One of the coolest aspects of conducting this massive interview project I embarked on back in October was the idea that maybe, just maybe, I’d have the chance to speak with women from all different corners of the horror spectrum.
It’s been a blast chatting with fantastic women all over the United States. I’ve had the pleasure of going international as well, getting to know some of the most creative and amazing filmmakers in Canada, a helluva film festival creator in Scotland and tonight, I have the opportunity to share my interview with Australia’s very own Briony Kidd.
Briony Kidd is one of the smartest, most driven entrepreneurs I’ve spoken with. She not only has her finger resting firmly on the pulse of horror as a filmmaker (with 2 directing, 3 writing and 2 editing credits, Briony is a widely regarded woman in horror), but she brought a whole new interest and passion to the genre when Briony and fellow horror enthusiast Rebecca Thomson created the Stranger With My Face film festival, a festival that “explores themes of the the shadow self, tapping into archetypes like the evil twin and the mad woman in the attic”. Sounds like my kind of party!
If that weren’t enough, the minds behind the festival came up with the 10 By 10 Challenge in February as part of their celebration of Women In Horror Recognition Month. The script challenge gave registered participants 10 days to write a horror script of 10 pages or less, inspired by a random ‘secret code word’ provided by the competition organizers.
Well, folks, ready to get to know the incomparable Briony Kidd a little more? Read on…
1.Your short film, ‘The Room At The Top Of The Stairs’, has received well-deserved high praise. How long was this project in your head before you decided to write it?
A long time! When I left home at the age of 18 and moved to the big city I moved into a share house with a slightly older group. They were all art students or in some way ‘bohemian’ (at least I thought so at the time) and I felt out of place. They always seemed to be always talking about this crazy, glamorous girl who had had lived there before I came. She became a strong presence in my life, although I never met her. Years later, this struck me as being similar to the set-up of Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ (which itself is a kind of postmodern ghost story)—except that my nemesis wasn’t dead, just absent. I thought this was a good idea for a short film and wrote a draft, but it was a bit unfocused. So it went into the bottom drawer for a few years, to re-emerge when I was looking for a short film idea in the same vein as my feature film ‘Salt of the Earth’. I’m more interested in genre than I was when I originally wrote the script, and suddenly I could see how to make it work.
2. Your statements on the film attribute influences to names like Hitchcock to Bronte. Clearly, this was a meticulously thought out and fantastically executed film. How did you go about collecting your cast and crew for this film?
We were lucky enough to get funding through Screen Tasmania, so that helped. My producer was Adam Walker, who I’d worked with as a writer previously, and he put the resources of his production company behind the project, which made a big difference to what could be achieved. My director of photography was Marcus Dineen, who I’d worked with previously as well. He’s a director himself and is really focused on story, which is a huge advantage.
The design team was Sean Meilak , a Melbourne-based visual artist, and my sister Madeline Kidd, also a visual artist. It was important to me to have Sean and Madeline involved because the story takes place against an ‘art school’ atmosphere, which needed to be believable but also idiosyncratic, and I thought real artists were the best people to put that across.
Heath Brown, the composer, is very knowledgeable about film and interested in a lot of the same sorts of films I am, so that’s always a good starting point. I wanted to do something reflective of 1970s films, which meant a lot of discussions teasing out obscure genre references. I also enjoyed working with the sound designer, Erin McKimm. He embraced the idea of an ‘analogue’ feel and came up with some great ideas.
It was an open casting call. I knew straight away that Fiannah was right for the lead. She has that ability to seem ordinary one minute and then very odd and intense the next. She took the job really seriously, even though she was only 17 at the time, which I appreciated. The rest of the cast was found locally as well, and they all did a great job.
Working with all these talented people gave me the chance to execute the idea as fully as possible, rather than ‘scraping through,’ which is so often the case with short films. It may not be perfect, but when we finished post-production I felt it was absolutely the best we could do at the time with the material. That’s as much as you can ever hope to achieve.
