Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Interview with Filmmaker Maureen Whelan

Maureen “Mo” Whelan is a former automotive gear-head turned actress, animation geek, artist, consultant, filmmaker, non-nude alternative model, and writer. She started her career as an animator for the computer graphics company Imagination Works. In the past few years, she’s worked at various production and post-production studios in Los Angeles as a computer graphic artist, technical software geek, DVD / VOD account manager and a post supervisor.

Currently, Mo is in charge of Film Licensing and Acquisitions for AWNtv.com. She is a freelance writer and occasional “Corpsepondant” for the comedy/horror magazine Girls and Corpses Magazine. Her artwork has been featured at several art exhibits throughout the Los Angeles area.

Some of her on-screen credits include South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999). She was the co-star, producer, and public relations manager, for Probell Films’ indie horror/thriller film Client 14 and will be producing and starring in their next horror film Lost Canyon Road. She also starred in 7 Deadly Sins: Inside the Ecomm Cult. Mo recently signed on as a consulting producer for the science fiction series The Pathfinders’ which is currently in development. She plans on wrapping production on her own short film she wrote and will be directing, producing, and staring in, The Suburban Count, by March 2010.

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

Maureen “Mo” Whelan: I think ‘horror’ was conditioned into my mind as a child.

My father, Patrick Richard Whelan, was in the Irish Guards and Royal Irish Fusiliers regiment of the British Army. He experienced several horrific events during his service and shared the stories with my sister and me.

Folk tales and ghost stories are a big part of the Irish heritage. My father would share his ghost story experiences and Irish folk tales with us. He also had the ‘love of horror’ and watched horror, war and western films with my sister and me. We also experienced a lot of unexplained paranormal activity at my parents’ house. Sometimes we’d walk out to the back house and all the doors and windows would be wide open. My sister, friends, nieces and I have all seen figures of people in different rooms of the house. Once, my sister and I were playing the Ouija board in our kitchen with my father watching near by. He saw a cup hover straight up in the air and we all watched a paper towel crumble and fly at me.  That’s just a few of my paranormal stories. I also read Tarot cards and meditate for guidance.

In addition to this, I was raised on a small farm. The girls in the family were taught to butcher animals. I learned how to snap a chicken’s neck and chop off its head when I was in grade school. I was always amused by a headless chicken running around the yard, squirting blood out of its neck. My sister slaughtered a lamb in our back yard, and yes they do scream.

My sister and I became hooked on horror films, because we wanted to gross ourselves out and scare each other. We ended up just laughing at most of the gore and didn’t scare easy. I’ve always had nightmares when I sleep about serial killers, vampires, monsters, aliens, ghosts and the devil. They tend to entertain me and I keep note of them to one day write into stories and scripts. I guess my past history has led me to the horror genre and I like it.

Fatally Yours: What does horror mean to you? 

Maureen “Mo” Whelan: Horror to me is anything that shocks the viewers through extreme violence and gore. It’s meant to scare people and occasionally cause controversy upon those who don’t understand horrifying events. Horror causes people to squirm, scream, cry, gag and sometimes vomit.  Horror can represent blood and death.

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

Maureen “Mo” Whelan: It’s not just the horror genre that’s male dominated.  Most genres of cinema are still primarily male dominated.

I was working at a small post production facility in 1998. A female producer at a major network told me she was leaving the business because she ‘hit the glass ceiling.’ This is a common term several women have used to tell me they had given up on their careers in the entertainment industry. Women are still trying to break through the ‘glass ceiling.’  The industry has always been labeled a ‘boys club.’ So, it’s time to start a ‘girls club.’

The 1900’s women’s movement helped push women along in their careers in intervals. I believe women are still working their way though the ‘women’s movement’ and trying to define themselves as individuals. As women we need to voice ourselves as artists and professionals. In the past 14 years I have seen an increase in women in cinema.  However, women in cinema are still struggling to be recognized for their efforts. Women just need to start promoting themselves more effectively and creating more useful business relationships with one another. Men are very good at bonding and helping each other out hence the term ‘boys club.’ Women, especially in the Horror genre, seem to be more competitive with one another and several have an underlining jealousy of their counterparts. This cripples them in the end.

There are several women groups in the entertainment industry that help educate, promote and finance women projects. ‘Women in Film’ has survived many years and assists women with succeeding in cinema. A few other women entertainment groups are ‘Women in Animation’, ‘Women in Tech’, and ‘Women in Games.’

Fatally Yours: As a woman, do you think you are viewed differently than your male counterparts in the horror genre? If so, how and why?

