Interview With Independent Film Maker
Susannah O'Brien Ph.D
Ballistic Blood Bullets, in association with The Geek Legion Of Doom, are delighted to have the opportunity to chat with independent film maker Susannah O’Brien. Writer, producer and director of such recent creative horror films as, Encounter (2015), Hallucinogen (2016) & The Doll (2016).
[PAUL] Welcome Susannah. Thank you for taking time out from your busy daily schedule to be with us today. Your movie output certainly seems to have a prolific purpose about it over the last couple of years. Was this how you envisaged it to be ?
[SUSANNAH] Hi, and thanks for interviewing me. You might want to fix my grammar, I refuse to use it ever since my dissertation lol, and my mom being my English teacher, it's my way of rebelling. These two years have been a shock to me actually moving to Los Angeles, making three movies, trying to find my niche, and where to fit in here. Losing my father to cancer I've had a tough two years, but when you can go to the theater and see your movie it's all worth it.
My sister is actually the horror fanatic. I always hold my ears when I see horror films, it's all about the loud sound. It is really fun scaring people. She used to make haunted houses for me to go in when I was little, and scary masks. And we lived in a haunted house growing up, so that was scary. I always loved, Friday the 13th (1980) and Halloween's.
Before your career in film you actually qualified as a psychologist and became a counselor. This in itself must have been rewarding work, and also perhaps very useful to you now in character profiling actors for your films. How do your psychology skills assist in your film making processes ?
I counseled to help people look at life differently. I'm sure my degree helps me write faster. After you do a dissertation writing for a script seems easier, lol. I wish I could say it was my degree but all my creations and scripts are definitely from God. I think he creates, not me. I'm just a messenger. I am the biggest Christian in the world, and Jesus freak. I even had a ministry at one time to help people, and I think it's funny when people say my visions have to be from a dark place. All of my scripts have a hidden meaning or message. I feel like I'm a ghost buster ! I tell a story that needs to be told, and we can't enjoy the good without the horror, and if God created all things.
But we definitely do get haunted on set some, lol. The Hallucinogen entity is no joke, it haunted my nephew. He is in the beginning of the film. That's his true story, and when I wrote the script the ghost went away, so it's worth it. I think horror movies do bring up some funky energies that need to be cleared. Most sets get blessed by priests. So I just use my visions to write, and make movies, and I hope I am a good enough conduit. I think if I had the funding my scripts could be shown on film so much better. Most of my flaws are due to budget !
You experienced very real horror when death itself became an unwelcome bed fellow in your own personal life, but your faith in the higher being, at such a terribly traumatic time, had it seems a very profound affect upon your purpose to write screenplays. Do you recall the thought transition at that time which then enabled you to visualize a multitude of scripts ?
It was my worst hour, but I have had many. I had a tumor. I was sick at the Mayo clinic, but it was a job like experience. When the scripts came in I had recently lost everything. My grandpa, my dogs, my soul mate, and I was sitting on my porch and God came to me, and said be still and trust in the lord, and I think the scripts came to help me through that year.
All years are hard, it's life, nut the stories I wrote, that were shown to me in the vision, really helped me. Creating helps me, and I think God knew my dad was going to die, so he sent something to fulfill me. The stories I wrote and my work do that.
Encounter (2015) was a clear vision. A true story that happened to two people who were just married. The original vision took place in the 1960's, and I think this couple tragically died on a farm, and no one knew. And their story had to be told, to release their souls ! I was sad when I got the vision for Encounter. I felt what they felt.
Your creative movie making house, Sahara Vision Productions, seems itself prophetically born out from your personally quoted experience of having to cross the desert to reach Hollywood, and face your personal fears. Do you feel in having full creative control this has afforded you greater respect and opportunities to attract financing, and like minded creative individuals to work with that you can trust, in the otherwise infamously avarice minded industry ?
I don't know ! I love having creative control but it keeps you isolated. I would love the opportunity to work with more people, and get more funding, and have some exec look at my pitch book. And see my visions ! But I'm not going to wait around for Hollywood, so I just make them myself.
