Friday, 22 August 2014

Frightfest London 2014 - Jessica Cameron Interview

When I approached Jessica Cameron to request access to a screener of Truth & Dare I honestly didn't know what to expect of the movie. Female horror director's are few and far between and female horror directors who are willing to give the guys a run for the money in terms of bringing the nasty are in even shorter supply. So it was with dark delight that I discovered that Truth or Dare doesn't just deliver in terms of shocks but at times surpasses most of its peers without breaking a sweat. This is a movie that doesn't break taboos so much as it tears them into a bloody, ruptured mess, sets fire to the remains then pisses on the ashes while all the time laughing like a maniac. Oh...and it's a lot of fun at the same time.'s how the interview went.

AOTD: Did you see Truth or Dare as an opportunity to prove that female horror directors can go toe to toe with the gents when it comes to shock factor?

JC: I did. I actually didn't intend to direct this when my co-writer Jon Higgins and I drafted the script. We originally went out to 6 indie directors and I was surprised that it was the male directors who had the biggest problems with the content. I didn't want to change the story or "water it down" (cause I hate that) and Devanny Pinn was actually the first to tell me that I should direct it. After I thought about it I realized that I was the only one who WANTED to tell this story as it was written in all its glorious, violent detail.

AOTD: You co-wrote the script with Jonathan Scott Higgins and you're working with him again on Mania. How does the collaborative process work for you guys?

JC: With Truth Or Dare we actually worked a lot closer to each other. With Mania I have given notes but its been a very different process. Jon and I have both been working on so many other projects this year that he really took to the general concept and went nuts with it. He's a great writer and I am much more of an idea kinda gal. I have these cool concepts and ideas but without Jon to connect the dots I would be lost. 

AOTD: Tell us a little bit about the casting process. How did you guys go about filling the roles and what were you looking for in your actors besides the ability to convincingly deliver agonising screams?

JC: When Jon and I were writing it we wrote it with a few people in mind. Luckily for us they all loved the script and wanted to do the film.The few remaining roles we cast via auditions. We intentionally tried to write a script with as few actors as possible. When your making a low budget feature film keeping the cast small is crucial. We held in person auditions as well as accepting video ones. 

I get asked by actors all the time how they can submit to my films but the reality is I cast who I know, who I think is talented, will be a joy on set and promote the film afterwards. The best thing an actor can do is politely email me their headshot and resume, with all their links and then stay involved in my film world. Every time an actor likes the status on my films facebook page its a reminder that they are engaged and involved, its the polite way to remind me that you are still there.

AOTD: How comfortable (or uncomfortable) were they with some of the more extreme moments?

JC: I tried to be very honest and upfront so that everyone knew  what they were getting into from the start. I think that helped a lot. It's important that everyone from the actors to the crew know what to expect as far as what you are filming. Some of the actors were definitely more comfortable then others but all were very professional about it which is key when filming such delicate scenes. We tried to work at each actors comfort level, work at their speed. I was really smart about casting actors whose personalities would mesh which helped a lot too so that they could bond and as a result like and trust each other in those delicate scenes.

AOTD: What were the main challenges you faced bringing your original vision to the screen intact on what must have been a very tight budget?  Did the shoot go smoothly?

JC: The shoot went pretty smoothly. I am a huge fan of having a plan B and plan C for EVERYTHING and there were certainly times when this was needed. But overall it was pretty smooth. I really focused on getting the best team and one that I felt would work well together. I think that this is crucial when it comes to having a successful shoot. One bad apple really can spoil the whole bunch, so aligning the right team for the right project is crucial!

The biggest challenge was getting the best technical quality without a budget  and limited crew. We shot long hours, worked hard and really  just focused on getting the best quality that we could.

AOTD: Truth or Dare has been hitting the festival circuit pretty hard. How critical do you feel this is to independent film-makers and do you enjoy sitting in a room full of horror geeks and gauging whether they are digging your movie or is it a bit of an ordeal?

JC: I think film festivals are wonderful for creating "noise" for your project and also getting film makers to connect with the horror fans directly. For me its been really encouraging to see their reactions face to face. When you give your everything to a project, and then you get to see people really appreciate it,  it warms your heart.

It is very hectic though to be doing it ALL yourself (or in my case with my producer Jon Higgins). There is just so much to do when it comes to the festival circuit - submitting and filling out all the forms, promoting, attending, marketing, etc. Its a full time job all by itself!

AOTD: Truth or Dare is your feature debut. What do you think you’ve learned from the experience?

JC: I learned so much. First of all the importance of post production - your post team is so important. As an actor you like to believe that you create the character, and though this is true I really got to see how characters and the story line can be adjusted through the magic of editing. I also leaned about when to push back and stick to your guns and when to compromise.

AOTD: The indie horror scene has been jumping for the last several years.  What movies have particularly impressed you and why?

JC - There are so many great indie genre films in the last few years. Some of my favorites include:

American Mary - The Soska's really made a powerful and beautiful film, with strong subtext. Their ability to create these strong female characters who are unlike any we have seen before is impressive.

Excision - Ricky Bates really was able to pull amazing performances out of his cast, and its such a unique story with an ending that even I did not see coming.

You're Next - Adam Wingard and Simon Barret really worked to tell an original take on the classic "home invasion" story line. They characters were all unique and I liked how they incorporated so much into this tight script.

AOTD: Three great choices there. I love them all but especially Excision. What do you think of the current state of mainstream horror?

JC: I think mainstream horror is pretty boring and generic, over all at least. For me the indie horror scene is producing much more original and interesting content. So much of the studio produced films are generic, or repetitive these last few years. The studios are so much more afraid to take a chance with an original story/ cast/ sub-genre/ etc.

I love that the indie scene is where the directors and producers seem to be taking more risks and creating original content.

I am honored to be a part of it!

AOTD: Moving forward do you intend to juggle directing with acting and what does your immediate future hold in regard to both?

JC: You know after "Truth or Dare" I honestly did not think that I would direct again. Its just so much more work, you have to spend years on the same film, etc. Acting is so much easier and quite frankly you get so many more accolades. However I am a sucker for a great story, and as a horror fan I feel that there are stories that are not being told currently in the genre world. So I want to help bring them to life in whatever capacity I can, be it as an actor, producer or director.  
I have announced my next directing gig, "Mania" which is a "Fucked up Lesbian Love Story". I just fell in love with this twisted tale and knew that I was not right to act in it. So I opted to get behind the camera again. Its much more of a character piece, its a cross between two of my favorite films "Thelma and Louise" and "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer".

AOTD: Truth or Dare is screening at Frightfest in London this week. Do you guys have a message for the audience?

JC: One of the most important messages I try to get out there is if I can make a movie, anyone with the passion and desire can too. Just get off your ass and do it : )  I mean I did not go to school for film, or acting for that matter and just  put all my time/effort and energy into it and its been an amazing experience. Everyone should follow their dreams, you only get to live this life once!

And of course - beware Youtube stars and their crazed fans.

AOTD: I just want to finish up by saying thanks for taking the time to do this. I think Truth or Dare is going to kick ass at Frightfest and I hope you have a really awesome time there.

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