3. Who are your heroes as directors?
Hitchcock, first and foremost. He has immense craft skill but there’s also that joie de vivre, even in the darkest of stories. You get the feeling he was relishing the toys and the exciting people at his disposal. The other one would be Jane Campion. She’s like Hitchcock in that she makes serious, ambitious films with a sense of playfulness. I doubt that I would’ve thought of going to film school or making films if it wasn’t for Jane Campion, because there’s something in her work that I relate to, and of course she was a woman making successful feature films. Park Chan-Wook is another one of the filmmakers I most admire, for his inventiveness and literary qualities.
4. When did you first get a taste of horror cinema? Did it hook you right away?
It would have been ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’. Growing up in Australia you can’t help but have a lot of respect for Peter Weir, and ‘Picnic’ had a huge influence on me when I first watched it. I remember talking about it with my cousins and we were all gossipy about it and about how scary it was and how we weren’t sure if it was true or not (a bit like the ‘Blair Witch’ hype years later). We must have been really nerdy kids, because our peers would’ve been watching ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ while we were enjoying a spot of art house Australiana… but we were right, it’s great. I also watched ‘The Innocents’ (dir: Jack Clayton) at a young age, which is a stunning film and captured my imagination in a similar way.
5. What are a few of your favorite horror films?
I have B-grade tastes, because I like anything that’s sensational but smart, such as ‘Cat People’, ‘I Walked with a Zombie’, ‘Eyes Without a Face’ (I think ‘The Skin I Live In’ is brilliant, in case you were wondering), and more recent films like ‘Cube’ and ‘Splice’. I love psychological stuff that’s not horror, like ‘Persona’ and ‘The Servant’ and ‘Gaslight’. There’s a fine line between melodrama and horror actually, and I like both—so something like ‘Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte’ nicely overlaps. I’m a big fan of ‘giallo’, especially ‘Deep Red’ and ‘Suspiria’, and American films following on from that tradition, such as ‘Halloween’ and ‘Black Christmas’. I like George Romero’s zombie films. The characters have texture and don’t necessarily do what you expect them to do. A film I’m slightly obsessed with is ‘The Haunting of Julia’, starring Mia Farrow and directed by Richard Loncraine. It’s just about perfect. It’s a clever script, from the novel by Peter Straub, and the score by Colin Towns is so compelling.
6. Who are some of your Women In Horror heroes?
I can say Jane Campion again here, because ‘The Piano’ and ‘In the Cut’ both have horror aspects. Kathryn Bigelow definitely, particularly ‘Blue Steel’ (which I guess is a thriller… ‘Near Dark’ as well). Deborah Kerr, because she’s wonderful in ‘The Innocents’ and ‘Black Narcissus’ (plus Kathleen Byron). Bette Davis, for sure. In terms of directors, you do look back and see that there aren’t as many as there should’ve been, and that so many female-focused stories have been told by men. Not that they didn’t do it well—for instance, Hitchcock’s ‘Rebecca’—but what if a woman had been in charge? I’ve recently enjoyed horror features by Karen Lam, Ursula Dabrowsky, Barbara Stepansky and the Soska sisters.
7. What is one topic or subgenre you look forward to seeing brought up more in horror?
I’d personally like to see more psychological horror, ghost stories and ‘giallo’ films. I think the genre would benefit from more diversity, with more unusual characters and settings. Having a B-grade aesthetic or a low budget does not mean you can’t have an original story and style. There should be more films by women, more culturally specific films (whether English-language or not) and films with characters of different ages, not just teens or twenties.
