Black Women Making Horror Films: Deep Into The Madness With Simret Cheema-Innis

Blogger, filmmaker, and London dweller Simret Cheema-Innis has spent much of her quality time talking with horror industry insiders and creators from all arms of the creative medusa on her blog, WickerGirl. Recently, she's been ascending into the welcomed madness of her erotic, sci-fi/horror tale, From Me To You which is one of the most trippy and fascinating descriptions of a film I've read in a long time:

A guy in his late 30's who doesn't want to conform or settle down, leaves his fiancĂ© and goes to Vietnam to 'live life and explore more.' Unfortunately for him, he finds himself in a world/place with its own problems, habits and discrimination. Following a weird incident with a prostitute (and a graphic alien sex scene) our guy finds himself with many questions of his own to answer. 

Currently doing some photography and casting in Ho Chi Minh City, I haven't a clue where Simret got the time to talk to me about her journey as a filmmaker but I'm very happy she did. Patiently going beyond to give readers of this interview an audiovisual experience, this budding cinematic master has additionally provided a way to listen to her musings as well as read her alternative take on the same response to my inquiries. She's without question, one of the most thoughtful, ambitious, and exciting new genre filmmakers to keep an eye on.

Many people are turned off by the idea of filmmaking because of issues with budget or think they need a big one (100K+) to make something worth watching. How would you describe the best ways to be successful at securing resources in order to make a great film regardless?

This is a difficult question because this is the stage I’m at now. For Newborn I self financed and made it on pretty much a zero budget due to friends, work colleagues and family contributing their time and skills.

But I would say that having a 100K budget isn’t necessary because ultimately it comes down to the idea and having a good story. Sometimes a good story doesn’t cost much at all. Look at some of the simple advertisements on television, they’re 30 seconds long and some are so simple in their premise, but yet get the point across in such a short space of time.

If your story requires finance, then perhaps at first you may have to rely on the kindness and drive of others to help make your vision a reality. This is all very possible because there are so many talented and skilled people out their who share the same passion as you, and may love your ideas.

The other way is crowd funding, private financiers and looking towards sponsors. This is something I will do for my next project. 

Not many bloggers get the time to create detailed descriptions of their journey on a film set from start to finish. Why was it important for you to put so much time and detail into giving your readers exclusive insight into your process?

Having worked on/documented behind the scenes footage on other productions, I thought it was really important to do it for my own. This is because when you have a whole team who work tirelessly together and you’re a family on set whilst shooting, it’s a really nice way too look back and say ‘yes we achieved that together,’ and to see just how much effort was put into the project no matter how big or small the film. I did it for my cast and crew to say thank you and show the extent of what we all did together. I also had other members of my crew write guest blogs, like Louis my cinematographer gave a really good insight and a different perspective to the project, as did James Burt my editor. I loved their honesty. 

Since you've made other short films before Newborn, how did you decide that this short was the proper project to bring a solid crew on board for?

I felt that it was time to ‘up my game’ so to speak and work in a different way to how I had previously. When you’re first starting out, you kind of end up doing everything. I remember using a small DV Cam recorder, I did the sound, filmed and edited and even acted in the movie. That’s a really good way to learn and lets face it, we never stop learning!

But working in the film/TV film industry provided me with more knowledge, and that everyone has a role. For example the sound man might have studied to become a sound man, the editor loves to edit and is darn good at it, the cinematographer was born to do what he does, so everyone has a specific talent that they’re good at and love to do. I therefore took this knowledge and decided that using friends, people I’ve worked with and even sourcing others who believed in the project, with the intent that the quality of the project was going to be different and even better than the stuff I used to do all by myself.

With all the challenges on the set of Newborn, do you feel it ultimately (forgive the cliched phrase) make you stronger or help with confidence moving on to your next film?

There will always be challenges in every film that you embark upon, but I can certainly say that Newborn has made me more stronger and this is because I achieved the vision I wanted for the film. Of course there are things that I would’ve liked to have done much better, but I managed to produce a piece of work I’m proud of for zero budget and with a full crew who helped make my vision a reality. This has given me the confidence to say ‘Yes I can do it again!’

After watching Newborn and thankful that you provided some insight on the story's origins on your blog, I'm curious if you see (or had in mind) the parallels to a hair loss fear in regards to Black women and our own hair histories while piecing the film together.

Hair has always played an important part of my life culturally speaking and where I have two parallels due to my mixed heritage. With my mum being Indian and my father British born Jamaican, the subject of hair on both sides is interesting.

I remember that my gran used to wear wigs, it was a normal thing for her to be looking in the wig catalogue and choosing her next wig. In fact I dressed up in her wigs and still do today for some strange reason! Also with Indian culture and with my mum being a Sikh, hair is deemed sacred. It’s not meant to be cut or paraded as part of vanity. I had very long hair as a child, and even when saving my hair in balls when combing it out, I was fascinated that this stuff could grow and that it could also be lost.

