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Sylvia & Jen Soska

Sylvia & Jen Soska

American Mary, their second feature film, is must-see material! 

Read our English or Dutch review!

It’s always interesting to find out what sources of inspiration were used to come up with the story of a film. What triggered your imagination and ultimately led to American Mary?

Sylvia: Years prior, Jen and I had stumbled upon an April Fool's Prank that featured two identical twin brothers who had swapped limbs in an extreme body modification story, it terrified me. My mother always told me that if something frightens you, it's because you have a lack of education on the subject, so educate yourself and you won't be scared anymore. My fear turned into fascination and into admiration. When we wrote the script, we were still trying to distribute the first film, incredibly poor to the point of not being able to afford food let alone bills, meeting monsters in the industry, and spending countless hours in the hospital with a loved one. I didn't realize how much we took our personal experiences and filtered them into the script, but it makes sense when you can't control elements of your life that you put them into something like a story that you can manipulate.

Jen: The film is very much an analogy for our own ventures in the film industry. We started out acting and modelling and as you can imagine we came up against so very unsavory characters. I heard the stories, I thought I saw it all. Then when we made DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK, we saw a whole new ugly side to this business where as much as we struggled to be seen as equal to our male counter parts, our gender and usually our age became the object of discrimination with many monster producers and execs. We found that the people you're meant to respect and hold in high regard are often the real monsters and the outsiders, the indie brats and the horror community which can appear to look a little different or seem intense are in fact the sweetest, most generous and honest people you'll ever meet. That's largely where our theme, "appearances are everything" came from.

This is your second feature film. Was it easier to get everything accomplished, compared to Dead Hooker in a Trunk, or exactly as frustrating?

S: I don't think filmmaking will ever get easier - for every project, there will always be new challenges and battles. The nice thing on MARY that we also had on HOOKER was that no one was there for a pay check. We had a very modest budget and a ridiculously short 15 day shooting schedule which we were able to overcome the difficulty of by pre-planning everything meticulously with our truly amazing crew. The cast and crew came onto the project because they loved the story and wanted to make sure it was told right. Everyone sacrificed so much and put themselves into the film, I think you can see that in every frame and that's why the film is what it is. That said, I won't torture my team by having such restrains on time and money - next film we are going to make sure everyone is paid properly and has the time we need to focus on telling the story right.

J: ha ha, filmmaking is not easy. Not in any way. The highs of filmmaking will give you vertigo, but the lows will make you double guess ever wanting to get into this business. There are always frustrations. It's a challenge. There are a lot of moving parts on a set, so to say. The thing I recommend over everything is to make sure you have an amazing team that you're working with. You find great people in this business and you need to hang on to them. That's why you see crews and filmmakers kind of get married to one another. One bad person is a poison and it spreads. You should look into everyone you work with, ask around. You hear one bad horror story and you need to take notice of that. DEAD HOOKER taught us how to roll with the punches. It was a challenge in itself to make our first feature and no matter how prepared you are, the things you have prepared for are not the problems that ever arise. I think people are still looking for us to prove ourselves. People felt that DHIAT was a fluke and we've proven ourselves more so with AMERICAN MARY. With each film, we prove ourselves more, we learn, we get better, and let me tell you that we're just getting started. It's a marathon not a race.

“This is a big step forward compared to Dead Hooker in a Trunk.” Would you feel offended if I told you that was my first thought after watching American Mary?

S: Not at all. I think it's a big step up from HOOKER too. I read all of the reviews on our films. I want to know what people think, and even though I am extremely proud of HOOKER, I kept seeing criticism on camera work, characters, and storyline. It was a priority to show what a film by Jen and I would be like with more of a focus on those elements. With HOOKER, we knew we had no money and had to use creativity to overcome those obstacles, while at the same time making film that had a look at me factor - grindhouse style filmmaking and that story made sense. There are not too many films featuring the body modification community in a realistic, positive light, a lot of people thought (and still think) it's some sort of horrible to watch gore fest. We wanted to make the film a beautiful thoughtful piece and I think that gave a lot of appeal to the film. I've received messages from people who have just slammed HOOKER and Jen and my work who have seen MARY and now have a different outlook because of the film. The people who still don't dig what we're doing, we'll get them on BOB, or the one after that or the one after that. Each film will be different, so it'll be cool to see the reactions to the work.

