Nominations for the 85th Academy Awards® are being announced
If you have been following the development of the highly successful and popular book World War Z into a movie you know that there is a ton of drama and crap and other stuff.
Leaving the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, the Soska sisters and I hunted for a place to chat. Clad in their usual armor of sultry micro-minis and sky-high heels, we made our way through the downpour outside, and into the Pauper’s Pub. Scavenging the building for a quiet place to talk proved difficult. Ultimately, our goal was met.
Sneaking up the stairs leading to the Pauper’s famous roof-top patio, now closed for the season, we attempt to perch ourselves on one of the plateaus. Not so fast, it seemed. The manager of the pub sent security after us, and they attempted to coax us back downstairs. Unfamiliar with such situations, I was prepared to go find another location. The twins had other ideas.
In a flash, they not only managed to secure us the Pub’s stairwell to conduct our interview, but to charm these two men into oblivion. I’m in awe. Quick witted and fiercely intelligent, they know exactly how to work a room, without an inch of compromise. It’s no wonder they’ve managed to take the indie horror film circuit by storm. Shortly after this interview they cleaned up at Screamfest, walking away with Best Picture, Best Directors, Best Actress for Katherine Isabelle, Best Cinematography, and Best Makeup. Each award skillfully earned and well deserved.
With such acclaim comes much curiosity. The Soska twins have been flying just under the radar – until now. What fascinates me about these women is the quality of their work, and integrity of their work ethic. In a male-dominated industry, it’s a struggle to make a mark. The twins have what it takes not only to make their presence known, but to make a change, bringing female writers, directors, and producers to the foreground. Smart, creative, and driven, they’re starting an army, and are about to take the industry by storm.
Ariel Fisher: Making a horror movie – I’m sure you guys get this question a lot – how has it been for the two of you, as sisters, as women, in a male dominated field?
Sylvia Soska: Well, the situation that just happened to the three of us, that happens a lot. There’s a lot of guys that’ve been in this for a while and they’re very forward thinking. They’re […] really excited to see us.
Jen Soska: Lots of people, like Eli Roth who’s been incredibly supportive of us.
SS: Yea, James Gunn is amazing, Ti West, Darren Lynn Bousman, Clive Barker, who’s the sweetest thing ever. He’s been so kind to [us]. It’s not the creative people that are the problem, but it’s these money people that don’t get in the business necessarily to be creative, but because of the perks and the money that comes along with it. They’re so used to treating women like shit. And some women go along with it, which makes our job so much harder.
JS: Also, as fucked up as it is, I feel women are trained to be so non-confrontational, so compliant. If a guy comes up to a girl and is harassing her, she’ll more likely move away or just try to ignore him. If a guy comes up to another guy and harasses him, he’ll be like ‘hey, buddy, go fuck yourself.’ And I’ve seen so many situations, and heard so many stories where women […] are pressured into doing something that they don’t want to do, or something they’re not comfortable doing. This happens a lot with actresses, especially on set, nude scenes are a big thing, and, obviously, sexual favors.
SS: I know girls that have been cast because they’ve slept with their producers[…]. Beautiful girls are cast and then they’re inexperienced. People will go over to them on [set] and say ‘by the way, there’s a naked scene, and there’s a hardcore sex scene. If you don’t do this we could do reshoots and you’ll lose the role.’ And they think ‘oh my god, my whole career lies on this, I don’t want to have that happen to me.’ It’s just very degrading. And then the content of what we make. It’s amazing how misogynistic and archaic it is. People expect, because you’re a female, for the content to be less hardcore, less severe, less intelligent. It’s almost like they assume there’s this chick flick, and that’s the only thing female filmmakers are capable of doing, and when people watch the film they’re like ‘oh, wow, I didn’t get that.’ Or ‘I didn’t see that.’ Or they get the very obvious message, especially in American Mary about how … I don’t have any respect for people who look at women like that, who treat women like [meat]. I would personally like to hang them from storage lockers, and I found the film very therapeutic in that way.
JS: As fucked up as it is, that being said, every career I’ve had, there have been these dinosaurs. Women, unfortunately, are always going to be treated like this. Maybe in the future we’ll outgrow it, but –
SS: there will always be ignorant people. For me, I want to be the change I want to see in the world. When a young woman tells me she wants to go into the film industry, especially really young ones, you can’t be like ‘oh my god, you’re gonna have so much stuff!’ You’re pretty, you’re naïve, you haven’t had these experiences. If we deal with this right now, and we open a dialogue about how this is not acceptable, how you do not treat people like this, how it’s equality, not fuck men, but everybody being treated equally. Hopefully we can start a time where this is more of an adult, intelligent, accepting, same-level kind of business.
