INTERVIEW: PUPPET KILLER’s Director LISA OVIES

Lisa Ovies and Simon from Puppet KillerLisa Ovies, director, producer, actress, and writer (as well as many other hats worn on movie sets) took the time to answer all my questions I threw at her about her upcoming film PUPPET KILLER, as well as a bit aboutherself, her background, and the overall process and style particular to her as one that not only makes her own films but also teaches and guides others in making films and finding a career in filmmaking. Read on and learn a bit about one of horror and filmmaking’s rising stars in the independent horror scene.

How did the idea of a film about a killer puppet come to be? 

I was actually working on a few other projects when the idea came to me. I was producing a fantastic musical that involved puppets ‘Bedbugs: A Musical Love Story‘ and casting a horror called ‘Suspension‘. I remember very clearly being on the steps watching a particularly warm and fuzzy moment with the puppets and I thought, ‘In a perfect world….what would I DO?” I had been producing other peoples content for awhile and was itching to make something of my own again and then it hit me.

“I would kill people. I would kill people with a Puppet.”

That night a bunch of the pieces came together and then the next day I called the actor that had been my reader for the ‘Suspension’ auditions and I told him about it. Instead of telling me I was crazy, Lee Majdoub loved it and added to it. He had great suggestions and when we went to picture two years later, he was a one of my stars and also voices Simon. He is amazing and I would not have this film without him. The film changed and grew a ton from our initial talk but I was never going to do it without him. 

Were there any of the genre horror films that have dolls and puppets in them that played a part in giving you inspiration for you own movie with a killer puppet in it? 

I am not sure if they played in the inspiration but I definitely thought a lot about Chucky in the final idea in that it had morphed into a very real horror where the killer just happened to be ridiculous, but very real and very terrifying. (Stephen King’s) IT was my favorite movie in grade 7 so I imagine that slipped in as well. 

How did the choice for the puppet come about? Was it specially designed? Randomly purchased? Thrift-Store bargain? Trash turned treasure? 

 

Simon was very much custom made for the film by an insanely talented man named Jack Fox. He was the puppet wrangler, I believe that was his title, on Bedbugs and I adored him. I approached him very early on to help design and build Simon and if memory serves, we went back and forth for almost a year before we settled on the look we did. At one point he was pretty scary, he had a trench coat and nails for teeth… I don’t remember how we ended where we did but once we did, we both knew we had found Simon

Slasher films in the horror industry over the years have portrayed women as victims (more often than not) and at times, just sexual objects and/or eye-candy to be murdered off in the throes of passion (as in many Friday the 13th films), and not usually heroines in the genre. Do you feel that this trend is changing any in slasher films and horror films in general? Trying to have you answer this without any spoilers, are there strong female characters in PUPPET KILLER and was it important that this sexist stereotype be broken in modern-day horror and slasher films? Honestly, right off the top of my head (and please don’t crucify me readers and Lisa if this is my only example and more obvious examples exist), Actress Sharni Vinson portraying Erin in Adam Wingard’s YOU’RE NEXT is the last slasher film that I recall having a beautiful actress who was stronger than all of the male characters in the film. Furiosa (Charlize Theron) was badass in FURY ROAD, but that is not horror but not too far off. Point being, usually the women are sexual objects and victims. As a female director, do you feel that you and other women in the field of directing and making films have an obligation to break that stereotype and boldly cast women in strong female leads? Have you encountered times when you disagree with the writer of the project because you have felt the character has been too weak, too strong, not realistic, etc…?? 

Lisa Ovies and Jessica CameronI definitely think it is changing. ‘Cabin in the Woods‘ was a big influence on this film and has a woman make it to the end and I loved that. I think the fact that more and more women are getting behind the camera to make these horror’s is helping huge. I recently watched ‘Truth or Dare‘ directed by Jessica Cameron. It is hands down one of the best horror movies I have ever seen and I do not say that because she is one of my best friends, I swear, I say it because it is true. Not only is it brilliantly written and directed, the characters are insane and her and Dorff’s (Heather Dorff) characters are mad strong. Everyone needs to see this film FYI. 

