Finding Wonder & Creating Meaningful Scares: Interview With Genre Filmmaker Tricia Lee

Tricia Lee is a Canadian genre filmmaker that has made an impressive imprint on horror fans and industry insiders alike. Her award-winning resume that spans the globe has recently made waves with her latest, Blood Hunters, "about a single mother who wakes up in a medical facility to find that everyone is dead and she's nine months pregnant" with some pretty grisly creatures lurking about. During her busy Blood Hunters press push at FrightFest this past September, Tricia was gracious enough to chat with us about her deep appreciation for Neil Marshall, squishy effects, and creating compelling women characters.

Did you watch a lot of films growing up? If so, what were some of the ones you would credit as inspiration for what we see in the films you make?

I loved watching movies when I was a kid. I remember watching a lot of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola movies when I was in high school and I had a mild obsession with the mafia and mafia movies at the time. But the largest influence on the features I’ve made so far is Neil Marshall. I went to school for a year in New Castle Upon Tyne in England and I worked at the movie theatre where Dog Soldiers premiered. I didn’t know who he was at the time, or how much his work would inspire my own career, but I remember the director was at the big premiere at my theatre. I watched Dog Soldiers over 10 times because I had to monitor the theatres as part of my job. I studied that movie inside and out.

How has making genre films, especially as someone who was once "terrified" of watching them enhanced your experience making them? What kinds of doors has it opened to your cinematic eye creatively?

Yes, I admit I was (and still am) terrified of some really scary films. I still don’t think I’ve recovered from watching Carrie and The Exorcist before the age of 12. What I find interesting about making a genre film and being behind the scenes, is that, as a director, it is my job to make things scary or gory, all those things that make me squirm as an audience member. So when we have a particularly gross shot, I actually love watching it! The crew cheers when we capture something that is particularly squishy. It’s such the opposite reaction when watching vs. creating.

Cinematically, I want to create the experience that I am terrified of as an audience member. If I can get the audience to invest and buy into the characters, to care about them, then I find that the scares, jumps and gore work even better. The audience is involved and suspends their belief to enjoy the created moment.

Exploring the transition between childhood and adulthood is a common theme in your films. Does Blood Hunters explore this in some capacity?

Wow, you have really done your research! It is so fantastic to be asked questions that I don’t normally get to talk about. You’ve actually brought up something I haven’t thought about in a while. Yes, with every single one of my short films, I have tried to find the answer to what it is we have lost between the innocence of childhood and the awareness of adulthood. The last short film I ever made was called “Searching For Wonder” and that was my answer. What we lose is wonder.

The characters in Blood Hunters are innocent in a way. They wake up with no information and have to discover what nightmare they have woken up in. Our main character is a single mother whose only goal is to protect her son in the outside world. She believes her son is innocent and doesn’t know about her drug addiction. And she is very concerned with keeping his wonder alive, but hiding her secret and doing what she can to get back to him.

So, while I don’t think it was a conscious theme in Blood Hunters, I know this thesis is a deep part of me, and creatively it always informs my work.

I spot some gnarly creatures in Blood Hunters. It's interesting because I've recently heard talk amongst horror fans about wanting more monster movies back into horror's current fold. Do you feel similarly in relation to "what's popular" now in the genre? Without spoiling the film of course, how did the idea of including them come up while developing the story?

I don’t really listen to the “what’s popular” conversation when it comes to developing scripts. I work closely with my writer Corey Brown and we create stories we want to tell. The thing is, if we hear that something is popular now, and we start writing it now, by the time we make the film 3 years from now, the landscape will be so different.

Corey pitched the idea for this film to me years ago, about a woman who wakes up in a hospital, everyone is dead and she’s somehow 9-months pregnant. In this facility, there were supposed to be vampires roaming around. But they were going to be very vicious vampires, unlike the ones we see on TV these days. To be honest, I don’t remember the exact reason it morphed from vampires into creatures, but as you can tell from the premise, these blood-sucking creatures still have a lot of vampire attributes.

I love the term "elevated genre" as you describe it! An important element of it in conjunction with the mission of your production company (A Film Monkey Production) is incorporating a "strong female character." When you and your writing partner Corey Brown sit down with a new idea and begin to think of this character, what core elements does she need to have in order to fit your description?

For me, a strong female character doesn’t simply mean, having a female be the lead character in the film. I don’t have a checklist of criteria, but when I read the actions that a female takes in the script, I weigh it against the question, “is this something I would do?” or at the very least, “is this something I would be proud of myself for?” Running around in a bra and screaming is not how I would like to be represented so I don’t have my characters do that. Fighting back, fighting for what’s right, standing up for what you believe in, making your voice heard, those are things that I think are important and that is what I have my female characters doing. It’s really that simple.

You've discussed in the past how features are the way to making a living/career out of filmmaking. How would you encourage others and what advice would you give to those who are working towards this effort?

I always tell people that if you want to be a director, always be a director. Like practicing scales when you are learning an instrument, you should practice directing. For instance, I get together with Corey sometimes and we shoot a scene on our iPhones. Take a scene from a movie that’s already been made. It doesn’t have to have professional lighting, name actors or ever be seen by anyone, but it’s a fun way to experiment with different shots, adjustments for actors, storyboard prep, etc.

Every morning, I breakdown 3 to 5 scenes from a script I’m working on. Some mornings, I watch a scene from a favourite TV show and draw out the floor plans and the camera angles they used. I study it like I’m preparing for an exam.

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