The inspired camera work & cinematography of David M. Brewer is evident to see in your film, Hallucinogen (2016), complimenting your own keen directors eye for framing scenes. How pleasing is it for you to be able to work with such talent, well respected for being involved with such recognized horror films as, Insidious (2010) ?
Working with Dave was a pleasure. I actually feel sorry for him working with me, lol. My stes are run very differently than a studio set. That was the first movie I had an Assistant Director on. lol. I really use the visions I see in my head to dictate a scene, and I am still learning to talk to dp's ( Director of photography), and story boarding is new to me. We didn't really have a shot list, I just told him my vision, and I know my weird style. We didn't get the coverage he wanted. We shot the movie in a record eight days, at ten hour days. But I sit with my editors and sound, and say where to cut, so I know when I have the shot I need, and how to edit around stuff.
It was a great learning experience for me. I am trying to adapt to the studio style of film sets, but people have to adapt to my eccentric way of shooting, using my vision.
So Dave was great. I use what I call a conduit on set, which happens to be my script editor, his name is Michael Phillip Edwards, and he can see my visions. So I would have him run around set and tell people what I see, and explain it in film language. It's just my style to stay in vision because I am sort of a psychic spiritual medium, so to speak. I live in two worlds, and I actually get orders from the other side, as creepy as that sounds, as what to film and where to edit.
Your visualization in camera of the predominantly interior house shots from, Hallucinogen (2016) are simply, yet well dressed, with a great use of light shading to accentuate the moments of tension. This was reminiscent of the impressive style of the great Italian director Mario Bava in his horror films, and also Dario Argento, as well to certain degree Roger Corman. Are such renowned film makers or similar an influence upon your own style of film making ?
I think the only style I have is maybe, Hitchcock and M. Night Shyamalan. I can watch any of his movies and to show I see his vision, and where he gets it, and it's very similar. And as far as Alfred Hitchcock, my style is very 1950's and 1960's. I am a huge horror sci-fi geek from that time period. More so sci-fi ! I have box sets that I watch. Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) is so scary and one of my favourite examples of horror meets sci-fi.
As far as lighting, I really love the orange glow, Encounter (2015) had. My dp for, The Doll (2016) Allister Conway, is a lighting genius, and The Doll (2016) looks like a French painting. He always jokes with me and says watch this movie, see the lighting, and I'm like no I don't want to, I want to see the acting and the story. Who cares if it looks good if there is bad acting, and no story !?, lol. So we are both right.
Which films and film makers have indeed been a memorable & influential part of the young Susannah O’Brien’s past right to this day ?
Since I was kind of indoctrinated into film making from my near death experience and visions I never said I want to be a film maker, that's what's so weird about my journey. So I can look at my style and say that vision reminds me of Alfred Hitchcock or M. Night Shyamalan, (and I hope I'm spelling his name right, lol), but I never really tried to be like anyone. I always did watch the Oscars growing up, and knew someday I will get one, which was always shown to me in visions too, so how I will get from horror to the Oscars I don't know. I just take it one vision at a time, and it got me across the desert, and my first movie theatrical release.
Were your parents aware that they had a budding film maker in the family, and encourage such pursuits, or was it envisioned that you were destined for that career in the field of psychology ?
I started out in the stock market, and then real estate. I loved building houses and buying real estate, and flipping them. That was my passion. And I did counseling as more to help people, and I was good at it. I hot my Ph.D for my mom. She has hers, but I never really cared for school. It was always easy for me. I was a self learner. But I was more of an entrepreneurial brain, so they had no idea. I think they and I always thought I would write books, and that I would have a book out first.
Your faith and particularly your mother are clearly most important to you. In other written articles you have talked about just how grueling film productions have been, and that there is a very tangible aroma on set after long hours of shooting, to which apparently your dear mother assures you’ll get used to, with the added motherly advice to just use Febreze. What advice and reassurance do you find yourself giving to people around you during the working day ?
