Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Interview with Journalist Jovanka Vuckovic

Jovanka Vuckovic is an award-winning writer, artist and film critic who hails from mixed disciplines; she studied Physical Anthropology at McMaster University and spent five years as a digital effects artist at CBC Television, where she earned a Gemini Award for Best Visual Effects. She also studied genre film and literature in depth during her seven-year tenure as the Editor-in-Chief of Rue Morgue Magazine. Vuckovic is currently writing a genre tome for a major publisher and prepping her first film, The Captured Bird.

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

Jovanka Vuckovic: My mother always says that I’ve loved monsters since before I could speak. When I could hold a crayon, I’d draw monsters. When it was my turn to choose a video on movie night, I’d run for the horror section of the video store. It’s just always been in my blood. I can’t explain it. When it comes to horror, I feel like Lt. Ripley in Alien 3 when she says, “You’ve been in my life for so long, I can’t remember anything else.”

Fatally Yours: What does horror mean to you? 

Jovanka Vuckovic: Escapism, entertainment and joy are words that come to mind. Besides being a great springboard to exorcise our own fears and anxieties, the horror genre is a really creative arena to work in. It can be extremely thoughtful or just downright fun, or both.

Fatally Yours: You are most well known for being the former editor of Rue Morgue, but how did your career in horror start?

Jovanka Vuckovic: My career in horror began when I studied forensic anthropology in university and realized that there is a stark difference between what happens in real life and what happens on paper. Working with the dead gave me the perspective I needed to really appreciate living, which only made me appreciate my beloved horror films and literature that much more. There was the horror of my real life and the cathartic escapism and highly conceptualized violence that movies offered. Seeing what a real body looks like after it’s been dredged out of the sewer system by a roto rooter suddenly makes zombies, vampires and werewolves kind of silly – pure entertainment. Also, I was better able to relate to the anxieties sublimating in more thoughtful genre movies – that existential dread that some movies possess – I understood it and felt a profound connection to such films.

But I guess formally my “career,” as the public knows it, started with Rue Morgue. Before I took over the reigns there, I was an erudite fan like everyone else. I had done a lot of unpublished writing because I was a digital special effects artist (which I did for 5 years after I left forensics) and had a lot of time on my hands as my machine rendered shots. So I wrote about horror. Not reviews per se, but my own philosophical leanings on the genre. I had already been volunteering and traveling to conventions with Rue Morgue in my spare time so I knew them quite well. I was trying to help the fledgling, bi-monthly Canadian fanzine grow by attending events and getting the word out about the country’s only horror periodical. I noticed the magazine didn’t have very many female contributors and felt that needed to change so I eventually sent some writing samples to the previous editor, who felt I had a hidden talent for writing, was honest as hell and knew a lot about horror – three things he was looking for in an editor. The more he read the more he became convinced I was the person that should take over the magazine. He offered me the job as Managing Editor about three months later, just as I was about to move to LA for a gig at a high profile effects shop. I thought about it for a little while and eventually took a pay cut of over ¾ of my paycheck to work for the Rue Morgue. I thought it should at the very least be an interesting experience for a few years. So I took the job as Managing Editor and two and a half years later, I was the Editor-In-Chief. In my seven-year tenure at Rue Morgue, I investigated and studied the genre in-depth, sort of like a massive university research project. When you watch, read and listen to horror day-in, day-out for that many years, you end up becoming an expert on it – especially if it was already something you’ve loved your whole life. As cliché as it is, you really can achieve anything you want in the world if you set your mind to it. One day I was a digital effects artist, the next day a magazine editor. Now I’m about to be a mother, an author and a filmmaker. What a trip life is! I’ve never been happier and more certain that I’m on the right path than I am right now.

Fatally Yours: What was your biggest challenge in your position as editor of Rue Morgue?

Jovanka Vuckovic: Getting the issue out on time every month. That was a constant challenge. I dreaded my deadline more than my period and both came once a month!

Fatally Yours: Why do you think the horror genre has primarily been a boy’s club?

