Your upcoming film American Mary - in a few words, what is it
Sylvia: It follows the story of medical student, Mary Mason played by
Katharine Isabelle [Katharine
Isabelle interview - click here], as she becomes increasingly broke and disenchanted by
medical school and the surgeons she once admired. The allure of easy money
and notoriety sends her into the messy world of underground surgeries and
body modification - which leaves more marks on Mary that her so-called
Jen: It's a love letter to Asian and European horror stylistically. Those of
you who have seen Dead
Hooker in a Trunk
will likely be very surprised. That film was
very much inspired by grindhouse-style filmmaking. Where it was visceral
and insane and totally random like a rabid dog, American Mary
thoughtful and surgically deliberate and haunting and deeply disturbing.
What sparked the idea to make a movie about the
world of underground surgeries, is there a personal relation to the
subject, and what kind of research did you do to get everything right?
Sylvia: An ex showed me something he found on the internet - it was an April
Fool's prank, but I didn't know that at the time - where two identical
twin brothers were body modification enthusiasts and opted to have one
brother's arm removed and attached to the other's chest plate. Then the
remaining ring finger on the initial twin would be elongated by attaching
his brother's ring finger to the tip making a super long finger. The limbs
wouldn't be rejected because they share the same blood, but what really
disturbed me was the write up they had accompanying their story - that
only identical twins would understand this need for closeness. I became
obsessed with the story and body modification, long after I realized what
I saw was a prank.
Anytime something is frightening, once you educate yourself on the
material, that fear tends to disappear. That's what happened to me with
the body mod community and I realized that the actual members of this
community are interesting, self-aware, very kind and approachable people.
Isn't that always the case, though? And the ones that appear outwardly to
be someone good and harmless are usually anything but - and Jen and I are
used to being treated a certain way because of our appearance, why not
make a film that explores that relationship between appearances and what's
under the surface of those appearances.
Jen: You write what you know. Or what fascinates you. If Sylv sees
something disturbing, and it's usually rather rare to find something that
gets to her, it possesses her. That was the case with the subject matter
of American Mary. We have been very fortunate to have had so much support
from those in the body mod community. These people are so open and giving
when they have every reason not to be. People often want to talk to them
under the guise of a human interest story, but it often turns out to be a
modern day witch hunt to exploit and ridicule these people. That's the
lowest form of "entertainment". To ridicule people who are
different. We, ourselves, being twins and seen as dark and unusual, have
felt like outcasts throughout our lives so we related on that level.
Russ Foxx was our flesh art consultant for the film and was just
amazing to work with. He taught us so much about the culture and
introduced us to many people in the community. It was always our intent to
approach the subject matter respectfully. Especially because I find you
cannot judge people based on their outside appearances. I know that sounds
like something you learn in elementary school, but people do it well into
their adult lives. I've found people who appear to be normal and the ones
in positions that you'd traditionally respect are rarely worthy of trust
and those that seem a little different on the outside are some of the
kindest, most well adjusted, and wonderful people I've ever met.
sources of inspriations when writing American Mary, and what can
you tell us about the writing process as such?
Sylvia: My entire life, I've had my sister there. We have a life time of
in-jokes and experiences that we share and those personal moments are what
we build our stories on. Having an identical version of yourself who you
are constantly compared to, it makes for some very healthy competition and
we really push each other to be better. We write everything together and
we are merciless with ideas until we find something that we are both
passionate about, so we are creating something that means something to us.
Our interests are actually very different, but that works for writing -
you don't want to have a writing partner that is too similar to you.
The process of writing American Mary was what made us create a process. This
happened when we were still working on post with Dead
Hooker in a Trunk
and trying to get distribution. We were talking to Eli Roth, who has been
an incredibly supportive friend to us, about scripts and he asked what
else we had. We didn't have anything, so I bullshitted. Oh, we have a ton,
this one, and that one, and this one about a medical student. Cool, the
medical student one sounds interesting. I told him that I wanted to go
through it first and that I would send it to him in a couple weeks. Jen
and I wrote out a timeline split into three acts and started beating out a
story for our medical student. We knew we wanted to talk about body
modification and we were also really struggling with our careers with
these really weird experiences at the time, so it all fueled the story. We
made up different scenes here and there and called which sequences we
would write, if one of us got blocked, we'd tag out while the other got to
play video games. It's a pretty fun process.
