Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Interview with Filmmaker Sarah MacDonald

Sarah was whisked from Edmonton, Alberta at the age of 3, and found herself on Pictou Island, Nova Scotia without an indoor plumbing until the age of 12. Four years later, she moved off the island to the “mainland” to complete her schooling and experience bathtubs. She then graduated the NSCC Screen Arts program in 2002 and decided to learn how an office ran before running a production office. Since then she worked for the Ironworkers Union, a Regional Development Agency, a Private Career College and several music festivals including the East Coast Music Awards.

Now working for Charlie Mac Productions as Production Manager/Director, she has directed a short horror film Windows Of The Soul, a commercial, and a music video with local musician Crissi Cochrane. She is currently working on the second episode of Let Them Eat, a flash animation series that she co-created about kitten zombies.

Fatally Yours: How did you fall in love with the horror genre? 

Sarah MacDonald: I fell in love with horror at a very early age. When I was growing up I read a lot. You can’t really help it when you live in an isolated area, especially a small island 12 miles offshore the “mainland”. There are no power lines or paved roads, which can be a hard life for some people to imagine. Especially when you say you went to school with three other children. All we ever really did was play outside and read.

I had worked my way through pretty much the entire young adult section at the Pictou Antigonish Regional Library when I found R.L. Stine and the Goosebump books. By grade five I had read all of those and found Christopher Pike who basically was the Stephen King of young adult horror. He wrote these sexy thrillers about these utterly insane things that would happen to young adults like a high school serial killer that would hide the victims in statues. By the end of grade six, I wrote an entire novel about a woman that came back to her hometown whose river once ran with blood to avenge her families death in a massacre. I would share my new chapters with the town class that we twined with once a month during creative writing. I think when I noticed their reaction as I was reading was really when I realized what a powerfully captivating genre that horror is.

Fatally Yours: What does horror mean to you?

Sarah MacDonald: Horror to me not only is an escape but it also helps me to relax as weird as that may sound. I just find that with the horror genre, people have to work extra hard because they have to sell this reality they are creating to their audience. And if their audience isn’t buying the reality or the storyline, how are they going to get scared? I also really enjoy exploring the darker sides of people’s personalities and what people could be capable of.

Fatally Yours: How and when did you get involved in the horror genre?

Sarah MacDonald: I have always been interested in the horror genre and it has often come out in my work whether it be writing or art since grade six, but I have to say that I did not get to really sink my teeth into the film side of horror until I joined the Charlie Mac Productions company in 2008. Tara MacDonald, owner and Executive Producer of Charlie Mac Productions and no relation (we get that a lot), approached me originally to help produce a promotional DVD for health and wellness programs for young girls. After working with me on that project, she offered me a position with the company. It was actually at the Esquire Diner in Bedford, Nova Scotia where Tara asked me what my goals were. After discussing world domination, my retirement plan of becoming of a lounge singer, I mentioned that I would really love to do horror films. She mentioned that her family had owned this property that was in the middle of nowhere with a barn that would be a great location. After accepting several scripts locally, we couldn’t really find something that would really match the location or the budget that we had. So I wrote a script under a penname just by looking at the pictures Tara had given me of the barn and submitted it to the company. And that is how Windows of the Soul began which has played at various film festivals and actually received a Honourable Mention as Best Foreign Short.

Fatally Yours: What is one thing you’ve done within the horror genre that you are most proud of?

Sarah MacDonald: I would have to say that I am really proud of Windows of the Soul. It was the first time I had worked with a crew that large and we were 45-minutes away from cell-phone reception in the middle of the woods in the crisp East Coast October weather. You really had to be prepared for on set and when things happened, you had to be able to think of your feet of a solution because it was not like you could just run to a store. Those were some interesting circumstances but once you get through it with the finished product in your hand all because of the great people that supported and believed in you, you almost feel like you can do anything. Windows of the Soul also really helped to push me off the creative ledge and really made me go after my dreams of making horror films.

Fatally Yours: How would you convince people who aren’t horror fans to give the genre a try?

Sarah MacDonald: I would have to find out why they didn’t like horror. If it was just because of the gore, I would suggest checking out Let The Right One In which could be considered more of a thriller and beautifully shot. El Orfanato [The Orphanage] is another film that is beautifully shot but is extremely creepy at the same time. I find most people tend to think of the mainstream films when they think about the horror genre like Friday The 13th and the Saw movies and if that’s the case, I think they just need to be educated.  Not to demean the classics or the first Saw movie, but horror is such an extensive genre, I really feel like people need to explore it a bit more before they pass judgments on it and decide it’s not for them.

Fatally Yours: Do you feel women in horror get the proper recognition when compared to their male counterparts?

Sarah MacDonald: I don’t really feel that women do get the recognition that they deserve in the horror genre. You take a film like American Psycho that was monumental with its extremely graphic look into the psychotic actions of an investment banker. And it was so bloody! Whenever I think of that film I always remember the blood and that fantastic scene with the business cards. But how many people know that a woman, Mary Harron, directed it? Another item that was pointed out in an Entertainment Weekly column a few months ago, is that most of the audiences going to horror films are women. Films like The Ring and The Grudge both had audiences that were over 60% female. Studios are recognizing the fact that the audiences are more female driven and are creating films with both female protagonists and antagonists but I do think the main fact that they are missing is that they need more women behind the scenes, creating these films and really celebrate the women they have in the genre now.

