Jen and Sylvia Soska are a couple of twins who share more than the same look. They share a passion for filmmaking. Of course ‘traditional’ Hollywood has its own idea of what kind of roles to give to a pair of beautiful twin sisters and that just wasn’t enough for Jen and Sylv. So they decided to make their own rules. The pair started studying martial arts and when the opportunity to attend a film school that included training in stunt work, they jumped at it. Writing, directing, acting, and stunt work, are just some of the jobs the sisters have taken on in producing their first feature film: DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK. But they aren’t stopping there. Jen and Sylv’s Twisted Twins Productions put out a short film called BAD GIRLS for the 48 hour fast film competition Bloodshots where it was voted as one of the top three Audience Choice Favorite Films. B Movie Man Nic Brown managed to catch up with the Soska sisters as they are starting work on their next feature AMERICAN MARY. Now we can find out how the pair got their start, which horror films have inspired them and why Sylvia thinks romantic comedies should be ashamed of themselves!
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Nic- Jen, Sylv you guys write, direct, act and even do stunt work in your films. How did you get started making movies?
Sylv- We‘ve been acting since we were little girls. It’s an extremely difficult and often disappointing industry and, as we got older, the roles that we were offered consisted of twin girl, stereotypical, sexpot roles. Not that we have anything against that – just in a proper time and place with some justification in the script. It got to the point that we were just going out for roles that we didn’t really want in the first place and we realized that we needed a change.
Jen had gotten me and her involved in mixed martial arts in the meantime. It was a very empowering, so we thought we would mix our love of film making and martial arts – we would see if we could get into the stunt world. There was a film school that had a portion of the program dedicated to stunts, so we enrolled. Unfortunately, after the stunt program ended, so did anything that was organized or worth-while. It was a new, highly unorganized school and because of such, they cut the funding from our final projects. Just ours in particular.
We refused to let that stop us and, instead of ‘merging with another group’ as suggested by the faculty, we decided to write, direct, produce, and star in a teaser trailer for a movie we would actually like to be a part of. We even threw in a couple crazy stunts. It all came from Jen’s random idea. She came up with the title: ‘DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK’ before anything else. It was the start of everything.
It was incredible. We presented our project at graduation with a huge response. Half the audience walked out and half the audience was cheering so loud that you could barely hear our offensive dialogue. People were asking about the full feature and it went on from there. We used Robert Rodriguez and Carlos Gallardo’s EL MARIACHI as a guideline and Robert’s book/first hand account called REBEL WITHOUT A CREW was nicknamed ‘the Bible’. The full script was finished in two weeks. We maxed out our credit cards and started to recruit the team and that’s the start.
Jen- I find that with simply acting, though it isn’t without its rewards, you have very little control in the creative process. I find actors spend much of their time just trying to work and usually chasing roles that mean little or nothing to them. How badly could you really want to play Cop #2? We were constantly striving for more opportunities, but in this life you can’t just sit around and wait for things to happen. You have to make your own opportunities, your own future. With film making, especially the way we like to do it, you have so much control. We involve ourselves in every aspect of the film making process and absolutely love it. We love creating a world and bringing our characters to life. It’s so fulfilling.
Nic- Is it tough working together on so many aspects of each feature, such as writing or directing?
Sylv- Yes and no. It’s hard in the fact that we are both very creative and stubborn European women who sometimes have conflicting ideas or thoughts. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to work with someone who wasn’t that passionate about her work. Every idea that is in any project is there because we both really wanted it there. With storytelling, we want to be a part of every aspect of the film making process. It never felt like too much work, just very satisfying to be there to see it come to life.
Jen- Ha ha ha. No, I actually feel bad for you "normies". It’s great to have a twin to bounce ideas off of and share the work load with. We can work twice as fast, cover twice as much ground, and be in two places at once. We are on the same wave length. I can ask her to "do the thing" and she’ll know exactly what I mean. Naturally, we do fight sometimes. We’re siblings and we’re both incredibly passionate about what we do. It can lead to arguments, but we get over it quickly. Everyone disagrees sometimes. That’s just life.
