With their new horror movie The Sublet ready to make its premiere Nov 7th at the Razor Reel Film Festival, we had a chance to talk to director and co-writer John Ainslie and actress Tianna Nori about not only the movie, but the horror genre and the good, bad and the ugly in the movie business.
So how did the both of you end up in the movie making business? Was this something you always wanted to do or one of those happy accidents?
Tianna: Ever since I was three years old I wanted to be an actress and I haven’t steered away since. I went to the University of British Columbia and got my BFA in acting. I studied a lot of theater there as well as film and after university I heavily pursed film.
John: I was fortunate enough to go to a school that had installed a video editing suite. While probably common place now back then it was different, like a room full of VCR’s and these strange things. I was also lucky enough to be failing a class two weeks into a semester so I dropped out of that class and started tinkering with the equipment. From there I learned how to edit and shoot film and I’ve been doing it ever since.
What is the attraction for the two of you with the horror genre?
John: For me, horror is such a broad spectrum of film. It’s great because you can put characters in very troubling situations and then get them out of, or not get them out, of these situations. I also think horror provides a great balance between marketability and creativity more than any other genre, especially at the low budget level.
Tianna: My true passion is the psychological aspect of horror, my favorite genre to watch, it gets me thinking. But as an actress, I’ve been fortunate so far to play a variety of roles that have so many different depths to them, especially with The Sublet being that aspect of the physiological part of the horror genre.
John: Also, just to add to that, I was at this screening of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the original, at the TIFF Lightbox a couple of years ago and at one point the woman beside me literally jumped up and screamed and dumped popcorn on everyone around her. No other genre of film can do that to people and have that kind of impact and visceral reaction.
Tianna: Your imagination gets to do whatever it wants as well. It’s the one genre where it’s like, especially as artists, you can create this thing that in real life you’re not allowed to do and there is such an art form in that aspect of it.
John, where did the idea for The Sublet come from and Tianna, what was the experience like for you working on this movie?
John: My friend Alyson Richards, who co-wrote the movie with me, she moved to L.A. for work and was subletting a series of apartments and we were talking about doing a low budget horror movie and this provided some of the background. She said there was this one apartment that had a skylight above the bathroom, which is a bizarre place to put a skylight as you’d always feel like someone was watching. So it started from there and with both of us having children, motherhood became a strong element or idea in the film as well.
Tianna: When I was cast in the movie, and John knows this, I was extremely excited and grateful for this opportunity. It was a role that I wanted more than anything I had ever auditioned for and John and I are very similar creatively so we just clicked. I felt it in the audition room and on set we just worked so well together and having that as an actress is the biggest gift you can have, especially on a film that psychologically it’s so deep. In fact, I was so grateful for the crew and the job they did I bought them a cake to thank them for all their hard work. I was so proud of the work we did and how everything turned out.
John, do you have a preference when it comes to writing or directing and what is the interest that each of those hold for you?
I would say my preference is directing. Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer I wrote and literally just passed it off to another director and that was a pretty good experience because it turned out really well. However, I can imagine a scenario where the film doesn’t turn out so well and how that wouldn’t feel so great. Thankfully I haven’t experienced that yet but as a director, it’s great to be able to take a script you’ve written or one you really like and see it through from start to finish and having a say in the editing process and having a say on set. As a writer you don’t have that luxury, once you hand it over it’s gone, no one speaks to you, no one likes you, it’s just done. Of course, as a writer you don’t have to deal with all the problems that pop up on set. As a director you have to deal with problems almost every single day so if you’re not the type of person that likes to solve problems then the film industry is not for you.
Tianna, as an actor how hard has it been to get to this point and do you find that the horror genre offers you things that other genres do not?
I’ve been training my entire life to get to this point and being hands on and having the opportunity to be in an exclusive program in university, having now thirty two coaches I think, I really have been blessed. The different opportunities and coaches have helped shape who I am as an artist and without that, I wouldn’t be the actor I am, especially in The Sublet. It’s definitely a trek, you wake up and work on it every day, just like any other job. I look at it as if you are trying to become a president or CEO of a company, you have to put in the time, keep taking those steps and hitting milestones and keep going. The only thing that is different than other jobs is that I go into interviews/auditions so often that when you do get a great role in a movie like The Sublet, it makes all those no’s you heard before to not really matter anymore. I never try to re-create the wheel, I just practice my craft a lot and try and learn from the best.
The horror genre has been really great to me. When Clean Break came out, directed by Tricia Lee, it was one of those parts that I really wanted. As it turned out when it screened at Blood in the Snow Film Festival, two directors saw the screening, Gabriel Carrer and Ryan Andrews, who then cast me in their movies The Demolisher and Save Yourself. This was another step not only in my career but getting me to a job in The Sublet so yeah, the horror genre has been very, very kind to me.
John, as the director was there anything you did to help create the mood or atmosphere in The Sublet and Tianna, was there anything specific you did to get into character?
John: I did give Tianna a playlist of songs to listen to for her character. The set that was built added a lot, for sure. The owner’s room that you’ll see was actually kind of a creepy room in itself just to be in. I like to keep my sets light so a lot of the atmosphere that comes from the film is due to the lighting by Greg Biskup and the score by Jeff Morrow. Those two things together helped to create a fantastic sense of dread, which is obviously exactly what you are looking for in a movie like The Sublet.
Tianna: John is very good at reading actors and sensing what they need. For me, I needed more time to myself and quiet and he gave me that, and understanding what I needed to do my best work was one of the reasons I enjoyed working with him so much. We collaborated very well and he let me take ownership of the character and change things here and there which made me comfortable with not only the character but him as well.
In terms of indie horror, there seems to be an upsurge in the quality of not only the female characters on screen but the actresses that play them as well. What do you think are the biggest reasons for this to be happening now?
John: I think it’s mainly due to the fact that we’ve been making movies from the male perspective for about a hundred years and it’s boring. We’ve seen the same film over and over again, about some thirty year old guy with issues that doesn’t matter to anyone except his character on screen because they’re all so petty. There are also a lot of emerging female actresses as well as female directors and writers which I think is a natural progression of more women in the film industry.
Tianna: I also think that people like John are interested in writing for female leads, which is still rare, and that in turn makes for a more interesting character to play. It’s certainly grabs my attention a lot more and helps me focus more knowing something has been written with a female in mind. I do really think it is much more interesting to the viewer, especially in horror, to be doing something a little different and unexpected as it just helps amplify the whole atmosphere of the movie.
When can horror fans expect to see The Sublet and what is coming up next for the both of you?
John: Well if you’re in Belgium you can watch it this Saturday at the Razor Reel Festival, and the big one is the North American premiere at the Whistler Film Festival December 5th. Eventually it will be on SuperChannel but I don’t know the details of that yet and hopefully some American festivals that we’ll be announcing soon.
As far as what’s next for me, there will be some begging, some street busking… (Laughs) Seriously though, I have a few scripts that I’m going to be pitching to a few companies on a trip to L.A. and I’m hoping to have some news on that in the next month.
Tianna: I’m really excited for the release of The Sublet and the premiere of Save Yourself at the Blood in the Snow Film Festival and the New York Horror Film Festival. The Demolisher is still doing festivals so that’s exciting as well. The next thing I’m physically doing is seeing The Sublet at the Whistler Film Festival and that should be a great time.
I want to thank both John and Tianna for taking time out of their busy schedules to talk to us.