give them a crew and see what they can do with it when they have the proper support. Because it feels like there used to be these great generations, filmmakers coming up together and supporting themselves, but now we’re in a very selfish era. Some people are cool, but it’s kind of like, oh, I made it, and I don’t want anyone else doing it. I feel like when artists help artists, all of us grow and there’s way better content. I don’t have to put out someone else’s fire for mine to burn, and I wish there was more of that in this industry, especially amongst women.
TRISTAN: I have to say I find it unusual; people love original things. You come out with something that’s new and fresh, people grab it with both hands. And yet, the major moneymaking industry in film wants reboots, copies and sequels and they’re terrified of new things. They’re like, “yeah, Bob‘s great” – “So, can we make this movie?” – “not with our money!” It’s like, guys, we’re not going to fuck this up! People want cool, original stuff, and the only reason people keep going to see these sequels is you keep shoving it down their throats – so try shoving something cool down their throats. It’s like a penis – if I want it there, I will put it there myself; if I want a sequel, I will put it there – I don’t need you to push it on me.
JEN: I think that we’ll always be feminist filmmakers, but I would like to be considered great directors and not great female directors – I’m so fucking tired of hearing that. There have been so many projects that we’ve been invited onto because they’ve gotten shit about not having female directors and it’s like, Ah fuck, better call the Soskas! You knew about me years ago and you would not see me. I’d like to try to continue to make roles for women that aren’t the girlfriend, the mother, the secretary and all of that shit. I’d like roles for women with all body types as well, not just the piece of ass, it’s just so one-sided and insane. We’ve been talking about making our answer to 50 Shades of Grey – that piece of shit – when women go over and say, oh you need to read that, I think, honey, you need to get laid or watch some porn, that’s just insulting, that’s up there with Twilight. But I’d like to do something where a woman is owning her sexuality – because in Europe it’s different there than it is here – we always fight to put male nudity in our films, that’s like the biggest fight ever.
JEN: Oh yeah, always, because they’re like no dick, no ass, because the male audience is going to be uncomfortable. We used to be big fans of that TV series Oz, and I loved it, but so many guys were like, no I don’t want to see it, there’s dicks in it. Well there’s dicks in Game of Thrones, there’s dicks all over it and you know what? Don’t you have a dick? Is it that upsetting to you? Why are we so afraid of our own bodies? So I’d like to continue to break those stereotypes as well.
ME: This just came to mind, but have either of you read Kathe Koja?
ME: Ohh…[They really should.]
JEN: Email us that name and we’ll read.
ME: I don’t want to say anything more…
SYLVIA: Don’t say anything more, I like going in blind. I went in blind to Martyrs and Inside, we watched it in a double-feature day, it was a sad day, we were just looking at the floor and being [sad face].
ME: Wow, that would be intense.
SYLVIA: I loved it, love those movies.
JEN: Sylv and I like to play a game where we randomly choose a horror movie each and then we’ll watch them back to back. Sometimes it’s like two turds, but that day was amazing, it was so good.
ME: Wow, you really do everything together.
JEN: We really do do everything together! When people say, are you going to get married and then move out, I’m like no! The only thing I’m not getting from her is something sexual, so that’s why…
TRISTAN: …to answer the question: no, they don’t have sex together, no, they don’t make out.
SYLVIA: …I would never leave the house! The awkward thing is when one of us is seeing somebody, and the guy thinks he’s so sly, and it’s like, oh, I tell my sister everything. What do you mean everything? – everything, like if you farted, she knew.
JEN: And if the experience was a fart, she knew. Just like when Beverly comes back and Elliot’s like, how was it? I’d never say, “No, it’s just mine” – I haven’t met anybody “special” so it’s always a bit-by-bit review and a lot of LOLs and a lot of “Haha, never see him again!”
TRISTAN: Which is why, if you see one twin and it didn’t go so well, it’s probably not wise to feel like you can default to the next twin; not only is that really rude to assume…
ME: Isn’t there an unwritten law against that?
JEN: There is!
TRISTAN: Check this site out for online dating. I would feel better dating sisters that weren’t twins, versus dating twins, because they’re not interchangeable. We’ve had experiences with people who just go through the line like, you don’t think that we talk? Girls talk, that is what we do. We talk a lot.