TRUTH OR DARE (Red Band Trailer)

No spoilers but yes, I have strong women in my film, That was insanely important to me. I play with the stereo types and tropes but tried to flip them on their heads a bit. I have a character in love with their body, but it is the jock. He loves showing everyone his abs. My blond is intelligent and strong and my female character that engages in sex is strong and in control. The only two characters that trip while being chased in the woods are men :) I don’t think female directors have an obligation to break the stereotype, when you are making art, my honest opinion is that you don’t have an obligation to anyone but yourself, to stay truthful to your vision. I do personally work to change it, but that is because it is really important to me. I tend to only direct my own stuff or things I truly believe in so I have never butted heads yet (knock on wood) with a writer. I direct comedy as well and my last comedic film ‘I Wanna Date U‘ has a beautiful strong lead played by Laura Adkin.

I WANNA DATE YOU Trailer 

*Fun Fact: It also stars Lisa Durupt and Aleks Paunovic and was my first time directing either and I fell in love with both and offered them leads in Puppet Killer

What are some horror films with comedic elements or films classified commonly as Horror-Comedies that you really like and felt had a nice balance of both horror and comedy? Some I adore are Peter Jackson’s BRAIN DEAD a.k.a. DEAD ALIVE and BAD TASTE, Edgar Wright’s SHAUN OF THE DEAD, Jason Lei-Howden’s DEATHGASM, Tommy Wirkola’s DEAD SNOW flicks…I am just naming some that are meant to be funny and not the “so-bad-they-are-funny-unintentionally” variety that one can argue on their validity over comedic elements for eternity…What are some of your picks, Lisa?

I would pick pretty much the same. Hands down Dead Alive and Shaun of the Dead influenced my career and truly inspired me. The Evil Dead Trilogy, specifically Army of Darkness, takes the cake for me. I first watched it in high school and immediately knew I had found something really special. I would LOVE to know we created something similar and Bruce Campbell’s ability to play the most ridiculous circumstances like a drama directly influenced how I directed my actors.  

Screen Shot 2017-08-01 at 5.07.09 PM

Do you feel that PUPPET KILLER is an even balance of comedy and horror? Is there more horror than comedy? In your opinion and experience after having nearly completed your first horror-comedy, should the two be balanced or should there be more elements of horror to keep it in the horror genre or does something like that really matter? 

That is a great question and I don’t really know if there is a ‘right‘ answer. My gut is you need more horror than comedy to keep it a horror. That is the case in ‘Puppet Killer’ for sure. It is definitely a horror with comedic elements VS the other way around. That said, Shaun of the Dead is the opposite and brilliant, so I guess it depends on the script and content. A lot of ‘Puppet Killer’s’ comedy is incredibly layered and very specific to horror fans. A lot of newer horror fans won’t even notice a bunch of the jokes. It is a film you need to watch a few times before you get all the Easter eggs and jokes. 

Follow up question: What elements in a horror movie, straight horror or otherwise, MUST be present in order for it to be classified as a horror film? 

 

For me, multiple deaths, lots of suspense, blood and a terrifying killer.  

I read that you attended the Vancouver Film School in 2002 for documentary film, production and screenwriting. You have chosen to make a name for yourself in the genre of horror with your first full-length feature. Why did you choose to direct, co-produce, and write the story in the genre of horror after having worked in other genres on short films? Is horror the, or a, favorite genre of yours now? 

I had actually made several features prior,but this was my first as a director. I have done documentaries, comedies and horror’s and honestly love all of them but I have been a horror fan my whole life so this made sense. I also LOVE horror fans and the entire feel of the genre and when I started being involved in Women in Horror and the community in a more involved manner, it just felt like home to me. 

Were there any financial or resource reasons to decide to make a horror film over other genres of horror films? 

Again, my first motivating factor was my love of the genre but I also believe that as an indie film, it is a lot easier to sell a horror than say RomCom or something of that nature. That again goes back to the amazing and loyal fans that are so fucking supportive (can I swear? I swear a lot….) 

