Interview with the Soska Sisters – Part 1
Twin sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska are a force to be reckoned with: they have recently written, directed, starred in and edited their outrageous feature-length movie Dead Hooker In a Trunk – and they ain’t done yet, as they’re touring the film on the festival circuit as well as getting new indie projects underway. The girls took some time out to chat to Hellbound Heart for Horror Extreme…
Hellbound Heart: Hi Jen, hi Sylvia – thank-you for taking the time to talk to us!
Jen: Thank you for talking to us.
Sylvia: We like talking.
Hellbound Heart: I want to start by asking you a little about your background. Obviously it’s unusual to have sisters, let alone twin sisters, who are so driven to work within the indie film scene. What were you into as kids, and did you always know what you wanted to do?
Sylvia: I was really into bugs, horror, video games, and comics. We were always fascinated with movies, but horror movies always had this weird draw. When we were really little, Jen and I would hang out in the horror section of the video store and check out the back of the movie cases for best gore or scariest looking thing. Then we’d find some awful treasure and beg our mom to rent it for us. She and our dad have always been really supportive of anything we’re into, so my mom made a horror rule. She said if we read the book first, then we could see the movie. Maybe because she’s a fan or maybe because she is like the coolest mom on the face of the planet, she loaned us her massive Stephen King collection to read.
Jen: I was a bit of a geek when I was little. We’d be lying if we said we weren’t and aren’t still to this day. Big comic nerds – we’d watch all the cartoons and read the comics and when there weren’t any new stories we’d talk to each other about what the characters might do next. Maybe Spider-Man is going to run into Venom and they’ll have to team up?
I think we always knew we would end up doing something creative and, with us being identical twins that are best friends, we knew it would be something where we could work together.
Hellbound Heart: I had the pleasure to see your first feature-length film – the madcap, grindhouse-flavoured Dead Hooker in a Trunk – at the Ghouls on Film event this year in Birmingham, UK. Firstly, congratulations on your film! How has the film been doing?
Sylvia: Thank you so much! The Ghouls on Film event was gracious enough to invite us to be on the bill during last February’s Women in Horror Month. A big thank you to Nia-Edwards Behi, who was kind enough to have our Hooker at the party. It’s a big year for Dead Hooker, she’s been going from festival to festival around the world and she’s been getting lots of good responses.
Jen: She just played at the Viscera Film Festival – the trailer – and Bleedfest – the feature – in LA a couple of weeks ago. She won an award at Viscera and won three awards at Pollygrind – Audience Choice, Best Screenplay, and Everette Hartsoe’s Badgirl Award which was given to Sylvie and me.
It’s so rewarding to have so many people enjoying the film like they have. When you make a movie you never know what’s going to happen when it goes out there and what people are going to say. We have really awesome supporters; they’ve given this huge life to the film.
Hellbound Heart: How did you come up with the idea for DHIAT, and what was your experience of seeing the project through, from the writing stage to completion? Tell us about your inspiration, and then moving into casting and shooting…
Sylvia: The whole thing came about while we were going to film school. It was a new, not very organized school and, although it managed to hire some of the most talented people in the industry to teach, they did a lot of questionable things. Our final project’s budget ($200) was cancelled and we were told to just merge with another group. We thought it was complete bullshit. Tarantino and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse was in theatres at the time and we had been seeing it a lot. We walked out of the screening talking about the fake trailers and Jen said, that’s what we should do – we should make a fake trailer and call it ‘Dead Hooker in a Trunk’.
Before we knew it we were throwing ideas for the trailer back and forth. There was a list at the school of all material that was considered too offensive to be in any of the student’s projects, so we decided to throw all of them in and a few that they forgot for good measure. We wanted to create something that was fun to watch.
Jen: We had the title before anything else, then we came up with the scenes that we would want to see in a movie. We created four stereotype girls – we wanted our movie to be the anti-chick flick road trip movie. We gave them stereotypical names instead of real names – Badass, Geek, Junkie, and Goody Two-Shoes. We had a scene of them finding the hooker, then all sorts of crazy shit that could happen after that.
We put in a big action sequence since the draw of ‘stunt acting for film’ was the course that got us to enrol in the school. We had just finished two years of intensive martial arts training and were ready to kick some butt. We shot a few cool scenes, cut them together trailer style, and presented it at graduation as our individual work. The reaction was insane – half the room got up and left while the other half was cheering so loud that you could barely hear it. We knew we had something special then, so our make-up artist, Maryann Van Graven, and our editor, Loyd Bateman (our stunts instructor, Lauro Chartrand, had introduced us to Loyd to help us pull off the trailer) were on board for the feature.
