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Women in (Short) Horror Month Sinister Seven, Day 3: Zena Dixon

Friday, February 22, 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.

Now, you may be wondering, “Bryan, didn’t you just do an interview with Zena Dixon not that long ago?”  Well, you’re right, I did.  But she’s delightful and I wanted to get her involved with this project so why don’t you just back off?  Plus, she’s got some great insight below into the joys and challenges of creating short horror films and the obstacles she faces as a black woman in the industry.  So give it a read.  You won’t be sorry.

What attracts you to the short film medium?  If you’ve also done feature length movies, how do they differ (other than length)?
The short film medium boils down to the story’s essentials. This has become attractive to me with the increasing responsibilities I’ve been having the past few years. If I have a lunch break or am preparing for bed, I can feel complete after viewing a short film. I wish to offer this same pleasure to others.  I’ve worked on feature length movies that offered a grander journey of plot and emotion. Sometimes, that grander journey contains unessential elements that take away from the story.

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?
I agree that one emotion is conjured beyond others, but I believe that a short film can achieve multiple effects. You have more elements to work with aside from words. For example, you can offer vibrant lighting and upbeat music contrasted with a slow-burn, possession plot.

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?
Some benefits of short films include a straightforward approach to film-making, a smaller team with less moving parts, and participants who will likely work in other capacities outside of their original positions. It’s always fun watching the guy who brought the donuts try to figure out how to put the sandbags on the t-stands. Some challenges include budget, equipment, and locations. Raise your hand if you’ve ever filmed in a place you weren’t supposed to!

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 convey my experiences as a woman through my writing. My Twitter feed, online articles and short stories have always been my outlet for these experiences, while my short films tend to derive from dreams or conversations with others. These gender-neutral experiences often stay in my mind, forcing their transformations into full-fledged stories that I can share through film.

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 are still many issues I deal with as a woman, especially as a black woman. I find that I’m disregarded as a filmmaker, and even as a lover of the genre. While on a film set, I’m often challenged on how my film “should” look or what it should be about. The hard truth is that it’s not just the men. I’ve had other women who did not want to work with me because of my gender. I’ve even been told that I don’t look like a horror fan or filmmaker.   

What advice would you give a woman looking to make their first short horror film?
Learn and prepare as much as you can. A boxer was once asked, “What was the key to having such a long career?” He said that he learned how not to get hit as much. Getting hit multiple times will reduce anyone’s stamina, no matter the magnitude of the blow. There are two ways to reduce getting hit: don’t fight or practice fighting before the fight. The more you learn and prepare, the better you will be able to handle yourself in this fight for your passion, especially when a fight comes that you didn’t foresee. Also, surround yourself with people that are willing to fight for you and the project.

What are some short horror films created by women that people should be seeking out (of course, please include your own)?

  • Robin Shanea’s Paralysis (watch trailer) focuses on a photographer with a sleeping disorder. When she moves into her new apartment, she fears she may not be alone.
  • Sabina Graves’ short horror Tahootie (watch full movie) follows a family who hold their breathes when they drive through tunnels.
  • My recent short film SHE (watch full movie below) introduces the world to a new wave of killers.

Also, look forward to my weekly “Friday Feasts” on RealQueenofHorror.com, where I showcase horror shorts from incredible filmmakers.

Keep up with Dixon and her work via:

SHE from Zena D. on Vimeo.

Bryan Christopher