Later, I admitted to Eli about my bullshit. He was cool about it
because we still pulled it off. If it wasn't for that back and forth with
him, the script would have never been written.
Jen: I'm very lucky to have been born with a writing partner. I've heard
horror stories about writers actively seeking partners and losing them or
clashing. Sylv and I write quite seamlessly together. I don't think people
can tell who writes what. We hash out a concept we are both equally
excited about and go from there, breaking scenes down on a timeline,
filling in the middle, and then deciding who wants to do what. One of us
writes while the other plays video games, then we switch off and read over
what the other did, make adjustments, and go back and forth from there.
We're as similar as we are different. I say she's the Lars Von Trier and
I'm the Joss Whedon. She writes the horrible and unthinkable. I throw in a
few jokes. Honestly, though, I couldn't ask for a better writing partner.
She's so brilliant and comes up with such purely original concepts and
you approach your subject matter as directors, and did you share the same
vision or often clash, aesthetically (or otherwise)?
Sylvia: On every project we treat every member of the team respectfully
because without their talents, the film wouldn't be possible. We had a
tremendous amount of talent killing themselves on American Mary and their passion
for the film put it at this whole other level. The one thing Jen and I
share always is our insane ambition and passion on each project. There
were a lot of departments that had to come together to create the world of
American Mary. Thank God there was two of us. I have no idea how a single
director handles making a movie. There were two identical versions of us
and we were still running around like crazy. Jen was kind enough to give
me final say on a lot with American Mary, but she was the one who privately would
battle me to make it stronger. There are some big moments in the film that
are very much Jen's merit that I would have missed because I would be
obsessing about a tiny detail somewhere else.
We agree and disagree like any two separate people. We make sure to
have those discussions privately to one another. On set, we each have
different focuses and then get together to see where we are on the day. We
work like a unit and I wouldn't want to make a film without her. I'm very
lucky to have been born with someone who can stand me.
Jen: There has to be one person who gets the final say. We have
everything well discussed and divided well before we set foot on set. And
every project is different. Sylv had final say on American Mary. She had a massive
focus on the principal cast and cinematography. I put a large focus on the
prosthetics, effects, and make up. We both worked with the cast, but Sylv
had a very specific vision for Mary that she and Katie developed. It was
also my responsibility to put out fires. That meant if bullshit happened,
I'd deal with it so that at least one of us could work. And bullshit
happens. Always. If someone tells you different, they're telling you a
fairy tale. It was vital especially working with such a tight shooting
schedule. There was no place for mistakes or over sights. It really pays
off to be able to divide and conquer.
surgery suggests a waggonload of blood and guts almost by definition ...
and since I know quite a few of my readers are gorehounds: How far are you
going concerning gore in American Mary
and was there a line you
just refused to cross for whatever reason. And what can you tell us about
your gore effects, and how important is gore for your body of work to
Sylvia: We had a lady at a test screening have to leave because she was
getting ill, but she still filled out a form telling us how much she loved
the film. At Cannes, we had a woman run out shaking her head during a
semi-graphic depiction of what I call 'radical feminism'. We took a strong
stance on keeping the medical aspects as true to life as possible, there
is only one scene that is possible but would require more surgeons, but
that would not have worked for plot reasons. I didn't even realize the
amount of blood in the film until I was talking to Katie about it one day.
I replied, We don't get blood on you - except this scene, and that scene,
and... oh yeah, there's a lot of blood. It's not an over the top,
exaggerated fountain gusher blood fest, but the gorehounds will be happy -
we did a few things that you've never seen in a film before.
Jen: We are believers in blending prosthetics with reality in this film
in particular. We feel CGI should only be used for subtle embellishments.
