Tonjia Atomic is a woman of many talents. She is a filmmaker, actress, musician, jeweler, and freelance writer. She has not only work on horror films but dramas and comedies as well. She has directed a number of films including the super natural horror film Claudia Qui and the horror short Closing In.
1. What does Women in Horror Recognition Month mean to you?
For me Women in Horror Recognition Month is really a time for me to show support for and reconnect with all of the female filmmakers working in the genre of horror. It is a time for me to feel the love and support of my fellow filmmakers, writers, and fans. It is difficult enough to be a female filmmaker, but there is a greater difficulty and loneliness to also be a female filmmaker working in horror. It really helps to have a support group of like-minded people out there.
2. What interests you most about the horror genre?
Part of what I like is the freedom of the genre. Horror is such a broad term that encompasses anything dark or strange. I didn’t even know that what I was doing was horror at first. I just noticed that there was something twisted about all of my stories and that in almost all of my films someone dies. I think I write that way because I am interested in stories that reflect an inner reality rather than an outward one. I like stories that are metaphors for our psychology pushed to extremes or a played out fantasy without restrictions. Also, I think a part of me is dark and strange. Some people just like the color blue, you know?
3. What other movies and filmmakers have influenced your own work?
Anyone who has watched all of my films and is familiar with surrealism will know that I am very influenced by the early surrealist movement especially Jean Cocteau. It wasn’t something I meant for, but I do love him and when I watch my own films I see it. I’m also very influenced by Ingmar Bergman. Other influences are John Sayles (my hero), and Charles Busch. I feel like a get a little bit out of any film I watch as well.
4. You have directed a drama, a comedy, and a horror film. Which one was the most challenging?
Horror is the most challenging by far. Comedy seems to be easy for me. Horror is harder. I think that for me I have to dig deeper with horror psychologically and emotionally. It’s also technically more difficult. There are effects and trick shots that have to be done just so. If it isn’t done right it won’t look right and it will ruin the shot.
5. You are a musician; how important is music in horror films?
Music and sound are extremely important. If anyone doubts that just watch your favorite horror film with the sound off. The emotional build up, the sense of unease, even the general tone will all lose something without it. That said, and expert filmmaker can do all of that with just the visual and have a great balance with the sound. One film which uses the creep out factor of sound well is Ju-on.
6. You also are an actress, how has your experience in front of the camera helped you behind the camera?
I think that I have become a more patient director in dealing with actors because I know what they are going through. I try to communicate everything well so that actors feel confident because it’s what I would want.
7. Your latest project, Closing In, is about a psychiatrist dealing with a patient who has urges to kill. Do you have a particular interest in psychiatry, or was there another motivation for the plot?
Actually, this project was originally shot for the Seattle 48 Hour Horror Challenge. We were given the character and some other parameters for the shoot. Unfortunately, we were over ambitious with the plot and I wasn’t able to edit our story to fit into the time limit without making it disjointed. On the other hand I was able to reedit it after the competition and create the story we were trying to tell. The new version is twice as long and it is the one that I am now submitting to festivals.
8. Do you have any new projects lined up?
I am currently working on Plain Devil. It’s a comedy about three hapless girls who are trying to be a tough gang in a modern peaceful city. They meet up with an immigrant girl who is new to the country and they recruit her for their gang. It’s a fish-out-of-water within a fish-out-of-water story. I’m also doing some make up testing for the short film Raw Meat that I’m making with my friend Bill Oberst Jr. After that I’ve got a few scripts to choose from for my next project. There’s a gritty street drama, a sci-fi drama, a day-in-the-life comedy, and an eerie horror. You’ll just have to wait to see what’s next.
You can find out more about Tonjia at the following links listed below: