Taking over the horror industry are a set of twins that go by the name of Jen and Sylvia Soska. Previously working on the low-budgeted exploitation film – DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK, they return to our screens with the magnificent AMERICAN MARY, staring; Katharine Isabelle, Tristan Risk and Antonio Cupo. The film follows an intelligent and creative medical school student who becomes enchanted by the world of underground surgeries, and extreme body modification. You can read our review of the wonderful film here.
SG: What inspired you to make American Mary?
S: I wasn’t really even thinking about the next project at the time, we were still trying to get DEAD HOOKER distributed, we were incredibly poor from the experience to the point that we couldn’t afford to pay our bills or even food, we were in the hospital a lot with ailing loved ones, we were venturing into the Hollywood system and meeting terrible monsters, we were working hard never knowing if anything would come from it. There came an opportunity to write a film when a friend asked us about a new script. We didn’t have one, but didn’t want to admit that, so we lied that we had many scripts, it was only a matter of which one he would love to read. I listed off a number of ideas that I knew we could write fast under pressure and he chose the ‘one about the medical student.’ I didn’t even realize it at the time, but we put everything we were going through into that script – it was very therapeutic. We had become fascinated with body modification culture, so this was also a perfect opportunity to put that knowledge into a script.
J: AMERICAN MARY is very much an analogy for our own journeys in the film industry. As we were trying to get our names out there and struggling to get DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK we met a lot of monsters in this business. We’ve had to put up with them our whole lives, especially when we were much younger pursuing dreams of acting and modelling. The entertainment industry attracts some very disgusting, misogynistic assholes. They are largely a dying breed, but they are still out there and they see women, particularly young hopefuls as little more than party favors. It was apparent that to them we would never be equals. However, the indie and horror communities embraced us and gave us the support we were so desperately looking for. I wouldn’t say it’s a boys club, but there are men out there that do have that point of view and make it very difficult for women to work. If they don’t get to fuck you, they’ll do anything and everything in their power to fuck you over. It’s not a nice thing to say, but it is one of the greatest pearls of wisdom that we have ever been given. There were so many struggles going on to succeed, to have enough money to just get by, and that all went into the script. If there’s truth in your work, it’s always so much better and AMERICAN MARY is a very truthful film.
SG: Can you tell us the story about why American Mary was dedicated to Eli Roth?
S: The friend that asked about other scripts was Eli Roth. He has been so kind and supportive since we sent him the trailer for our first time, DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK. He’s an astonishingly busy man and he didn’t have to take time out of his schedule to support two indie filmmakers from Canada, but he did. He’s given us advice because he’s been through all of this before and on MARY, he gave me advice throughout the process which helped put me ahead of the game. I’ll always be grateful for him taking the time to help us out and for believing in us. The script wouldn’t have been written had it not been for him, so it felt appropriate to dedicate the film to him.
J: Eli has always supported us. He’s been a friend and a confidante. We had to struggle to get to where we are today. A filmmaker needs to go through their fair share of battles and suffering to come through on the other side stronger and better. It’s like a butterfly coming out of its cocoon. If you cut it out, it won’t be strong enough to survive. But if it struggles, it strengthens its wings and little body so that it can soar. Eli didn’t have to be there for us. He’s incredibly busy. But he was and always is. That will always mean the world to us.
SG: How did you research and come up with your characters for this film – especially Beatress?
S: Much of the film is about iconic ideals of beauty. The obvious choice was the blonde bombshell with the slender figure, huge breasts, big lips, tiny nose, plastic doll manufactured woman, which we represented with Ruby RealGirl, played the ridiculously talented Paula Lindberg, our very first cast member. But I’m a brunette and whose iconic for us dark haired girls but also historically made waves with her aesthetic and sexuality – that a modern day sugary obsessed stripper could feel empowered to emulate – boom – Betty Boop. The more research I did about the character, the more she was the perfect fit. The way her dress would fall down here and there for a few frames, the oddness of her character, her outrageous body portions – we just fell in love with her. When we cast Tristan, we would go over the character a lot – I remember we had a night were Tristan brought this Betty Boop cartoon DVD over and it had so many cool adventures of Boop on it. But we didn’t want to make her a caricature, she’s a real woman who wants to emulate this character which is a testament to the level of actress that Tristan is – the obvious choice is to play a cartoon, not play a woman playing a cartoon.
By the time we got to casting, Beatress was the most difficult role to fill with us seeing over sixty actresses around the world for it. Tristan wasn’t on that list, she came in as our dance co-ordinator and choreographer, on a day of disappointing Beatress auditions. She lit up the entire office, people were finding excuses to come into the room and meet her, she has this presence about her. I found myself tuning out because she was everything Beatress should be. We asked her to come into read for the character, which also included singing to show her ability with the voice and prepare a dance – Tristan knocked it out of the park. She’s a star.
