ED- We are very pleased to have with us Devi Snively, an award winning Horror specialist. Devi, you’ve recently been awarded two amazing awards from the 2009 Shriekfest Horror/ Sci-fi Festival for your work. Tell us about your short film and the role that you played in its creation.
DV- Thanks. I’m honored to be included in ED. I am a writer/director and sometimes academic who specializes in horror and dark comedy cinema. Death in Charge is our latest short film, a dark comedy/horror film heavily inspired by the EC Horror Comics tradition. I wrote and directed the film with much help from a fabulous team and I was fortunate to be selected as one of 8 chosen to participate in AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women through which the production was made possible.
ED- Tell us the storyline behind ‘Death in Charge’.
DV- The Grim Reaper is mistaken for a babysitter and learns a thing or two about life when left to care for a precocious 9-year old girl.
ED- What inspired you to create this film?
DV- The script was originally inspired by the Colombine shootings. I have to admit that and other similar incidents really rattled me. The experts all had their tidy little explanations for why such things occur – media violence, poor gun control laws, broken families, etc. I didn’t buy that there could be just one simple answer, so I wanted to explore this world in which children turn to gun violence. Death in Charge is the result.
ED- Tell us about the characters in the plot.
DV- The principal characters consist of The Grim Reaper who is basically a civil servant who doesn’t fully understand what her job entails until she gets to experience life firsthand thanks to a case of mistaken identity. She has an almost childlike innocence about her. Whitney, the young girl, is in contrast, far more savvy and manipulative, though we come to learn how much of that is bravado and what ultimately lies beneath.
DV- I saw about 100 little girls and Death candidates at the auditions, but the choice to me was clear. This was Kylie’s first film role, but unlike the other actresses who read for the part, I could tell she actually understood the words she spoke which was essential to pull off the complex and rather dark role. It turns out her mother is an ER nurse and had a frank discussion with Kylie about what the script meant. I think this helped her bring the proper gravity to the role. Marina Benedict was not at all whom I had in mind for the role of Death. We had originally offered the role to Juliet Landau who was ready to accept until Gary Oldman offered her a conflicting gig (for some reason, she opted for Gary’s gig instead – I can’t imagine why!). While it would have been exciting to work with Landau, I’m so glad we found Marina instead. I had written the role with the standard pale skin, dark haired goth stereotype in mind, but I think Marina’s blond hair, blue eyes and angelic countenance add far more surprise and dimension. Quite frankly, her performance made me a better writer. She’s such a fabulous actress. Both women were amazing to work with.
DV- Death in Charge is by far our team’s most mature work to date. Prior, we had done a bunch of no-budget fun films like Teenage Bikini Vampire (online at Sci-fi London’s site) and Confederate Zombie Massacre! which were very popular on the fest circuit. The production values were not the most impressive by any stretch, but they were real audience pleasers filled with laughs and heart and gore. By Raven Gets a Life (online at Sci-fi London’s site) one can see how our stories have grown up a bit, with stronger themes, more complex characters and a more polished look (we even recreate some scenes from Tod Browning’s version of Dracula!). We also recently finished our first feature (for half the budget of Death in Charge if you can believe that) which is a bit of a departure for us. It’s more of a “stoner horror dramedy” and far less other-worldy and whimsical than our shorts (except for a crazy Jodorowsky-type drug trip scene during which a character turns into a puppet.) It’s just kicked off its festival run at the Phoenix Fear fest where it won for Best Ensemble.
ED- What new work do you have in process, and can you tell us something about these projects?
DV- We’re currently in pre-production for our new short “Last Seen on Dolores Street” which will be a 2-minute horror/noir short. I’m collaborating with producers Julian Moss (loved your recent interview with him, by the way) and Eileen Grubba. The film features actors from our previous films Circus Szalewski and Kenny Dusek, as well as Cynthia Dane who stars in Tom Flynn’s short horror comedy Soulmates, with which Death in Charge has now traveled the world. We met at a few fests before I finally realized Cyn was the star and not producer for the film, she looks so altered from her on-screen persona. When I finally figured it out, I was like, “Damn! I gotta work with this outrageous woman!”
ED- What projects are you planning for in the near future?
DV- Dolores is actually a precursor to our next film which consists of both a short prequel and a full-length feature. It’s called “Paige & Hadley’s Prom From Hell” – and it’s what I’m calling “the thinking girl’s slasher film.” I love gore and find slashers fun, but feel they would be more powerful if we actually got to know and care about the characters before we start offing them. It was hard to combine a teen romatic comedy with a murder mystery and slasher, but my writing partner Circus-Szaleswki and I have finally gotten it to a draft where I feel we’ve succeeded. The screenplay’s placed in a number of competitions so far including Slamdance, Austin Film Fest, Scriptapalooza, Writer’s Digest, Shriekfest and most recently took the grand jury award at the London Independent Film Fest. We’re hoping to be in production for the short prequel this time next year. We’ll use that to try to raise the $2 million for the feature. A daunting task for sure.
DV- Five years may be premature, but my ultimate dream is to develop a Hammer House type indie studio in the Midwest. I love how they were basically this ensemble team of cast and crew whose job it was to go to their production castle Monday through Friday and make genre films. Castles are a bit hard to come by in Michigan, but I think with a hit or two under our belts it won’t be unheard of to follow Hammer’s business example so we can make the movies we want to make.
ED- Devi, it has been thrilling getting to know you. Our readers dwell on this genre and we wish you much luck in your career. Please keep us in mind for any projects that you have coming up in the future as we like to keep our readers up to date with all upcoming advents. Thank you so much for the time that you have given us for this interview.
DV – Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. Genre fans are truly the best and we’re delighted to be a part of the community.