This Women in Horror Month I’m celebrating some of the women who focus on short horror films. Every day from now until the end of the February, I’ll be featuring a new Sinister Seven interview with a different short horror film director to talk about what it’s like to be a woman in the business of giving us big scares in small doses.
A lot of people probably already know Tristan Risk for roles in short and features films alike. But she recently stepped behind the camera for the delightfully quirky Parlour Tricks. In our interview, Risk talks about how the experiences she’s had as an actress have affected her sensibilities as a director.
What attracts you to the short film medium? If you’ve also done feature length movies, how do they differ (other than length)?
Short films are like tango dances – they are a brief love affair. They are short windows into brief lives. I think it offers an interesting storytelling narrative than something feature-length where you can work a grander picture.
Edgar Allan Poe believed that a good short story achieves a “singular effect” that elicits one strong emotion from the reader throughout. Do you believe this to be true of short films?
While I’ll agree that short films can elicit a strong reaction, I think that it doesn’t need to be limited to just one emotion. I think it’s a neat trick if you can take someone on an emotional journey in a short period of time, allowing for a richer depth of experience. But I’m also open to letting a filmmaker take one solid punch with one big feel, if that’s what they feel suits their story.
A lot of short films have an independent, DIY vibe. What are some of the benefits and the challenges of making films in those circumstances?
No limits, in terms of the kind of content you want to produce. I think the DIY element and our technology makes it way more accessible to create and edit your own films, which is great. There is opportunity there. I think in terms of challenges, trying to get a larger budget for a short film is a combination of luck, timing, funding, and maybe a favourable Moon alignment.
Do you deliberately convey your experiences as a woman through your short films, or do you just make a film and whatever comes through is incidental?
I don’t as a director or a writer, just yet. I find I inject a part of myself into every character I play, so in terms of doing that in front of the camera, then yes. But the scripts and films I’ve got in the works are heavily influenced by lived experiences.
With countless stories of misogyny affecting feature productions on both studio and independent films alike, do you find you get to bypass some of those issues and have more control on these short film productions? Are there still hurdles that you face as a woman that men wouldn’t have to deal with?
In terms of short films, I’ve been generally pretty lucky. As an actor I did face harassment on set, but I’ve been lucky that all the folks I’ve worked with on my first set as a director was all family and friends, so it was more like a support group with talent than a potential shark tank. I would like to think that I have fearsome enough reputation as to discourage any potential fuckery on a set where I am director. I think there are still challenges and struggles for female directors in terms of getting bigger jobs, or why studios will hire anyone with the slightest WHIFF of sexual assault allegations over any of the myriad of suitable female directors. In the wake of #MeToo and #TimesUp it’s time for studios to really step up and put their money where their mouths are.
What advice would you give a woman looking to make their first short horror film?
Do it. Don’t wait, assemble a cast, a camera, a place to shoot it, and get to work. You might hit your stride right away, it might take you a minute. Biggest pieces of advice: always make sure there is coffee, water and toilet paper, listen to your cast and crew’s concerns, and communicate if there is an issue. Calmness and respect get you everywhere.
What are some short horror films created by women that people should be seeking out (of course, please include your own)?
Shameless Plug: My directorial debut and a script penned by my own hand, Parlour Tricks is currently making the festival rounds. I would recommend anything by Izzy Lee and Jill Sixx. Watch out for the Horrors Of The Pacific North West from Gloomy Sunday Productions, coming to Seattle Crypticon. Ariel Hanson and the Bad Cookie Pictures crew. You’ve got a good start to bite into these!