Sylvia: We thought a lot more people would be available from the fake trailer, but there were other commitments, scheduling conflicts, and lack of interest. There were so many people saying that we ‘couldn’t just make a movie’, that we had to do things ‘properly.’ But the naysayers couldn’t stop our crazy little plan. We had Robert Rodriguez’s book ‘Rebel Without A Crew’ which chronicles how he made his first feature – ‘El Mariachi’. We felt so inspired and excited. We took his advice through the entire book. We wrote our big scenes down on cue cards and moved the order around to make the film’s sequence.
Jen: Once we figured out what was going where, we picked scenes. Each of us had particular scenes that we were excited to write and we decided we would share the outline. That said, if either of us ever hit writer’s block we’d tag in the other twin. It was and is really fun writing together. There are stressful bits, but it’s really cool to write with someone who thinks like you and can understanding what you were getting at or trying to say in different scenes.
Sylvia: Then came casting. We had a few people still interested, but things kept falling through. I had people flat out refuse because they felt the script was too edgy or offensive. There’s nothing as awkward as someone reading your dialogue – ‘Have you ever been skull fucked after an ass rape’, and then looking over at you, the writer, in disgust. Now that line might seem a little extreme, but we try to do everything with a tongue-in-cheek, good humoured sort of way.
We found some excellent talent for the film – John Tench would be our Cowboy Pimp, Tasha Moth would be our Hooker, Loyd Bateman would act in the film as would many friends we had from growing up trying to get work in the film and television industry. During shooting, our new Junkie had a previous commitment and couldn’t stay involved in the film. We hired Rikki Gagne to take her place. Two days before our first day of shooting, our Goody Two-Shoes dropped out. She didn’t want us to be upset by telling us earlier. We were pretty fucked. We called around and couldn’t find a girl to replace her.
At that time, I was hanging out with CJ Wallis who brought me to see some of the short films he had done. He had a small cameo in one that embodied exactly what I wanted Goody to be. I asked him if he would be in our film and he said yes. I went home with Jen and we wrote the entire thing that night with Goody as a boy.
Jen: I’m glad that it worked out that way because he is just wonderful in the film and I couldn’t imagine the film without a male Goody. He is the perfect devil’s advocate to all the crazy women characters. The cast that we did end with was great. A lot of them had stunt backgrounds which was important because we wanted to have a lot of action in the film and we wanted actors who could do their own stunt work. Sylv’s character, Badass, was involved in almost every action sequence in the film. We had a double, Maja Stace-Smith, for her for the big showdown between her and the Cowboy Pimp. There is a horse drag in that scene and when we shot it for the fake trailer, she got cut up really bad and our stunt coordinator, Loyd, didn’t want to take the risk. That said, she’s really proud of those scars.
Sylvia: I think Jen had fun writing insane things to have happen to Badass just to see me have to do it. When we made up Geek and Badass, we discussed who should be who. Jen said that I should be Badass because I’ve never had the chance to play the tough girl before. She would be Geek, which was kind of a homage to the cute little nerds we were when we were younger. She was just a tad geekier than me. Still is. Damn cool Jen.
Jen: To pay for everything, we maxed out our credit cards on movie costs. Loyd had his own camera, but we had to rent everything else. We had wireless mics that were a fifty/fifty chance that they would work. There was a real indie feel to the whole thing, though. Actors would act as crew. We would be the first to come in and set up everything, then be the last to leave after cleaning up our bloody mess. It was such a cool group of people to work with. We shot in each other’s houses, used our own animals, kids, clothes, and other friends’ homes to create this project. We shot in back roads, parks, and parking lots. We asked two local bars if we could shoot in them and they let us for free. Despite a few problems, we felt like the production was blessed.
We even got into contact with the ‘El Mariachi’, Carlos Gallardo, who agreed to a well-deserved cameo as God. There were a lot of sleepless days and nights, long days, unexpected costs that would clean us out, not being able to afford food, stacking up bills, but to be honest, we would do it all over again in a heart beat. There are things that you can only learn when you are working on your own film. Rodriguez said in his book you have to think creatively on your feet to fix problems when making your own movies because you can’t just throw money at the problem to fix it. We learned so much fast thinking on set.
Sylvia: Our biggest ambition was to create a movie that had that sense of fun and excitement like the original grindhouse movies. Hooker had to have blood and guts, wild stunts, crazy characters, good humour (or at least our fucked up sense of humour), and some heart. To keep it as indie as possible, we contacted some of the most talented musicians in the Vancouver scene – Fake Shark- Real Zombie!, Incura, The Awkward Stage, The Stalls, our own overly skilled CJ Wallis composed much of the music that you hear in the film, Adam Nanji, and (for Japanese punk) we found the Titan Go-Kings for our Triad scene. We tried to get a song from our childhood favourite band, The Moody Blues, but their record label passed on us. It’s ok, we’ll be back. Maybe even with money next time. Ha ha!
