Tuesday, May 19, 2015
LADIES OF THE HOUSE: The John Wildman and Justina Walford Interview Part 1
Here begins a report of my talk with Justina Walford and John Wildman about their film LADIES OF THE HOUSE. The film is a horror/comedy about lesbian stripper cannibals. It’s very good and highly recommended (my review is here).
I went into the talk uncertain of what would happen. This was the first time I was talking to someone I know, I know John, but I hadn’t met his partner in crime film and life Justina so I wasn’t sure how this was going to play out. This was also the first time I was going in without a time limit. They didn’t ask for one and I didn’t suggest one. I was willing to see where it went… And went it did, the better part of two hours as John and I started talking before I turned on the recorder and then for twenty minutes after. Somewhere in there I recorded 80 minutes of material before I realized it was getting late.
What follows here and in two more installments is pretty much the entire talk. I have been trying for over a week to chop it down but I couldn’t do it in a way that left me happy, so I’m giving pretty much everything to you. That the interview works is entirely the doing of John and Justina who are just fantastic people to sit and listen to. They nailed it. I on the other hand just asked an occasional question and listened to what they said. I wish all interviews were this easy and enjoyable.
While there were some deletions, mostly having to do with things people and things that would mean nothing to you out of context, nothing of value was lost. (Strike that- I had to remove the talk John and I had about the difficulty reviewing a friend’s book/film/art because when I started the recording we were winding down the talk so a large portion of it was lost to the wind)
As I turn you over to the talk I want to ask you to ponder how such sweet and lovely people could make such a horrifying film.
I also want to thank John and Justina for taking the time to do this.
Steve: I have to start with Joe Bendel's question. 'Cause I asked everybody, I said, "I'm talking to you. What was the thing?" And Joe being a smartass, goes... how did he phrase it? "Is the film based on personal experience, and do you have any recipes you want to share?"
John: You had to ask. I know. I do.
Justina: I can give it to you, a TMI answer. One of the ladies is based on my mother, Lynn. My mother's a wonderful person, and she doesn't eat people, but...
Justina: ...but, uh, let's just say a therapist would have a field day with the, uh, Lynn character and my mom stories, um, and, uh...
John: So there's a little bit of tiger mom.
Justina: And, and, at first...A full tiger mom in my mom and in Lynn, and, uh, and then I think, uh, I have known quite a few Crystals.
Justina: , I'm hoping you guys don't 'cause that would because, if so, I'm sorry.
John: I think I may have dated a few Crystals in my day, but, that, all that being, being said the idea for the movie was Justina's. We were trying to come up with something to do together. Because we had both done a lot of theater before we met one another, and we wanted to do a film together, because, you know, we just couldn't get enough of spending time with each other. We wanted to do that, too.
And the stuff that we had written before, screenplays, it just didn't quite work, and Justina, kind of half kidding, a lot out of frustration, said to me, "OK, cannibal strippers," and I said, "That's it. [hits table] That's what we'll do. "
"If you write that, I will figure out a way to get it made." And, after a certain point, she started the script and, and took the lead on it and, after a certain point, I joined in with her to, to work on the script, but that's how it all began.
Steve: Because of...
Justina: As a frustrated joke, frustrated with life.
Steve: You know that's, that's how a lot of stuff starts. I'm going to bounce all over the place with this.
How did you decide, how did you decide to just use physical effects?...Because I don't think you used any CGI.
John: None at all.
Steve: How did you decide? Because everybody goes to CGI now. Why? Was that, was it a cost thing?
John: You know I have no experience with, with CGI, and I also greatly respect practical effects. And, budget-wise, we wanted to keep it very, very simple,very specific. I mean, in the original draft of the script, we had some more adventurous things that we were going to do that we cut out or adapted because of, of the lack of funds. But, effects-wise, you know I early on, uh, spoke with, um, Marcus Koch , from AUTOPSY, who I knew from genre conventions and was a friend. And I showed him the script and, one, wanted him to do it, and then asked him, like, "You know, well, practically, what can we do?"
And we went through every single thing and he said, "We can do each one of these, you know, in this way, and it would cost this much."
And I said, "Well, OK then," and I just felt much more comfortable having it right in front of me, being able to direct it and not in my head go, "I hope that we'll be able to make that look like something." You know, that just worries me.
In fact, we have a script right now that, that Justina's working on, that's a brilliant script, but it will involve CGI, and I kind of want to get another movie under my belt...before I hit the CGI. Yeah, I want to do one more movie with practical effects.
Justina: He listens to CDs, so CGI is very high-tech for him.