J: Betty Boop is one of the great America sex symbols and ideals of beauty. She’s a bit different from the image of Ruby RealGirl who is a take on Barbie with her small waste, large breasts, little cherub nose, big lips, and expressionless, pristine face framed by her trademark blond hair. Both are ideals of the perfect woman. To see a real life “Barbie” isn’t even a thing of shock these days. Those that live in Los Angeles see that most women fit into this image through a series of fully accepted modifications, hair dye, contact lenses, breast implants, plastic/cosmetic surgery. However, if you take a beauty like Betty Boop, who herself is so much larger than life, and do her in a realistic way, it is shocking. As a cartoon, you see her purely as a sex symbol, but when you translate that image literally you realize that that ideal is warped. That was one of the things that attracted us to the character. Tristan Risk does a phenomenal job with her break through portrayal of Beatress Johnson. It’s her ability that takes Beatress from being shocking to being someone you are searching for and looking forward to seeing in the film. We watched a lot of old cartoons. We wanted Beatress to emulate Betty but to have a life and personality of her own. It’s like Betty Boop is her power animal and she is that character.
SG: Katharine Isabelle seemed like the perfect choice for the part of Mary, but how did you decide to choose her to play that role?
S: When Jen and I were in high school, we were relentlessly teased. One thing they called us were the Fitzgerald sisters, but at the time, we didn’t know what that meant. So, we rented GINGER SNAPS and loved the film, the names seemed appropriate given our interests. We kept following Katie’s career and she’s a truly gifted artist. I even had the pleasure of meeting her on the set of JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS where she was very kind to me. But I never saw her in the role I wanted to see her in. She can carry a film with a performance, she can do more with a glance than most actors can with an entire monologue, I wanted to see her take that adult woman role where you see her strengths as an actress. When we wrote AMERICAN MARY, we wrote the role for Katie. I didn’t know her, I loved her work, and I was certain that this was the only person who could play Mary. I had ridiculously high expectations of her, luckily, she’s so wonderful, she actually surpassed them.
J: As directors, we never write a role for an actor. You just never know. They might be totally wrong when you end up meeting them or something as stupid as scheduling might keep you apart. Katie was the exception to that rule. We had been floored by her performance in GINGER SNAPS. She was 17 going on 18 and it takes so much depth and ability to perform such a mature and strong role. Many actors twice her age then would have wavered. We continued to watch her and waited for her to play a role like Mary. She has this incredible presence and power. You can’t look away from her. She can convey so much emotion even with the greatest of subtlety. But I never saw her as the lead. And Katie is a leading lady by every definition. I feel she hit the Canadian glass ceiling. It’s not popular to talk about, but Canada doesn’t support its talent the way it should. We’re more of a service industry. The US comes is and they bring US crews and US cast. Canada doesn’t get a break. You usually have to leave and get success elsewhere in the world before Canada is interested in you.
SG: How was working on American Mary different from Dead Hooker in a Trunk, was it odd having a crew to help you out?
S: Yes. The cast and crew kept telling me that my job was directing. We were involved in every department, but I can’t tell you how different it is to have true professionals in every department that just excel at what they do. I’m glad we had the experience in DEAD HOOKER because it taught us how a set functions with every job, since we were doing almost all of them, which is important to know. A director should know exactly how your production functions and works together to create the film. It’s really cool because, like with DEAD HOOKER, everyone who came onto MARY wasn’t there for the money; they were there because they cared about the story and getting the film made. People like our first AD, Brad Jubenvil, our director of photography, Brian Pearson, our production designer, Tony Devenyi, our costume designer, Enigma Arcana, our editor, Bruce MacKinnon, and our prosthetics and makeup crew, Masters FX, made the film truly wonderful and you’re going to see these guys on the next ones. I am so grateful for the sacrifices my team made to get this film to the level it is.
J: It was night and day. I am so eternally grateful to the people who believed in us back in the DEAD HOOKER days and I am in awe of the crew we had on AMERICAN MARY. Somehow the planets aligned and we ended up with the best people in the city in every department. It was amazing to have this whole team behind us and the film. It was like being on the Avengers or the X-men, everyone was a master of their craft and united we made something incredible. It took a while to break the habit of running off if we needed something. Every project is different, but it was so different to go from running around with a camera to having a full team with you. The most important thing with a crew is to have the best people. No bad attitudes, as they’re a poison that spreads. I cannot wait to work with my crew again. We were the kind of family I had dreamed of having on set.
SG: How are the screenings of American Mary going at all the film festivals you’ve been touring, any interesting stories?