ME: Is there anything you haven’t been asked in interviews that you wish you had been asked?
SYLVIA: No, I like that you asked about the studio thing, because I like to keep putting that out there. Robert Rodriguez said, “when you decide to be a filmmaker, put it on your business card, because you ARE a filmmaker at that point,” so I’m going to live my life like I’m a studio head until I buy that place and make it happen.
TRISTAN: People often ask me, do I feel like I’m being exploited when I’m doing what I do, because I do burlesque, I do fetish photography, modeling, performances, and people are like, well do you feel exploited by that? My answer is, if I’m choosing to do this and it’s bringing me pleasure and it’s bringing me joy, and people have paid me to be there, to see it and to let me entertain them, I’m not sure how this is an exploitative experience. I would really like to see the day when people can make a choice like that for themselves – and I did stripping, too – and people ask, oh, are you okay? Do you have a drug problem? Why do you assume I’m being exploited or I have a drug problem? I’m a big girl, and I go in there and I knew what I was doing and I was happy to do it. And I would like to get to a point where we can make a decision and not have someone second-guess or pat us on the head or patronize us. Why do you want to be a filmmaker? Why wouldn’t I want to be a filmmaker? Why do you want to be an actress? Why wouldn’t I want to be an actress? Oh, you’re being so exploited! No – I’m not, thanks.
JEN: I have a piece of hard advice for people that are aspiring filmmakers: you should know your shit before you start sending people your scripts. First of all, never send someone your script. Never show up to someone and give them your script, and don’t give it to them under the bathroom door. Legally, a director cannot take your script, a writer cannot take your script. A producer can take your script, but when you’re a writer or director, if I do anything you think I’ve stolen from you – and bullshit, I’d never need to, I have two people’s minds – two little super-factories of information.
SYLVIA: …I’m a super-factory.
JEN: (You are a super-factory.) …Just don’t do that. I get pitches sent to me and they’ll send the entire script, and I’m so tired of sending the polite email, you know you can’t actually do this – if you look at the Weinstein Company’s site, if you send them information unsolicited, it becomes their intellectual property. And a lot of companies work like that, so know your shit if you want to be an independent filmmaker, and do not go around waiting for someone else to fund your project. There are so many amazing independent filmmakers that have done films that have cult status and that everybody loves, and they can’t get funding for their next film. There are directors that everybody loves that can’t get funding for their next film. What you need to do is a do-it-yourself film if you’re really serious about bring a filmmaker – make a feature, not a short. Another shitty piece of advice: nobody considers shorts real films. And then send it around, do the grassroots thing, get it at every film festival, send it anywhere that will play it – Dead Hooker in a Trunk played at a sex drug frat party, it started at one frat and then everyone got in on it and it was just playing on repeat through the entire thing, and it also played at a bar in Chicago, where there were actual stripper-hookers – and it was good times, because those are the people that went around and said, this fucking thing was on the TV while we were there.
SYLVIA: It also played at film festivals, but the better pictures came from the house parties.
JEN: And you can do it, just do not send out your script. Any director will give you advice, but by the time you’re sending messages to Eli Roth saying, can you say you present this? No dude, he’s not going to say he fucking presents that – Peter Jackson is presenting Eli and Eli is presenting Tarantino – they’re a group that have come up and worked together, you’re not going to be able to do that. And it’s not because they’re assholes, it’s just that if they do it for you, they have to do it for everybody. That’s my hard, shitty advice – I’ve always given nice advice, but this is shitty advice, and it’s going to save your ass some work. Eli gave us the shittiest, meanest advice of our careers, and they’re the best pieces of information he’s ever given us.
TRISTAN: What Jen was saying about how these guys present each other because they came up together – if you’re going to do this filmmaker thing, find other filmmakers to collaborate with, work with, support, because then you start kind of a coterie, and you’re showing a support system. Then it’s not just a scene, it’s a community too. That’s one of the things I really like about the horror community – it feels like a family – everybody wants to show each other the cool things that they’ve found or stumbled upon, or discovered, and it’s great for filmmakers. So it’s really important to find the other people like that, work with them, network with them and embrace each other’s work – you may not like it, but supporting it is important – so that when you all rise up together, you are the next Rodriguezs, Tarantinos, Roths and so on and so forth. People will be like, wow, it’d be really cool to work with them, I’d better go out and start doing this, and then the cycle continues and it’s a beautiful thing.