JS: Women really need to support one another. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, we get a lot of negativity from fellow female filmmakers that say ‘if you girls dressed like Penny Marshall, if you didn’t wear makeup, if you didn’t wear nice dresses, if you didn’t present yourself a certain way … you’re asking for this. You’re bringing this attention [to yourselves].’ How come a man can be handsome, successful, powerful, and respected, but a woman! I feel better if I put on makeup, I feel good in my high heels-
SS: It’s our battle armor! I put on my makeup, I put on my high heels, and I feel I can take on the fucking world. I feel like a super hero to a certain extent. And a lot of people look at that the wrong way.
AF: Have you guys ever felt that pressure you’ve just discussed? And have either of you ever succumbed to it.
JS: I’m lucky that I have Sylvia. When we were acting, if we got into a situation or an audition where it’s like ‘I need you to take off your clothes’ or ‘I need you to do this’ or ‘I’d like you to meet me after,’ we would just walk out. Modeling is something it happens a lot with. […]In situations where we’re doing promotional photos, and they’re like ‘okay, now change into this’ or ‘now take this off’ or ‘let’s try a sexier one’ or ‘let’s try something I’m not even gonna use, one just for you.’ And it’s like I know where this is going. If I’m gonna take a picture ‘just for me’ I’ll look at myself in the mirror before I go into the shower, you know?
SS: You can ask any working woman in any industry, and she’ll have stories like this. […] A lot of actresses, even actress on my set, have had situations like that where men treat them a certain way, and it’s just so unacceptable. And then there’s the whole ‘well boys will be boys.’ That’s just guys being guys. Guys can always have their sense of identity in tact. […] It’s this strange, strange kind of stereotype. [There’s a] kind of box that women are supposed to be put in. And as soon as you break out of that box, people are so weirded out by that. […] It’s such an unfair expectation because it’s stronger on women than men by a lot. You have to be a homemaker, you have to be sweet, you have to be proper, you have to be professional, you have to do all of these things, but a lot of the time, with men it’s just [accepted.] They’re just boys.
AF: Are you hoping to raise awareness to this? Do you have any advice?
SS: I talk about it in every interview, and the funny thing is, the one thing that’ll get censored out is when I talk about producers treating me a certain way, or I talk about bad experiences. And they’re like ‘oh, honey, nobody likes to talk about that, nobody wants to hear it.’ And they say, well you shouldn’t talk about it because it happens to everybody-
AF: That’s exactly why you should talk about it.
SS: Yea, exactly! Because maybe my story, it’ll have some effect on someone and be like ‘oh, fuck, that happened to someone, too. I’m not alone!’
JS: Women really need to have the courage to say no, and to pull themselves out of those situations. And if you look at one of our favorite actresses, Sigourney Weaver, she very famously has declined those kinds of offers and people have labeled her as a bitch, or a lesbian. One of my favorite quotes of hers is ‘if a man is strong, and dominant, and speaks his mind, he’s a man in full. But if a woman does it, she’s a bitch, or a lesbian.’ Because it’s not possible for a woman to stand up and say ‘no, I’m not interested.’
AF: Was getting funding for your film difficult?
SS: Extremely difficult! The only reason the film got made is because of our parents. They’ve always struggled with money, they’ve always put themselves in bad situations to put all the money that they had towards me and Jen having a good life. They mortgaged [the house], and put a bunch of it into this film so that it could be made. And then, finally, there’s a first, initial investor, and then other people came on.
JS: We’re very lucky, also, to have a very strong female investor come on as well. And she had struggled, and she’s worked very hard to be where she is, as well. She is incredible, and I wont’ mention her name, but she’s incredible, and you really do need to ally yourself with people that are gonna stick up for what you’re trying to do, and not the type of producer that says you have to suck my dick to get your edit. Because, you know what, even if they say they won’t work with you, or you’re never gonna work in this town – wonderful cliché – there’s lots of people. There are a lot of people that will make your film the right way, and that won’t be degrading, sexist, chauvinistic bastards.
AF: Bringing up your parents, you’d mentioned that their favorite scene in the movie was your exchange of arms.
SS: Yea, that other doctor is actually my dad! That was gonna be mine and Jen’s final cameo. We’re just stepping back from acting so that we can focus on writing and directing, and I thought, how cute would it be to have my dad also in there during the surgery. And my mum makes a little cameo at the very end, she’s a police officer that takes the bird away. Because, every time we always put an animal in something, and my mom watches the whole time like ‘please don’t kill the animals.’ I was like ‘not only does the animal not die in this, mum, you save it. You take it off, and the story is you take the bird home for your new pet!’ She liked that.
