Friday, February 5, 2010

Interview with Filmmaker Shannon Lark

Shannon Lark is a filmmaker, writer, director, producer, dancer, and actress. She is the director/founder of the Viscera Film Festival, CEO of The ChainSaw Mafia, and held the 2009 Spooksmodel crown for Fangoria Entertainment.

Lark surrounds her entire being to encompass the genre and relentlessly works to bring more women into the bloodbath. She believes in equal opportunity killing, equal opportunity filmmaking, and the idea that creating art is what saves the world from destroying itself.

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

Shannon Lark: It started early for me. I was 4 years old and my mother took me to a gruesome rendition of Romeo and Juliet. In the scene where they commit suicide, silk streamers burst out of their chests, rising hundreds of feet into the air and falling gracefully over their bodies.  That was my first experience of death, and it was forever stained within my memory. After that I was hooked: trying to sneakily rent movies that had any hint of blood on the back cover (which were mostly Full Moon productions at the time).

Fatally Yours: What does horror mean to you?

Shannon Lark: The idea of the genre is to explore the deep fear of being so small and insignificant in this great wide universe. It is humanity’s way of connecting on that terrible, awful level of pain and the idea of non existence. The genre creates a space for everyone to connect, exploit, and experience (and re-experience) all the horrific things that can happen in our lives, and in our imaginations. Horror is fundamentally the strongest emotion, aside from love and hate.

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

Shannon Lark: For the most part, it’s the emails and communication I receive from young girls, asking me questions of how to get in the business, or just simply for advice.  In my eyes, this is one of the main reasons why women should want to be in the spotlight.  There just aren’t very many good role models in the entertainment business for young girls out there. We should constantly be trying to reach out and help people: assist in the idea of them getting up and doing something for themselves, whatever that may be.

Fatally Yours: You’ve done so much in the horror industry – everything from dancing with zombie dance troupe The Living Dead Girlz to running The ChainSaw Mafia and hosting the Viscera Awards to acting and being Fangoria’s first ever Spooksmodel! I love how multi-faceted you are, but how in the world do you juggle everything?

Shannon Lark: I’m just constantly working. My family is very supportive and that really helps me to put everything else in my life down to focus on my projects. For the past seven years I’ve been apart from my family, so it’s nice to now lean on them now for this work I’m doing. It’s been insane to juggle so many things and in the past I’ve been guilty of working too hard to please everyone, causing the quality of my work go down because of it.

I’m now learning to focus on one main project at a time, with plenty of help to get all the loose ends tied on the projects of a smaller scale. I grew up in a small town near the border of Mexico. I spent my teenage years drinking and experimenting with plenty of drugs, which was incredibly unfulfilling. That part of my life was over by the time I turned 18. I knew there had to be so much more in life then squandering it away on needless things. Doing work in the horror genre is incredibly therapeutic and fantastic.  It’s really all I want to do, however form or role I feel like working in.

Fatally Yours: Out of all your experiences and careers within the horror genre, what has been your favorite?

Shannon Lark: I don’t think I can call anything a favorite. There has been wonderful times in every piece of work I’ve done. I’ve fallen on my face many more times than I’ve had success, and laid in bed wondering if I’ll ever succeed at what I want to accomplish.  It’s all beautiful though, just like those silk streamers bursting out of the ballet dancers’ chests. It’s scary and wonderful and I am consistently reaching for more.

Fatally Yours: What else do you hope to accomplish in the horror genre?

Shannon Lark: I’ve really buckled down to fulfill my film career. I love dancing and theater (and I may return to that one day), but acting and directing and writing are what keeps me sane and living in an imaginary world. I’m co-directing my first feature (more news on that soon) with another female director, so that is quite a project to tackle. I hope to work (acting wise) with more women (and men) directors, on all kinds of budgets and scenarios, all over the world. I want the Viscera Film Festival to continue to grow and help other women propel their careers forward. I want it all. And I believe with every inch of my soul that people can have whatever they want.

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

Shannon Lark: I don’t believe that people should be convinced of anything. If they don’t like it, they don’t like it. Maybe one day they will, but maybe (and probably) not. For some people, they fail to see the underlying messages in the act of violence itself. Horror is one of the most artistic forms of art that touches on gender, social, and political issues with a single stabbing motion.

I have noticed, however, that many people who proclaim they don’t like “horror” will enjoy “thrillers.” This makes me chuckle, because horror is not merely a sub genre of slashers films. Horror is any piece or film that contains horrific ideas. Black comedies can even be horror movies. And yes, thrillers can even be horror movies.

Fatally Yours: Even though women seem to be getting more and more involved behind the scenes in horror, why do you think there are less female horror directors, writers, producers, etc. in the genre than males?

Shannon Lark: Because it’s a boys club, and until the late 1920′s when film was deemed “sophisticated,” women were actually headlining the scene. But the dawn of digital media is changing the entire industry, and many women directors (not just in horror) have popped up because of this.  No longer do you need to rely on a major studio to fund your film. Filmmaking is an art that has been liberated. The widespread consumerism of digital media will create even more change in the industry in the next 10 years. Digital is already beginning to look as good as film (if you light it correctly). I am so excited to be in this age!

What’s even more thrilling is that more women are hitting theaters to partake as an active part in the audience. Perhaps the increased accessibility of digital cameras are getting more women involved in film. The birth and affluence of the internet has made it easier for women to find other independent filmmakers who are doing what they dream to do.