It can look godawful and takes me out of films when I notice it. I'm not
really a good gauge of gore. Watching American Mary, I'd see someone cringe or hear
them groan or catch them looking away and I'd be all like,
"what?". The violence is stylistically different from Dead
Hooker in a Trunk, of
course, but there is some very harsh imagery in the film.
Or so I'm told.
Your last feature, the wonderful and
wonderfully titled Dead
Hooker in a Trunk, wasn't exactly irony-free. To what extent is
irony a factor in American Mary?
Sylvia: The humour in Dead
Hooker in a Trunk was very mumblecore, but you still had
those over the top fantastical moments, so you were laughing a lot. You
will laugh in American Mary, there is a lot of situational humour in the film and
Katie is phenomenal that creating humour without it being slap stick. I
don't think Jen and I could make anything without our dark sense of
humour, but there are some just awful moments in the film. It was designed
not to be a cookie-cutter, paint by numbers horror film - it has many
different dimensions and feelings throughout it.
Jen: I enjoy irony. American Mary
is much more based in reality than
Hooker in a Trunk. I laugh when people isolate certain things that happen
Hooker in a Trunk and say, "that's not possible." If you don't suspend
your disbelief, if you aren't able to or willing to, let me be the first
to tell you, Dead
Hooker in a Trunk is not for you. It's whimsical and just loaded with
WTF delights. That style of ironic humor has passed on to American Mary, though it
is executed in a very different way. Much of the situational irony in American Mary comes from what you expect and assume and what turns out to be the reality
of certain situations. Appearances are everything is a theme throughout
the film. And what something appears to be is rarely what it turns out to
actress Katharine Isabelle [Katharine
Isabelle interview - click here] - what can you tell us about her, and what made
her perfect for the role?
Sylvia: Anyone who knew me during the last two and a half years with
creating American Mary will likely tell you about my obsession with the
film and Mary in particular. I met Katharine on Josie and the Pussycats
and she was really kind to me. I had wanted to work with her for a long
time, but I didn't really know much about her other than that brief
meeting and admiring her work in films. We sent over the script and got a
meeting with Katie. I was so nervous that I would hate her, but she came
in and was fucking brilliant. And her craziness for creating Mary rivaled
Katharine is intoxicatingly talented. There is a lot to Katie that is
similar to Mary, her strength of character, her quirky and sometimes
severe personality, she's one of the most interesting women I have ever
had the pleasure of knowing. I remember talking to her on set and watching
her do her makeup identically to a scene in the film where Mary does hers
the same way and realized that she is the living version of that
character. There is a lot to Mary that isn't Katie, the story is very much
a modern tragedy and she goes through hell in the film, and Katie had to
create these very crushingly dark and dead moments. I watch the film
sometimes and think, holy shit, I did that to one of my best friends.
Jen: Oh, her. She's the bane of my existence.
Kidding, of course. Katie is phenomenal. She has been acting since
childhood and it's really second nature for her. She's brilliant and
there's a bit of crazy in there, too. She really brought Mary Mason to
life. The character goes through a lot in the film. It was an incredible
challenge. We put Katie through hell, especially emotionally and
psychologically. And no matter what we put her through, she excelled. She
has a deep understanding of the character and put in months of working on
her and talking about the script and story with us. You can't ask for a
more dedicated actress. And she blew us away, often nailing a scene in a
single take. It was a real pleasure to work with her.
A few words about the rest of
your principal cast?
Paula Lindberg as Ruby RealGirl
Sylvia: A lot of American production come up to Vancouver and they have an
endless supply of talent to choose from, but these actors are often
supporting cast or day players. There are so many countries that make
these great films from their own talent and Canada has become a service
country, we don't make enough of our own stuff, so it was important to
showcase that talent in American Mary. Jen and I had very specific visions
for each character - Paula Lindberg (Ruby RealGirl) was our first cast
member and her performance as doll-like Ruby got us the attention we
needed to get the film into production. She just became this very strange,
pixy-like character. I love David Lovgren and Clay St.Thomas - I had them
in mind when we were creating their characters as Dr. Grant and Dr. Walsh.
