Q&A with Heidi Lee Douglas, Director of DEVIL WOMAN
You’ve gotta go through some bad ideas to get to the good ones. Tell us one of your bad ideas. How do you get past the bad ones to find your spark?
My first horror feature script I wrote around 2005, was about a man-eating mermaid who falls in love and has a child, giving up her secret mermaid self for family life, but her teenage daughter coming of age shows signs that she has inherited her mother’s true identity. Mother and daughter must reveal their deeper secrets to each other, all amid an ongoing murder investigation. When I re-read the recently its 30% brilliant 60% trash! There’s a lot of script ideas and script in my “drawer”. The ideas that I can’t shake, which really haunt me, are generally the ones that get made. I often write too “big” for small budgets, so I am working on refining that in my concepts. Meanwhile I collaborate with other writers and producers, being brought in to direct and help with development.
Do you consider yourself part of a horror community?
My early career was focused on documentary production, and on the side I took drama film writing courses. My story focus was genre – horror, thriller, and dark fantasy, bit I didn’t have any real peers or hadn’t directed any drama until Tasmania’s “women in horror” Stranger With My Face Film Festival was established. In its inaugural year I won a script-writing prize with “Little Lamb”, and judge and filmmaker Donna McRae encouraged me to make the film. Doing so was transformative, connecting me with the US genre circuit, and I realised that I was far from alone – there is a global genre creative community I now work and play with, and a global audience for my films; and a community of creative women in horror both in Australia and world wide who are my soul sister coven.
When you’re building the world of your film, where do you look for inspiration?
My script and films always build on some personal connection to the story. Whether that is a relationship with a family member, or another lived experienced, it has to resonate at an emotional core and allow me to unpack it from a transformational perspective. When I am working with actors they bring their own relationship to the character, and I urge them to tap into archetypes to expand on the characters mythology. I build genre elements from imaginative mythological connections or supernatural experiences. When I am collaborating and giving development notes I trust my first reading – does it feel right, authentic, and believable? My strength is character, turning points and structure, creating believably fantastic worlds.
Lightning round: Freddy or Jason? Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft? Practical or CGI? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?
I’m a big fan of practical effects all the way if possible, however the scope and ambition of some projects need CGI. I am a huge post apocalyptic fan since I was a kid, and Stephen King too.
I didn’t watch slasher films much growing up, I was way too scared! Freddy Krueger lived in the shadow across the hallway from my bedroom throughout the 80’s. He kept me awake in terror for years. I was too good at scaring myself!
I watched a lot of dark fantasy instead – Conan the Barbarian, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, The Lost Boys, Goonies, The Never Ending Story. I always liked David and Goliath style stories set in deeply imaginative worlds. I was a massive Star Wars fan too. These were my happy place and still are.
How do you go about creating the props and sets for your film? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?
Before writing any film I do deep research into its work, and keep doing so right throughout the creation process. I collect visual stimuli, and always put a mood board together for producers and DOP’s, and other heads of department. I’m big on costume and colour palette. I also often involve Production Designers or even art department assistants in a team that have a lived experience with the subject or location, so I can go to them as a touchtone for authenticity.
What scares you, and does it inspire your storytelling?
What scares me most is not creating! I feel lost if I’m not making a film, and though I do love development I’d like to be on set more. My kids are getting older so it’s a good time for me now to transition into more long form directing. Thematically, I’m always drawn to underdogs. Abuse of power is my biggest bed bug, whether that is societal, political or personal between two people.
And finally, Ghostface would like to know ‘What’s your favourite scary movie?’
I really love Stanley Kubrick’s visual styalisation in The Shining. It’s about life unravelling beyond your control, isolation, trust, and the power of place in your becoming. I keep repeating these themes in my own films.