This is what I feel Women in Horror Recognition Month is all about: females getting up and creating something. This is not about the “boys club” that we aren’t apart of, or how we are the gender who are objectified the most and generally paid the least. This is about helping women to understand their true potential. We need to be in the audiences and become the director, the producer, the writer, the cinematographer, and the special fx artist. We need to work together and with men, creating equal opportunities for ourselves, not waiting for the prince on a white horse to come save us as we faint at the sight of beauty and strength. This isn’t about ostracizing the male gender, nor is it about putting men in a specific role that plays out in our lives. This is about rising above the self loathing and depreciating ideas that women think about themselves (and each other) all over the world. This is about knowing full well that you are enough. You are skinny enough, and talented enough, and smart enough, and nothing can stop you if you try.  Nothing.

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

Shannon Lark: I think it’s very easy for a woman who sincerely shows she’s willing to work hard in the genre to be supported, by men and women alike. If women want recognition, all they have to do is seize it, and have the ambition to make it work.

For the most part, the men I’ve worked with in the genre are incredibly jazzed about a woman who wants to learn every position on the set. A woman who wants to write and create and be part of it all is a firehouse. A woman who is willing to sleep on a cold floor in a sleeping bag because the budget just doesn’t have the funds for a 5 star hotel room can be a godsend. A woman who wants to get bloody, and dirty, and work incredibly hard to make this group experience happen is what the genre needs. If you are a woman and are not willing to do that for the genre, then you are probably in the wrong field. Don’t lie down in your own tears and beg for people to feel sorry for you. There is no room for divas. And the men who work hard in the genre shouldn’t have to put up with that either. I truly hope that every woman going into the genre will treat every man with just as much respect as she thinks she deserves, or better.

Fatally Yours: As a woman in horror who champions females in the genre, do you think it’s harder for women to be taken seriously in a genre that seems to be dominated by males? 

Shannon Lark: As far as being behind the scenes, women are taken just as seriously, at least in the independent world of filmmaking (Hollywood is another idea entirely). As for acting though, I think women have a fine line to walk.  The issue of nudity is a difficult one that can cause lack of respect from audiences in general if it’s displayed as gratuitous and not in a beautiful or artistic light. For a filmmaker who is really going for T & A just to sell to prepubescent young boys, the T & A factor is not going to be shown in an “artistic” way.

Now this is the real kicker: it’s almost impossible for unknown actresses to break into the business without doing nudity. But once you do a nude scene, that is what you are constantly being asked to do. I see how it could get out of hand, and the only roles you are being offered are ones where you have to take off your clothes.

This is one of the main aspects of the business I would like to help change for women.  It’s fine if an actress wants to do nudity, but women should be able to have a choice, and understand they have a choice, before going into their first audition.  If men have a choice on doing nudity, then we should have one as well.  You have no idea how many scripts I’ve received just this year that had gratuitous nudity in them.  It’s so hard when the script is good to tell the Director that I don’t do nudity.  It breaks my heart when I want the role so badly. But I do it, because I want to help pave a way in this industry for women to have that choice and I want to be known for my talent, not my cup size.

It’s the woman’s body that can get in the way of being taken seriously.  We are always demanding that we be treated as equals but then we generally use our bodies to define our careers. We should be using our minds and our talent to define what we want, too.

Fatally Yours: Since you’ve been involved with the horror genre, have you noticed a change in women’s roles in the genre? 

Shannon Lark: I have, but I believe the advancement of digital technology and the internet has been fundamental in aiding this development.

This is helping filmmakers like Stacie Ponder, Devi Snively, and Ginetta Corelli truly stand out.

Fatally Yours: What women in horror do you admire and why?

Shannon Lark: There hasn’t been a woman I’ve met in the genre whom I haven’t admired, for the simple reason that she is doing what she wants to do. No one is holding a gun to her head. She is here on her own accord and making her own imaginary world as she wishes it to be.

I’ll name off a few people though, so you can get my drift: Heidi Martinuzzi, Stacie Ponder, Devi Snively, Victoria Waghorn, Ashley Lawrence, and all the Viscera Filmmakers who have poured their hearts and souls into their work.

Fatally Yours: What inspires, influences and motivates you to keep working in horror?

Shannon Lark: To explore every horrific situation, whether in mind or body, and process it in a therapeutic fashion to gain more awareness and compassion for the world.  To create beauty out of chaos and destructiveness.  To me, this is what life is all about.

Fatally Yours: How does it feel to be admired by horror fans?

Shannon Lark: As long as I feel like I can help them find what they are looking for, or be a positive influence in their lives, then it’s wonderful. If I have a fan just because he/she thinks I’m hot, I find myself relatively disappointed.

Fatally Yours: What are your favorite horror films and books?

Shannon Lark: Men, Women, and Chain Saws, a compilation of short stories by women titled Viscera, (which is where I derived my inspiration for the Viscera Film Festival), and Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice.

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

Shannon Lark: Playing with my Dalmatian, working out, yoga, meditating, watching movies, and camping. I’m kind of a hippie. What can I say?

Fatally Yours: What is your ultimate goal while working in the horror genre?

Shannon Lark: To be a sufficient aid to bring more women and men into finding their careers in horror or filmmaking in general. To live out every excruciating moment that I exist within this body to explore the terrors of the world and make into something positive by sharing it with the world.

Honestly, I’ve just gotten started.

Fatally Yours: What advice would you give women who want to become involved in the horror genre?

Shannon Lark: Get up. Don’t complain. If you are surrounded by those who do not help you in a positive manner, release them and continue on with your dreams. Don’t exploit yourself unless you truly, truly desire to. Don’t wait for that certain someone on a white stallion to tell you he’s a producer and he’s gonna make you a star. He’s probably a pervert. Make your own films if you want to act, or direct, or produce. Stand up now and find what you want, and that doesn’t just go for the genre.

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

Shannon Lark: You can find me at:

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