John: I'm the grandpa when it comes to technology.
Steve: [laughs] Can, can I ask you how old you are? Because it's like the weirdest thing is when I sat, when I realized who you were in SORORITY BABES [In the Slimbeball Bowl-a-rama] and I'm going like, "How old were you, five?"
Steve: You know, because I managed a video store and that film was like a perpetual renter.
Justina: So we're rich.
Steve: It was the title, and it was just...Everybody's like, "I have to see what this is. I have to see what this is." I'm, I'm sorry to make you feel old.
John: [laughs] Yeah, yeah, that...SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-A-RAMA" will haunt me till the day I die. Um, uh, I, I am 51.
Steve: OK, you're my age.
John: So...And, and, I, yeah, I...That was one of the very first things I did when I came out to Hollywood, um, as an actor, and I instantly did a handful of films like that, uh, DEADLY WEAPON, LEATHAL PURSUIT um, SORORITY BABES, FINAL CURTAIN I mean, it's sort of like 80s action or horror movie Mad Libs, where you would put one word with another and you'd make a movie out of it.
But I did that. I had like a year and a half where I thought life pretty much was you acted in a movie, and then you went and played some basketball or went to the beach, and then the writer of that movie directed a movie, and he hired you for that. And I thought pretty much that's how everything's going to work out.
They all came out at once, and some of them became cult favorites, but most of them...
Steve: I've seen a lot of those.
John: ...most of them, like, got thrashed critically and, I got work elsewhere. I stopped acting because of that. But, um, but, yeah. SORORITY BABES has, has a following.
Steve: (to Justina) Have you seen it?
Justina: Oh yes. Yeah, actually, when we started dating, I, I Googled him, obviously, and so I was like, "OK, so either he's actually Canadian and he's done these like, ..."
John: Yeah, that was a Canadian.
Justina: .."or he did some really bad B movies," and then of course I had to watch them all.
Steve: You still talk to him. [laughs]
Justina: I still talk, yeah.
John: And, yeah, and she still called me back.
Justina: Something about that was appealing to me, yeah.
John: Says a lot about us.
Steve: John makes a big deal out of saying that your date movie is OLD BOY
Justina: Yes. At least it's not AUDITION'cause that...
John: Yeah, yeah, exactly. At least it's not AUDITION
Steve: Yeah, that, that I would be worried about.
John: Yes, yes. OLD BOY is our couples movie. Yes.
Justina: I think...I mean, when we started dating, like, he, he's, he's not a big book person and I'm a, I'm a huge reader. So I have tons of books, and he had, like, only like five books on his shelf, and, uh, one of them was "Geek Love."
And I remember being like, "I have to date him if one of his favorite books is 'Geek Love!'" And then I think the next time was, uh, you had a poster of SECRETARY on your wall and I went, "Oh, this guy's perfect for me!" So that...And then OLD BOY was pretty much, like, after we started dating.
John: Yeah, there you go. That was the trifecta.
Justina: That was a romantic thing.
John: Geek Love ,SECRETARY, and OLD BOY
Steve: I don't know where to go with that.
Justina: And we seem so sweet. Like, we don't, I mean, we don't, you know...Look at us.
Steve: Wellthat was what he said ...It was, it was, it was at a screening, and I remember him saying that and just, like, every head, like, snapped!
Steve: It was like, "John? OLD BOY?"
John: Yeah we did the different presentation of the way that we look versus the movie, and hopefully movies, that we'll be making..
I love it...We've gone to a few genre conventions, not, not as guests but just, just, you know, as, as fans or whatever, and, you know, and, and, we dress the way that dress, you know. You know we're not in the, uh, you know, the black thrash metal t-shirts and, uh, you know, and, and, and things like that...
Justina: Not always.
John: Well, not always. I, I don't, yeah. Um, but, you know...And yet that...We just love genre films. We just love 'em.
Steve: Well, that, that's what I love about, "Ladies of the House," is it so much like other genre, you know...It's, it's, it's a throwback to a lot of the stuff that was like currency in the 80s this stuff.
John: Well, you know...
Steve: Was that intentional?
John: Absolutely. Absolutely intentional. I mean we wanted. to make a loving homage to that style and because we also knew that doing that would give us a, a, a surreal kind of home and platform to do the, the kind of stuff that we do in the film.
You know so, oftentimes horror films have this kind of brownish, uh, grungy, gritty, you know. kind of dirty look to it because there's a horrific aspect of that, of thinking that you're, you're in that kind of world and, and, you know, and it's just dirty and,bloody and, gross. And that's certainly is effective, but I really and, and we really did not want to stylistically go there 'cause, because people do that very, very well. Plenty of people do that just fine. You know, they don't need another one of those.