Did your work and time at Second City in Chicago add to your performance in PUPPET KILLER? Was there any improv utilized and/or going off-script that made it into the film?

 

100%. I actually was in writing classes on top of improv while I was training at Second City and work shopped some of the characters. Improv plays a part in everything I do in my directing as well as my acting. I actually own an improv school, Rogue Studios, and it is a huge part of my life. The actors are all fantastic at improv. I think most of what ended up on camera is pretty close to the script but there are a few scenes, one off the top of my head starring Kyle Cassie that includes Aleks and Lee that still to this day, kills me every time I watch it. That was all them and it is gold. I like to give freedom once we have the shot and if I had more time, I would have never stopped them because they all brought so much life to the characters and had great ideas. 

RoGUE STUDIOS

How would you describe your style of directing? 

 

Most of the time I am pretty chill and able to adapt on the fly, which comes from the years of producing as well as the improv in my opinion. I love to work with the actors more than anything else. This shoot in particular was insanely challenging and stressful so wasn’t as playful as I would have liked but 9 times out of 10 on one of my sets you see people laughing all the time, hugging a shit ton and there is a lot of love. I work with the same team as much as possible so there is a real family feeling on set and that means a lot to me. 

Are there any directors, of the horror genre or other genres, that you really studied and/or looked up to for inspiration and ideas (in terms of technique and style) while directing PUPPET KILLER? 

 

There are a few I have looked up to my entire life so absolutely they bleed into whatever I do. The two off the top of my head, which may seem weird because they are so different are Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson as far as camera movement etc… The two that probably inspired me the most as far as ‘Get the shot at all costs‘ regardless of budget would be Sam Raimi and Robert Rodriguez. I have admired all 4 of them for so many years that it would be impossible to not see that in my work. Believe it or not it is Kevin Smith that inspires my writing and once you know that, you will see that influence in a huge way in ‘Puppet Killer’. I loved that he just took what he loved, and how his friends talked, and put it in his film. I love all kinds of horror and we made sure that came across in our characters dialogue. I am also incredibly lucky my writer and I were able to work together and communicate almost seamlessly. Kevin Mosley got exactly what I was looking to create and nailed it. 

What was the most difficult aspect overall in terms of making this film for you? (Let’s say after financing the film which is usually one of the biggest difficulties for any film)

 

 Well yes, my answer would have been budget, but I think you are right, it always will be. Other than that, I think just the fact that I am crazy enough to say that my first feature as a director should be a horror film with all practical in camera affects were the killer is a puppet and we should shoot it in the mountains in the middle of the woods. What on earth was I thinking? Lol. That said, I wouldn’t change a thing and was floored when the film I had in my head for two years ended up almost exactly as I pictured it in the final edit. That is a huge testament to my team as well, they held me up and refused to let me fail. My DPs’ the Talbot twins were a true gift and very supportive of my directorial debut. 

Did you encounter any sexism or sexist stereotypes while working your way to making your directorial debut? Do you ever feel that you have to work harder or fight harder for respect in the film industry, as an indie film director making a horror film? 

 

PK1I didn’t face any directly as we hand picked our team pretty well but I will say, when push comes to shove, when it is stressful and you are pressed for time… A woman taking charge and using a strong voice to get things done, is seen as aggressive or a “Bitch” whereas a man is seen as a strong leader. I have definitely felt frustrated by that but most of the time, my team knows me and hustles and we hug at the end of a long day and I am very lucky for that. I imagine as I start to direct more films and am not in control of picking my crew as I have been in the past, it may become more of a challenge but one I am 100% prepared for. I think sometimes when I walk in a room, especially at a film event or screening people will sometimes assume that I am an actress and can be surprised by the amount of other hats I wear but quite honestly, the biggest supporters my career had in its first few years were the men of the Vancouver film community that really held me up and encouraged me to be brave and take my place. I will forever be grateful. 