That's going to sound less flattering once you see the film.
We had big problems finding cast for Billy Barker, Beatress Johnson,
and Detective Dolor. I hand-picked Antonio Cupo and John Emmet Tracy in a
short list of actors I wanted to have brought in for our auditions.
Antonio was the character when he walked in, I couldn't have written a
more perfect actor. You don't get to see him do enough roles like this.
John is one of my favourite actors, a complete gentleman who is so honest
in his performances. After seeing over sixty actors for the role of
Beatress, we had a meeting with Tristan Risk [Tristan
Risk interview - click here] for our dance coordinator and
choreographer. I think I stopped her mid-sentence and asked if she acted.
The role of Beatress is so specific, it was a miracle that Tristan came
into our lives. A perfect Beatress, she really stands out in the film
because she's this light in a world of darkness.
One more cast member that really sticks out to me is Twan Holliday who
plays Lance Delgreggo. He is in many ways the heart of the film. Hearing a
film is about underground surgeries, you don't expect any tender moments,
but this man is it and the perfect statement on appearance versus the
Jen: We were spoiled with the talent we had on our set. All Canadian cast
and all breakthrough stars in their own right. It's a bit hard to talk
about them in any detail without giving anything away. The roles they play
are vital to the story and the film itself, I imagine that's a fairly
obvious statement to make. Paula Lindberg, our Ruby RealGirl, was with us
from the beginning teaser trailer and she really shined. She's so giving
and such a professional. Antonio Cupo is outstanding as Billy Barker which
is a role that he doesn't often have the opportunity to play. David
Lovgren as Doctor Alan Grant is going to go down in horror fame and I do
have to say that David is in fact one of the kindest people I've ever had
the pleasure of knowing. He really put a lot of trust in us and the result
is astounding. Twan Holliday has already proven to be a fan favorite at
test screenings and with good reason. He's amazing and he literally worked
his ass off. He is so driven and dedicated.
And Tristan Risk. Well, we'll look like geniuses for casting her. She
is a break through star if I've ever seen one and just captivating as
Beatress Johnson. She's a real muse for us. I love that woman. She's the
most fascinating woman in the world.
the Soska-twins frame Katharine Isabelle
Other than in your previous Dead
Hooker in a Trunk, you have given yourself only rather small roles
in American Mary - why?
Sylvia: It's our way of stepping away from acting to focus on writing and
directing. We have been acting since we were seven years old, some of it
was very fun, we have learned a lot, but we've done what we've wanted to
with acting right now. The cameo in American Mary is our goodbye to acting. We have
been given some incredible offers after Dead
Hooker in a Trunk, but we got even more
shitty stereotypical twins roles afterwards which was part of the reason
we made Dead
Hooker in a Trunk in the first place. The next film doesn't even have a
cameo, but I like that. I like that no one really knows what to expect
from us next.
Jen: We have made the decision to retire from acting. This was our good
bye to it. Don't get me wrong, acting was our first love and I still have
a lot of love for it. We want to put the focus on making our films and our
writing and directing. Before we made Dead
Hooker in a Trunk, we were being offered nothing
but poorly written, overly sexualized, and stereotypical twin roles. And
disturbingly enough after Dead
Hooker in a Trunk and being very out-spoken about it, we
just got lots of the same crap. For the right role, maybe we'll consider
coming out of retirement, but it would have to be one hell of a role. But
I can say I really enjoyed the roles we played in American Mary. I'm
dying to show the world. The whole film, really.
What can you tell us
about the actual shoot and the on-set atmosphere?