Jovanka Vuckovic: What hasn’t been a boys club? I recently saw a news blurb that stated women made 74% of what men made who were doing the same jobs last year. It’s hard to believe, but women are still discouraged from some occupations. Filmmaking is one of those occupations. It’s always been a technical art and women have traditionally been discouraged from the technical arts. And since horror films are made the same way all films are, it tends to be no different in that regard. I’d love to think that there will be total equality in the horror community some day but there will always be those lug heads that make it difficult for us. The guys who feel they need to comment about a woman’s appearance on message boards or ask for nude photos. That happened to me quite a lot. Some people are just ignorant and that will unfortunately never change. The trend here is objectification. Whether you make a horror movie, run a magazine, write horror fiction or make horror music, there will always be that handful of people out there that want to reduce your value as a contributor by making comments about the way you look while they’re commenting on what you do. This rarely happens to men. Their work is judged solely on the merits of the work. I mean, when do you ever read men arguing whether Stephen King is hot or not online? It ain’t happening. His appearance doesn’t come into the picture, which is the way it should be. At any rate, when it comes to horror, it’s just one of those interests – along with comic books, sci-fi, toy collecting, motorcycling and enjoying strip clubs – that women have traditionally been discouraged from being a part of. These were male-dominated boys clubs for a long time. Thankfully, things are slowly changing. At the very least, it’s nice to know that now over 50% of filmgoers are women, which means the ladies are shelling out for scary movies just as much as men are.

Fatally Yours: Have you noticed an increase in women getting involved in the horror genre? Do you think women’s roles in horror, both behind and in front of the camera, are changing?

Jovanka Vuckovic: Definitely. I’m seeing way more women at horror conventions now than when I first started going to them, and some of these ladies are more than just fans, they are starting up their own websites, small presses, fanzines and making independent films. It’s great to see more women who believe they don’t have to take their clothes off to be a contributing member of the horror community.

Fatally Yours: What elements can female filmmakers/authors/journalists/etc. bring to the horror genre that are lacking in males’ perspectives?

Jovanka Vuckovic: I wouldn’t say the male perspective is totally lacking per se, but that’s just my point of view. Unlike a lot of mainstream female critics, I don’t think of horror films as inherently misogynistic or unsympathetic to women. There are many different types of horror films, so I’m obviously reticent to generalize them. There have even been plenty of horror movies that deal with “women’s issues.” Perhaps with women at the helm, those issues might be dealt with a little more sincerely and with more authenticity. But I wouldn’t say that a woman could do a better job depicting the horrors of pregnancy and motherhood any better than The Brood, The Bad Seed, Inside and Grace have, and they were all directed by men. I think sometimes people take horror films a little too seriously. Without question, there are those films that merit academic inquiry, but I’ve never entirely embraced the “feminist” perspective on horror films. While I agree with some of it, I don’t always see the machete as the fleshy knife that penetrates the unwilling woman. Sometimes a knife is just a knife.

Fatally Yours: Do you think it’s harder for women to be taken seriously in a genre that seems to be dominated by males? 

Jovanka Vuckovic: Yes, I do. That’s because some men still look at us as sexual objects, regardless of the position of power we are in.

Fatally Yours: Do you ever get annoyed at how women in horror movies always end naked or with their clothes ripped off? Do monsters not like men’s abs?!

Jovanka Vuckovic: The modern scream queen seems to pride herself in getting naked, so no, it doesn’t really bother me. But I don’t rent movies just because there are naked broads in it; I guess that’s the difference between most male viewers and myself. I want and expect more from my horror films, which is why I love movies like The Thing so much. There’s not a single vagina in it and it remains one of the best genre movies ever filmed. Actually, now that I’ve said that, I suppose you could find a vagina or two somewhere on The Thing if you looked really hard. [Laughs]

Fatally Yours: What horror movie would you say is equally fair in terms of men being objectified or at least, losing the same amount of clothes?