What is the horror scene like in Canada, more specifically the Vancouver area you live in? Is there a horror or indie family, a sense of community within the indie film scene at all? What did you personally sense in the scene?

 There isn’t a very large horror specific scene in Vancouver but the indie scene is fantastic and insanely supportive. There are a ton of talented and passionate filmmakers going after their dreams. We have so many professional crew members and actors that love working and don’t hesitate to jump on a low budget when they get the down time the quality of film coming out of the indie scene is quite impressive. 

Lisa, from just looking at IMDB.com and hoping it is correct with its info or at least mostly accurate, from 2009 it looks like you started out acting in various short films, feature length films, and television shows and television movies. Around 2011, it looks like you started to work behind the scenes as a Producer of short films, along with forming your own production company, I No.Films, and wearing the hat of many roles from this point on. You have listed on your resume producer, casting director, art department, editorial department, costume and wardrobe, etc…as well as acting parts here and there on your own productions. Do you find it more satisfying to be in front of the camera or doing everything behind the camera to get the film made? I imagine since you started your own production company you may be choosing the latter… 

I started my own production company because I was frustrated that I wasn’t getting the roles I wanted in front of the camera, specifically comedy, so I decided to make the films myself. I defaulted to producer on an indie feature I was starring in when I realized if I didn’t jump in to do certain things, we didn’t have enough hands on deck and the film wouldn’t get made. I was quite disappointed when I found I had a natural talent for producing because it is a truly tireless job but I ended up falling in love with the problem solving and challenges. I love to act though, I have at least a cameo in everything I direct and most things I produce. I produced for years to get the content out there I cared about and acted alongside in my own projects and others. I started the directing about 3 or 4 years ago and when people ask me what I would choose if I had to pick between in front of the camera or behind my answer is always the same:

I don’t have to pick, that’s why I own the company” 

You launched your own agency, ANFAgency, which represents some of Canada’s top talent for conventions and personal appearances. You are also the owner of Rogue Studios, a studio space in Vancouver that is home to 2 production companies, an improv school and a children’s acting school. You have produced 10 projects with I No.Films since 2011 (or so?), directed 8 projects including television shows, short films, television movies, and your first major feature-length film PUPPET KILLER. I feel from reading about you that as much as you have been setting out to reach your own goals and aspirations, you have GREATLY given back to the film community in creating production companies and an improv school and even a children’s acting school. As someone who has worked with at-risk youth and children in Special Education for 20 years, I admire creative individuals in the film industry that take time to work with children and others aspiring to make it in the film industry. I gotta ask you when do you find the time to sleep, eat, and relax? Do you get much time for social activities? Where do you find the energy to do all this? 

Rogue Studios students/staffOh thanks so much! I truly love giving back but remember I get as much out of my school and my students as I imagine they get from us, they truly fill my heart with joy. The truth is though so many people had my back when I started out and I wouldn’t be here without them, I never want to forget that and hope my students send the elevator back down when it is their turn. I don’t have a ton of down time but I truly love running my school. I have a personal relationship with all the students and parents and we work on personal goals as well as professional and it really helps recharge me. There is nothing like feeling burnt out and then having a 15 year old girl run up and hug you and tell you how you have changed her life… you forget how tired you were pretty quick and want to do everything you can to keep inspiring her. I teach a lot more than I originally expected to because of how much I get out of it, but I also have unbelievable staff and an assistant, Anisha Cheema, that I would be lost without. I do make sure to schedule time for myself and my friends. I have an amazing social circle and some friends that I have known since high school that help keep me grounded and alive. In summer it isn’t hard to find me on a patio with friends or at home with my puppies and my man. As far as the energy, I try to keep up with my yoga and meditation and to schedule my days so they have a good balance and don’t get too overwhelming. 

 

 

Could you talk a little bit about your children’s acting school at Rogue Studios and your involvement in it? How did that start up and how has working with the school and studio while making films been balanced for you?