8. How did ‘Stranger With My Face’ come to be?
It came about through wanting to do something for Women in Horror Month this year. I have a filmmaker friend, Rebecca Thomson. She’s made a couple of very successful shorts, including one called ‘Cupcake: A Zombie Lesbian Musical‘ , which is as much fun as it sounds. Like me, she’s interested in genre and in how we can get more film production happening in Tasmania. Initially, we thought we would just show some films from the Viscera Film Festival. That would’ve been good—but then we realised there were people around with specific expertise to share (special effects make-up, for example, or composition for horror films or writing dark fantasy or writing horror for theatre) and so we started adding in other events. It became a festival in its own right, and the theme of ‘stranger with my face’ was chosen—with thanks to Lois Duncan for graciously allowing us to use the title of one of her books. In the end the festival consisted of two blocks of short films, two feature films, six seminars and roundtable discussion and a short script challenge. Monster Pictures [http://monsterpictures.com.au/] came on board as our major sponsor, which was an unexpected boost, and the turnout was healthy. It’s demonstrated that there’s an audience for horror in Tasmania.
Participants in the script challenge had to write a horror script of less than 10 pages in less than 10 days, riffing off a randomly drawn ‘secret word.’ We had more than 60 people signed up for it, ranging from 15-year-old schoolgirls to lawyers to professional playwrights and filmmakers, and 42 of them actually turned in scripts! The judges were illustrious types like Heidi Honeycutt and Karen Lam and Adrian Martin. The completed scripts are available for producers and directors to peruse. There have already been a number of ‘deals’ struck and we expect to see some of these scripts go into production, hopefully so that we can screen them at the festival next year.
9. As a woman in horror, how important are the film festivals and events that happen around the world in promoting unity amongst women horror filmmakers, actresses, and enthusiasts?
Festivals are hugely important to all filmmakers. Unless you’re making big budget Hollywood films, without festivals you’d be making films for just your family and friends. For women, they’re even more important, simply because women are marginalised by mainstream film culture. We are significantly less likely to be directing, producing or in leadership positions on a feature film than our male peers. I don’t know exactly why—there would be a lot of reasons and they’re complicated—but the statistics are undeniable. So it’s important for women to network and promote each other’s work, to compensate for our lower visibility. That said, I certainly don’t feel an obligation to promote something just because it’s by a woman, unless I also happen to think it’s great.
Stranger With My Face Horror Film Festival, for example, is about screening work by filmmakers the audience has probably never heard of but that we think they’ll enjoy. It’s a satisfying thing to be able to do. It really comes down to the fact that more women making films would mean greater diversity in style and subject matter, and that can only be a good thing for quality and film culture generally.
10. Who is your favorite horror villain? Hero?
I love Candyman. He’s so charismatic and creepy. Also, it’s not a horror film but I love Charlize Theron’s character in ‘Monster’, because she’s the sort of person we rarely see on film, and why not? Heroine-wise, I love Helen in ‘Candyman’, Sarah in the original ‘Day of the Dead’, and of course Julia and Rosemary (both played by Mia Farrow).
11. What do you want your legacy in horror to be?
I want to make films that are entertaining, most importantly. But filmmaking is also a unique opportunity to build connections. This especially true in horror, because horror fans will watch a film from anywhere, by anyone—if it sounds like a good story. So a teenage boy in Chicago might watch a horror film about a middle-aged woman in rural Tasmania and relate to her plight. He might think a lot about what she’s going through in life, and even feel as though he is her for that 90 minutes. That’s a powerful thing and you can’t tell me it won’t affect his life and the way he lives it. If you make your characters real and you make the things that concern them genuine (albeit heightened or played out through metaphor, as is often the case with horror), you are getting that viewer to understand something that has real use in the world and to engage with people they may not have thought they could ever understand. That’s not political or inserting propaganda, that’s the actual purpose of art. I’d like to make films that are fun and look beautiful, but that also have that kind of reason to exist.
I greatly appreciate Briony’s insight and great enthusiasm with this interview!
Be sure to check out the official website for the Stranger With My Face film festival!
Check out the fantastic scripts sent in from this year’s 10 By 10 Script Challenge, as well!