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.
In her short film We Are Not Lovers, Crystal Friedman takes minimalist approach to give a moody, surreal slice of a couple who are truly stuck in a toxic relationship. In the interview below, Friedman talks about the indie nature of making short horror films and how they help her learn more about herself in the process.
What attracts you to the short film medium? If you’ve also done feature length movies, how do they differ (other than length)?
The thing I love about the short film is that you only have a small amount of time to capture the audience and make them interested in your film. You have to get to the point and leave them wanting more, which is interesting to think about during the screenwriting process. I often start with a ten page script full of backstory and different locations and things and by the time I’m done with the shooting script it’s only two to four pages and cut down to the core. After that process you realize you have the ability to tell a story in under five minutes, with a lot of limitations, which is something special. If you can do that you can do features and everything else.
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?
This is a great question! I go back and forth with this in my mind because I believe a short film can bring out many emotions. I love making shorts that turn left when they’re supposed to go right and leave the audience with mixed feelings, especially in horror. But I believe this can be true for many short films out there. You can definitely enjoy them as you would a feature and feel complete. I’ve seen some great shorts at festivals that really do this justice.
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?
All of my shorts have been independent and 100% DIY. I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by great people who chip in and believe in my films as well as friends who give me their time on set. I’m so grateful, there’s no way I could do any of this without all of these amazing people on and off set. The greatest thing about the independent vibe is it’s fun to the core and the pressure is really off for the most part. If we want to experiment we can go off script if the moment is there. Full control of the film is the best thing I get from an indie vibe. You can truly see the final cut as my full vision of what I was feeling as a filmmaker and what we created as a crew. The challenges on set are sort of rare in my case, I’m surrounded by really cool, smart and well rounded people. Usually, if there’s a problem we work together to solve it. On my last set for the short River we set off a few fire alarms with a fog machine but other then that it ran pretty smoothly. I like to look at problems as stuff I’ll remember to do better next time.
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?
For me film making is all about feeling and raw emotion. In my process I’ve found my experiences as a woman come through my films naturally and effortlessly. It’s just who I am and what comes out on screen is a reflection of that. When I make a film I tend to get so deep in the process that later when I watch the final product I learn something new about my unconscious mind. I can go back to films I’ve made and see how that film expressed all of the things I was afraid to say or all of the emotions I didn’t know how to process or feel. In that I’m able to live and move on and being a woman is a strong part of that. As women we were often brought up to quiet our voices or that our voices aren’t as important and film making is this medium where your voice and vision is everything. You have to speak up, you have to be bold, your voice is the story and your story is the 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?
At this point in my career I’m feel extremely lucky to not have encountered any issues as of yet. I think it’s because I am currently my own boss but I do know the next version of myself will have to jump into a bigger pond. With this jump will come more obstacles, such as misogyny and not being taken seriously as a film director. My hurdles at this point in time come from my insecurities about the film industry and not seeing many women directors being taken seriously, as well as getting snubbed by the academy. I loved You Were Never Really Here by Lynne Ramsay and was completely blown away that it wasn’t recognized or even horror as a real category. Toni Collette’s performance in Hereditary deserved all of the awards. I could go on and on. But awards are besides the point really, I just want all the women to get all the love and credit they deserve for all the wonderful work they do. Women in film should be celebrated. We’re rebels, we’re making films even though we see we’re not always welcome or recognized but it doesn’t stop us, ever.
What advice would you give a woman looking to make their first short horror film?
The best advice I could give is to get out of your own head and just take action. Everything will fall into place once you make those first steps. You can plan and over prepare but there will always be challenges on set or with your story, these challenges are what make you better. This is your time, people want new stories from different perspectives. After you make your first short film make another and another, they’ll get better and better. Don’t give up, if you give up you’re robbing the world of your unique vision and perspective!
What are some short horror films created by women that people should be seeking out (of course, please include your own)?
I love Dread by Gawby Weinstein (ed. note: If you’ve been following this series you should be familiar) which I had the pleasure of acting in! I think Gawby has a unique voice in horror and I can’t wait to see what she else she comes up with. I’d love for people to watch my films as well, I’ve got We Are Not Lovers on Amazon Prime and two new horror/sci-fi shorts called River and Always Forever coming to festivals soon. I’m also trying to connect and discover new women directors so tweet me or instagram dm me if you can and send me your films!