Heather Santrous: Susan, I wanted to thank you for allowing me to watch and review Under The Raven's Wing. I must say that you surprised me when you asked me to review it. I never thought anyone would contact me and ask me to review their movie, so this was a very nice surprise. As I write this, you have no idea what I thought of it, since I haven't done the review itself yet. Does this....I don't know, make you nervous at all?
Susan Adriensen: [[[GULP!]]]
HS: Okay, I will take that as a "yes." Before we start talking about the movie, would you mind telling me about yourself?
SA: I’m a filmmaker, actress, wife, and mother of two parrots ("Puppy" and "Einstein"). I graduated with a BA in Broadcasting from Montclair State University, but only discovered filmmaking in an elective class during my last semester, senior year! Years passed and I always dreamed about making a movie. It wasn’t until several years later, after a bit of depression from the loss of a second brother, that I picked up my husband’s small single chip camera and just decided to do it! My husband searched e-bay for lights and we did pretty good, considering the quality of the camera. The movie is called Mavi Göz, a paranormal drama … or sometimes I call it my "artsy" film. I cast myself as lead actress, because I knew I’d be available for the many weekends of shooting over several months. I never quite perfected the audio on the project. I took a break from filmmaking for a while, basically because I wanted a better camera and I got too busy with my networking group, Mingle Mangle: Horror Filmmakers and Fans. After not being able to get a special event off the ground, I thought it just might be better to … make another movie! We finally purchased a new camera and that’s where Under the Raven’s Wing comes along.
HS: I will admit to you that I was a little worried when I was reading that you were the director/writer/producer, among other things, for Under The Raven's Wing. Most of the time, but not always, I have found movies like that fall short. I think it is because one person is trying to take on too many tasks. I know when I try to, things don't always turn out the best that I know they can be. You seemed to have pulled it off though. Was it as hard as I think it is to do so many things?
SA: Yes. It was hard. I had help from some wonderful production people. Most of them had full time jobs, so the brunt of pre-production was on me. As for the other roles, writing was done separately and fairly quickly since I already had an outline of the characters for many years. So once the writing was done, the pre-production began. That’s A LOT OF WORK! It consisted of lots of juggling and planning. This included more than just scheduling (which Brian Jude, my other producer, helped greatly). I also had to shop for wardrobe, props, makeup, and the craft service goods (and I HATE food shopping).
Then there were the shooting days. I had to wear the hat of Producer and Director and sometimes Actor. Once again, I had the help of others to get me through it all. But I will confess, there were times my head was spinning in so many directions.
And as for the post-production, … well … editing was a different beast for me - a reclusive and tedious beast, but it got done with my sanity intact … I think. Our trailer was created by one of my Co-Producers, Sophia Eptamenitis and friend, Derek Blakeman (the trailer can be seen here ). As for promoting and being there for me, I have to thank Kimberly Amato ("Raven"). I didn’t know her for beans and she had to audition like everyone else. I had no idea of her organizational skills and savvy until she offered to help. Her title is, of course, "Raven," but she soon became "Co-producer" as well. Without her, I wouldn’t have been able to get around to doing this interview. I’d still only be sending out to our first film festival. Oh! By the way, Under the Raven’s Wing got accepted into the Full Moon Film Festival and Convention and was screened for Halloween!
HS: Now that you have been able to read my review of Under The Raven’s Wing, you know how much I enjoyed it. Did the folks at the Full Moon Film Festival and Convention understand your intent too?
SA: Honestly, it's hard to say. At the festival theater none of the theaters had signage of what film was showing. Also, non-fest movies were playing. Some people were in the wrong theater! When I saw a couple with their two pre-teen daughters, I thought, "They have no idea." Sure enough, to my relief, they left during the detailed stories of the slumber party scene.
Regardless of these issues, we were pleased to meet a young local gentleman who came to see Under the Raven’s Wing just by seeing the trailer posted on the Full Moon Film Festival site. He told us that the trailer looked "different" from the other movies and it intrigued him. This local guy, Brian Mills, not only understood the movie, but enjoyed it as well. He even saw the movie twice! Later, he asked me deep intuitive questions. I like that. My movie sparked questions and thoughts! Brian is now considered our first real fan!