JEN: Also, you have to pay your dues. In filmmaking, it’s not American Idol, you don’t go on a game show and get a career, ask musicians how they feel about that kind of shit. You pay your dues and as soon as you get to that point, they all welcome you in, but they had to go through that too. Eli suffered to get up there, Tarantino was working in a goddamn video store, everybody started somewhere and it’s not like they’re like, fuck you, don’t do it – they want to see you struggle. It’s like a butterfly in a cocoon, you need to get that struggle in you so you can actually survive in this industry, because it’s a shitty, cruel, violent industry.
TRISTAN: If tigers didn’t earn their stripes, then they wouldn’t have their claws or their teeth and they wouldn’t be apex predators. That’s how you get to the top of the food chain.
ME: Coming back to where digital film is going – in terms of distribution, filmmakers don’t have to limit themselves to physical distribution anymore, so if you want to get your film out there, you can, it’s just a question of getting it to connect with people. Is there value in making it yourself and putting it up on a platform so that it’s there?
SYLVIA: Absolutely, you would be surprised how many people do – Monster Pictures in Australia, they released Dead Hooker in a Trunk in the UK and in Australia; they put us on TV, they put us everywhere – so when we go over to the UK, people actually know who we are. They’re also the people behind Human Centipede; they’re one of those few companies that takes their films seriously and they support their filmmakers completely and wholly, and there are not too many that do that. Universal does that, Anchor Bay does that, but you don’t have to feel like there’s no way or only one way to do it. I’m probably never going to work on film, I think it’s a beautiful technique, but I don’t think I can afford it and I don’t know anything about it, so why would I take a huge step back? We’re at a point where anybody can make a film right now, the technology is there, but from the films we’re seeing now, it seems like the technology to make the film has surpassed the storytelling elements of it, which is really unfortunate.
So how do you stand out in this market? One thing that I tell people – and people are like, oh, well it’s easy for you guys, because you’re like these little gothic twins – so I’m like, well, what’s your thing? And this guy’s like, well I’m a prosthetic artist, so I’m like, so every time you take a photo of you directing, be in a mask with blood on you, have your prosthetics, because you’re a prosthetic director, everyone has their own schtick. If you’re a huge nerd – because people can relate to you, they want to know what your personality is – market that. Social media is going to change your life SO much, you can reach out to these people and they will buy your stuff and it will get out there. I don’t know about different self-distribution…because I’ve heard horror stories about that. I like to be a jack of all trades but not a “master of none”. Be around people that know what they’re doing, but protect yourself. Lawyer up, constantly – it’s show business, not show friends. The more success I have, the less friends I have…It still bums me out when the only time I hear from somebody who’s a good friend is like, “When’s the next movie,” or “You didn’t cast me in this,” or, “I need money.” I get people I don’t even know asking me for my millions of dollars – which I don’t quite have yet – I’m working on it – I think after I get my diva’s championship belt
TRISTAN: Tag-team champions!
SYLVIA: Yeah, then maybe I’ll get one – it’s a process, right? You must have seen crowdsourcing, and Kickstarter?
SYLVIA: It’s funny because people say, “Oh you should be a huge advocate of it”; but nobody knows where the money goes. It’s not like there’s an actual thing that says we need five thousand dollars and this goes here, this goes here, and checks it off and it disappears – I know a lot of people that they don’t get their stuff, the little perks – a lot of people will…
JEN: …make their car payments, pay their cell phones…
SYLVIA: …that’s what I was going to say, they’re going to say we need $12,000, the movie needs two grand but they’re going to fly around, they’re going to go on vacation. If you want to throw your money away, sure why not, you’re going to lose it anyway; but if you want to get into film, you could actually produce something with your small donations, you could probably do something on your own pretty well.– there’s this great filmmaker called Andy Stewart in the UK, and he made a short film called “Dysmorphia”, which played with American Mary – dysmorphia is kind of like alien limb syndrome, it’s when you have something you feel that’s not there. I’ll tell you the gist of it because maybe more people will check him out – it’s about this guy who wants to cut off his arm, and it’s done really close and so gritty and so uncomfortable, it goes through the whole thing and he ends up amputating it off. And then it goes into the first wide shot, and you notice he’s cut off both of his legs, and that arm’s missing, and he’s like, how am I going to get the last one off?