My editors and dp's prob want to murder me, lol. I just am always working, and try to get all of us to stay in vision for the project. If anything Allister Conway, my dp and editor, always keeps me going. He's like, don't give up !, and give me great advice.
Encounter (2015) was your debut feature film. How much of a proud parent releasing her baby to the world were you upon its release, and did you sneak into theaters to experience with an audience, and if so what was the reaction to the screening ?
I took my mom to see, Encounter (2015). It was so surreal to see it next to, Star Wars ( Star Wars The Force Awakens (2015). There is no experience like taking your mom to your own movie.
I was at AFM (American Film Market) before it sold, and snuck into a a screening, and some execs were in there. My assistant and I felt we couldn't leave or they would think we didn't like it, so we acted scared, and gasped, and it was really funny actually. I almost missed a meeting with Paramount over it.
Before feature films did you make any short experimental movies or write scripts for others that were then shot on camera in any shape or form ?
I didn't. I don't really see the point of shorts. It does leave me wanting to see more, but it's hard to sell them or get funding. I just say make a feature ! I didn't have any films or scripts prior to my visions.
It is refreshing to have another female film maker such as yourself breaking into the business with such cumulative success, particularly in the horror genre. Kathryn Bigelow for instance has done fantastically well, and of course herself given us the mercurial horror feature, Near Dark (1987). Do you feel that opportunities behind the camera, and roles in front of the camera are better for women today or as difficult & as stereotypical as ever !?
I have heard out here that female directors are in demand. It's like a rumor going around, so maybe it's easier to get the job now than before.
Your latest film, The Doll (2016) features You Tube celebrity Valeria Lukyanova. The Ukranian living Barbie Doll sensation is inspired casting and from the movie trailer looks to be perfect for the role. How did you come to cast Valeria in your film ?
I had a vision of Valeria before I knew she existed, and I have five Doll scripts. I kept seeing this perfect doll person in my visions, so I wrote them a year before I knew she existed, and one day my assistant was on You Tube and said, look it's your vision ! Valeria is very spiritual as well, and she thinks we were linked by the same spirit guide.
How was working with Valeria Luckyanova, and do you feel that she may have a potential future in the movie business ? Her unusual look would be potentially perfect for a reworking of the French chiller classic, Eyes Without A Face (1960).
Valeria was a true doll to work with. She worked long hard hours and days, and never complained. She was a natural for the part. She def has a future. She's in Mexico now and going to be in a lot of TV shows on Telemundo. She has a look and presence that is of a true star, so people will def see more of her. She attracts fans.
What can the growing fan base of Susannah O’Brien expect from you & your Sahara Vision Productions company in the future ?
I want to do more sci-fi. I really loved, Encounter (2015). I want to do dramas. I think my horrors are actually good dramas. I have more comedy scripts than horror, for the 'A' list comedian.
I think the film industry is changing, and I would like to take You Tube stars and put them in movies, and stream to a website that fans really want.
I really love sci-fi fans they are so loyal, and forever. So if I could mix sci-fi with horror, and make the fans happy, with the budget I have, that would be my goal. And those two Oscars I was promised in my vision would be nice :p
Is there a closing statement that you would like to share here with the readership and horror film community who support and follow you ?
I hope you enjoy my first three films. I am learning and I want to hear what the fans want, and make better movies. I want my fans to come home from work, and go to my future website and look forward to downloading my movies. So if you don't like these I will get better, lol.
It is super hard with a low budget, you can't please everyone. The visions are what they are, and sometimes I don't even know what they mean or why !?
It has been an absolute pleasure to have been afforded such a conducive all access pass to discuss your movie making passion with you Susannah. Thank you so very much, and every best wish for continued success to you.
May the Febreze be with you.
Ha Ha, thanks.
Interview by Paul Cooke 13th June 2016
Huge Thanks To The Following For Making This Possible:
Susannah O'Brien Ph.D
Leo at The Geek Legion Of Doom