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Women in (Short) Horror Month Sinister Seven, Day 2: Ashlea Wessel

Thursday, February 21, 2019 | Short Films

This Women in Horror Month I’m celebrating some of the women who focus on short horror films.  Every day from now until the end of the February, I’ll be featuring a new Sinister Seven interview with a different short horror film director to talk about what it’s like to be a woman in the business of giving us big scares in small doses.

Ashlea Wessel caught my eye last year with TiCK, a funky twist on a vampire tale that reminds us that people are usually more horrible than any monster we can dream up.  Below, she gives us some insight on her own trials as a woman in the industry, encourages those looking to make their own mark, and highlights some other great women making short horror today.

What attracts you to the short film medium?  If you’ve also done feature length movies, how do they differ other than length?
I’ve never done a feature myself, but short film is usually a stepping stone towards making a feature by helping emerging filmmakers basically prove that they can do it.  I do find that there are some stories that are better told in short form, and those are the shorts that really shine.

Edgar Allan Poe believed that a good short story achieves a “singular effect” that elicits one strong emotion from the reader throughout.  Do you believe this to be true of short films?
Far be it from me to argue with Poe, but I do think there’s always an exception to the rule. A great short film will definitely elicit one strong emotion from the viewer, but a mind-blowing short will play with numerous emotions and keep you thinking long after it’s over.

A lot of short films have an independent, DIY vibe.  What are some of the benefits and the challenges of making films in those circumstances?
My films have all been independent and DIY, and because of that I don’t have to answer to financiers or a studio. I have full creative control over my own work.  Alternatively, I have very little money to work with, so I’m limited in terms of what I can achieve in that respect. I think no one gets off easy in the end!

Do you deliberately convey your experiences as a woman through your short films, or do you just make a film and whatever comes through is incidental?
I think it’s a bit of both really.  I think it’s important to make a concerted effort to address social issues that concern me as a woman.  That can mean dealing with something specifically female, like pregnancy in INK, or even just making the choice to cast or create more complex roles for women. I also most certainly make choices based on how I see or experience the world. That will inevitably result in the film having a distinctly female voice or portraying the female gaze on screen. 

With countless stories of misogyny affecting feature productions on both studio and independent films alike, do you find you get to bypass some of those issues and have more control on these short film productions?  Are there still hurdles that you face as a woman that men wouldn’t have to deal with?
There’s no bypassing sexism or misogyny.  Even at lower levels, it’s there. Because it’s still out there in the real world. There are countless ways that women are belittled and looked down upon in every aspect of production.  I personally have probably felt it less than on larger projects, but I’ve got stories!

What advice would you give a woman looking to make their first short horror film?
The advice that I got was to just make it.  It won’t be perfect and you very well might fail but every step you take is an achievement and every mistake you make is a lesson. Then you just do it again and again and again.  I would add to that advice:  Try not to be too hard on yourself.  Making horror is and should be lots of fun!  Women feel a lot of pressure to achieve perfection, and as the saying goes (am I paraphrasing?) “perfection is the enemy of excellence”.  That’s something I have to remind myself daily.

What are some short horror films created by women that people should be seeking out (of course, please include your own)?
Obviously, I’d love for everyone to check out my first two shorts, INK (available online), and TiCK, which is still in fests at the moment.  Our next screenings are at Cinequest in San Jose and Landshut Short Film Festival in Germany in March. 

Over the last few years I’ve seen some amazing shorts from women all over the world.  Some of my favorites that come immediately to mind are:

  • Slut (watch full movie) by Chloe Okuno has a gritty, late 70s/ early 80s film feeling and tells the story of a naïve girl who becomes the target of a killer. So well executed and just a good time all around.
  • Nasty (watch trailer) by Prano Bailey-Bond is a super trippy film about a boy whose father goes missing in the age of VHS. There are lots of great visual moments in this one.  
  • Cerulia (watch trailer) is a Mexican stop-motion animated short by Sofia Carrillo that tells the story of a little girl who returns to her childhood home. It may be more genre than horror but it’s beautifully creepy nonetheless.
  • The Herd (watch full movie) by Melanie Light is a disturbing short about a group of women who are being held in a terrifying medical facility.  Watch some cute puppy videos after this one.

I’m so sure I’m missing about a million other unbelievable films.  If only I had ten more pages!

Keep up with Wessel and her work via:

Bryan Christopher