Q&A with Tim Hendrix & Mae Catt, Filmmakers Behind “Couples Therapy”
How did you guys meet and start working together?
Tim: Me and Mae were the only two comic book nerds in our excruciatingly artsy film school. We initially bonded over that. While at said school, I started directing music videos professionally.
At first I had a lot of trouble organizing my thematic and visual ideas into coherent stories. So throughout 2012ish to 2014ish I’d call up Mae to swoop in and sort my mind piles into focused stories. Over time I slowly and accidentally absorbed her messed up sensibilities, like an amoeba.
Now I’m best known for directing live-action tentacle porn. And while I wrote said tentacle porn myself, I never would’ve done so without Mae’s corrupt influence on my formative years as a storyteller. I will never forgive her for this.
But I still let her cameo in it. And now that I’m trying to expand into narrative filmmaking, I thought a fun place to start would be to reverse our old collaborative roles and design some visuals around her stories.
Mae: Tim was a nerdy oasis in a desert of auteurs in their early 20’s. Nothing against auteurs, but for much of my education, I lacked solid creative connections that so many other people find in film school. Then Tim showed up, and it was like, oh thank God. “You want to do a music video featuring two warring fitness schools? Great. I gotchu.”
Besides little films I made in high school, Tim was the first collaborator I ever had that took my writing and made it real. It’s immensely satisfying to have someone like Tim, who has been my cheerleader for so long, give my more narrative work life. I hope we can continue to work together, regardless of what shape our careers turn out to be.
Name a Horror character you relate to on a spiritual/personal level?
Tim: Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network (2010)
Mae: Renfield, particularly as depicted by Dwight Frye and Pablo Álvarez Rubio in Dracula a nd the Spanish version of Dracula ( 1931).
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?
Mae: I was trying to crack a spec feature once, and ended up writing a 200+ paged 1st draft. I barely used any of it for the 2nd draft. That was an instance of knowing the characters and basic gist of what I wanted to happen, without the direction of a theme to build everything towards.
But in general, I think a good way to overcome ideas you deem as “bad” is to understand what’s the core to them that you really like. Then strip that idea down to its base elements, and see what is worth salvaging to implement into a new version of the idea, or a new idea entirely.
I began writing as a teenager, where I wrote mostly fanfiction. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve salvaged a decent idea out of a terrible teenage fanfic I wrote.
Tim: This lady speaks the truth. I’m still in the early stages of learning to write long form, but I’ve directed dozens of high concept music videos and ads. Since the pay is so low, I only bother to pitch things that are basically condensed versions of narrative shorts I already wanted to make.
One of the challenges inherent in both formats is, like Mae said, identifying the core of what draws you to an idea. Because great ideas are nothing without great execution, and great execution comes from centering every single decision you make – from writing dialogue, to designing wardrobe, to scoring, to color grading – around that core.
In this case, I wanted to make something with Mae. And to me, the core appeal of her writing is how she credibly gives genre-y horror characters vulnerable emotional centers. So I asked her to write me something about two serial killers going to therapy!
Do you consider yourself part of a horror community? Tim: Not yet, do you think they’ll take me?
Mae: As with most communities I’m a part of, I’m a modest lurker. I’m learning to be more vocal, and have faith in the contributions I am and could be making, but I’m still a work in progress.
When you’re building the world of your film, where do you look for inspiration?
Mae: When settling in to write, I’ll first re-read either old stories or scripts I’ve written, or go over some of
my favorite comic books. Particularly anything written by Grant Morrison or Tom King.
Tim: First I examine artwork and movies that inspired the one I’m currently making. What aesthetic and structural aspects of these movies do I love and want to recreate? Then I examine my own personal voice and belief system – The older I get, the more it develops, and the more I try to ground my creations in it.
Sincerity is something I value a lot, and in my opinion it’s the difference between a fresh take on a genre and an empty tribute to the stuff that came before.
What would you do if you woke up inside of your film?
Tim: Honestly? No clue whether I’d notice or not.
Mae: Tim knows my answer. He knows I’d just find my serial killer characters and try to romance them with reckless abandon.
im: See? If a guy with a machete swept Mae off her feet I’d assume it was real life. Who would be on your ultimate horror villain squad?
Tim: Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, and Tom from Myspace.
Mae: Tom from Myspace is actually a good guy, how dare you! You need to replace him with Jeff Bezos,
Tim: Fine, fine – Let’s say the Xenomorph, the It (the one that follows, not the stupid CGI spider clown) and all the pod people from Invasion of the Body Snatchers – including and especially Jeff Bezos.
Mae: I’d like to cram together the Universal Monsters from their original iterations. So the 30’s and 40’s versions of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Bride, the Invisible Man, Wolf Man, the Phantom of the Opera, and Creature from the Black Lagoon. Throw in a non-racist, more mentally-ill centric Jekyll and Hyde into that mix, though technically not a Universal Monster, I don’t care. Throw in Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Praetorius, Van Helsing, and Renfield in there too. We’ll need more women, so let’s grab Dr. Kay Lawrence from the Black Lagoon as well. Oh! And Mina, gotta have Mina from Dracula. Let’s have the Invisible Man and Hyde be best friends with benefits, and the Phantom teaches Frankenstein’s Monster how to play violin. Oh and Jekyll would hate Dr. Frankenstein. I think I’ve described a reality show more than an ultimate squad, but I’m gonna stick with it.
Lightning round: Freddy or Jason? Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft? Practical or CGI? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?
Mae: Freddy, Lovecraft with the understanding he was a raging racist and his work without question reflects that and should be read with that in mind, practical, post apocalypse.
Tim: Both, both, both, and both – Especially for your third question! I’m a VFX artist by trade, so I’m well versed in what you can and can’t accomplish with CGI alone. And one thing you can’t is a sense of wonder.
That comes from blending your CGI so well that folks can’t spot the line where in-camera work ends and digital work begins. And that level of blending is impossible if you don’t have a practical base to build from!
For example, I created 90% of the blood on the walls and floor in this short digitally! But it’s only convincing because that practical 10% is there to ground it.
How do you go about creating the props and sets for your film? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?
Tim: I filmed at my own house and did minimal tweaking. All those dirty dishes in the sink are real. So I didn’t have to simulate my character’s filthy lifestyle – Baby, I live it.
What scares you, and does it inspire your storytelling?
Tim: As someone on the spectrum, human relationships. As evidenced by this short, yes.
Mae: The inherent vulnerability of womanhood within a patriarchal society and the Babadook. And yes,
though I tend to write physical monsters versus supernatural spectres.
And finally, Ghostface would like to know ‘What’s your favourite scary movie?’
Mae: Tie between Psycho (1960) and Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986).
Tim: My favorite serial killery Hitchcock actually isn’t Psycho, but a deeper cut – Shadow of a Doubt, back from 1943! Other contenders are Alien (1978), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), and The Night of the Hunter (1955).