S: I’m a big nerd, so it has been a dream since we started directing to have a film play at Fantastic Fest which we got selected to for this past year with AMERICAN MARY having her US Premiere at the fest. All the stories are true. It was so much fun. We went down with our mum, Tristan, and Katie – and it was this totally unique and unreal experience. The team that comes together for that festival are like family, if you play there, they adopt you. The film selection was superior, the events were crazy fun – Jen and I got to participate in the Fantastic Debates which starts as a podium issue discussion and turns into a ring match which we did in Kitana and Mileena costumes, and everyone there is so cool and welcoming. After twenty nine years of not knowing how to swim, I got taught how to at 5am in our hotel pool. I love swimming now. It’s so much better than drowning.
J: I am blown away anytime there are people there. When we first showed AMERICAN MARY, we were at FrightFest and the room was packed. I couldn’t sleep at all the night before. It had finally dawned on us that Universal was putting out our film and this was our first festival screening open to the public. We stood on the other side of those doors and heard the packed crowd and were just beaming. We were so excited and terrified. The greatest part of the whole experience is getting to connect with the fans after. One girl flew in from Germany to see us at FrightFest. I was so honoured. I love getting to see them and talk about our work with them and find out what they wanna see next. Each and every hug is the greatest hug ever. I feel just so honoured to be doing what we’re doing. The screening at Toronto After Dark was really special, too. I was filled with patriotic pride to have the audience react so loud. They got every joke, every beat, and it made me so damn happy. It was not surprisingly pouring that night and Sylv, Antonio Cupo (our Billy Barker from the film), Toronto Batman (our date for the evening), and I went out and thanked each and every fan for coming out in the rain. Any self respecting Canadian would have done the same.
SG: How do you work together on set as twins, do you split up the workload or just jointly do everything?
S: The unique situation with Jen and me is that we’re one consciousness in two bodies. We’re not the same person in any regard, we have very different personalities, but we understand each other without having to speak. That’s amazingly handy to have on set when there is so much to do. Especially since we both have our own skill sets. Jen is a warm kind person, who is great with people and very intricate details. She loves prosthetic work, so much of what she’s doing is seeing where we are on the day, putting out fires – which is everything that goes to hell that needs a quick, intelligent resolution, and making sure that the film can be made. She’s also one of the only people that can win an argument with stubborn, bleak me. There are three shots in MARY that we fought hard on and they are brilliant, I’m very blessed to have such a creative partner with me in my life. She puts a lot of the heart and humour into our work.
J: I am so blessed to not only have been born with a best friend, but a business partner, collaborator, and partner in crime. Sylv is a true artist in every sense of the word. She’s just brilliant. She’s a dark genius and is so profoundly intelligent and unique. She’s the Lars Von Trier and I’m the Joss Whedon. I put the heart in and she tears it out. On set, we divide and conquer. We do so in most aspects of our lives. We do it regularly with our work. There isn’t enough time in the day for us to each give everything our singular attention, so we split it up. We could work apart, but I don’t see why we’d ever want to. I’m so lucky to have her. Most people spend their lives going through writing partners and business partners without ever finding that one. I was born with it. On MARY the film was very close to Sylv so she took the forefront on developing Mary with Katie and nailing the cinematography. There’d be times when we would split up and each go off with an operator and shoot at the same time. It’s very liberating to be able to do that. We’re an unstoppable force and an immoveable object. Sylv’s the immoveable object, believe me, ha ha.
SG: There are so many remakes being made right now, but what would you like to remake if you ever got the chance?
S: That’s funny because we have been discussing a remake which is something I am wholly against for the most part. I just don’t like horror filmmaking without heart. I think there is a good way to do, something lost from the original and uninspired sequels that a remake/reimagining gives you an opportunity to rectify, but it has to be very carefully handled. I’m a fan that loathes remakes, so maybe I can do something with that kind of opportunity that won’t offend me as a fan girl and be something that I would want to see in the series. I hate the direction, or lack thereof, in the new Spider-man films. With that cast and that budget, you should have had a great film instead of whatever the fuck that was supposed to be.
J: I’d pick that battle very carefully. Remakes were actually what we fought over at the Fantastic Debates last year. If you were lucky enough to be there, you’d have seen Sylv and I dressed like Kitana and Mileena from Mortal Kombat tearing into one another. I worry that without remakes some characters and stories will get lost in the sands of time. As much as I wish people would watch classic films, not enough people research our cinematic histories outside of people that work in film. Some characters have had a profound effect on me and who I have become. I would love to do something with the Addams Family. I feel their stories began to waver somewhat from their original intention as created by Charles Addams and his original artwork. I’d like to go back to that and show the world and new generations what made the Addams Family so important to us.
SG: Which actors or directors would you like to work with?
