April Mullen Interview for Horror Talk
April Mullen takes the time to chat with us about her new film 88. April is one half of WANGO Films, which she co-founded with Tim Doiron, who is also the writer of 88.
Richelle Charkot: Tell us a little about 88, what creative influences were present when you directed this film?
April Mullen: The concept of the entire film came from an intrigue with how the mind can literally shut down and run on auto pilot (aka “Fugue State”) if it experiences a major traumatic experience. Tim Doiron (writer/producer) and I wanted to explore a revenge story where we were able to also include unique visual and auditory hallucinations creating two different worlds and personas. Tim and I love creating new worlds and unique characters when storytelling. We’re always hoping to create something never seen before. In terms of influences, I pull from everything and everywhere. I go day by day; absorbing photographs, people, films, advertisements, environments, relationships and stand out moments. I pay attention to/obsess over the sparks that stand out in life and literally pull from that all the time. In terms of other filmmakers, I adore film of all types, especially filmmakers who see projects from concept to screen and are constantly pushing their imaginations to bring something new to the audience; Wes Anderson, The Coen Brothers, Tim Burton, Woody Allen, PT Anderson, Neill Blomkamp, David Michod and Wong Kar-Waito to name a few.
RC: What themes in 88 are universally relatable, in spite of the fact that this movie depicts an extreme situation? What is it about this film that is going to make viewers emotionally involved?
AM: At the core of 88 is the universal theme of revenge, forgiveness and love. It’s simply about a human being struggling to deal with an extreme circumstance. As audience members go through the mystery and journey of revenge, it’s rooted in true love and forgiveness. Having the themes of the film stand on opposite side of the spectrum gives the audience room to feel a wide range of emotions for both our lead and villain. At times there will be surprises and unexpected twists which allow viewers to question what’s happening and who’s to blame or feel compassion for.
RC: Tell me about one of your favourite memories from working on the set of 88.
AM: Shooting is my favorite part of the creative process. After working on the script and on computers planning for over a year, it’s so exciting to come out of the gate and start running. Tim and I really love watching the world come together in front of our eyes. It’s exhilarating to be with the actors and crew, building the story and world hour by hour…it’s addictive. I have to say, on day one, I remember doing a happy dance after the first few hours purely at how quickly we could move because the last feature Tim and I did (Dead Before Dawn 3D) was in stereoscopic 3D and the shooting process was a lot slower. I forgot how much freedom and extra time we would have shooting in 2D. On day one I also got to see Gwen (Katharine Isabelle) and Aster’s (Kyle Schmid) chemistry, which a lot of the film hinges on, so that was a major weight lifted. Another great moment was watching Christopher Lloyd in the cabin climax scene. I sat back in awe at his unique choices and encouraged this whole new side to the legend. Even though 88 was our first non-comedic feature, the crew and team were young, passionate, talented and fun and there was a lot of laughs on set.
RC: How early in your life did you start to tell stories visually, and with what means?
AM: I started as soon as I could. At around the age of 6/7 I was directing the neighborhood kids in shows set in the courtyard for parents to see. I have three younger sisters and putting together shows and performances was literally happening on the regular. I fell in love with the pure freedom acting allowed me at around 9 years old…I felt exhilaration being able to express myself through completely different people, I was really quiet and shy personally, but on stage I felt at home and free. Acting in film/TV turned into a world of observation and learning while on set. I never left the director’s monitor and respected the entire process. I am continuously inspired and motivated by story telling, creating unique characters and worlds then bringing the entire puzzle pieces together.
RC: Is there any particular one movie that first inspired you want to get into the film industry?
AM: Not really one film or one moment…I got drawn to it from the beginning almost unconsciously, it sunk its teeth into me pretty early and it’s all I really know. I have been immersed in all aspects of the creative process my whole life, just streamlined it around 10 years ago by forming WANGO Films, our production company, so that we could produce and create our own material and stay true to our voices.
RC: Why do you think people enjoy horror films or thrillers? What do we learn about ourselves while watching these types of movies?
AM: Thrillers keep your heart rate up and audiences on the edge of their seats (that’s exciting entertainment), and with 88 it’s the whole mystery of trying to figure out what’s really happening and connecting the dots. Mind benders allow an audience to keep on guessing and to be continuously challenged – and surprises are fantastic when they are genuinely unexpected. Films that are full of new visuals and enticing characters really get the hearts and imaginations pumping…
RC: This month is Women in Horror Month, a celebration of all the women who contribute to the horror genre. Although there are so many wonderful women horror/thriller filmmakers, as well as females accounting for more than half of recorded ticket sales, it is still often mistaken as an exclusively male-geared genre. What advice do you have for women who are disparaged for liking gritty cinema? Have you ever been told anything as ridiculous?
AM: This is a tough question. I’ve always been a huge film lover, people/critics can be very harsh with judgement…I stay away from all “that” as much as possible and just keep trucking – too much work and creativity to be had. No matter what the size or genre of film, or whether a man or woman is behind the creation of it, a lot of energy, passion and risk taking goes into the process and I respect all filmmakers alike. I believe now more than ever that it’s imperative to keep creating unique stories as independent filmmakers. 88 is bold, new and full of never been seen before moments.
RC: What’s your favourite revenge flick and why?
AM: I have too many to mention, but to name a few: Oldboy, Run Lola Run, Memento, The Rover, Death Wish, Dead Man’s Shoes, True Romance, The Great Silence, The Raid, Kill Bill, The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Crow, Hanna, A History of Violence, Red Road, Django Unchained, The Princess Bride, V for Vendetta, City of God, and The Godfather. I love when a film stamps an impact in my mind and I cannot stop thinking about it, every aspect of it!
RC: What characteristics make for a good lead character in a revenge movie? What qualities does Katharine Isabelle possess that makes her performance work in this role?
AM: I believe the characteristics that make a good lead character in a revenge flick all start with the motive. Audiences have to feel compassion for the lead and need to relate to the pain that’s causing the revenge parade to begin. The lead needs to be vulnerable, determined, flawed and passionate about their plight. In the role of Gwen, Katharine displays great love and heartbreak, which propels her motive to seek revenge on her lover’s killers. Katharine plays two versions of the same character; Flamingo (her Fugue State alter ego) embodies confidence, strength, zero fear, and focus. Flamingo is compelling, impulsive and animalistic. The second version is Gwen (the victim), who allows the audience to see the pain, vulnerability, fear, longing, and confusion she’s experiencing. The contrast between these characters creates a whole that audiences can relate to as Gwen’s journey unravels. Katharine’s transitions between the two are simple at times and never over the top, which was essential for 88 because the worlds of “Fugue State/Flamingo” vs.”Present State/Gwen” do most of the work with visual aesthetics, hallucinations, and the interacting characters.
RC: What is next for you?
AM: I just finished a paranormal thriller, entitled Farhope Tower, and am currently in the middle of prep on a film shooting here in LA, entitled Badsville, which is a unique script full of very high stakes. With regards to WANGO Films, we are in development with a new big budget comedy that we are excited about. That will be filming in late 2015.