Monday, February 15, 2010

Interview with Filmmaker Sherezada Kent

Sherezada Kent is a filmmaker, writer, and crafter living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area. A graduate of U.C. Berkeley’s Film Studies program, she has been involved in the Bay Area indie filmmaking community for more than ten years. Her first short film, Everything I Needed to Know About Zombies I Learned From the Movies, has screened in San Francisco IndieFest’s Another Hole in the Head Film Festival (2009), the Chicago Horror Film Festival (2009), the FireStarter Film Festival (2009) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and in the New York City Horror Film Festival’s online film competition (2008).

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

Sherezada Kent: It’s hard to pinpoint the moment it happened. Horror is just something I’ve been into since I was a child. I always loved the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books, especially the beautifully creepy illustrations by Stephen Gammell. I’d even sneak into the horror movie section of the video store when my Dad wasn’t looking, and read the backs of the boxes. I would scare myself silly, imagining the terrifying content within.

I think my interest really solidified into love when my Dad bought me a copy of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead when I was 13. It was pretty much the first film I’d seen that didn’t have a happy ending, which really opened my mind up to all the possibilities of storytelling in film. Night of the Living Dead is still my favorite horror film of all time.

Fatally Yours: What does horror mean to you?

Sherezada Kent: To me, horror means facing your fears, and coming out stronger for it. Through horror fiction, people can face the darkness in the world — and inside themselves — in a safe, controlled environment. It lets audiences and readers experiment both with identifying as victims and villains, which is important in figuring out who you really are.

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

Sherezada Kent: My involvement in the horror genre started on a very scholastic bent. I majored in Film Studies at U.C. Berkeley, where I was exposed to a lot of academic writing about horror films, especially from a feminist angle. It was exciting to see my favorite genre “legitimized” in a way. Before college, I’d only ever heard the negative criticism directed at horror (aside from fan love), so it was really eye-opening to hear from academics who saw its potential as social commentary. I even did my undergrad thesis on the African American image in horror films (the centerpiece being Duane Jones’ role in Night of the Living Dead), with the aid of professors such as Carol Clover (author of Men, Women, and Chainsaws).

I did some writing about horror films after college as well, including an article in Release Print magazine, and some program writing for San Francisco IndieFest’s Another Hole in the Head film festival.

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

Sherezada Kent: Hands down, I am most proud of my short zombie comedy Everything I Needed to Know About Zombies I Learned From the Movies. I’d always wanted to make a film of my own, especially after years of studying them. I took a film production class through Film Arts Foundation (which sadly closed its doors in 2008), to get the structure I needed to finally write, direct, and co-produce a real short film.

I think what makes me so proud, though, was how it brought together so many folks from all aspects of my life to work on this one project. My old high school friend Erin Castrapel (who was also Director of Photography for Backwoods Bloodbath) flew out from the Midwest to shoot the film. My buddy, horror author Greg Solis, came out of special effects retirement to make my zombies look gruesome. My husband bravely starred in the film (Long Haired Zombie) alongside the very talented, professional actors who auditioned for their roles, and my brother flew back from his vacation a day early to help out on set. I recruited everyone I could from the office I was working my day job in to help out, including the woman who would rise to the challenge of being both Assistant Director and Co-Producer, Abena Darden. It all just clicked beautifully.

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

Sherezada Kent: It’s like anything else, you have to find the angle that would appeal to them and cater to it. Maybe they’re more into supernatural stories than realistic-looking slasher films. Or perhaps they just really aren’t into “blood and guts,” but appreciate a good scary story. You have to find what they would like, not necessarily what you want them to see.

Another good way to get people more interested in horror, funny enough, is through comedy spoofs. Audiences like being part of an “in joke,” and if they don’t feel like they’re part of the laughter, they’ll want to find out how they can be. Show them Shaun of the Dead, or even something like Scary Movie, and they may soon want to see the films these reference just to know why you’re laughing.

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

Sherezada Kent: I think we’re in a definite period of give-and-take. There’s more women out there making horror media and creating their own networks, but I don’t think we’ve managed to break out into the “mainstream” of horror, per say. We’ve gotten a bit of big media attention lately with Diablo Cody penning Jennifer’s Body, but even the biggest “feminist horror” titles of the past few years have been written and directed by men (thinking specifically of Teeth and The Descent).

I think you see the same thing in any genre that’s specifically “geared towards men.” It’s hard for women to break into comedy, or action films. There’s a cultural misconception that women can’t be funny, or tough, or genuinely frightening. I’m hopeful, though, as more and more women become media-makers and producers that we’ll break through those stereotypes.

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?

Sherezada Kent: So far, no. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but everyone I’ve met in conjunction with my film has been incredibly respectful, supportive, and encouraging. I’ve only started out, though, so ask me that again in a few years.