Fatally Yours: As a woman in horror, have you found it harder to be taken seriously in a genre that seems to be dominated by males? 

Sarah MacDonald: I find as a female it is a lot harder to be taken seriously in the genre and that you have to do a lot more to prove yourself. Luckily for me, I have found a great production company that understands where I am coming from creatively and really supports me as well as my ideas. But I still find that there are people completely befuddled by the fact that I helped to create a flash series, Let Them Eat, about zombie kittens with laserbeam eyes, what a massacre the first episode it is and how deranged I must be to write something like that. But for each of those people, there are hundreds more that love the series and want a little zombie kitten for their own which is what you have to remember when faced with people that don’t understand where you are coming from. Just keep searching until you find someone that does understand. With social media like Facebook and Twitter at our fingertips, it is even easier to find these people. I think the most important thing for anyone is not to give up.

Fatally Yours: As a female filmmaker, do you feel horror directed by women is different than that which is filmed by men? If so, how is it different and why?

Sarah MacDonald: I feel that there is a difference between films directed by men and women. I think that typically men go for the gore factor whereas with women, they tend to delve more into the psychology and emotion in the story. Now that is a gross generalization but that is what I have noticed in North American films especially when you go low budget. I find more often than not, its almost like men feel they need buckets of blood, numerous drugs usages and at least one female to get completely naked. And that’s fine, but you need more than that in a story. And of course, that is not to say that women don’t like gore, I had a roommate in film school where whenever we watched a horror flick, she would rewind over and over again the death scenes. I must have seen that scene in Hannibal where the guy is flung out the window and then his innards fall on the sidewalk below about 15 times. I still hear that noise in my dreams.

Fatally Yours: Since you’ve been involved with the horror genre, have you noticed a change in women’s roles within horror whether it be roles in horror films, women behind the camera, women writers, etc.?

Sarah MacDonald: The biggest change that I have noticed was probably in 1999-2000 when films like American Psycho directed by Mary Harron, Ravenous directed by Antonia Bird and Ginger Snaps written by Karen Walton came out. They were three amazing films that came out in a short period of time and it was very empowering to know that women played a major role in creating them. I think that these films are very inspiring to the next generation of female filmmakers and with what seems to be a renewed interest in the horror genre lately, I think we are going to see something amazing from them.

Fatally Yours: What women in horror do you admire?

Sarah MacDonald: I really enjoy seeing Adrienne Barbeau act. I think she is amazing especially in the series Carnivàle which was incredible and definitely should have lasted longer than two seasons. I also love Karen Walton because of Ginger Snaps. The two girls are amazing characters and so perfectly dark. I can only hope I can write something half that amazing some day.

Fatally Yours: If you could direct one woman from the horror genre, living or dead, in one of your films who would it be and why?

Sarah MacDonald: I would love to work with Asia Vieira who played Delia in Omen IV. In that film she was only 9 years old and she really made my skin crawl. Now that she’s older, I would really love to see what kind of performance I could get out of her.

Fatally Yours: What inspires, influences and motivates you?

Sarah MacDonald: I can be inspired by almost anything whether it be a great film or something that I saw that day while I was out or just a line I overhear. I am probably most influenced by older horror movies like The Omen as well as television shows like The X-Files and Millennium. But I find what really motivates me is watching bad films. I make myself sit there and figure out why I don’t like it and what I would change about it and I try to keep those thoughts about me when I am working on my next project.

Fatally Yours: What are your favorite horror films, books, etc.?

Sarah MacDonald: I actually just read The Strain by Guillermo del Torro which was really good although probably not the best book to start reading on a plane in hindsight. My favourite all-time novel, however, would be The Stand by Stephen King, which I have read at least twenty times. I really post-apocalyptic novels and films and will pretty much watch anything that has to do with the genre.

My all-time favourite horror films are The Omen (that would be the 1976 version, not the 2006 remake), REC (a Spanish film that the Americans attempted to do a remake of called Quarantine), Ginger Snaps and The Blair Witch Project.

Fatally Yours: Outside of horror what do you enjoy doing?

Sarah MacDonald: I paint, draw, write and lately I have been dabbling in some photography. I also enjoy traveling, when I finished film school I traveled around North America by myself and most recently had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Australia and New Zealand. Although I did have some flashbacks from Black Sheep. And I am always up for a drink with a good friend.

Fatally Yours: What are your goals for yourself within the horror genre?

Sarah MacDonald: I really want to write more so I can get all of these ideas out of my head whether it be for the screen or the page. But really, to constantly explore and support all the people who are out there creating for the horror genre right now. There is a young man who is right now using Twitter to raise money for his zombie trilogy (@Indywoodfilms) by selling credits to his film. I think things like that are amazing because they really show how much heart and soul they pour into their projects. I really think that we really need to support these people so that the genre can continue to grow.

Fatally Yours: Where can people find more info on you?

Sarah MacDonald: If people want to check out the Charlie Mac Productions website ( they will find some information on me as well as some of my various projects with the company so far. Charlie Mac Productions also has a YouTube channel and there are more films on there including both episodes of Let Them Eat. We also have a website for Windows of the Soul at and very soon you should be able to purchase copies of the film from the site. People can also follow me on twitter (@sarahjmacdonald).

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