Q&A with David Mahmoudieh, Director of “Snake Dick”
Name a Horror character you relate to on a spiritual/personal level?
I only get to pick one?! I’m afraid it’s a 3-way tie:
Ripley in Alien, because she was the first heroine I idolized (along with Sarah Connor) and most definitely influenced the female leads in Snake Dick.
Ash in Evil Dead because of his DIY mentality to horrific circumstances.
And last but not least, Derek in Bad Taste because “Dereks don’t run!”
Though my costume designer wife insists I’m more like Freddy Krueger for wearing sweaters in the summer.
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?
I once had the really bad idea of agreeing to direct my first feature as a “director-for-hire.” What I didn’t know at the time was that “director-for-hire” would mean no autonomy of the script, no final cut and little-to-no consultation on many other major decisions. It was a bittersweet experience as although I learned a lot from shooting a feature, upon completion it didn’t feel like my own. Coming off the back of that disappointment, I found my senses sharpened and my instincts finer tuned to what I really wanted to spend my time making. So I guess that proverbial “spark” came from returning to material I had written and reflected why I became a filmmaker in the first place. To me that’s the distinction between being merely a “director” and a “filmmaker.” Man, this turned into a long answer… I’ll shut up now.
Do you consider yourself part of a horror community?
In terms of being a horror fan, absolutely. But until I’ve made a horror feature I would feel like an imposter considering myself part of a community that includes my heroes like Guillermo Del Toro, Peter Jackson, Wes Craven, Kathryn Bigelow, John Carpenter and many, many others. Maybe after the Snake Dick feature I’ll feel differently…
When you’re building the world of your film, where do you look for inspiration?
I always look at what’s happening in our world right now because all films, intentionally or not, are living portraits of the eras they’re made-in. Even if it’s a story set 50 years in the past or 5,000 years in the future, the era a film is physically made inevitably seeps into the material — whether that’s by way of popular techniques or technology of the time, the boldness of its tonality or an era-specific style of music (think how much Inception shaped so many other soundtracks from the last decade). My point is that any movie on its way to being made faces the questions of “why this story” and “why now.” As filmmakers, there’s always a reason we chose one story over another, even if we only know why on a subconscious level. So, without wanting to get all profound, I usually begin my process by looking internally to find the deeper meaning of “what” and “why”, and that seems to automatically inspire the “how.”
What would you do if you woke up inside of your film?
Um… good luck getting me out!
Who would be on your ultimate horror villain squad?
In terms of straight-up badasses? Kiefer Sutherland’s “David” from Lost Boys, Bill Paxton’s “Severen” in Near Dark and Kevin Peter Hall’s alien trophy-hunter in Predator. But if you’re asking who I would prefer not to share a dark alley with: Pennywise, Pinhead and Jason.
Lightning round: Freddy or Jason? Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft? Practical or CGI? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?
Freddy. (Jason takes himself too seriously.)
H.P. Lovecraft. (As a thinker more than a writer.)
Practical. (Although CGI is finally being used correctly.)
Pre Apocalypse. (Because then there’s still something worth fighting for.)
How do you go about creating the props and sets for your film? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?
For me it always starts with what the character would have a use for, then I can build the world around them either in accordance or contrast to that, depending on the values of the story. In the case of Snake Dick, one of the props is crucial (as revealed at the end) to the overall concept, so while deciding on the object itself was easy, the fact it served as an anchor point for the entire world necessitated I personalize it as much as possible to the character’s needs.
What scares you, and does it inspire your storytelling?
Ignorance is not only terrifying, it’s usually a precursor for much worse states of being, like antipathy. If history has taught us anything it’s that when people switch off their brains, that’s when they’ll find excuses to commit acts of horrors against one another. But whereas actions are permanent, thoughts are not. This latter anecdote inspires my work on a daily basis — the notion that we all have darkness within us, and that our greatest battle is seldom with others and mostly with the complex psychology of ourselves. The key to winning that battle is not succumbing to ignorance or its many disguises. I think that’s why masks are such an effective tool in horror, because they remove any sense of “emotion” from the villain, creating effigies that are mercilessly ignorant and antipathic towards human life.
And finally, Ghostface would like to know ‘What’s your favourite scary movie?’
Unquestionably,Peter Medak’s The Changeling.