Hellbound Heart: You had a shoestring budget for the film – how did you finance the film, and how did you make a little go such a long way? It really didn’t feel like you’d skimped on what you wanted to do…
Sylvia: We maxed out our credit cards. We have an impressive debt. There were a lot of unexpected costs – equipment needed to be replaced, things turning out pricier than we were quoted, and other random troubleshooting. Loyd took care of some of the costs for us, but by the end of the shoot we were so broke, not eating, being buried alive by bills (a lot coming from spending all our time working on the film with no income) when our key makeup artist, Maryann, and her husband, Don, came forward to offer us some money to help us get out of trouble and have some money to take care of expenses while we finished the film in post. Then our parents took us out to dinner to give us a check to help us be able to stay home and finish the film. So, we gladly welcomed Maryann Van Graven, Donald Charge, and Agnes and Marius Soska to our producer team. They saw how much shit we got ourselves in and selflessly wanted to help us and the film – I’ll never forget their kindness.
There were a couple things that we wanted in the film, but just couldn’t arrange on our budget. We wanted Badass to punch out a bear and say ‘Fuck you, bear!’ We also wanted an explosion. In ‘Rebel Without A Crew’, Rodriguez mentions how badly we wanted to put an explosion in ‘El Mariachi’ – it made me want a big one too!
Jen: We always felt, as weird as this sounds, that some greater power was looking after us. Y’know how in Blues Brothers Jake and Elwood were on a mission from God? DHIAT just had to be made. We were very fortunate that the Writers Strike happened. A lot of extremely talented and usually very busy people suddenly became free. Indefinitely. No one knew how long it would take to resolve and it freed up lots of very amazing people. Some of our crew that usually wouldn’t have ever been able to help out suddenly lost their creative venues and were available and very interested in donating their time to our cause. We were blessed.
Hellbound Heart: You mentioned that you decided to use ‘˜types’ rather than named characters in the film, and you obviously enjoy playing around a bit with the sorts of stereotypes you get in underground films – did you have any sort of precedent in mind for this, and do you think the types of role each of you play reflect anything about you in real life?
Sylvia: Jen and I watch so many movies. We’re like cinema junkies. When you watch a lot of films you start to notice certain similarities, certain types of characters that show up. We thought of our favourite stereotypes – Badass, Geek, Junkie, and Goody Two-Shoes for the leads. The Hooker was just called Hooker. We got so into this simplicity as a starting point for the characters that we ended up giving everyone a descriptive name, like Cowboy Pimp, Weirdo, Killer, and God. The only character in the film with a ‘normal’ name is the Hooker’s dog, Billy.
As for real life comparisons, I think I have a little of Badass and Geek in me. A lot of Geek – I’m a die-hard nerd, geek and damn proud of it. I’ve had an ongoing relationship with Spider-Man since I was nine years old – we are still good friends to this day. I have a little Badass in me, I’m very protective of my friends and mix that with a sometimes fiery, European temper – I can be a real one. But I don’t know if anyone can actually be like Badass in real life. I played her and I still watch the movie and think how cool it must be to be her.
Jen: We really wanted the film to be epic. Larger than life. You ever watch a movie and not get a character’s name and end up describing the film to your friends saying, “Then the bad guy did this” or “The detective goes and does that”? We wanted the characters of our characters to be so legendary, for lack of a better word, that the word be their stereotypes. We wanted Badass to be the toughest, baddest, take-no-shit bitch you’d ever seen and so on. We felt that not giving them “real names” helped with that.
I guess everyone has a little Geek and Badass in them. Heck, everyone has a little Goody, Junkie, and Hooker in them, too. I’ve always been a nerd at heart. I love comics, video games, TV, and film. I get giddy when a new Metal Gear, Silent Hill, or Final Fantasy comes out. I dream of meeting Stan Lee. However, I have a rare condition I’ve lovingly dubbed “bitch face”. If I’m not trying to look happy or smile, I look pissed off. I often get people asking, “Jen, why are you so mad?” or “What’s wrong?”, but then I just explain my medical condition. I may look like a bitch, but I’m actually very sweet. That being said, I do have an extensive weapons collection and can skilfully use everything I own. Shucks, I had to learn to be a badass if I ever wanted to seduce Daredevil. I’m very adept with Sais. And, sadly, reading Braille.
PART 2 COMING SOON….
You can find out more about The Soska Sisters and Dead Hooker in a Trunk at the following links:
All photos used with kind permission of Jen and Sylvia Soska