J: Not even remotely. I actually love that reaction. I've had people say that it doesn't even seem like it was made by the same filmmakers and it's true. We're not the same people who made DEAD HOOKER. We've been through a lot. We've changed. We've fought hard and survived. We've read all our reviews, good and bad. It's important because you want to see what people are saying because they are your audience. With DHIAT, people had major issues with the camera work and quality and said that we were "shock jocks" depending on blood, gore, and excessive naughty language to get a reaction. That was kind of the whole point of HOOKER. It was meant to be a WTF film, but we rectified that in AMERICAN MARY. We wanted HOOKER to announce loudly that we're here, but MARY was meant to show what we can do. And we'll never stop growing as filmmakers. It's vital to always be learning.

While watching, it’s obvious that casting the lead role was extremely crucial. Could you tell us something about this process? Did you just know from the get-go that Katharine Isabelle would be the perfect choice to embody Mary?

S: Jen and I have been fans of Katie's work since being introduced to it through GINGER SNAPS. It was such impactful and intelligent film that really spoke to our generation of women going through teenage changes. We would watch all of her films, but be frustrated to see this phenomenally gifted artist not have the next gradual step from Ginger to play. She is so effortless in her performances, no matter what she's in, you're just drawn to her and it's like that in real life too. I met her briefly on the set of JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS and she was nice to me. From that day on, I told Jen that we should work with her. We wrote the character for Katie, it might seem cruel now that you've seen the film, but everything Mary does is something that we wanted to see Katie do in a performance.

J: We have a feel for people. You have to when you're a writer and director. Your job is to recreate life and you need to be able to pick up signals and qualities off of people. Most of life is people talking without coming right out and saying what they really mean. You have to read between the lines. You can pick qualities of strength, intellect, bravery, humor, vulnerability... all those attributes were so important to the character of Mary. We saw all of that in Katie and more. She's got this amazing presence. You see her and you just know she's special. We never write for an actor because you just don't know if it'll work out. You end up seeing an actor instead of the character, but Katie IS Mary. She has that power and can show her vulnerability in such a beautiful way. She is one of our generations great actresses and she's more than proven that with the film and in her body of work. You'll certainly be seeing us working together again. We've fallen hopelessly in love now.

Body modification isn’t really the most known topic for a lot of people. How much research was involved and why did you decide to use this as your main theme?

S: Growing up being identical twins that loved horror, we were often picked on and outcast. Because of those experiences, we are drawn to others that are misunderstood and wrongly villainized, and no group fits that description as much as the body mod community. Here are sane, self-aware, and brave people who express themselves in a way that mainstream culture has not dubbed 'acceptable' - while fake tits and nose jobs are completely accepted. I believe if you are making a film, it should have a reason to exist, it should add something to the world by asking questions, showing a different perspective, or relating to real world issues. I started not understanding the body mod community and culture and when I knew more about it and the people in that world, I really liked it. I was so thrilled by it, that I wanted to share that experience with others - I knew issues of appearance and how people are treated based on it would tie together the variety of characters we see in the film.

J: It was so important for us to give people a true view into the world of body modification. People have seen images out of context online alongside negative write ups. There are not many groups as misunderstood as the body mod community. I could not bring myself to understand why cosmetic surgery is fully an acceptable form of self expression and self connection, but body mod is a practice condoned only by those not of sound mind. Nothing could be further from the truth. These individuals are so grounded and so open and honest. It's amazing that the body mod community allowed us into their world as they've been scape goats so often in film and media. I wanted to show that people with split tongues are people, too. And they are. The real reason that they are seen as villains while cosmetic surgery is accepted is because people are encouraged to conform and all be the same. As soon as someone seeks to be an individual, they're condemned. It's madness as our differences are what make us all beautiful and unique.

Have you ever considered altering your own bodies in some shape or form? ‘Pimp’ something up?

S: I really want to try a suspension. It's a way to transcend this existence, to become self aware in a metaphysical way without narcotics. Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. I want a new outlook in order to be able to apply that to the more unpleasant portions of my life and grow as a human being. I have a suspension hook - a gift from our flesh artist consultant, Russ Foxx - that I have on my phone and carry everywhere. It's until my balls drop and I take the plunge, so to speak.