But what we want to do is do this thing that is, that is candy colored, you know, kind of '50s, '60s, you know, kind of thing. And, in that, in the strangeness of it, set in our world, that would be horrific on its own, and hopefully that, that, you know, that works.
Justina: And I think my fandom is really '70s horror films, like I was raised on Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. And so what I know is actually that decade, like, you know, basically like the '60s, '70s horror films, and then I...There's some, for some reason a gap for me, so I don't really have a lot of late '80s and '90s stuff in my head, and then it goes straight to Asian, Korean and Japanese, horror.
So, really, I am actually more accustomed to, uh, a certain style or a certain look, you know.
Steve: Was that just because you just didn't watch...like, you know...
Justina: Yeah, I started, working more and missing out on movies. Like, I mean like, the '90s mainly is what I missed out on. And my movie tastes kind of changed, moved away from horror.
I don't know what turned me off because when I was a child, I was, I dragged mom to Romero films. Like, the first director I became consciously aware of was Romero, so I loved horror as a child and then something happened for a decade where I just went, "Ah, I'll watch romcoms." I don't know what happened. But now I'm back, so...
Steve: My turnoff once you got in the '80s was you had these mad slasher films, which were just endless. Like, that's where it's like...I drifted away for a while for myself.
Steve: But it was the sameness thing.
John: And you also, and you also got to a, a trust where your franchises became the primary direction of horror. Your "Friday the 13th" franchise, your "Nightmare on Elm Street" franchise, your "Scream" franchise, and those really took over as the bulk of the horror and genre as far as mainstream films, as far as studios were concerned.
So, yeah, there was a period where occasionally you would get, you know, THE FLY You'd get some, some kind of thing that would blow your mind, but, more often than not, you were still stuck in, well, here's the next film of this series. Here's the next film of that series.
I think because of the,Japanese and Korean films... and that wonderful series of films from France, that you had with INSIDE and FRONTIER(S), MARTYRS and, uh, HIGH TENSION... that kind of opened the door up quite a bit for more adventurous filmmaking here.
And I think we still will see more in the way of the films in the last few years, BABADOOK , now IT FOLLOWS last year's THE GIRL WHO WALKS HOME ALONE You know, with horror and genre being used in different ways.
I've been really enjoying the, the fact that a lot of people have been getting a lot of different things out of LADIES. You know, that it hasn't just been one set interpretation of what were trying to do, and many influences cited, um, some of them are absolutely correct. And some of them I'm going, "Well, that wasn't exactly our influence, but I'm happy to, you know, have that in a hopper now."
Steve: Oh, so, so you get the whole thing with the unconscious. If you were willfully aware of it before, you're going to pull it in. You're not going to know where you pulled it from.
John: Absolutely. Absolutely.
But I'm thrilled by that because the one thing that we really, really wanted to accomplish is to create a film that you couldn't just jettison from your subconscious immediately after seeing it. We wanted a film that, when you left the theater, you were still, it was still working on you.
You were still thinking about it. Either you had to debated with it, about it with the person you came to the theater with...You know, you had to talk about it over drinks or, or the next day you were still thinking about specific scenes.
We wanted that kind of film because that's what we like. Those are the films that, that really get to us, those films that, a week later, we're still going, "That thing! What was that?" You know, that. That's what we want.
Steve: I feel bad because it's like I saw the film...The first time I saw it was weeks ago, before Tribeca, when you sent me the link. It was that night. It was like, "I'm watching this movie. I have to watch this movie." And I watched it. But no one else had seen it, everyone else I know who saw it did so in the weeks after that... And I feel like I missed all this time to be able to talk to anybody about it.
Steve: There's nobody to show this to. It's like, "Ah!"
John: Well, that's the thing, you know when you have a film that, you know, has a VOD release as, as opposed to a theatrical release, you know, you hope that that kind of network develops between people like yourself.
And, you know, whether it be journalists or whether they just be film fans or what have you, where that, that does circulate and where it does become part of the conversation.
And I think it takes a little additional work on,the part of the filmmaker to help to it to live and to help push that,in those areas where the access is such that that can develop.
You want you and, Alec Kubas Mayer or Joe Bendel. You want you guys, you know, at a screening going, "I love this thing," or, "What the hell was he thinking there?" You know? You want that kind of discussion, but you also want fans to do it because then you know, if you do, then it does live and, and it does continue beyond just that initial release weekend. And then people, you know, a few months later, a year later, they're still referring it to people, and then it does become this thing that goes on and isn't just, like, shelved away and, you know, done, on to the next one.