Maureen “Mo” Whelan: Well, I do believe my legs look better in stilettos than some men. Honestly, I don’t think I’m viewed much differently from my male counterparts in the horror genre. The males I have worked with in the past respect my knowledge, ideas, creativity, judgment and business relationships. I think this is because they recognize my work experience, and that I am capable of working in a professional environment. I also have no problem bulldozing over a cocky acting guy, fact telling, and telling off ignorant people.

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

Maureen “Mo” Whelan: I think it depends on the women. Women tend to be more emotional and have maternal instincts. These factors can help create a softer, less intense horror film or book that can also target young adults and teens. Teens are a highly profitable target market.  Kids can easily talk their parent into investing into anything that’ll keep them quiet for a week. Women can also add a little romance to the flavor of horror for targeting females who like to get scared but don’t want to be grossed out.  These types of women tend to be more drawn to the romance side of vampire films and books. From a marketing standpoint, these factors can be more profitable to a production company or distributor.

Women also tend to be more honest and outspoken when it comes to their own personal feelings. This can be a useful journalism trait and can help male counterparts understand what is needed to target a broader audience. Women need to tell their male counterparts what they expect so men can be more considerate of their interests and create better content for all viewers.

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

Maureen “Mo” Whelan: Unfortunately, women still have to prove they can do their job. This is the same with most male dominated industries. I’ve always worked in male dominated industries, starting with the auto parts industry. At the age of 19, I was the 1st female auto parts counter girl that Chief Auto parts in Redondo Beach had in over 10 years. I constantly had to prove my knowledge to male clients. Once, a guy walked into the store with an auto part. I went to help him. He looked at me in the face and said “I want to have a man help me.” I said, “Okay.” My male co-worker (who I outranked) went to help the guy and didn’t know what the part was. So, my co-worker looked at me and asked, “What is that?” I walked up to the client smiled and said, “That’s a heater core valve.” I found him the correct part. The client stuck with me after that. Shortly after I started working at a wholesale under car parts warehouse and was the first female auto parts girl they ever had in Southern California. They finally hired another girl about a year after me. I’ve experience several chauvinistic events at both facilities.

I went on to work in the animation, visual effects and post-production industries. All were male dominated. In addition, I worked in the technical side of production dealing with hardware and software. I’ve always had to research and keep up on my ‘industry’ knowledge, to play in the ‘boys club.’

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

Maureen “Mo” Whelan: I’ve noticed ‘behind the scenes’ women are starting to receive more publicity for their talent. It’s not all about how ‘hot’ a woman is. It’s now more about what she’s done creatively and her success. Just pay attention to the trades. Nothing changes over night.

Fatally Yours: What are your top three movies with gratuitous chick/boob/sex scenes?

Maureen “Mo” Whelan: Humm…I guess Hellraiser, Halloween, and Demon Hunter. I still like boob and sex filled films.

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?

Maureen “Mo” Whelan: I love American Psycho. Christian Bale was so freakin’ hot in that film. Thank you Mary Harron for objectifying Christian Bale!

On a side-note: I really think Eli Roth, James Gunn, Paul Solet, and Rob Hall should start objectifying themselves in their own films. I think they’d all look good naked and bloody. I’d have girls’ night, so we can all watch their films in slow-mo and eat ice-cream.

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? 

Maureen “Mo” Whelan: I thought it was very effective in Scream. Bwahahaha!

Ya, I’m desensitized. Again, it’s not uncommon to see a half-naked girl running in slow-mo at a Hollywood night club or on the street due to over intoxication. I just laugh at those types if scenes now. Half-naked, screaming girls make horror films funny.

Fatally Yours: How do you fight the stereotypical view that women are “soft” and not able to endure horror as well as men?

Maureen “Mo” Whelan: Why don’t you ask a man to chop off a chicken’s head and tell me how soft he feels afterward? J/K!

I think some people with ‘old school’ values might still view women as ‘soft.’ But studies have shown that women are now a large part of today’s horror audience. I don’t think I have to ‘fight’ the stereo type. I think it’s clear I’m a little twisted and scary at times.

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

Maureen “Mo” Whelan: The main woman I admire was the pioneer of cinema, Alice Guy-Blaché. Not only was she the first female filmmaker in the world but she was also considered one of the world’s fist fiction film directors. Her film production originated in France and she later started her own production company in the United States. She went on to create over 700 films including Vampire (1920) and Chirurgie fin de siècle (1900). Both were silent films. In Chirurgie fin de siècle, a couple of surgeons cut a woman into pieces. Alice used a dummy and other clever effects to create a scene that would be considered horrific for that time. She was a creative and determined woman who helped launch the world of cinema.