Nic- What are some of your favorite horror films?
Sylv- I like the ones that stick with you. Some of my favorites are: SUICIDE CLUB, AUDITION, AMERICAN PSYCHO, ANTICHRIST, MARTYRS, and LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.
Jen- SO many. I get obsessed with different ones at times and will watch them over and over again. I just devour them. I love AMERICAN PSYCHO, SUICIDE CLUB, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, INSIDE, DEAD GIRL, GINGER SNAPS… the list goes on and on…
Nic- Horror often gets a bad wrap for its portrayal of women and the glamorization of violence. What are your thoughts about this?
Sylv- There are some horror films that poorly depict women, but I feel for the most part that it really gives a lot of empowerment to women. If any genre should be ashamed of how they portray women, it should be the romantic comedy genre. In horror, we have women destroying unspeakable evil, female characters that give audiences nightmares, some of the most interesting roles that women have ever been given, not to mention the amazing women behind the scenes who create these films. Mary Harron is my hero. I love her work and her balls.
I think the thought of horror glamorizing violence is just too much of a blanket statement to apply to all the horror genre films. It is a hugely popular genre, which also sadly means there is a fair bit of shit out there. When violence is done poorly, it loses it’s meaning and impact. The world is filled with terrible things, just because theses things are shined a spotlight on and explored in horror doesn’t mean that it is glorifying anything. There are stories that have awful things happen in them and they are good stories too.
Jen- I think people are way too hard on horror. It has always supported women, in front of and behind the camera. Mary Harron is one of our heroes. Horror has, yes, had its fair share of damsels in distress, but it has also had some of the most empowering, strong roles for women ever written. Ripley, Regan, the list just goes on and on… Violence has always been part of our lives and the world we live in. Art imitates life. Violence must be represented in film. It’s almost therapeutic. We can see it, come to terms with it, and be able to deal with it as we are exposed to it in our lives. I think censorship and hiding the reality of violence breeds ignorance and makes it hard for people to cope with it when they are forced to deal with it.
Nic- Speaking of women in film, as filmmakers, have you faced any challenges you would attribute to your gender?
Jen- I’ve never felt that being a woman has put me at a disadvantage. I feel if you do good work, then it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. I’ve always felt that our biggest challenge was being independent. Some people think that we did our short films before DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK. While that would’ve made more sense, starting small and then moving up to a feature, we’re fairly nonsensical. DHIAT was our first film period.
Being completely unknown, we faced the challenge of making a film that could stand out among all the others. Without any previous work to rest our hats on and without a huge Hollywood name, we ran the very real risk of being overlooked without even being given a chance or a viewing. We named the film with the intention of being unforgettable, sticking out, and dividing our audience. If the title offends you, chances are the film itself is probably not for you.
Of course, we have had some blatant sexist remarks. When you put yourself out there to the public like this, you’re bound to have some people that just don’t like you. That’s one of the toughest lessons to learn. You will never ever be able to make everyone happy. Some people are just dead set on not liking you or your work. But that’s their loss.
Sylv- I think there is a huge misconception about women and the horror genre. We have gotten a lot of comments about why we prefer this genre, why don’t we make ‘nice’ films instead. There is too much stupid in the world to even account for, so when you put yourself and your work in the public eye, you’re bound to get some ignorant, sometimes blatantly sexist comments. Being identical twins, I am aware of the fetish – I was made aware by rude remarks since before I knew what sex was – so either you find yourself constantly upset or you try to look at it with good humor because that is just the hand we’ve been dealt.