AF: So I gather you’ve always had a very supportive home life.
SS: Very supportive. We were always weird. Our parents were very conservative, but they never told us to be something that we weren’t. We were called into the principal’s office all the time for reading horror [novels], for drawing things that were too disturbing, for writing things that were too disturbing, and this was when we were little little girls. And they would come in and be like ‘what’s the problem? They’re being creative.’ We were reading Steven King at 10 and they were like ‘well they’re reading at a highschool level, that’s amazing, you should have them continue doing that.’ And then we had to hide all our interests. We would have to get little covers for our books so the other kids wouldn’t know. [Our parents] were like ‘well other people don’t let their kids do that.’ And it was always strange to me, I was like well I watch horror movies, and read these books, and do these things with my mom, and we talk about it, so it’s never seemed like this was too scary, or this was inappropriate. There was no age limit for education of the content. It was always an open dialogue with them.
JS: I blame them for where we are right now! Blame AND thank. I think other people blame them. But my dad had his own business, and if ever I wanted something, he’d say ‘I’m not going to give you money, but you can help me out, and you can earn it.’ And then it wasn’t ‘can I have money?’ it was ‘Dad, can I do something? Do you have any spare work?’ and that taught us at a young age to have a strong, high work ethic. Poltergeist scared us shitless, and [our mom] pulled the curtain back and explained to us how there are directors, there are writers, there are actresses, there are prosthetics artists, and it’s their job to scare you. […]She also let us watch Alien and I remember […] I was so scared watching the final scene in Alien when the alien’s coming out, and she’s all by herself and I’m like ‘oh no, mom, she’s gonna die!’ and she’s like ‘ no, that’s Ellen Ripley. She always wins.’ And then I had that little feeling every girl has when she sees Ripley, or a strong character, ‘I want to be her’ And that made me fall in love with the evolution of the final girl.
SS: Well, I mean, there’s really empowering stories there, because the audience doesn’t feel for a male victim or a male character as much as a female character. They [think] ‘oh, she’s so delicate! She’ll die!’ and that’s always the last person standing. I’d watch these and think that could be me. I could take on Hellraiser, Friday the 13th. I don’t know about Laurie Strode, though. She was the best babysitter ever. If that happened, I’d be like ‘sorry kids, eight bucks an hour’s not worth this! I’m going to my house!’
AF: Sylvia, you’d mentioned that the first horror movie you guys had ever seen was Poltergeist. So, having said that, what’s your favorite scary movie.
JS and SS: [in perfect unison] American Psycho!
JS: It’s funny, it’s directed by a Canadian woman. It’s a controversial film, and they didn’t want it made at all, and the first time Sylv and I saw Mary Harron, she was standing up and she was defending the film –
SS: …at a press conference, and I didn’t even know what the movie was, and she was so eloquent and so intelligent.
JS: What I think some people misunderstood is that the men are ridiculed just as much as the women. They’re so obsessed with their image, and at the end they’re like ‘did it really happen?’ In the 80’s everyone was so obsessed with image – everyone had the same suits, the same hair dressers, the same Oliver People’s glasses, you didn’t know who the fuck you were talking to! Another idiot in a suit!
AF: So who are some of your cinematic idols?
JS: Joss Whedon. Joss Whedon for always writing strong women, [and] amazing dialogue. He has you laughing one moment, and crying the next. Buffy had a huge effect on me growing up because I was always little, and kind of made fun of and Buffy taught me that – I’m sure this is the speech Joss Whedon’s heard a thousand times – I could be strong. And I went into martial arts, and I became a bad ass. We joke that I’m the Joss Whedon, and she’s the Lars Von Trier.
SS: I love, love Lars Von Trier films. I love how dark he goes, and how he doesn’t want a happy ending, because, [sometimes] in real life, there is no happy ending. But, Robert Rodriguez, if he didn’t exist, Jennifer and I would have never gotten into film. We watched the Mariachi trilogy non-stop growing up. It was just all we would watch.
JS: Desperado. I knew Desperado was an amazing film before I knew why it was an amazing film. The editing, the sound cues, how sexy Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek were. I mean they were just burning up the screen.
SS: And the cool thing is, he always gave back. He showed you how he did it. His first book was Rebel Without A Crew, […] [which] became the Bible on our first film.
JS: The best thing is, it didn’t just show the triumphs, it showed the failures. A lot of people think if you hear about someone, and they’re making films, oh they must be famous, and they must be rolling in it. One of my favorite parts of that book is when he goes to L.A. to try and sell El Mariachi and its Christmas time, and he uses up his savings, and he doesn’t sell the film for Christmas. And there’s an entry where he wasn’t able to give his family a Christmas at all, and he’s saying what a loser he is, and how much he feels like shit because this was his decision and then it’s reflecting on them.
