For our final “Women in Horror Recognition Month” special, I interview a filmmaker I have had the pleasure to talk to many times over the last few years, Carolyn Baker. She is a master at making films like The Christmas Mummy on a very, very small budget. She currently has a project called SCUMBAG that will be featured in Hole in the Wall, a horror anthology featuring movies from filmmakers in Wisconsin. Here are some of her thoughts on the genre that she is very passionate about, horror.
The amount of independent micro/low budget films seems to be on the rise over the last couple of years. What do you think is the reason for the growing appeal?
Well naturally as the tools of the art of film become more affordable, more people will make cheap films. When you make cheap films your appreciation of the art of cheap film grows, and so it snowballs. Also the general suckery of bigger budget films seems to have been increasing for a while, maybe that add to the appeal somehow. For those of us who grew up watching genre films, which tend to have lower budgets, we are used to film that sometimes looks like theater – we watch for content and style to a certain degree: artistry but not technical polish.
Does your expected budget for the film affect your script writing, or do you write as if money was no object?
I write as if money were no object only to amuse myself. I have my dream projects where I would spend a blockbuster budget just on the salaries of the hundreds of nude women and the stunt-people’s gear. But I don’t attempt to film those stories today. The things we actually film are written very much with feasibility in mind. We have never shot anything set anywhere besides Wisconsin, we write as if everything happens here so we don’t have to think about trying to make Madison look like Paris. We do let our imaginations rage a bit, and think of things we’d just like to see, or would hate to see, and then try to figure out the closest inventively cheap thing we could do to portray the fantasy.
How often do you have to change a script during the course of your production due to limited funds or some other unplanned snag?
Sometimes a ton; for the Christmas Mummy I wrote a bunch of stuff specifically from the standpoint of: “What do I definitely think I can get on camera in Madison in wintertime?” Which some of that answer included snow, holiday crap, and SteamPunk people, because that demographic is here, that was where the script started, but we still had to adapt it as we went. The narrative aspect was sometimes poorly developed because I was over-extended. We also sometimes had a general lack of crew cohesion due to my being more comfortable with the pseudo Victorian sci-fi aspect, and yet unable to produce it all on my own. Madison has no shortage of talented and fantastic people – we had plenty of help offered to us that I mostly failed to properly utilize & co-ordinate. Hopefully I learned from my mistakes there.
For SCUMBAG we just had a very strong sense of the main character, a character that we knew Rob could play well, we had certain ideas about this maniac’s inner life and how we could portray his reality stylistically. We then went around looking at locations kind of from his point of view, and it all came together. We didn’t have a strict need to shoot from a script so we wrote as we went along. I had the most fun of any project so far in being able to really focus on the visuals, the camera angles, color, and being expressive with the shots. We were so lucky to have Jason’s collaboration here too; he already had a psycho killer style lair ready to go, he totally got the story, and he had this old electric organ that he and Rob used to create the signature soundtrack. It all came together without a completed script.
What would you say was the biggest challenge you have faced in your movie making career?
My own ignorance. I love film, but I don’t understand why I like what I like. I never have had any idea how to get from where I am with the talents and abilities I have, to get even one step closer to anything that could really be described as a legitimate career in film. I have made more money doing crime, parking cars, and sewing kinky underpants than by making movies, although movies are the thing I love best. I have a pathetic slacker’s lack of ambition to achieve any kind of financial or critical success, which is some kind of ignorance or mental defect. I’m not good at faking interest. In a female person especially, many people find this objectionable.
Do you think that indie filmmakers in the Midwest face more challenges than those in other areas known for film making such as Hollywood or New York?
I have no way of knowing that. Chicago has a huge film industry, and many great resources for filmmakers, and movie fans too. So, probably no. Less industry = less need for permits. Artistically talented and driven people exist in every human community.
You recently released Terror Tales, a collection of shorts on VHS. Why did you choose VHS as the medium?