As for in the film industry, there is the occasional asshole who just doesn’t like women and won’t respect them, but for the most part we have been incredibly lucky with the amount of support we have been given. The issue of gender does get discussed but I don’t feel like it has been a hindrance on our career. I know lots of men and women trying to get into the film industry and it’s fucking hard whether you’re a man or a woman. How do you differentiate yourself from all the other men making movies, what’s your angle, what will make you still out from your competition? With the reason realization that there are quality female directors out there – Kathryn Bigelow being the first female director to win an Oscar – there are a lot of companies seeking out female directors and seeing them as an interesting new opportunity. Which is funny in a sad way because there are so many women working in the independent scene, paying for their films out of their pockets, and getting nowhere.
Nic- Tell us about your film DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK.
Sylv- DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK is a film that follows four characters – Badass, Geek, Junkie, and Goody Two-Shoes – as they are forced to coexist when they discover the body of a hooker in their trunk. We really wanted to make a movie that was fun to watch and had the aspects of what made us love movies. There are all sorts of insanity that comes from that little body dump as the group has to deal with chainsaw wielding triads, a Cowboy Pimp, perverted police officers, a bestiality-enthused motel manager, a penis-issued serial killer, and they might even run into God (played by Carlos Gallardo) in the process.
Jen- You can see our love of film and our influences throughout the film. We wanted to make a film that, above all, was pure enjoyment for our audiences. There have been far too many crap films made. Especially horror movies. Hollywood sees that there is a huge market for it, so they just pump out many average or awful films hoping that the horror fans will bite. I feel we achieved our goal. DHIAT is utterly ridiculous, littered with plentiful WTF moments, but more than anything, it’s a good time. We made it for the people and will continue to make all our films with our fans in mind.
Nic- Which do you prefer, working behind the camera (directing, writing) or in front of it?
Sylv- Working behind it. It was a lot of fun playing Badass in DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK and I am glad to have had the experience as an actor that I have had, but we don’t plan on going in front of the camera as often in the future. There may be an odd cameo here and there in our projects, but we prefer the creative control that you can only have from a project that you write and direct. We will be having a cameo in our upcoming next feature, AMERICAN MARY, that will be sort of a send off from acting for a while. The next few projects after that are pretty much just writer/director roles for us.
Jen- That’s a tough one. Acting was our first love, so it will always have a special place in our hearts. But directing and writing feels just so right. From the moment we started film making, it felt like it was what we were always meant to do. We had so many weird skills that just didn’t seem to fit together, but then it all just fell into place. It felt like coming home.
Nic- So when you’re making a film what, besides financing, do you find to be the biggest challenge for you?
Jen- The unexpected. You can have everything beautifully planned and set and locked down for weeks, but at the last minute, something can come out of nowhere and just fuck it all to hell. A good film maker has to be a very creative problem solver. We’ve gotten to the point where we will make plans and additionally we’ll discuss at length everything that could possibly (or impossibly) go wrong just so that we’re prepared to deal with whatever should come to pass. You’ve got to surround yourself with good people. If someone lets you down once, chances are they will again and again. Attitude is extremely important on a set. We try to surround ourselves with people who feel as passionately about the work as we do.
Sylv- It’s funny because when we’re on set, the challenges don’t really feel that big. You just roll with the punches, if something fucks up royally, you just figure it out, and make it work. The most important thing is to be a duck on set, remain cool and collected on the surface and paddle like holy hell below the surface to make sure everything is being taken care of. The unpredictability of independent filming and thinking on your feet – creative problem solving – is the biggest challenge and what will save your ass every single time.
Nic- You mentioned your next feature, AMERICAN MARY, the advanced trailer for it looks very interesting. What can you tell us about that film and when do you think it will be released?
Jen- Sylvie would kill me if I let anything slip. I can say that contrary to the grindhouse style of DHIAT (though we’re FAR from through with grindhouse!), AMERICAN MARY is a much more straight forward horror. It’s much more conscious as opposed to the shear "what-the-fuck"ed-ness of DEAD HOOKER. We will be doing some pretty spectacular tricks in this one. It’s really going to make a mark in horror history.