Sylvia: That set was our family. Everyone there was there because they felt
so passionately about the story. You can see that the cast and crew truly
cared in every frame, in every detail. Something I bring with me
everywhere is that if you treat people kindly and with respect, the whole
world opens up to you. He was right. There was lot of laughing, people
were happy even though it was an incredibly tight schedule and budget
considering what we wanted to do, but the way people acted and with the
final film, you would have never known. Jen and I said good morning to
everyone when we got on set, there was a lot of hugging - some of the crew
joked that they worked for hugs - we would say good night after we
wrapped, everyone knew everyone's name, everyone was treated respectfully
- it's the only way for a set to be. I think it's because of that
comfortable feeling that we could really push the boundaries when we
needed to for the harsher content days. You can't do that if people don't
Jen: It was a set of respect. Dealing with such sensitive subject matter,
it was our intent from the get go to only have a people on set that would
treat one another respectfully. We were incredibly appreciative of the
crew we had. They truly were they best of the best and I can't wait to
work with them again. I love them. People were happy to be there and
everyone felt we were really working on something special that doesn't
come around too often. Most people read the script and sought to get on
the production. People went well above and beyond and worked their asses
off. And we had a very tight schedule, it wasn't easy to pull of by any
means. We shot right before Christmas and it was like a family. People
worked hard but were happy. We even celebrated "Whopper
premiered at the Cannes Film Festival not too long ago - now what
can you tell us about that experience, and what can you tell us about
audience and critical reception?
Sylvia: I still remember opening a fortune cookie on set and it said
something about 'travels' and I told the cast and crew not to worry
because we would be going to Cannes, the cookie verified it. Although we
weren't in competition, we had our worldwide market premiere screening at
the festival and it was insane. We had a meeting with a major studio right
before, rushed from the Palais to our rented apartment, threw on our
dresses, hard pressed for time, and ran through the Cannes streets to our
screening. The room was packed, the audience reacted perfectly to the film
- which you never know what to expect with these things - and I was
treated to an evening of talking about the film with those that attended
We had one woman run out during a certain scene and that's cool. If it
isn't provocative and different, what's the point of making it in the
first place. After the screening, we kept running into people who wanted
to talk about the film. It's a very rad feeling to stand there while a
person describes your film to another person. I like the feeling it gave
people, I like what stood out to them. The audience sat through the
credits respectfully after the film finished, a man who sat beside me at
the screening told me that I 'have a very dark side' - it was just an
Jen: I was thoroughly prepared by Cannes-veterans as to what
to expect and not expect from a market screening. They said that they are
very different from competition or festival screenings where you have a
large amount of fans attending. Market screenings are strictly for
festival programmers, studios, distributors, and buyers. We were warned
that especially because our screening was at 8pm it would be conflicting
with the competition films so we could expect around 5 or so people that
will not react to anything in the film, will be on their cell
phones much of the time, and will more than likely be walking in and out
the entire time. So, we decided to expect the worst, suck it up, and, as
we were advised, not to take the audience reaction as a
reflection of the quality of the film. One friend from Twitch Films
suggested we not attend at all as a filmmaker being in that situation can
be quite hurtful.
So the night of the screening came and we met up with our investors and
producers before. We went up to the theater and were among the first to
arrive. There was us and three others, about what we expected. As the
start time drew nearer, the audience filled up more. And then more, until
the theater was full. With the cautionary tales I'd heard, I counted. We
had 4 walk outs. Two returned from the bathroom, I returned from a call,
and the other was a woman who became very upset at the content of Ruby's
surgery and left shaking her head. I still consider that a win. One man
checked his phone 5 times and he apologized after saying he was supposed
to attend with his partner and he was giving him shit for missing the
film. And there were thirty reactions from the crowd. I
couldn't believe that they even sat through the credits. It was
outstanding. The audience came down to the hotel bar after with us and
spent the night talking and gushing over the film. It was such a proud
The $64-question of
course: When and where will American Mary
be released onto the
Sylvia: Not soon enough. If you head out to Fright Fest in the UK on August
27th, you can see her in a special screening.
Jen: Aw, man. I only have the answer you don't want to hear. I can't say.
Hooker in a Trunk to American Mary
- how do you think you
have evolved as writers and directors?
