Monday, March 19, 2007

Interview with Director Melanie Ansley

Melanie Ansley is the director and co-writer of the spook-fest Watch Me (review), a film that explores the ready availability of snuff films and pornography online to just about anyone and the redheaded ghost that takes revenge on those that take pleasure watching her suffer in a particularly nasty snuff film.

Ansley is an up-and-coming independent filmmaker from Australia and Watch Me is her first horror feature. She has managed to craft a socially-conscious, frightening and visually striking horror film - a feat most directors don't achieve until they've had years of experience in the genre.

Fatally Yours: Melanie, what inspired you to become involved in film? More specifically, what drew you to co-write (with Sam Voutas) and direct Watch Me?

Melanie Ansley: I’d produced two documentaries before Watch Me, and I think I felt like I really needed to get back to basics and do something more fun. After all, at the end of a long day I really just want to put on a film and be entertained. I love horrors, sci-fi and kung fu flicks, and I thought to myself, why on earth am I making documentaries instead of the kind of films I myself love to watch? If I love to watch them, how much fun would I have making one?

Horror gives you a lot of room for imagination, it’s fun, and it’s contained, meaning you can do it on a limited budget, so it seemed a good place to start for me as a first time director. We wrote the script in a few weeks, it really just poured out. We had a lot of fun co-writing together, we would always try to outdo each other’s twisted imaginations.

Fatally Yours: The Asian horror influence is apparent in Watch Me. Which Asian films and directors inspired you the most? What other films did you find inspiring you in making Watch Me?

Melanie Ansley: Of course the director most people comment on first is Shimizu, and I am definitely a big fan. I think Asian horror has really shown the west that Hollywood is not king; the theory that there are only so many ways to tell a horror film has really been shattered, I think, by the Asian horror wave. I found it very revolutionary, for me anyway, to see how simple shots, well thought out, can really create more tension than buckets of gore and blood and rapid editing. But I think I also drew a lot of inspiration from the Western masters as well, such as Dario Argento. For instance I knew I wanted to make a film with a lot of color, which I attribute to having been impressed by the texture and feel of films like Suspiria.

Fatally Yours: The red-haired woman in your film is a striking image and goes against the stereotype of long, black-haired women in most Asian horror films. How did you and Sam Voutas (fellow writer and producer and actor in the film) come up with her character?

Melanie Ansley: I think this comes back again to the desire to really put color in the film, unlike most Asian horrors which focus on grays and blacks—we knew Redhead should be visually shocking, she should give people a jolt. And redheads tend to be pale, and can easily be quite freaky looking, given the right make up, lighting, etc. So I guess this was kind of a knee jerk reaction to the long haired Asian bogeywoman, I wanted to offer something different.

Fatally Yours: The acting in Watch Me is very well done, especially for a low budget film. Can you tell me a little about the auditioning process and how you decided to go with Frances Marrington and Sam Voutas as your leads?

Melanie Ansley: Sam we knew we were writing the part for. Sam has always loved acting—he usually writes, directs and acts in his own films, such as the sci-fi Crash Test which came out in 2006. He’s always been a very talented actor, in my view, and having written the script I knew it wasn’t going to be a problem for him to know exactly what kind of beast his character, Taku, was.

We found Frances through a friend. At that point she had never done film, but she was very keen to give this a go and she gave 110%, and she had a good “look”. I had less of an auditioning process so much as a “sit down over coffee” process. I find auditioning very awkward and uncomfortable, for all involved. Instead I felt I needed to find people who I could work with, people who would feel comfortable with me and would have the patience to see it out with a first time director. So we talked to several people, including a guy who said he genuinely does watch snuff movies on the net—that was a creepy experience! He kept saying we should check out such and such websites, where the killings were really great, just make sure the police don’t catch on, because there’s some unthinkable stuff going on…you see, I don’t think you get that kind of information out of a normal audition process!

Fatally Yours: What was the most difficult thing you encountered making this film?

Melanie Ansley: Decision making. I realized that you had to make decisions on the spot, all the time, right or wrong, and that you have to at least keep up an image of being decisive. I had a very rough patch where because I showed hesitation and indecision in the first few days of shooting, certain crew members felt like that was a signal to bulldoze me and tell me what I should shoot, how I should shoot it, and what my film should look like, and even suggested that because I was a girl I didn’t know what I was doing. I realized that no matter how much of a diplomat I wanted to be, when in the director’s shoes one has to bite the bullet and not be afraid to make heads roll. Filmmaking sometimes does not work like a democracy, at times it has to turn into a dictatorship, especially if you think there’s going to be a riot in the ranks. It’s an ugly truth, it seems.

Fatally Yours: In Watch Me, there is much talk about censorship regarding the banned and rare films that Taku (Sam Voutas) owns. Do filmmakers still encounter heavy censorship in Australia?

Melanie Ansley: I think we all live in pretty conservative times, though I’ve never been personally hounded by the censors in any country. Yet.

Fatally Yours: In many horror films today, technology (or the misuse of it) seems to be the new evil. Why do you think this is and why did you choose to focus on the horrors of technology in your film?

Melanie Ansley: I think it’s a fascination with the realization that technology has come to rule our lives. Are we using technology or is it using us? I look at things like YouTube and various websites, and basically there is nothing that you can not watch on the web nowadays, no matter what your kink, fetish, desire, hobby etc. Also I find the idea of my privacy being invaded through internet bugs, back doors, Trojan horses, etc. very disturbing. We’ve come to treat our computers as our diaries and personal extensions, it contains so much information relating to our work, our communications, everything.

Fatally Yours: Does your film have a particular message that you would like the audience to walk away with?

Melanie Ansley: Don’t watch snuff films on the internet, only rent or buy from trusted sources…but I think you’re the only reviewer to have picked up on the message about the enjoyment of violence, and I think that was definitely what I wanted to explore in this film. How often do we delight in someone else’s pain, be it physical, mental, emotional, etc? And does that make us sick/evil? But mostly I was looking to make something entertaining, something horror fans will watch and enjoy.

Fatally Yours: Melanie, congratulations on making an entertaining horror film with Watch Me. What are your plans in the future?

Melanie Ansley: I’d love to make another horror, now that I feel like I’ve cut my teeth on this one. Something with more blood, more gore, since I decided to go down the toned down route with Watch Me. I also have a sci-fi script which has been in gestation for the last 4 years and is dying to get out, so hopefully once Watch Me finds a home with audiences and gets some attention, I’ll have a chance to make a bigger, better horror flick.

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