SS: And because we had to put all of our money into the first movie, there were so many no-Christmases. And we had to pawn our Christmas presents so we could pay for food, and [our] comic books, video games, all of the stuff that we loved collecting. But it’s a sacrifice if you really want to [make films], you have to put your full focus on it, and Robert taught us that. It was nice not going into it blind, because, when you go through the same situation as your hero, you’re like ‘this is part of it! This is a step! I’m getting there!’
AF: On that note, what’s your endgame? What do you ultimately want for your careers?
JS: I would like our names to be synonymous with Horror. There are so many great male horror directors. I can’t name three great female horror directors. Mary Herron did American Psycho, and she’s done a couple of other things.
SS: Mary Lambert –
JS: done Pet Sematary –
SS: They’re all Mary’s, aren’t they? I like Alice Guy-Blanche, I love her. She was the first director of fiction cinema. Most people don’t know that the first director that did non-documentaries was a woman. And it was because she was a woman that so much of her material-
Just as they were about to give me an insightful glimpse into the first female director, the unsettling bar manager returns. For what reason, I’m still unsure. Bantering like pros, Sylvia and Jen swoon him into oblivion, getting him to leave.
JS: Feminine wiles.
SS: Oh, it’s so easy to do that. It’s like an evil superpower.
JS: You should have seen us on Dead Hooker in a Trunk. Of course, we had no permits. It was half Rodriguez, half Ed Wood. If we got it ‘oh, it’s good enough! Let’s do it! Might happen in nature!’ But an officer would show up, and there’d be Sylv in her little outfit, just go over, act really confused –
SS: And my makeup was even whorier than this, if you’d believe it.-
JS: and just pretend you’re with a film school, and your teacher is David, and he said it’s okay.
SS: it’s a double edged sword, because someone looks at a girl like me and assumes I’m the stupidest thing ever. Jen and I, we had a 4.0 GPA through everything, we never left the honor roll. After [Jen and I] graduated, [we] were hired on promotion teams, and we were paid $50 an hour to stand by things and smile, and I was so disgusted with myself, because my brain is important, and I am standing by a car and waving. […] So I decided I’m gonna use my brains, mix it with all this makeup and pushup bras, and do something with myself. What I would like to do is grow tWISTED tWINS to the point where we can open tWISTED tWINS Studios, where we not only make our films, but we finance our own films, like Troublemaker [Studios]. And we find other filmmakers, talented people that might not have the opportunity otherwise, and fund their project. And it would be nice, because I feel, especially in the horror genre, it’s so diluted with soulless crap. They know things make money, but they don’t understand why. And it would be nice to give the power back to the fans, the creative people. I feel like it’s a gift to have this opportunity, because this is a bit of a spectacle. This opens a lot of doors, and as long as you work hard, you don’t make any of the mistakes that a lot of people do, the pressures of an easy life, and you show that you can do it that way. Hopefully this is the start of a fucking army.
JS: Little girls are always told – that’s how we got into acting – you can be an actress, you can be a model, you can be a singer. No one ever says you can be an executive producer. You could be the CEO. You know you could be a director or writer? Oh my god, we’re story tellers! If I’d known I could be a director, I wouldn’t have worried with all that acting shit. My happiest moment is when a little girl, or boy, messages us and says ‘I didn’t know if I could make a movie, but you girls made Dead Hooker in a Trunk and I’m gonna start my feature.’
AF: You guys have mentioned you essentially pitched this to Eli Roth. Has he been a big support for you guys?
SS: Huge, huge support. I would text him when things went to fucking hell, and he would always give us advice. He let us have our struggles. He was there to tell us his experiences, so we had something to draw on, but it’s not like he plastered his name at the top, like ‘ELI ROTH PRESENTS AMERICAN MARY!’ And a lot of studios knew of our relationship with him from Dead Hooker in a Trunk, and they’re just like ‘well just put Eli’s name on it.’ And I was like, ‘well, this is our film, this is what we’re doing’. He’s doing his thing, we’re doing our thing, I don’t want to have a name there.
JS: I would never ask him to have his name there. I think that an independent filmmaker really does need to struggle. It’s like a butterfly coming out of its cocoon, as lame as that is as a metaphor. But you need to struggle, so you can stand on your own, and face up to those struggles. If you have somebody like Eli just standing there fighting your battles for you, and, my god, can the man fight battles! You’re not going to be able to do it on your own.
SS: I just like having a good friend like that. It’s kind of nice. Someone who gets what you’re going through because he’s already been there.