Sylvia: It's definitely a more mature project. Dead
Hooker in a Trunk
was a love letter
to grind house filmmaking, American Mary is a love letter to Asian and
European filmmaking. Dead
Hooker in a Trunk
was made to be fun; just turn your brain
off and have a good time. That said, we did put some undertones and
greater meaning in there, if you want that shit, it's there, if not, you
can still enjoy the film. American Mary is a much more meticulously planned and
executed film. There is more story and character development there. We
could focus more on the script and the directing because we had a larger
crew and a bigger budget. Dead
Hooker in a Trunk
gave us the skills to know every
aspect that goes into making a film from concept to distribution, American Mary
used that knowledge and pursued more to create the film we wanted to. The
more I learn about writing and directing, the more I realize there is to
learn. I like that.
Jen: Tremendously. I think as you go through life, you're always
changing. We actively seek to better ourselves. We watch something new
everyday and break it down, find the triumphs and the failures so that we
can learn from both. I love Dead
Hooker in a Trunk. I'm proud of it. But it wouldn't
turn out the same if I made it today. But I actually think that "I've
never made a film before, but, fuck it, I'm gonna do it anyway"-attitude is part of the film's charm.
Hooker in a Trunk
is where we were at that point
in our lives. It's what we wanted to say then. "Hey, we're here, pay
attention to us." American Mary is very different. We have very different
things to say. And a lot more of them.
projects you'd like to share?
Sylvia: Prosthetic effects are very important to us, so that plays a lot
into the next two scripts that are actually shaping up to be next. Both
are very unique - one involves a new take on the werewolf genre and the
other is a monster movie - both are incredibly comedic and horrifically
gory. I blame Masters FX - their work is so fucking good, it makes me
extra homicidal and when was the last time you saw an original monster
concept? We have also been approached about taking some people's work I
deeply admire and taking them into big screen adaptations, so I'm pretty
stoked about those opportunities.
Jen: It's tough to say, but for good reason. There are so many
opportunities that have opened up for us. I'd love to do Bob. He was
started up before American Mary, actually, but had to go on the back burner for a
while. I'd say that stylistically it's a blend between Dead
Hooker in a Trunk
and American Mary.
It's as hilarious as it is horrendous. And it's damn funny, ha ha. We have
several other scripts, too, and the possibility of directing the work of
others, which is pretty cool. We have a TV-series we've been working on
since we've been teenagers. That's never far from our hearts. We write
damn fast, so it really could be anything that becomes our "next
one". We'll have to see what people want to see from us.
Right now we've got an amazing online radio show on RadioAmplifire.com
called Mondays Suck thanks to 430 Productions, who also brought you
It's 7pm to 10pm PST every Monday and it's fully uncensored. We play
whatever we want and talk about whatever we want and have special guests
We'll also be a Comic Con in San Diego doing a special American Mary
panel on Thursday in Room 5AB at 11am with Paula Lindberg and Todd
Masters. We'll be at the Son Of Monsterpalooza Con in October in LA,
too, and can't fucking wait for that.
Your/your movie's website,
Facebook, whatever else?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
Sylvia: There's two American Mary groups on facebook, there's a
Twins Productions group, you can just plain old add us as friends, or
check us out on Tumblr. We like to stay in touch with everyone - it's
because of the support front he horror community that we are even able to
Jen: We're everywhere.
is a great place to start, but please find us on Facebook (under our real
names) and on Twitter at twisted_twins.
Anything else you are dying to
mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
Sylvia: You were very thorough. I'm just so excited about our first time
Comic Con at San Diego coming up - we have a panel on Thursday at 11am to
12pm where we're going to be talking American Mary with Todd Masters, the
mastermind behind the effects and character design in the film, and Paula
Lindberg, our Ruby RealGirl, with an exclusive look at the film. It's
going to be pretty fun and you can meet Jen and me, if you're into that
kind of thing. Also, if you cannot wait to see American Mary, she has a
special screening on August 27th at Fright Fest - it's going to be a hell
of a show.
Jen: Nah, I'm good. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with