Sylv- With DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK, we introduced people to what was possible with a great group of people, some outlandish and crazy ideas, and a lot of love of the genre with a modest budget. It’s a visceral, very crotch-driven fun movie with all sorts of insanity sprinkled in. There was a rough feeling to it that just added to its wild feeling, but we were asked what would we be able to do if there was a more generous budget behind us. What would be the next story that we wanted to tell?
AMERICAN MARY is a much more intentional and controlled beast than HOOKER. It’s one of the most prosthetic heavy stories ever done and the effects are a huge part of the overall story telling. It is still very much a reflection of our dark humor and what we would like to see in a horror film. The new film is very much a thank you to all the people that got behind us on HOOKER and made it the success that is has been. I think people are going to be shocked in the best of ways.
Nic- Technology has brought a lot of changes to the business of filmmaking. What are your thoughts about the future of the film industry?
Jen- I really like digital. I’ve yet to film on, well, actual film and I can’t deny there is something very romantic about using real film. It is pretty pricey, though. 3D, I pray, is just a fad. I’d hate for it to end up being the future of film and having our classics either redone in 3D or forgotten altogether. I don’t want to see THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY in 3D. I love old movies. I hope that with the coming of new technology we’ll find ways to preserve the classics. I’d hate to think there would come a day when some up and coming young film maker would never have heard of François Truffaut. We need to remember the artists and work that have brought us to where we are today as we move into the future of this industry.
Sylv- The technological advancement in film making is incredible. With the rise of digital film making and the equipment being pretty reasonably priced, anyone can buy a camera and start filming things. We have directors’ commentaries allowing us to be educated and taught by our favorite directors. The internet connects to very successful people working in the field. You can tweet David Lynch if you want. The sense of community and ability to create from modest beginnings is more reachable than ever. At the same time, if you want to make your own movie, make sure you have a good story that means something to you and be willing to sacrifice a lot and work extremely fucking hard to get ahead. The term ‘starving artist’ is relative.
Nic- So when you aren’t making movies what do Jen and Sylvia Soska like to do for fun?
Jen- We don’t take much time off! I love writing. We’re often pitching one another and writing new projects. I read once that Stephen King said that a writer has only so many stories in him. Because of that, I’m always writing so I can get them all out of me. There are just so many stories that we have to tell!
When I truly take some time off, I love playing video games or catching up on comics or watching horror movies or playing with my weapons collection…. er, um, I mean, "training" with my weapons 😉
I’m a pretty big nerd. I love replaying my favorite games. I love the METAL GEAR SOLID series. I think Hideo Kojima is incredible. I’d love to get a chance to make a MGS film one day, with mister Kojima, of course. We also play anything dubbed "survival horror", especially SILENT HILL.
Sylv- I don’t even know anymore. You get so busy, you forget what it’s like to have time to yourself. I think even when we’re having fun, we’re talking about work or planning new projects. Jen and I have been working on a television series since we were fifteen years old so we’ll just be hanging out and suddenly something will trigger something for the show and we just break into talking about it. We have all five seasons figured out and so much written, it’s going to be a real pleasure to make that one. With so many projects written and planned, we talk about work a lot.
To relax, we play a lot of video games. We’ve been gamers since we were five years old with the first Nintendo, which we still have hooked up, and have a shit load of systems and games that we’ve collected over the years to play. I collect tarantulas and they are my pride and joy. I take care of them and handle them, and it’s very rewarding. Plus they are endlessly creepy, beautiful, and fascinating at all times. I highly consider them as pets to anyone.
For any photos, we have a whole poop load on our FLICKR account here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/twistedtwins
Here are DHIAT specific ones: http://www.flickr.com/photos/twistedtwins/sets/72157623850209618
You can also check out our Twisted Twins page and IMDB (Jen – Sylvia). Those are the best ones. We update our "Penny Dreadful Diary" blog daily, sometimes several times a day, so that’s the best place to get up to the minute info on what we have going on.
We have a Twitter here: http://twitter.com/#!/twisted_twins
And there’s a Facebook page for Twisted Twins here.