HS: Now wait a minute. I got to watch it first so I want that title! I am glad you are starting to see people that appreciate the movie. Where did the idea for Under The Raven's Wing come from?
SA: Remember that rinky-dink one-chip camera I mentioned? Well, a friend from college and I wanted to do a short film about Goth chicks who commit a murder (although the Goths I know wouldn’t hurt a fly!). Anyway, things fell through as my friend got busy and I put my shot list and character background on the shelf. I created Mavi Göz instead. Years later, I took my notes off the shelf, blew off the dust, and wrote a script. I added much more detail to the characters and put in a little of my own childhood experience with Christian fundamentalists.
HS: How much of the history for each character came from you and how much came from each actress?
SA: Well, basically, everything you hear in the movie, the dialogue and "Raven’s" rambling monologues, are from the script I wrote (yes, it’s scary). I put a little bit of myself into each character – including the male character. I feel a little psychotic like "Raven" sometimes. I feel shy at times and sweet, like "Jessie." I feel sexy and flirty like "Angel." As for "The Director," he represents my inner battles.
But I can’t take the credit for what each and every actor brought to these characters. They all brought a little something that I, of course, could not have provided. I was especially amazed at Kimberly Amato’s take on "Raven." She came into the audition with only the sides that we had provided. They didn’t say much about the history of "Raven," but Kimberly KNEW "Raven" was abused as a child. (That WASN’T in the sides!) With her education and background in Forensic Psychology, she created a psychological profile for "Raven" and concluded she was suffering from "antisocial personality disorder." I, of course, knew "Raven" was delusional, but to have someone with education and experience in these things come to an audition and confirm it was great!
When we all saw her audition our mouths dropped. We had our "Raven!" The other actors were perfect for their characters too. I giggled when Coy DeLuca auditioned for "The Director" because his voice was so perfect. Jessica Palette and Kamilla Sadekova also brought a little something to their characters that was special and unique.
HS: You talked about how each character is a part of yourself. You have also talked about how The Director is a voyeur. Did that come from a part of your personality too? Sorry, but I simply could not let that one pass by without asking you.
SA: Hah! Hah! Boy, you caught that, didn’t you, Heather?! I am being totally honest here - I have a telescope collecting dust in my living room. I don’t use it because I wonder, as I peer through it, … who’s watching me? Think Rear Window.
HS: Could you tell us what your favorite memory or moment from Under The Raven's Wing is?
SA: There were so many good memories. Most of the time the working process was fun, but the downtimes were exceptionally enjoyable. I’ll never forget our last day of principal shooting when we stopped for lunch. I went outside and suddenly blasting from Brian Jude’s car was one of my favorite songs I had as a ring back on my phone: Morrissey’s "The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get." Suddenly, I found myself dancing on the sidewalk with Kimberly Amato ("Raven") and Jessica Palette ("Jessie") like fairies in a circle! We had so much fun. I can’t wait to work with all of them again!
HS: It sounds like you had some fun moments. I'm sure that helped balance out all the hard work. Since you have held various positions in horror movies, which task have you found to be the hardest?
SA: Well, when you’re working on your own low-budget/indie movie, EVERYTHING becomes hard. I found myself running around buying things from wardrobe to craft service. One day, our additional makeup person decided to drop out two days before the shoot. That left me to do the makeup for "Raven" … on top of directing! I actually enjoy doing these things, but in the rush and with all my other tasks … I can easily say, those tasks were difficult and hard.
But if I had to pick one position that is a stand-alone difficult task, I would say … casting. Being an actress myself, I must learn to distance myself from the disappointment the actors must feel when coming all the way to an audition and not getting the part. I just hate being the one to make the final decision, but it is the nature of the beast.
HS: What about directing? What was hard about that for you?
SA: I think most new female filmmakers can relate to not being taken seriously. You have to work harder, but it pays off. You’ll be taken seriously more sooner than later … just finish a great film….