S: I like horror directors, not necessarily to work with, but I love meeting them and talking to them because they each have this unique grasp on their film work and the history of horror. I think a lot of people forget about the art in horror filmmaking, but it’s something that fascinates me and, when it’s downright, what magnificent films you have the treat of seeing. For anyone I work with, they have to be hardworking, cool, down to earth, talented people or I really don’t want them on my set, regardless of ‘who’ they are. A shitty person makes it a shitty filmmaking experience for everyone.
J: I have always wanted to do a horror musical. I have a guilty pleasure for them. Just, I’m not particularly musical. I am horrific and we write well. I would love to collaborate with Matt Stone and Trey Parker on one. They’d take the musical front. They are so insanely talented. I think because their forte is humour that people don’t give them as much credit as they deserve. I haven’t seen THE BOOK OF MORMON in full yet, though I’ve been devouring everything I can find online. Their lyrics and arrangements are outstanding. I would be honoured to have an opportunity to work with Joss Whedon in any form. He’s been such an inspiration to me. I never write for actors. There are many we’d love to work with, but we write our characters and then seek actors who we feel could bring them to life. I would love to work with Michael Fassbender one day. He is just phenomenal. I saw him back in HUNGER and I knew then what everyone knows now. I told people, “you watch that guy. He’s going to go all the way.” He is one of the greatest living actors. No matter what he does or what he plays, you just can’t take your eyes off of him.
SG: What is the darkest film the two of you have watched?
S: HAPPINESS is pretty dark. As is FAT GIRL. As is BREAKING THE WAVES. I like dark, unforgiving films. There’s something about it that just attracts me to them. I prefer films that end with a question rather than an answer. I like films to make me think why rather than explaining and over explaining the plot and the character arcs to me. Let the film play out like real life with fewer answers, I like thinking while watching a film. I want to be challenged with the material.
J: That’s a tough one. There aren’t many films that leave me with a feeling of dread or hurt after I watch them. MARTYRS was a hard one. It just sits with you like this dark passenger once it’s done. People claim the same of A SERBIAN FILM, but I saw where it was going pretty early on and it had some moments that I did have to laugh about. THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, the horror one, was a hard watch. Just heart breaking, especially to know it was based on a true story. Though “based on a true story” could really mean anything these days. I don’t enjoy films with actual animal cruelty. I hated THE MEN BEHIND THE SUN. I don’t even like mentioning it here in case someone will go out and see it because of me. It’s shock value used in place of any actual ability to story tell. I guarantee a prosthetic can look every bit as real as an actual animal. Any filmmaker that claims its for artistic story telling is just a wanker that relies on shock over substance.
SG: If you weren’t working in the film industry, what would you be doing right now?
S: Oh, God. Actually killing people.
J: I might be Deadpool. I always wanted to be a superhero. I’m lucky I’ve chosen a profession where I get to dress like one and don’t take too much shit for it. I am a real nerd. I wanted to be a lawyer and taught myself Braille because I wanted to be like Daredevil. I think superheroes have a pretty big impact on us. You can tell what someone needs by who their favorite superhero is. I’d love to write for Marvel. I’d still like to get that chance one day. I have some killer places I could take so many of their characters. I’ve been pretty much doing unofficial research my whole life, ha ha. I’d love to write for video games, too. And if that all fell through, I’d be Deadpool. Merc for hire. Canadian treasure.
SG: What’s next in store for us from Twisted Twins Productions?
S: AMERICAN MARY is having her DVD/BluRay releases over the world this year, as well as theatrical screenings. We leave today to the UK for the Film4 Fright Fest presented theatrical for MARY before the Universal release at the end of the month. We’re going to be doing everything in our power to make sure as many people as possible have the opportunity to see the film. We’ve already started early prep on the new film, BOB, which we’re really excited to get to work on. We also have some pretty cool opportunities to work with some artists we greatly admire the work of, so those collaborations could be coming up in the next little while.
J: Continued world domination. I love MARY, but I’m really very excited to be moving onto the next projects. We have so many opportunities and I am so happy to have them. We really want to get started on our original monster movie, BOB. It’s tag line is “there’s a monster inside all of us, sometimes it gets out.” We’ll also be partnering with First Comics to bring our films to comic life. They will also be the director cut versions and we’re really excited to be working with a company that always puts the fans first. We have several other projects on the horizon, but I can’t say much about them just yet.
Thank you SO damn much for taking the time to chat with us!!!
And we hope you had a Merry Christmas! And Happy New Year!!
Jen and Sylv
I think we should be the ones thanking you for your great responses! Catch The Soska Twins and Katharine Isabelle on tour with AMERICAN MARY in the UK at these dates;
January 12th – 10.00 pm – Edinburgh Filmhouse
January 17th – 10.15 pm – Duke of Yorks, Brighton
January 18th – 6.30 pm – Prince Charles Cinema, London