Monday, February 22, 2010

Interview with Final Girl's Stacie Ponder

In addition to writing and directing horror films, Stacie Ponder writes about them for Rue Morgue Magazine, AMC TV’s Horror Hacker, and her own beloved site, Final Girl. In her spare time, Stacie enjoys a good laugh and looking at kittens.

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

Stacie Ponder: The tale begins in college. Horror and I had a class together- some English Lit class, I just remember reading Jane Eyre – and we got to know each other a bit because of that. We started hanging out after class, getting coffee, whatever…then horror started to take it to the next level, I guess you could say. Leaving notes on my car windshield, calling me just because it was “thinking of me”…the next thing I knew, I was the one thinking of horror! A few months went by, and I finally realized, holy crap- I think I’m in love with horror. Horror felt the same way, and we’ve been together ever since.

OR, maybe it goes that my parents introduced me to horror movies when I was very young – watching Creature Double Feature on the weekends, taking me to the drive-in, buying me monster magazines- and I got hooked on the scary stuff. I can’t recall one specific incident; it was more a sudden, total immersion in the genre.

Fatally Yours: What does horror mean to you? 

Stacie Ponder: If you mean what significance does horror have in my life, well, it’s huge. Simple enjoyment turned into a hobby turned into a passion turned into a career. Now I’m writing about horror movies and making them as well, so it’s pretty all-consuming.

Fatally Yours: What are others’ reactions when you tell them you are involved in the horror genre?

Stacie Ponder: No one seems to think it’s very strange – or, at least, they’re pretty good at hiding it. People who have known me forever are used to it, of course. When I meet new people and tell them I dig horror, I usually go out of my way to convince them that I’m not a weirdo who’s simply into watching women get butchered. I don’t know why I always feel the need to qualify my enjoyment or assure people that I’m normal. It’s weird.

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

Stacie Ponder: It’s possible that the more stereotypical elements of horror – violence, blood, and nudity – tend to appeal to men more. That’s a huge generalization, of course. There are men who don’t find those aspects of the genre enjoyable, and there are plenty of women who do…and yeah, there’s lots of horror that doesn’t feature any of the features I mentioned. As fans tend to be the ones who “grow up” into writers and filmmakers, it’s no surprise that it’s largely a boys club.

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?

Stacie Ponder: It probably happens and it’s a bit out of my control, but I don’t want to be viewed any differently in terms of knowledge or ability. How much I know about horror and whatever writing skills I may or may no possess don’t have anything to do with the junk in my junk drawer, you know? Still, my gender is bound to come into play from time to time in my reactions and perspectives, and my views may differ from a guy’s – and yeah, that should be celebrated. But then all the zillions of varying perspectives should be celebrated…eh. I’d love it if women were no longer segregated, if we could simply be “filmmakers” or “writers” rather than “female filmmakers” and “women writers”. For fuck’s sake, I don’t go to the “Lady Dentist” or the “Doctoress”- why does a director need to be singled out based on gender? It’s irrelevant.

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

Stacie Ponder: There are fewer women than men in those roles NO MATTER the genre. Why is that? I don’t know. Maybe these are professions that many women aren’t drawn to, or maybe it doesn’t occur to some women that these options are available to them. There should be more women doing all these things, but that’s largely up to the individual.

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

Stacie Ponder: Again, it’s hard not to generalize, but women are likely to be more aware of “women’s issues”- misogyny, sexism, what have you. As far as filmmaking goes, men and women are, at times, going to react differently to the same situation: a man’s “pregnancy scare” movie may vary greatly from the same subject matter tackled by a female. Men and women have different fears, different strengths…but to reiterate, that varies from individual to individual as well, across gender lines. On the other hand, categorizing “male” and “female” viewpoints is ghettoizing, useless, and silly. Clearly, I’m torn on this…ha.

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

Stacie Ponder: I don’t think so, but if it is, women can be as much to blame as men. How you handle yourself and how you present yourself can go a long way in shaping peoples’ perspectives of you. If you want to be taken seriously, then you need to take YOURSELF and what you do seriously. If you want to be known for your acting skills, don’t post topless pictures of yourself on Facebook. Perception is largely up to you.

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

Stacie Ponder: I know a lot of women who are making movies – there seems to be a real upswing in the number of female-helmed films, especially in indie horror. Lots of women are writing about the genre as well – new sites and blogs are popping up daily.

Fatally Yours: Do you ever get annoyed at how women in horror movies always end naked or with their clothes ripped off? 

Stacie Ponder: A little, but only when it’s especially gratuitous or somehow hateful- even then, I just roll my eyes and move on. Otherwise, I don’t really have a problem with it. I don’t know if it should always “serve the story”- I mean, sometimes it’s just mindless fun. I’m not sure why there aren’t more gratuitous shots of men, though, outside of the work of David DeCoteau.