HS: Since we just talked about your work behind the camera, let’s talk about your work in front of it. Does acting come naturally to you, or do you have to work at it?
SA: It all depends on the character and the situation that character is in. To be honest, the crazier the character, the more natural it feels. Playing straight is difficult, but if that straight person turns nuts, it’s like smooth sailing for me. I wonder why that is….
HS: I have only watched two of the films you have acted in. Could you tell me about the films I haven't watched yet that you are in?
SA: Have you seen The Blood Shed? You gotta see The Blood Shed! It gives homage to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Pink Flamingos. I also see a little bit of Carrie in there too. It’s a horror comedy … done right! I can say that because the reviews have been phenomenal!
I play a member of the Bullion family clan, Sno Cakes. Don’t mess with them. Don’t go around sneakin’ in their back yard either! They’re inbred crazies … with some special family powers…. That’s all I’m gonna say. The movie is available NOW!
HS: No I haven't watched that one yet but I will be sure to do so! One of the movies I have watched is Prison Of The Psychotic Damned. Can you tell us how you got involved with that movie?
SA: If I recall correctly, a friend at EI Cinema (now Pop Cinema) recommended me to David Williams of Red Scream Films. I then corresponded back and forth with Williams. I sent him my resume and headshot. I believe I also sent him a DVD copy of Mavi Göz. Before I knew it, I was on board to play "Professor Rayna Bloom!"
HS: I think each of us that watch POTPD will have our own "take" on what happens to your character at the end. Would you share your thoughts with us on what you felt happens to her?
SA: We talked about the actual fate of "Rayna Bloom" on set. Between the cast and David Williams, there are many different stories. I’d really rather leave it up to the viewer, but to make your brain-gears turn – if the "Psychotic Damned" still linger in the Terminal, wouldn’t all those killed be still lingering as well? However, "Rayna Bloom" is seen running off screen…. What really happens to her? I’ll let you decide.
I’m not sure if the outtakes of that scene are on the current released DVD, but … that’s a must-see!
HS: The other movie I have watched that you acted in is of course, Under The Raven's Wing. It was a small part and I probably wouldn't have known it was you, if I didn't already know what you looked like. Why did you decide to step in front of the camera?
SA: It's actually quite simple - I was available. Many people think actors and actresses grow on trees. They do not! It’s especially difficult to find good actors for small, one-line roles or for extra roles. I didn't want to go through the auditioning process for such a small part - which was the role of "Young Jessie's Mother." Heck! Even the role of "Young Raven's Foster Dad" was played by our very own Brian Jude.
Also, I will be very honest, the scenes that I played as "Young Jessie's Mother," are very sensitive to me. They deal with some actual events in my life, and I had very specific ideas for that role. It was just best that I got in front of the camera for that part. It was a bit therapeutic.
HS: I appreciate that you are being honest and open with me for this interview. I'm sure the fans appreciate it as well. The 1980's found a rather large movement of people protesting horror movies because of violence against women, among other things. While there is certainly violence against women in these types of films, I have never felt that people will watch these films and then commit an act of violence. Since you have been in horror movies, I'm curious as to what you think about this claim.
SA: Wow. That’s a difficult question. I can’t say whether violence against women in movies actually causes violence against women. I’m sure there are psychologists and researches that have done extensive work. We hear all the time that violence on TV is bad for our children. I’m sure it is. But what about the adults? I cannot say.
I can tell you from my own perspective that because television and movies have become so saturated with violence that I’m not sure that those of us who grew up watching those movies realize how accustomed we are to the violence. The 80’s hacker movies / chase-after-the-pretty-girl-to-kill-her movies never bothered me on a gender/sexist level. I just thought they were scary … or sometimes dumb and funny.
