“I hope other women working in genre films aren’t doing so just to be unique from the rest of the horror community, but for a genuine love of the genre.”
Texan Emily Hagins’ (18) writing and directing ability is as good, as finely honed, as downright original, if not better, than most filmmakers twice her age. At twelve, she had already displayed an aptitude for making horror films with her first feature Pathogen – about a zombie apocalypse – and a familiarity with the genre which would make most so-called-horror-purists hang their heads in shame. Hagins’ sophomore effort was the supernatural mystery-thriller The Retelling. Both films had a DIY visual flair, were witty, whip-smart and chock-full of charm.
With her horror/comedy My Sucky Teen Romance, Hagins is quickly gaining international recognition, with the film premiering in festivals all over the world. The movie’s last stop was Channel Four’s FrightFest in the UK. The film was screened alongside Craig Gillespie’s revamped Fright Night, the splendid Norwegian mockumentary Troll Hunter and Susan Jacobson’s The Holding amongst others. Hagins’ star is very much on the ascent.
In My Sucky Teen Romance, the wacky storyline has several teenagers stranded at a science-fiction convention with a rabid vampire (who bears a close resemblance to that guy from Twilight) intent on killing and eating them. Hagins’ quirky script is a send-up of all things Fangdom and in this interview Hagins’ talks crowd-funding, why Twilight’s vampires suck and the balancing act between the terrors of High School and making an independent movie with a moderate budget.
My Sucky Teenage Romance is a send-up of the popular paranormal romance vamp subgenre and so far has attracted a lot of attention. When you started writing MSTR, did you plan to take a satirical bite out of all things fangdom?
That ended up being a fundamental part of the idea. I wanted to make a film about experiencing a science fiction convention as a teenager (especially one in particular I’ve gone to for the past five years called CONvergence), and a huge part of teen fandom is Twilight and the vampire subgenre. I saw an opportunity to put a real teenager’s perspective on something so heavily marketed toward teenagers.
You’re a genre passionista! You’ve scripted, edited and directed three feature-length films, the zombie survival horror Pathogen, the supernatural mystery The Retelling and My Sucky Teen Romance. Does the premise come before the characters or vice-versa, or is the process more organic?
It’s been a different process for each film, which has helped me learn and grow as a writer and filmmaker. With my first two features, there was definitely an element of searching for an idea to make a feature about. Since MSTR was so close to my heart – for a lot of reasons – that idea started off as more of a writing exercise and grew into a project I really wanted to make.
Crowd-funding became an essential part of making this project. I think it’s an extremely useful tool for any independent artist, since unfortunately studios and investors aren’t just waiting around the corner to hand you a million dollars. We ran two different campaigns for the project, so people knew specifically what aspects they were donating to (production vs. post production). It’s also a way to connect directly with strangers who might ultimately be your audience, and test the idea behind your film on the viewers before it’s even made.
The ratio of ‘known’ female filmmakers to male ones was kind of small, but with festivals like Viscera and BleedFest and Women in Horror Recognition Month, there seems to be a much larger presence, especially in genre filmmaking. What are your thoughts on this? Do you think women working within the entertainment spectrum get enough exposure, and if not, how do you think this could be rectified?
I think my opinion on the exposure of female filmmakers isn’t quite shared among the female filmmaking community. I started making short films ten years ago, and even with my more recent films I’ve still gotten “Isn’t it cute that a kid made that?” With a medium so influenced by an audience, I think it’s inevitable that some people will only see and comment on what they’re thinking going into a movie. However, being a young female filmmaker has always made me want to make films that stand alone from who made them. I think my perspective is important to how the film is made, but I don’t want that to be distracting to the viewer. I hope other women working in genre films aren’t doing so just to be unique from the rest of the horror community, but for a genuine love of the genre.
Are there any people in the horror industry you’d like to work with?
I’d love to work with anyone passionate about a project!
It was definitely a balancing act. Sometimes school was missed and sometimes post production had to be rescheduled to fit in time to take a Science test. But being able to manage the different aspects of my life has always been an important skill to me, and my gut was telling me that it was the right time to make the film. Whilst it wasn’t easy, I wouldn’t have redone the experience any other way.
Where are you planning on going next – are you writing another script and if so, could you give me a little teaser of what’s to come?
The next script I’m working toward making isn’t entirely written by me, and it isn’t as genre focused as my last three films. Though genre elements do play a part!
Creatively, what other areas in horror/fantasy/comedy would you like to explore in the future?
I’d definitely like to make more character-driven comedies, especially involving teens since the experience of high school is still so fresh in my brain.
To you, what is the perfect movie and why?
I think a movie that takes only the time it needs and uses it efficiently. Also one that uses style to take advantage of sound design and lighting as vital parts of the storytelling. Some fairly recent movies that I think could be considered perfect are Little Miss Sunshine, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Attack the Block.