Rogue Studios students/staffPrior to opening my own school I ran the fastest growing children’s acting school in Vancouver for 4 years. I eventually wanted to branch out and do something very different. I created the company in January of 2017 and within a month sold out my first term. We have since launched Vancouver’s first elite youth acting program offering full year programs on an invite only basis. We have amazing, hardworking and passionate artists and we work to empower them and their parents in every area of their craft from audition, to scene study and blocking for camera, the business of film, improv, Sci-Fi specific skills, basic stunts and even make a short film with them at the end of term . They shadow a professional crew member on one film and then act in another. It is really important that they learn how many people and how much time goes into creating a film so that they know it takes a village to make every film they are in and are kind and humble on set. I love having them director shadow me or seeing girls flying in between sets with continuity pics to fix hair and makeup. They really give it their all. The balance has worked out so far as I do the scheduling and all my staff needs to be actively working in film and TV to teach so we all support each other and keep flexibility to make sure everything runs smoothly. 

How was it working on the Women In Horror Blood Drive PSA project in 2016? I have met and chatted with Jill Gervargizian at horror conventions (as well as having mutual friends and acquaintances) and she is a riot to hang out with and who does not love the Soska twins!?!?! How did it feel to be included with such amazing and talented creative female talent? Did you get to meet those working on the project ever? Have the Soska Twins been an inspiration to you? 

WiHMI love anything to do with Women in Horror Month so the 3 years I was involved were fantastic. I produced for two years and then directed my last year. Women in Horror Month is fantastic and the members and supporters are amazing. I have been lucky enough to be on panels with or work with some of the women involved but I think one thing that is so fantastic is how many people are involved from all over the world and how supportive everyone is of each other on social media etc… 

Did you go to horror, comic book, or any sort of genre conventions growing up (or do you now as an artist or plain old fan)?

I absolutely did and still do. I go now as a guest or panelist but 100% still fan sometimes. The two worst fan girl moments were when I was at the Austin film festival for a film I was in and met Robert Rodriguez. He was such a HUGE inspiration and influence on me, not just for Mexican filmmakers like myself, but for indie filmmakers everywhere. The other time I can remember fanning was meeting Bruce Campbell…. I thought I would be so cool but no….no I was not lol. Hopefully I get a do over one day and can have him in one of my films. 

 

Are you a reader and if you do read for pleasure, are there any books you adore that are must-reads in your book? (pun intended) 

 

Oh Fuck ya! I always have several books going at a time. Right now I am reading the Elon Musk biography (Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future) for the third time, Judd Apatow’s book “Sick in the Head” and just finished “#girlboss“. My go-to’s are Robert Rodriguez “Rebel Without A Crew“, Amy Pohler’s “Yes Please” or Bruce Campbell’s “If Chins Could Kill“. I could read them every year and learn something new. 

Did you try to get licensing rights to have have Metallica’s track MASTER OF PUPPETS in your film? (*winks*)  

Ha ha! No I did not. Darren Leader, a band member of one of my favorite bands of all time, Steel Panther, is actually writing us original tracks and I could not be happier. He is insanely talented and totally gets what I am looking for. I believe their lead singer will be voicing the tracks as well which is just insane. 

What does the future look like for PUPPET KILLER, in terms of the festival circuits and screenings? Do you have ideas, in terms of distribution, that you would like to have carried out? VOD? Streaming? Good ol’ physical media like Blu-ray, DVD, or throwback VHS? Anything you would like more than others?

 

Pretty much all of it at one time or another. Ideally, a really strong festival run and then we will go from their. We are really lucky to have already had a ton of festivals and distributors reach out to us prior to even finishing the film, which I have never experienced before, so I am hopeful we manage to get it out to a fair amount of countries and eyeballs. I can’t wait to watch people watch it! It gives me so much joy to watch the audience laugh in one moment and then cringe the next. 

Thank you sooooo much for taking the time to answer all of my questions thoroughly and granting me this interview, Lisa. I look forward to seeing the final product and wish you the best of success in your school, your production company, your filmmaking career, and the success of PUPPET KILLER! 

 

Readers, be sure to check out the trailer at the bottom of the post and all pertinent links posted.  

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