If a movie is blatantly out to make a point of being violent against women in general, I would have a problem with it. That being said, I NEVER promote censorship. So, it’s a catch 22 situation in my book. I, myself, have truly, but unconsciously, created a thin and fine line of what I feel is acceptable and what’s not. I sometimes feel hypocritical because I "ride the fence." My scripts include violence or dark subjects and I’m sure there are people who would find it offensive. I also find certain movies offensive myself. Some filmmakers go too far and although I don’t promote censorship, I can choose what I watch … and don’t watch. Just recently, I deleted a myspace "friend" because they posted a bulletin of a video … as they said: "a preggo getting it with a bat." Out of angry curiosity seeing the word "preggo" and knowing full well that it was about a pregnant woman, I watched it. First, I fast-forwarded it. I’m just too busy to watch unknown film shorts during my working hours. Sure enough, there’s a man violating a pregnant woman with a bat as she cries for her unborn child. I immediately deleted that person as a "friend."
Then I thought, "I didn’t even watch the whole entire movie." What if the woman wins in the end? Or "super baby" popped out and clobbered the man? Who knows? I made a choice. Delete! Buh bye! But we all have a choice!
But what about me? My most recent script has a scene that is not too far from that, but it’s a daydream sequence and the attacker … is a woman. Does that make it right? It’s all what we perceive.
And in many ways, we can’t point at any one decade as being more violent than another. The 70’s came out with some very raw movies. Today, movies are made so realistically that it’s hard not to cringe. There are two recent movies that come to mind that made me wince. One is Devils Rejects - when Otis and Baby Firefly force the character of Gloria to strip. That scene was hard to watch. But, women weren’t the only victims in the movie. (And I will confess - that movie was done oh so well that it is one of my favorites horror movies. I don’t think I’m a bad person for it.) Another movie is Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door. Not really a horror movie, but it was a horrific story – based on a true story. And it was an upsetting movie. Was it a good movie? Yes and done well, but I am a little uncomfortable that it’s getting accepted into horror film festivals. Is the torture entertaining for some?
So when it comes to violence to females in film, we have to look at the big picture. Are females the only victims in the film? What’s the story telling? And what about other mediums … like music? Aren’t the hip-hop songs doing the same? But, I wouldn’t dare censor the artists. I just wouldn’t listen to it…. People have a choice.
As for myself and other filmmakers, we certainly can’t be responsible for the actions of others. Hell, with all the horror movies I’ve seen, how come I never went out and really hit someone with a brick? But honestly, for me there’s always a concern with my movie Under the Raven’s Wing. How will people perceive it? Will they believe in Raven’s philosophy? Will they do something stupid like try to transcend someone in the name of love? Oh shit. People, it’s just a movie! I wrote the script and I’m just making commentary on the parallel between religious fundamentalists and Raven and the girls. You don’t want to be like either one, do you?
I cannot compromise my artistic ideas and writing. I don’t expect others to do so either. Like I said, it’s a very fine thin line….
HS: Personally I do not think you should have to compromise your ideas, and I hope you never have to do that. I also agree with your thoughts on violence related to females in horror movies. Susan, you mentioned your web site, Mingle Mangle earlier. Will you tell us more about it?
SA: Mingle Mangle: Horror Filmmakers and Fans is a networking group I put together back in August of 2004. The members, or as I call them, "Manglers," are people in the film or music industry who come to our mixers or who have supported Mingle Mangle in some way. Basically, we meet in a bar or lounge in NYC for "Mingle Mangle Mixers," which are free. We talk shop and promote our stuff to one another. We used to meet monthly, but since I’ve started "Under the Raven’s Wing," we only meet bi-yearly. We keep in touch though via e-mail and myspace.
HS: Can you tell us what you see in your future?
SA: If all goes well, I see myself making another movie and another and another. It’s what I want to do. It’s all I can think about!
HS: I sure hope that you can do that. Susan, I wanted to thank you again for doing this interview with me. I enjoyed getting to know you over the last few months while doing this interview and I sure hope we can keep in touch. Please keep me informed about your projects so I can pass the information on. I am looking forward to doing more reviews of your movies and hopefully more interviews as well!
SA: Thanks so much, Heather. You’re questions were fun and thought provoking. I will be in touch for sure!