Justina: And the difference in what you are saying, there's, like, Third Screen is calling it a comedy and there is some who call it, one who's called it a drama and more people call it a comedy.
Is it a revenge film or is it people-stumbling-into-a-bad-place film? And I really think that it's almost a Rorschach test for the audience member, 'cause it's like if you call it a revenge film, why are you calling it a revenge film? Because there's not really any revenge. Those guys would end up those guys no matter what they did while they were in the house. So, like, if, yeah...Oh, piglet, you know, somebody asked, "What does piglet mean?" and, uh, I was like, "Well," I was like, "Whatever you think piglet means is a lot more about you..."
Justina: ...and even we don't agree on what piglet means, so...
Steve: It just is something that came out of...
Justina: It was something that came out of our, our brain.
Steve: [laughs] Jumping backwards to the thing about what is the film is, it's like Is this a feminist film? Is this pure exploitation? Or are you just throwing it out there and just, you know, which is what it seems like you're doing. It's like, "We, we made this film. You decide."
John: Well, I...Ultimately, yes, the audience, the audience member has to decide what they think the meaning of the ending was, who they were supposed root for, what piglet means, you know, or those, those kinds of things. Ultimately that's in the hands of the audience.
We definitely had a specific intention and a specific intellectual idea between every single thing that we did and the choices we made in the writing, in shooting it, in editing as far as what we wanted. But, with that, you still, I, I mean, it, it still delights us to no end.
You know, when one person says, "Well, you know, this clearly is a throwback to the British,films of, the late 60s and the 70s," and then somebody else says, "Well, this is clearly an application of the Dionysian, uh, you know, Gree-, Greek legend," you know, and then someone el-
Justina: That's giving a lot of credit.
John: Yeah, exactly, and you have all these different things and...It makes us giddy to read each one of those different takes 'cause you go, "I'm fine with that. You know, if that works for you, I'm fine with that."
Justina: Yet specifically is a feminist, is it exploitative, I would say, "Is it feminist? Yes. Is it exploitative? Yes," and there are plenty of women who will say no to the first one and plenty of, of people who would say no to the second one. It's not exploitative enough. There's not enough gore, there's not enough boobs, there's not whatever.
I am noticing that my female friends are introducing me now as a feminist filmmaker, as if that's something really unique, and I think, you know, I'm just a feminist who made a film, made a horror movie, um, but you can't help but get that in there.
Like, I can't help but give, my point of view in the script,or my experience with the script,...
Steve: How, how, how much did you change from, like, what you wrote to what you, to what you filmed to what it ended up cut as?
John: Quite a bit of changed.
John: Our original script was [written as] if we had not unlimited money. But we had plenty of money to do some very, very cool flourishes and effects and, and then that changed with, with budget and, and we had to make decisions and say, "Well, listen, we, you know, we can't afford to build this elaborate set or this kind of thing."
"If, let's just say we happened to be cannibals and we had to do it in our home, you know, how would we do it?" And, and you go, "Well, we, you know, the DIY method would be this," and we go, "Well, that's actually more horrific anyway, so that's what we'll do." And so you make those choices.
Then, during filming,you find out, like, limitations of, of actors. You find limitations ofsets. You know, things happen...
I remember we were shooting one scene and it was a precursor to a big fight scene and, and I'm preparing to, to, to, uh, uh, to stage the scene and somebody came up to me and they said, "The effects guys have left and they took all the weapons," and I go, "What does that mean?"
And he wouldn't even answer me. He said, "I'll show you," and he took me out, and on table were some bungee cords and, uh, uh, like, a machete, and an axe.
Justina: None of which are written in this.
John: And I turned to him and I said, "There's not even an axe in the script!" And he said...He goes, "I know, but I found it on the set."
So I had to go back...Now, mind you, everything had been storyboarded. Everything had been choreographed specifically when it came to those fight scenes and everything, and I had to change everything because we still have to shoot this scene. We didn't have the weapon that was going to appear later, so I said, "Well, I'll take this and I'll take that."
And, the next day, Justina and I got to the set early. That's where the office is, next to the set. And the two of us were in the office basically fighting each other with the weapons that we had, figuring out how we would do this fight scene.
Apparently one one of the gaffers came by with one of the PAs and they passed by us, and they're, watching us, and, and I was told this afterwards. the PA said, "What are they doing?" and the gaffer said, "Well, they're married."
Steve : [laughs]
Part two of the talk can be found here and Part three can be found here.
Photos courtesy Wildworks Productions