Director Jovanka Vuckovic discusses the making of upcoming female-lensed horror anthology film XX
Canadian writer, author and filmmaker Jovanka Vuckovic first found fame as an advocate for darker cinema culture serving as the editor-in-chief of beloved film magazine Rue Morgue, but it was soon very clear that the lady had bigger fish to fright, er, fry.
Upon leaving the magazine, Vuckovic directed her first short film, the Guillermo del Toro-nurtured The Captured Bird, wrote a handful of horror film reference books, contributed to various film and pop culture periodicals, opened up a fine art gallery/tattoo parlor with her husband and partner Shane Faulkner and was instrumental in getting the gears moving to make XX, the hotly-anticipated new exclusively women-directed anthology horror film that is premiering at Sundance this month.
But the road to get XX made was not an easy one. And here, in this exclusive new interview with Vuckovic (who joins Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama and Annie Clark as the quartet of ladies calling the shots), the artist tells us about that wild, ambitious and often frustrating journey.
ComingSoon.net: I know it took some time to get this project up and running. What was the genesis of the film? How instrumental were you in that creation?
Jovanka Vuckovic: We created XX because there were no all-women horror anthologies. I had been thinking about crowdfunding one on Kickstarter when out of the blue Todd Brown of XYZ called me and asked me if I wanted to produce an all-women horror anthology with him – which was an amazing coincidence. We had both noticed women being passed over for jobs in the recent spate of horror anthologies so we put our heads together and decided to do something about it. Without Todd, this film would not exist as it does. He’s the unsung hero of the project. He knew that as a white dude he couldn’t be the public face of XX, which is why he called me up. He already had a format in mind and he brought financing – and even his title was better than mine! So we started making a list of directors we wanted to approach. XX is a direct response to the lack of opportunities for women in film – in the horror genre in particular. The horror genre is not inherently sexist, but it’s an area where women have been historically misrepresented onscreen and underrepresented behind the camera. People think that by making the killer a woman or objectifying men they are “turning the genre on its ear” and being progressive. But those are superficial attempts at feminist horror. People ask me all the time what makes a horror film feminist. The solution is actually quite simple:all you have to do to make any movie a feminist film is portray women as actual human beings. This is symptomatic of a larger systemic issue in film, but progress has to take shape somewhere – and horror is the genre I know most intimately.
CS: There are so many people making movies today. Regardless of gender. How did you cherry pick your talent for film? What was the criteria?
Vuckovic: The only controlling ideas or mandates were that the segments had to be written by a woman, directed by a woman and star a woman in the lead role. We had hoped the directors would also crew up with as many women as possible as well, which happened in almost every case. Magnolia/Magnet has been incredibly supportive of the directors having complete creative control so we were free to pretty much do whatever we wanted. We all got final cut – it was a real pleasure as a filmmaker to work that way. In terms of picking directors, Todd and I made a master list and started reaching out to people. We faced a lot of challenges making this film across three countries and several unions. The project went union – DGA – and we lost our initial financing, one week before I went to camera, which was demoralizing. But, that’s when Magnolia swooped in a saved the project. I cannot stress how important Todd Brown and the XYZ folks have been in the creation and ongoing survival of this film project. They never gave up on it.
So Todd and I made our wish list and started reaching out to people. From the beginning we always knew Sofia Carillo would do the wraparound segment. Todd suggested her and there was never any argument about that. The spirit of Jan Svankmajer and The Brothers Quay are alive and well in Sofia Carillo bizarre animations. We are both big fans. The original line up was Jen and Sylvia Soska, Mary Harron, Jennifer Chambers Lynch and myself. The Soskas couldn’t make it work when we went DGA, and were replaced with Karyn Kusama, which was a big win for the film. She’s amazing. Then, Mary Harron got a TV series green lit – which we were thrilled about of course, so she was eventually replaced with Annie Clark (a.ka. St. Vincent). And my dear friend Jen Lynch got booked up a million years into the future directing every big television show imaginable. She was eventually replaced by Roxanne Benajmin, who produced Annie Clarke’s segment, then turned around and wrote and directed hers in record time. She’s another big hero of the film. That’s how the final line up fell together. We were in talks with Rose McGowan for a while – which would have been really cool, and Todd and I were particularly excited about approaching the Wachowski sisters but neither panned out. I also want to note that very early on, we had been courting Antonia Bird, who wanted to participate when she fell ill and needed to take a break. We were shocked and devastated when she died a few months later. You’ll notice the film is dedicated to the late Antonia Bird, whose career and efforts made a movie like XX possible. We must remember on whose shoulders we stand.
CS: How has motherhood altered your perspective as a watcher of horror and dark fantasy films?
Vuckovic: Without question, motherhood has made me a better person. It has also affected my taste, as I can no longer abide films that portray the however conceptualized but still inexcusable exploitative abuse of children. There’s a difference between telling a story about kids encountering horrors and using children as a device to be “transgressive.” That’s a cheapjack move. If you have to do that to shock people you probably aren’t a very good storyteller.
CS: Have you met the other filmmakers?
Vuckovic: I’d only met my friend Jen Lynch and Sofia Carrillo. It’s interesting because the directors never shared scripts with each other and we will all be meeting for the first time at Sundance!
CS: There are a few projects you have been attached to lately. What’s the status of these pictures? What else are you working on?
Vuckovic: I’ve recently been attached to a science fiction action film about young kids called Riot Girls – which is written by Katherine Collins who is busting her ass writing the reboot of Lost in Space for Netflix. We’re aiming to go to camera this summer. I’m also deep into writing a feature of my own – a hyper violent supernatural thriller called All My Heroes Are Dead about a terminally ill woman who must kill five people in order to save her own skin. And that old cliché – the others I can’t talk about yet!
XX is set to open in theaters, On Demand, Amazon Video and iTunes on February 17th