J: If the back corset piercings could be done for the long term, absolutely. I think it's terribly beautiful. I love that look.

I enjoyed the fact that the very dark tone of the movie gets interrupted at some points with a hint of humor. Was the script written that way or did the interactions during shooting have something to do with it?

S: We grew up reading Stephen King where horror and humor always walked hand in hand. I don't think you can stay at the same tone throughout a film, it leaves you nowhere to go, and you need those moments of levity to be able to explore the darker elements of a story properly.

J: Humor and horror go hand in hand for us. It's unfortunate that so many people feel that they have no place together, but I think we're slowly but surely proving that they do. When I go through a haunted house, I scream and then laugh maniacally. Then I usually hit on all the monsters to little avail.

Did the final amount of days shot differ with the original planning? Any fond or negative memories about the actual filming?

S: I have been told it's very typical to start with one thing and then get much less when going to camera, that's why the initial prepping and planning is so crucial. I've also been told that by a friend that he wouldn't wish fifteen days on his worst enemy, I've lived through that I know it to be true. With any film you make, there will be concessions and the important thing is that you fight to keep the film's soul intact. What we were able to pull off with our brilliant team and the experience of working together is filled with fond memories. Literally we had the best cast and crew on the planet, we had a hard working and fun team - despite any challenges that were thrown at us, we managed to overcome them. One of my favorite memories was the real life suspension test we did before shooting on set to see how we would string up Dr. Grant. Many people had no previous experience with body mod and then we had the specialists who do this for a living and a lifestyle. You saw everyone come to together and really start to understand one another, I really dug that. It's the way it should be.

J: You never have enough time or money when you're making a film, that's just how it goes. Our script for AMERICAN MARY was much bigger than what we had. 15 days is not enough time to shoot a film. Not with prosthetics and multiple locations and costume changes, it just makes no sense and the film suffers. Our outstanding crew made it possible. Brad Jubenvill, our 1st AD, is incredible. It would not have been possible without him and every single crew member went above and beyond for this film. Each one is at the top of their field and the best there is at what they do. There were struggles, sure, but they pale in comparison to my memories of working with my phenomenal crew.

While the plot could be categorized as just another torture-porn flick, I believe American Mary to be a different kind of movie. Would you agree? Were you consciously ‘flipping the bird’ to the current pile of commercial horror movies? After all, you’ve shown that original ideas can result in something very special.

S: I hate this obsession with labels, especially in the horror genre. The film has been criticized for being a 'torture porn' while others condemn it for not having enough gore, it's like a film is not allowed to speak for itself in the viewer's experience watching it - it needs a simple way to break it down. Thank you so much for saying that about the film. We watched horror growing up and I don't see the same heart and creativity going into the genre films coming out today - it's like the technology of telling these stories has surpassed the storytelling element which should be most important. We wanted to show that there is a different approach to horror. That it can be creative, unique, and still have an audience. Thank God that people have gotten behind the film and supported it the way that they have, I hope it starts to influence the genre in a positive way so we can return to the original ideas that make it so fun to watch in the first place.

J: North American horror films, by in large, seem to follow to very specific formula. I hate it. It's shit. It's repetitive, it's dull, and it's a famine of creativity. A little originality please. We're starved for it. Internationally you see films that are just stories and they are new and creative. Here you see, "the next SAW" or "the new THE RING". It's like if something hasn't already been made and proven it has an audience, there's no point in even trying. I'm sure our work is difficult for some people to market as it's not just one thing. It's a lot of things. Many of which don't seem to go together, but we find ways that they do. Horror and humor is a big one. North America doesn't like putting them together, but we can't help it. We love it.

Whilst the male population might look upon some nudity as sensual and sexual, it’s clear that these shots had to be used compared to the ‘cheap-factor’ in some movies nowadays. Do you think that, being female directors, it’s important to avoid unnecessary nudity?