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

Stacie Ponder: Any lesbian vampire movie! Sometimes they’re arty, sometimes they’re smutty, and they’ve got varying degrees of nudity…but come on. Who doesn’t love a lesbian vampire movie? Linnea Quigley’s naked graveyard dance in Return of the Living Dead truly deserves to be in the Horror Hall of Fame. My favorite, I think, is the sex scene in My Bloody Valentine 2009. If you want to throw around a tired word like “empowering”, well there you go- that’s it. The character is stark naked, in charge of her sexuality, and fighting for her life.

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?

Stacie Ponder: As I stated above, pretty much ANY film by David DeCoteau. The Brotherhood, for example, features lots of bare-chested guys running around. Lots of homoeroticism…they’re all kinda gay on the down-low. Whatever that means.

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? 

Stacie Ponder: They can still be effective when they’re used by filmmakers in fresh or innovative ways. We all know that if you’ve got a group of people in a horror movie, at some point you need to split off the group so characters can get picked off one by one. The challenge, then, is to move beyond “Let’s split up and look around!”- otherwise, audiences are going to roll their eyes at the same ol’ same ol’. Everything becomes old if it’s used too many times. Put your own spin on it, filmmakers. Make the tropes YOURS.

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?

Stacie Ponder: I’m sure they do. All I can do to fight it is be myself – I’m a person who watches horror movies and who happens to have a vagina. Not all women are the same…I mean, I couldn’t care less about romantic comedies. It’s just my taste in films and it has nothing to do with my vagina, you know?

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

Stacie Ponder: Does Kathryn Bigelow count? I know her only dabblings in the genre consist of the stellar vampire film Near Dark, but honestly, she’s kind of my hero right now. She makes movies because that’s just what she does. She’s obliterating gender lines simply by refusing to acknowledge them. I hope someday she’s not considered a “great female director” but simply a “great director” and she won’t continue to be tasked with somehow speaking for women everywhere.

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

Stacie Ponder: If you want to become involved in the genre, then…become involved. Whatever discipline thrills you- writing, acting, directing, etc. – get up and make it happen. Don’t use your gender or cries of “discrimination” to mask for your lack of skills. No one has skills when she (or he) starts out. You need to put in the work, study, learn, and ask questions – that’s the only way you’ll grow. You need to make it happen for yourself – no one’s going to do it for you. And honestly? Chances are good that no one’s going to tell you that you can’t be a writer or a director because you have girl parts. Get off your ass and get shit done.

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

Stacie Ponder: Martyrs. A friend who’d seen it before me warned me that I’d kind of hate myself for watching it, but in the end it would be worth it – and she was totally right. I’m still wrestling with my feelings on it, trying to sort out my thoughts. I’d like to write about it in some capacity, but at this point I’m not really sure what to say. I’d need to watch it again, and I don’t know when I’ll want to do that. Really powerful, effective stuff – certainly not for the faint of heart.

Fatally Yours: What’s one horror movie you think is HIGHLY overrated?

Stacie Ponder: May. I like it. I like Angela Bettis and I thought she was terrific; I loves me some Anna Faris…but the movie didn’t really ‘wow’ me as I’d anticipated it would. It was good, sure, but I’m not quite sure why so many accolades are thrown at it. Eh, people connect with different things – I just didn’t connect much with that particular film.

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

Stacie Ponder: Ah, there are too many to list. I love Mausoleum and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre alike. I love cheesy slasher flicks and new French horror films that push the envelope and make you think. Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is one of my favorite genre novels, and the film it’s based on, The Haunting, is one of my favorite films. Really, there are too many to list.

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

Stacie Ponder: Writing about horror movies, making horror movies, and working with friends who love the genre as much as I do. I’m already doing all that, so I guess I have nothing left to strive for! Well, that’s just great. Oh, okay…so I can strive to improve myself in all those areas, I suppose.

Fatally Yours: What projects are you working on now?

Stacie Ponder: My first major movie, Ludlow, is in post-production and should be ready for some kind of public consumption very soon. I call it “major” because it’s too long to be a short film, but a bit too short to be a feature…so, “major”. The second season of my webseries Ghostella’s Haunted Tomb, is currently in pre-production. I’m aiming for ten episodes, beginning in April. I’ve got a few other scripts and projects- features, mostly- in various stages of development. Other than all that, I’m writing…a whole mess of stuff for Final Girl and other sites and publications.

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

Stacie Ponder: My blog, Final Girl. That’s sort of my hub. If my work (in whatever capacity) appears elsewhere, I’ll still post about it at Final Girl. I love my blog like a…like a…lover.

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