For fun! This was Rob’s idea. We just love VHS. We both got started as film fans obsessively seeking out weird things on VHS, and now there is like a fire sale of format extinction going on where the last hardcore fans are buying from junk shops to save them from landfills, at the same time many of these rare cool, freaky films are not available in other formats. They are disappearing! As the Internet helps every kind of nerd geek out on their pet obsession, it has gotten easier to learn about appealing oddities shot on VHS too, and this is fueling our passion as well. We love the VHS resurgence, being in a small but rabid fandom is our usual thing. Since we love VHS, and anthologies, it just seemed a natural fit to release one. Being able to find good quality VHS cassette boxes, clam-shells, etc at the thrift store didn’t hurt either.
Scumbag is going to be in the Hole in The Wall anthology movie coming out later this year. How did you get involved with the Hole in the Wall?
Derrek Carey and Corey Udler are luminaries in the regional exploitation scene, really great guys, and super inspiring. They had been kind and supportive when our short horror films played the in fests. I’m always blabbing on about how much I love anthologies, and want to see a regional one – maybe that helped? Derrek contacted me about any interest we might have in doing some kind of exploitation type material for an anthology that he and Corey and some other great folks were working on putting together. Greg Johnson from the IDS films was working on a piece for it, (which I’ve seen some more of now and it looks so strange and great) I was thrilled to be asked to participate. Derrek mentioned the trashiest scene in The Christmas Mummy, the shitting wino Santa scene where we framed the capitol between his legs. He’s drunk and singing and cussing and annoys the monster and the audience with his shitting, and it usually gets groans and a laugh before the kill. I bounced a few ideas off Derek that we had been playing with and he seemed to like the kinds of things I was coming up with, so we just went ahead and shot SCUMBAG. Rather than try to script it or explain it we just shot it and sent it to them. We were super happy with how it turned out and since they are still speaking to us after seeing it, I guess we’re in! I’m SO STOKED to be in an anthology with a bunch of crazy Midwest exploitation filmmakers, I have not ever looked so forward to a premier. I am hoping people don’t throw things at us after seeing it. We have another script: SIRINE that I hope to make next, kind of a bookend thing to SCUMBAG, with menses and piss instead of shit and blood and vomit and tears, but with a similarly otherworldly sound design, and also a day in the life of a monster kind of thing, but this time a female, and character who is dangerous because she is too self-content rather than like in SCUMBAG where the character is dangerous because he is suffering.
Some say that gore is only put into a movie for shock value and serves no other purpose. What is your opinion on the subject?
Well poetry is only put in for poetic value and beauty is serves no other purpose but to be beautiful; I don’t think any art needs to justify it’s own existence. Cute is put in art for cuteness sake, which has little appeal to me personally, but I don’t expect people who like it to have to justify it. Horror probably doesn’t cure cancer but some people crave to see it; I am one of those people. I like the gross and grody arts, so that’s what I make. I do use gore and extreme imagery to amuse myself, I don’t attempt to influence people to buy SUVs or lipbalm or whatever, so to me exploitation is actually more artistic than half the film produced in the USA because it’s not trying to deliver anything but amusement.
What advice would you give a woman who would like to make her own horror movie?
If you think horror is like soft-core porn, a cheap and easy entry level job, an embarrassing stepping stone to something more legitimate that you will like better, then my advice is “Fuck Off and Die.” There is way too much of that in low budget horror, and I have ZERO sympathy for that. If you actually want to make horror because you have something to say, something weird to show the world, some kind of eerie and twisted vision from the dark heart of your vagina, then by all means have at it! Whip out your weirdness and let it throb.
You can catch more information about the VHS and Carolyn’s other projects by clicking the links below.
I really hope everyone has enjoyed the Women In Horror Special interviews. Remember we should be recognizing that there are women doing excellent work in horror movies behind the camera as well as in front of it all year long. Please comment if you enjoyed these interviews and would like to see more of them from other indie filmmakers or if you have any ideas for Horror Thursdays in general. You can email them to me at email@example.com or catch me on Facebook or on da Twitter @moviemaniac3d.