TRISTAN: It’s great – when it played at the Rio theatre here in town, two people fainted in the audience. It was beautiful.
SYLVIA: He’s a powerful filmmaker. He made that for $350 and now he’s making a trilogy of body horror. There are ways to get noticed, and again, he did that really smart – very simple, one location, something that really sticks in people’s heads. So if you want to work, you really need to put yourself into it, to get out there.
JEN: I’ll also touch on branding. The most prolific directors are branded. I love how people will say, Kevin Smith doesn’t brand himself, he brands himself as just one of you guys – I like hockey, I like my weed, I drink beer – that’s his brand. He’s not accidentally that way.
TRISTAN: He’s the everyman.
JEN: He’s absolutely that way. When you say, oh, you dark-haired twins, that’s totally your schtick – yeah, and I’m not a big guy that likes to drink beer and smoke weed – that is his thing, and every one of us has “that thing”, but you almost have to be a caricature of yourself. Tarantino’s a Tarantino SNL parody at this point, but you know them, you recognize them.
TRISTAN: I think it goes down to the root of it, and that is being authentic. Because you can look at somebody and be like, that person’s full of shit or they’re faking it or they’re pushing their shit down your throat, and you’re kind of like, really? But then you get other people, and your bullshit meter doesn’t lie to you about these people, you can tell are legit and this is their thing, and they’re not doing it to get attention or whatever, this is just what they’re into, this is their jam. Everybody has their thing that they’re into, and when you’re honest and truthful and excited about it, that’s when other people get excited about it too, because…
ME: …You can’t fake passion.
TRISTAN: Exactly, thank you.
ME: One final thing – we touched on the subject of community earlier; you’re still based here, how do you all feel about Vancouver?
JEN: I hate to say it, but the community in Los Angeles is much stronger than in Vancouver. I would say that my filmmaking community is mostly online, because I’ve got people in the UK, I’ve got people in Montreal, I’ve got people in New York and those are the people that, if we could all bring them together, then it would be ideal, but thank god for social media because we can keep in touch with each other. I would say that in Vancouver, Sylv and I were a really hard sell for a lot of people, and the last place to support us in our work was Vancouver. Our crews were great, and we had a lightly-attended sort of fanbase and that’s grown as our films have gotten more of a wide distribution. I wish that the community was better here. We still have a little bit of a fuck-you-for-doing-well kind of community, I find that people that supported us before support us less now, which is fine, that’s just how it goes.
SYLVIA: I love Vancouver, I just want to see us be successful – it’s so depressing to see people that you know out of work because productions have gone to Winnipeg or Toronto, and it’s because we’re not making our own content, we’re waiting for other people to say, okay I’ll choose your city. I feel like we’re one of the only countries that does that. Like, France, you have French New Wave, and you know what French films are. Australia, you know what Australian films are. Canadian films, you almost think it’s just sad dramas about people in the prairies, and nobody’s like that here except the prairie people – and even then, I don’t think they’re boring like that. I feel like we’re just not representing our culture properly. The line that Jennifer and I walk, while being unique, we also try to be mainstream too, in effect; oh look, little vampy twins, but then we trick you into a smart movie about body awareness.
TRISTAN: I think that because it’s sort of like that in Vancouver, it’s more important for us to be here, starting stuff. We’re creating what future nostalgia is going to be – there’s going to be a point where people are like, can you imagine what it was like to be in Vancouver when the Soskas were filming these things here, and then these guys started filming this movie? In 20, 30, 50 years from now, people are going to say, that was so cool, can you imagine, that was awesome. I’m definitely interested in past eras, especially in Vancouver, but I’m also interested in laying the foundation for future interesting things. We’re all Vancouver born and bred, we’re the true minority here in that we were all born and raised here and we continue to stay here, too. I love this city, I’m a full-on Vancouverphile, I know lots about Vancouver history – especially the really interesting dirty bits – but I would like to see Vancouver continue to thrive and not just be a real estate hellhole. I want to keep it weird.