S: Jen and I know what it's like to be the half naked girl on set for no real reason other than being a piece of ass. It's very stereotypical for 'twin roles'. I hated it, not because sexuality bothers me, but pointless sexuality for the sake of seeing some tits and ass bothers me. And it bothered me the way I was treated. If there is sexuality and nudity on our sets, in our scripts, it's there because it serves a purpose to the story. I think to respect male and female sexuality, you should have a reason for nudity. We had a lovely nipple removal and clitorectomy sequence in the film, you saw nudity but it was necessary to see the neutralization of the character's sexuality. In the rape sequence later in the film, we keep the focus on the faces. Mostly because so many rape scenes are done to be sexually gratify to the audience when it's actually one of the most horrific acts a person can be forced to experience. The focus should be one the horror of the situation, not the sexuality.

J: It's important to use the intention of nudity properly. Nudity is the cheapest special effect there is. There are countries around the world that your film will sell based purely on the fact that there is nudity. We use nudity creatively and with reason. We had arguments to prevent the nudity during the rape scene. It was not needed and would under value the entire film. It was needless and would just have been degrading. The nudity we use in AMERICAN MARY is almost barely noticeable as we use it not as blatant sexuality but as a tool for telling our story. I'm all for nudity and all things if it has a place in the film. I don't feel that many filmmakers share my feelings.

Are you still enjoying the rush of completing American Mary or has another project meanwhile captured your full attention? If so, could you tell us a bit about it?

S: It's getting close to three years involved with MARY from original concept to the marketing and release phase that we are in now. It's a deeply personal project and I have loved a lot of this experience with it. We are looking forward to going back to set on a new project. Luckily because of the reaction to it, we have been given some incredible opportunities, many of which I cannot say until they have their proper announcements, but are already in the early prep stages of our new film, BOB. It's an original monster movie where we will be teaming with Masters FX with their technology to create something very special. The tagline is: There's a monster inside all of us, sometimes it gets out.

J: I'm most alive when I'm creating. It's been such a blessing to be able to travel the world, meet and connect with the fans, and watch the film together with them through their eyes. I am dying to get back to work. We never really stop working. We're always writing and plotting and thinking about what we want in the next five years. Or the next ten years. You need to set goals for yourself and take steps into achieving them. BOB is what we're really excited for. It's a very "right now" story and there's so much we want to say with that film. It's been on the back burner for a while, but it's time to put it in the spotlight.

American Mary was shown all over England and filled a lot of theatres! How does that make you feel?

S: We are in love with the UK. It was the first place to release HOOKER, give it a festival screening, give it a television premiere, and then it was the first place to screen and release MARY. Jen and I joke that she has to marry a Brit because we need to live there. I tried auctioning her off on our UK screening tour, but oddly no takers. Thanks to Fright Fest who brought us out the the UK for the multiple screening run, Jen, Katie, and me were able to be there for the screenings and meet the people who were watching the film. What Universal and Fright Fest did to support the film is fucking unreal - it was one of the best experiences of my life. I look very forward to touring the next few films in the UK and seeing those wonderful people again.

J: There are no words that can adequately express my love for the UK. I am in love with everyone and everything there. They've been supporting us since DHIAT. They really believed in us first and they never stopped supporting us. I will always go out of my way for the UK and the UK fans. They're really very special to us both.

Final question: do you have any say regarding the distribution of your movies?

S: Absolutely not. We get to meet the distributors and I really love the companies that have come together to support the film - companies like Monster Pictures, Universal, Anchor Bay, and XLrator Media - who really understand the film and stand behind it. I do like to have a certain amount of control over our projects in every aspect, they are all very personal, so the dream goal now is to open our own studio here in Vancouver where we can self-finance our projects, utilize our Canadian cast and crew talent, and forge a national cinematic identity for Canada that includes genre filmmaking which has had its struggles for years. I like our distributors a lot and look forward working with them again in the future on new projects.

J: Not so far. I imagine that'll change as we'll be working with different people to make and release our films in the future. I cannot say enough good things about the distributors who have picked up and released AMERICAN MARY. Monster Pictures, Universal, Anchor Bay, Raven Banner, and XLrator Media have just been so good to us. I'd be very happy teaming up with them again and again.

The entire Frog Bros. team wish to thank Sylvia and Jen for taking the time to answer our questions!

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