We were also in an age where having hairy armpits or pubes were the norm. My mum was hairy, the gran never shaved so I was always party to such displays. Nowadays it seems like it’s unfeminine if we let our pubes rip from our sides, or displays a bit of fur during beach time. It was never like this to me. My mums best friend is also a very hairy man, I used to play with his arm like it was a furry animal and comb it with my dollies brush. I even shaved all the hair off my Cindy doll and stuck it on her boobs.

Black women and hair…it’s an issue, a self conscious issue that needs to change. We place too much value on what hair we think we should have or how it should be according to fashion. I like individuality. But I also know and understand that sometimes maintaining black hair is expensive and can be hard work. Maybe some women just want to keep it simple especially in certain jobs where you may have to maintain a certain image regardless of colour, race and ethnicity.

Why is filming your latest project, From Me To You in Vietnam so critical to your story?

It comes down to many factors. Originally I wanted to shoot in Soho in London, but Soho has changed a lot. It doesn’t have the same underground alternative worldly feel it once had before due to commercialism. Most of the independent traders have been driven out by hiked up rent prices, and there are brand new modern apartments looming from the streets which looks odd. It’s becoming a hub for corporate finance bankers, gone are the neon lights and signage, the street activity and eccentrics we were once used to seeing parading freely on the streets. That’s all gone. They even had a funeral for Madam Jojo’s the legendary cabaret/drag club. That’s gentrification for you.

It’s also very expensive to shoot in the city of London and with my cinematographer Louis based in Ho Chi Minh City, it just seemed second nature along with being a lot cheaper to shoot in Vietnam. And coincidentally the alien girl is actually oriental in the script, so it’s worked out well in that sense. 

How would you describe From Me To You's story origins to someone?

I think it first came from personal experience and reading bell hooks' Eating the Other theory, where I found myself to be the other in a couple of my relationships. It’s that moment where you first meet someone, they’re curious about you because you are the exotic, they have never been with someone like you and so you become this exotic temptress/succubus. These men will seek, chase, charm and do everything to have you because you are the thing that’s missing in their life in terms of cultural enrichment, so they want to feel and be with you to fulfill that part they’ve wanted to try as part of their life experience and journey. 

But once that’s fulfilled, they can disappear, not necessarily in a malicious way, but its just not within their own cultural background or class to settle down with someone other than their own kind. This is human nature, different cultures and family backgrounds determine who we should/shouldn’t be with and as wrong as that sounds in this day and age, this mentality still exists. It’s also natural for others to be curious about other races, and want to settle with someone other than their own culture. It’s also the day and age we live in and a wonderful thing too. I love the fact that my mother is Indian and my father British born Jamaican, they had massive problems of course within their own families especially with it being in the 80s and in the United Kingdom where racism was rife in general, but I’m so happy that they had my siblings and I.

In my story From Me To You, the main character Ryan doesn’t want to conform and commit to his fiancĂ© Rose, so he leaves her in search of himself. During his journey he reflects on his choice which leads him down a path of destruction where he almost looses everything. But then he meets an alien prostitute, who is able to provide them both with a unique sexual experience that they’ll never forget, even if it’s high risk. Their pleasure is shared for she can only do certain things with her body and reach certain pleasures that she can’t with her own kind and in a world where aliens copulating with humans is frowned down upon. My story is an allegory for what’s still happening in todays world, interracial relationships can still be a taboo. I know it still is in Indian culture. Also seeking sexual pleasure through different methods too, everyone has a fetish and it’s part of our lives, it shouldn’t be something we have to hide behind locked doors, in fear of being judged. Then there’s the whole thing about settling down, reaching that point in your life but not wanting to do what society suggests is the right thing; 2.5 children, a mortgage, a good job, a car and all of that. It’s not for everyone.

From Me To You is multilayered in that sense.

What kinds of ways will you and have challenged yourself as a writer and director with From Me To You in ways you may not have or couldn't with Newborn?

I’d say the one big challenge is shooting in another country. I don’t know what to expect which is why I’m going to do the recce, casting and shoot the concept scene first. I need to see what is possible and how to communicate with people where English isn’t their first language. It’s going to be exciting to see how things unravel, there will be many unexpected twists and turns within the production process I’m sure, but I’m open to all of this. The good thing is that there are a few other filmmakers out there who seem keen about the project so I’m looking forward to meeting them and discussing how they can be involved.

Writing wise it’s also been a challenge because I’ve written many different characters in the script, even if they’re supporting roles. Coordinating quite a few people in one scene will be interesting. I work as an AD sometimes, so I know what’s involved when coordinating loads of people in one scene, but doing it on my own shoot and finding someone suitable enough to assist the smooth running of certain scenes on my shoot will be an experience. 

Stay up to date on Simret's projects by following her on Twitter (@Wickergirl666)
Check out her horror blog,
Like her Wickergirl Facebook page
Get a feel for everything she's doing in Vietnam for her latest film on Instagram and the blog!

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