Jovanka Vuckovic: I really don’t search out movies that have an express interest in evening the gender odds so I’m not the best person to ask. I’m most interested in stories that are well told. I don’t think I would get any more enjoyment out of watching a bunch of men being stalked, stripped and slashed than I would women. It’s formulaic and boring. This, to me, is the greatest downfall of the slasher subgenre, which tends to produce derivative pictures that aren’t very thoughtful. But I will say that there is assuredly still a gender bias in the entertainment industry as a whole when it comes to nudity. For example, Mick Garris once expressed to me that he came up against some unfair censorship while making Masters of Horror: he was told that female frontal was okay but male was not. He’s a pretty progressive guy and he understands the television business is male dominated, but even he had to laugh about the fact that dicks are just out of the question. Apparently dicks make men uncomfortable. Try to wrap your head around that one.

Fatally Yours: Do you feel you’ve become desensitized to stereotypical scenes in horror like the half-naked girl screaming and running for her life in slow motion? Or are these types of familiar horror tropes still effective and necessary? 

Jovanka Vuckovic: The former. I’m bored of seeing that sort of thing in the movies. While I can appreciate its efficacy in past films, I’d like to see the horror film EVOLVE.

Fatally Yours: Do you feel that other people view women as being “soft” and not able to endure horror as well as men? How do you fight this stereotypical view?

Jovanka Vuckovic: I find it amusing anyone would think that a creature that bleeds for seven days out of each month and doesn’t die would be disturbed by the sight of a little karo syrup and red dye. It’s interesting to note that in the experience of most tattoo artists, they will tell you that the majority of people who pass out or puke from pain or nervousness are men, not women. Us women are made of much tougher stuff than some give us credit. As a woman who is six months pregnant and planning a totally natural, unmedicated home birth, I can say with total assurance that I am not afraid of anything, not the least of which a little fake blood. The day men can give birth is the day I’ll stop thinking of them as the weaker sex.

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

Jovanka Vuckovic: I admire every woman who’s contributing to the genre without selling herself out. But I’d love to see more women making movies. There are plenty writing horror fiction, but I’d like to see more ladies infiltrate the film business.

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

Jovanka Vuckovic: Work hard and don’t ever get used to the taste of shit. Self-respect is everything. I had to deal with sexist bullies almost daily in the magazine business. But I found the best way to deal with them is to stand your ground, be honest and fair to yourself and do things on your own terms – not theirs. Your integrity and self-respect is worth more than a lousy paycheck or anything those people have to offer.

Fatally Yours: What’s the last horror movie that made you think “this is some effed up shiznit!”? 

Jovanka Vuckovic: The Human Centipede. That’s some truly “effed up shiznit.”

Fatally Yours: Besides working on building a lovely family (congrats on the pregnancy!) what upcoming projects are you working on?

Jovanka Vuckovic: I’m currently working on a big coffee table book for a major publisher on the history of zombies. It’s something I started before I left the magazine and have to finish before Violet, my baby, comes in May. It’s been like a huge research project but I’m having fun doing it. I’m also working on my first short film, The Captured Bird, which is being executive produced by one of my heroes. He’s a great man who genuinely wants to see people he believes in succeed. I won a grant for about half of the funding to make the film and we’re sourcing the rest right now, so we should be shooting by the end of the summer. It’s sort of a poetic, dark fable… with monsters. It’s definitely unconventional. Those are the kind of movies I’m interested in making. My producers and I are building a website for the film where people will be able to find out more about The Captured Bird and even be able to get involved in it. I am really fortunate to have so many talented filmmakers and artists on board with this project. My friends in the horror community have really stepped up to the plate for me and I owe them all big time. That’s all I can say at the moment but there should be a formal press release in the next month or so. For now, I’ve got this book, a bunch of other writing projects I can’t discuss at the moment, and a baby to give birth to first!

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

Jovanka Vuckovic: They are in construction at the moment but and will be up and running soon. In the meantime, feel free to add me on Myspace, Facebook and Twitter.

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