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?

Sherezada Kent: I do. I think women just experience the world a different way than men do. We have fears – and strengths – that men don’t have in the same ways. Many women are taught from a young age to always be on their guard, to always suspect people (especially men) of the worst. It bleeds into our storytelling and filmmaking. We’re naturally adept at imagining the worst-case scenario and how to survive it.

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.?

Sherezada Kent: This is an oddly tough question. I thought about long and hard about it, and the answer is: not really. When it comes to women’s roles in horror films, there’s still more call for the traditional vixen in distress than an ass-kicking heroine. Sure, we have a few stand-outs, including Ripley, Buffy, and (most recently) Wichita and Little Rock from Zombieland. But they’re few and far between.

Behind-the-scenes, though, I do think more women are becoming horror media-makers, which is great. You’re seeing more festival showcases, screening series, and online networks devoted to promoting the work of women in horror, which in turn encourages other women to go out and put their own dark visions on film. It’s a growing movement, and I’m excited to be a part of it.

Fatally Yours: What women in horror do you admire?

Sherezada Kent: I know she’s a bit more action, but producer Gale Anne Hurd (Terminator, Aliens, and many more) has been a big influence since I first read about her in Fangoria when I was younger. She has a passion for action, and I admire her smarts and willingness to get down in the filmmaking trenches to get the job done right.

I’m also a big fan of Jane Espenson, who was a producer and writer for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. She wrote or co-wrote some of the sharpest, most heartfelt, and most clever scripts the show saw in its 7-year run. She was a huge inspiration when I was working on the script for Everything I Needed to Know About Zombies I Learned From the Movies.

I know she’s not horror, but I have to give a tip of the hat to Christine Vachon. She’s produced numerous indie gems, including Boys Don’t Cry and my favorite, Velvet Goldmine. I practically slept with her book, Shooting to Kill, under my pillow while I was planning and shooting my film, and I feel like I learned more from those pages than I could’ve in any producing course.

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?

Sherezada Kent: Jada Pinkett Smith. It may be cheating, since she only really had genre roles in Scream 2 and Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight, but lady can play the bad-ass when she wants to. I would love to have a role for her where she plays the heroine who fights against legions of undead/aliens/werewolves/whatever with her wits, a shotgun, and a katana made from a car fender (or something like that). It’d be epic.

Fatally Yours: What inspires, influences and motivates you?

Sherezada Kent: My family. I am incredibly lucky to have such wonderful and supportive network. My husband has been behind my filmmaking 100%, since the days in college when he was my producer/lead actor/cameraman/driver. My brother is a fellow genre buff, and never fails to tell me straight if an idea is a hit or a flop. I know my Mama doesn’t always understand why I want to forge a career in this genre, but she still supports my work and is proud of what I do.

The one I have most to thank, though, is my Dad. He fueled my interest in horror with his own love of cinema and stories of midnight drive-in movie nights. He even  (begrudgingly) drove me from San Diego to L.A. for the Fangoria Convention when I was 14, to meet my then-idol, Clive Barker. I still owe him for that one.

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

Sherezada Kent: Though I do love all-out horror films, I’ve been mostly into horror hybrids and self-referential horror these days, like the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show,  Zombieland, Fido, or Repo! The Genetic Opera. Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror is currently top of that list, being so carefully crafted out of tried-and-true genre conventions while adding its own over-the-top twists.

In literature, I recently discovered Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt Case Files. It’s supernatural noir where the main character is an ex-punk Vampyre trying to survive in New York City. Great stuff.

I’ve also been really into horror-themed video games. I love the Left 4 Dead series, BioShock, and Resident Evil 5, though I wanted to chuck Dead Rising into a garbage disposal. It may be fun to kill zombies with items ranging from plastic lightsabers to sledgehammers, but the timed element just frustrated the hell out of me.

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

Sherezada Kent: I’ve been really into the DIY-handmade renaissance that’s been going on. I re-discovered my inner crafter – oddly enough – during the post-production of my film, and I’ve been into textile crafts like embroidery and knitting ever since. I actually had 15 minutes of fame in the craft community a couple years ago with my Han Solo cross stitch sampler. I so didn’t see that one coming.

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

Sherezada Kent: Right now, it’s to write and shoot another short film in 2010, and to finish the feature script I’ve been working on. I’m also collaborating on a dark fantasy/horror comic with my husband and brother, and we hope to have something to show for that soon. I’m just taking it as it comes, and doing what makes me happy.

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

Sherezada Kent: You can find more information on Everything I Needed to Know About Zombies I Learned From the Movies on Myspace. You can also see the making-of photos on my Flickr.

I do also have a little blog, Hand/Eye/Mind/Mouth, which is a mix of my filmmaking and crafting projects.

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