The second woman is Ida Lupino, another pioneering female filmmaker. She originally started in the film business as an actress then moved into writing, producing and directing.  Not only was she a feature film director but she was also a television director. She wrote and directed the thriller feature film The Hitch-hiker (1953), along with several other films. In addition, she worked on several The Twilight Zone, Thriller, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes. She was known as “the female Hitch” (Hitchcock). She was another determined and creative female who worked her way through a tough economy.

Kathy Bates is another woman I admire. I started admiring her after I saw Misery. She played the crazy, delusional Annie character quite well. I always liked that movie and her role. She’s always been a great actress and was a good director on the television series Six Feet Under, Oz and NYPD Blue. She’s just a very talented lady.

Last but not least is Anne Rice. She brought romance and an interesting perspective to her characters and books. I fell in love with Interview with the Vampire. She’s a great story teller and has sold over 100 million copies of her books. She’s very inspirational to a writer.

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

Maureen “Mo” Whelan: Don’t expect success to happen over night. Learn the ropes of production and truly understand each aspect of the production process. What does each aspect involve? Example: Development (creating a script, etc.) Pre-Production (pre-viz, locking down cast and crew, etc), Production (set design, shooting the darn thing), Post-Production (Editing, telecine, visual effects, etc.), Distribution (pimping your film, submitting to film festivals, screenings, submitting to distributors, etc.). Learn about the productions tools, cameras, lighting, editing equipment, etc. The more you know about the process the more valuable of an asset you are to others. If you want to look pretty and take pictures, then do so, just be sure to express your intelligence through interviews and other press related outlets. Create your own branding of yourself. Think about how you want to be perceived by the general public and your peers. Then market yourself in that manner. Don’t be afraid of hearing or saying no. Don’t listen to other people’s negativity and don’t let others bring you down. Just do your thing and people will notice. Also, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and what you believe in.

Fatally Yours: What has been your best experience while working in the horror community? What’s the worst?

Maureen “Mo” Whelan: The best is the love I feel from friends, fans, and others in the industry that believe in me and encourage me with my growth. I do like the fact that there are several females beginning to bond with one another and help each other out with their own success within the industry. It is motivating to see the team effort in place.

The worst things I’ve seen are the negative comments and verbal bashing from a small group within the industry. I get tired of people gossiping about one another and putting others down because of their choices. I’ve came across a few people who are just angry about unnecessary things that don’t effect them personally. Nothing positive can come out of this behavior.

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

Maureen “Mo” Whelan: My favorite films are Hellraiser, American Psycho, The Lost Boys and Flatliners. I like the bloody Hostel and Saw series. I also love cheesy horror like Evil Dead and Re-Animator. I do like romance horror like Interview with the Vampire and Near Dark.

As for books, I like anything written by Steven King, Clive Barker, Anne Rice, H.P. Lovecraft, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and Edgar Allen Poe. I also love Charles Bukowski, but he’s not horror.

My favorite artists are Jeffery Scott / Factory 1019, and HR Giger.

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

Maureen “Mo” Whelan: Currently, I’d like to wrap production on my own short film and submit it to film festivals. I have a lot of twisted thoughts in my head that I would like to eventually write out and produce as film or books.

I really just want to be recognized as an individual with my own style. I’ve had to work hard for everything I’ve accomplished. I’m mainly self-taught but have been fortunate enough to have many great mentors in my life. I would like to make them proud of whom I’ve become. I haven’t had an easy life and wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for my mentors. Anyone can achieve their dreams if they put their efforts into them.

Fatally Yours: What upcoming projects are you working on?

Maureen “Mo” Whelan: I plan on wrapping production on my own short film I wrote and will be directing, producing, and staring in, The Suburban Count, by March 2010 to submit to film festivals. I recently signed on as a consulting producer for the science fiction series The Pathfinders which is currently in development. I’m also trying to find investors for three horror scripts I have on hand for different filmmakers. I will be producing and staring in Probell Films next film Lost Canyon Road. I have a few other feature length scripts I’m writing and plan on producing in the near future too. I will always be creating traditional artwork and hopefully will have a few more art exhibits this year. I’m still in charge of film licensing and acquisitions for AWNtv.com and writing for Girls and Corpses Magazine

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

Maureen “Mo” Whelan: They may visit my blog at http://modragonfly.wordpress.com/

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