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An Interview with Lisa Van Dam-Bates, Director and Star of Marla Mae

by Mike Haberfelner

October 2015

Lisa Van Dam-Bates on (re)Search my Trash


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We have talked about this before [click here], but do bring us up to speed: Your new movie Marla Mae, what is it about?


Marla is a 20-something waitress in a steady relationship. She gets offered free birth control from a family friend turned doctor. The birth control isn’t what she was told it was and has severe consequences for those close to her.


What were your inspirations when writing Marla Mae?


I wanted to write a horror story with emotional elements that women could relate to. Birth control is more often than not the female’s responsibility in a relationship. We really don’t have that many affordable options out there, especially places in the country where Planned Parenthood has been defunded.


Do talk about your film's approach to horror for a bit (as in suspense vs sudden shocks, atmosphere vs all-out gore and the like)?


I’m calling this a chick-flick horror for a couple of reasons. One of the reasons is the horror to drama ratio. I wanted a healthy balance of suspense and all-out-gore, but I also wanted to have some really dark emotionally charged things in there as well.


What can you tell us about the look and feel of your movie?


Overall it’s very serious and dark, feeling-wise. I’ve been stewing on how to describe the look of the movie for a while. I’ve settled on “dream-like”. There’s a lot of warm lighting and graceful cinematography, but we got some dark and rawer footage too.


You also play the title role in Marla Mae - so what did you draw upon to bring her to life, and have you at all written her with yourself in mind?


Marla was a really difficult character for me to write. Marla and I have a lot in common, so in a sense I can relate to her and can imagine what I would do in situations like hers. Marla starts out a lot nicer than me, she’s forgiving and polite, but due to the things that happen to her she really changes. She ends up being a lot tougher than me.

I knew I wanted to play Marla from the beginning, but about halfway through the first draft of the script I had to put that out of my mind because I kept censoring the things that Marla was doing or saying. For instance, while writing a sex scene I realized that I would have to act it out. So, I rewrote it and had Marla keep her shirt on - that’s when I knew I just had to write it without myself in mind and decide if I still wanted to play her when it was done. In the end, Marla takes off her shirt during sex like a normal person, but I decided I wanted to play her anyway.


What can you tell us about the rest of your cast, and why exactly these people?


The movie has a pretty small cast. Two of the roles were filled by some really old friends before I even started auditioning. I’ve known Samuel Mikolon, who plays a rapist in the movie, since we were 11. And I’ve known Travis Johnny Ware, who plays my onscreen boyfriend since we were 12. I have some physical scenes with both of them, so it was awesome to have guys that I trust and am really comfortable with. I wouldn’t have cast them if I thought they wouldn’t do a good job, but both Sam and Travis worked really hard on their parts and gave way better performances than I’d anticipated. I held some open auditions to fill the rest of the roles.

Strangely, I had a TON of guys come out to the auditions and hardly any girls. I couldn’t pay actors, and I needed a whole month commitment from them, so that really limited me.

I know everyone probably just wants to hear about our bank-robber turned actor… Jason Stange was the first person I cast from the open auditions. He came to the first one I did in Olympia. He nailed it. He was willing to work for free and his schedule? “Free as a bird” he said. I actually rewrote a lot of "Dr. Lourdes" scenes after Jason auditioned, he brought a lot of depth to that character and a very subtle creepiness that is hard to pull off.

Palmer Chase, who plays "Detective Wirtz", came to an audition I held in Seattle. He’s a trained actor who’s been doing mostly local projects. I could tell once we started rehearsing that I’d made the right decision in casting him.

And about a week before we needed to start rehearsals, I still didn’t have a girl to play “Jules”. I was kind of freaking out. Nobody that I auditioned was what I was looking for, or even close. There was one actress who I really wanted, but her schedule wasn’t going to work. I thought we were screwed, but I held one more last minute audition and Katie Hemming showed up. She had a really good audition and was super flexible and committed.

The rest of the cast were extremely last minute additions, or crew members who stepped up. Brandon Roberts, our producer, plays Jules’ onscreen boyfriend. Our special FX guy Raleigh, plays Marla’s coworker Ryan. Everyone in our crew was an extra at some point. I think we used every single person’s car in the movie too.


Do talk about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?


It was crazy - we managed to film the entire movie in 15 days. Week one was overnights, hardly anybody knew each other and we had to maintain a really tight schedule. There were some tense moments, but we managed to get everything we needed in time. At the end of week one we shot our first blood gag - it was the last shot of the night. I think that loosened everyone up and got everyone excited about the project. I think during the rest of the shoot we just were a lot more comfortable with each other. Or I was anyway - kind of a good thing since I had to be naked and covered in blood for a lot of week two. I hope everyone was as comfortable with each other as I was...


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You're currently running a fundraiser to secure post-production funds, right? So what can you tell us about your campaign?


We’ve got some really cool perks. I wanted to make things for our contributors that were more personal and special than what most campaigns are doing. One of the perks that I’m really excited about is Making of Marla Mae: the zine. It’s basically my journal throughout the entire movie making process. It’ll be cool for fans, but is also going to have a lot of useful tips for first-time filmmakers. Ya know, learn from my mistakes kind of thing.


Any idea yet when and where Marla Mae might be released onto the general public yet?


We’ve had a little distributor interest, which is awesome, but we’re just focusing on post-production right now. We want the movie to be at its height of perfection when it hits festivals.


Any future projects you'd like to share?


Nothing right now - post production is taking up all of my creative energy. Best way to find out about projects in the future is to follow me on Twitter: @lisavandambates


Your/your movie's website, Facebook, IndieGoGo, whatever else?


Anything else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?


Check out our teaser - it’s here:


Thanks for the interview!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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and shall not be held responsible for
content of sites from a third party.

Thanks for watching !!!



Robots and rats,
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love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


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Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
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tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.


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Your Bones to

the new anthology by
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Out now from




On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD