I'm A Survivor: Conceptualizing Horror With Filmmaker Elizabeth Bayne

Elizabeth opens our Q&A talking about her fascination with Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (1989) "in which a demonically possessed floor lamp terrorizes a California family." What I find equally amusing is the fact that it's a film she's reminded of when she encounters a street lamp. Watching horror films as a child truly is a range from the distinguished to the utterly bonkers that played commonly on Saturday's in the 1980's and 1990's. Since it appears we both are in a similar age range, I completely relate to the allure of some of the questionable-in-coherence genre entries. And it is often these kitchen sink film viewing experiences that lead down a winding road of creating our own work in some capacity.

Elizabeth Bayne, a filmmaker who has spent over ten years working in video production for the University of Southern California and various organizations in the wellness and public health sector found inspiration for her own entry into the horror genre while home for the holidays in Hampton, Virginia. She was jogging by a fort, the famous Fort Monroe, a historical military installation known for being used as a war defense location and even its role in freeing slaves before the Civil War. With a myriad of 'what if's' swimming in her brain, The Fortress, the name of her idea-turned-screenplay became one of the Top 10 Finalists for the Clive Barker presents Reel Fear Horror Contest. Its premise aligns next to some of the most notable revenge films of the past such as I Spit On Your Grave (1978). When Elizabeth's main character goes jogging along this same location, she is taken captive for sadistic acts but manages to escape and endure an unpleasant test that throws a wrench in her faith of the United States criminal justice system.

Elizabeth spoke candidly about how she felt at Fort Monroe and seeing it through a creative lens. "The place felt completely deserted. Looking out over the moat that surrounds the fort, I became acutely aware of how isolated I was. In these situations, my imagination instantly goes to the worse thing that could happen. And to me that was being held captive in one of those old buildings and no one knowing where to find me. Then that brought me to the thought of thousands of black women who go missing in the U.S. without much fanfare or media attention. I remember patting my pocket to be sure my cell phone was still there and checking that I had full reception. After that, I returned a couple more times to take photos of the fort before returning to Los Angeles to write. The architecture is incredibly inspiring; very gothic, mossed over stone, darkened from age, rusted iron gates that lead to pitch black tunnels to nowhere. It brought to mind endless possibilities for violence, torture, and fear."

Elizabeth continues on about the process of developing her script; "After that it was just a matter of finding characters that resonated, an arch that would justify the use of violence, and a three act structure that suited the location and helped the emotional points build. But before I started writing anything, I researched the rape revenge sub-genre to ensure I avoided problems typically associated with this genre, such as gratuitously long, overly explicit rape scenes or using victims as props to simply drive the plot forward. I wanted to be sure I handled the issue of rape with sensitivity and respect.

I finished the script in about three months after returning to Los Angeles. I started with an outline marking pivotal scenes that I knew had to be in the film and that were inspired by actual locations on the fort. From there I fleshed out characters who could make the world real and developed scenes that drove the storyline, the arcs and the body count. I was also able to sprinkle in some social commentary about gun culture, police brutality, and sexual assault. To date, The Fortress is the closest I’ve come to realizing a creative vision in script form."

What may seem too familiar in concept is only a reflection on our history and the very real question; has humanity truly evolved? Elizabeth explains, "The story in The Fortress is best told as a horror because of the heinous nature of the crime committed against Audie, the protagonist, and the violent retribution that she enacts. The pain and anger that she’s exercising requires a physical release of tension that’s best suited to the genre. Blood must spill to release the pressure and weight that that kind of violation can place on a victim’s psyche. In real life, we don’t always see justice served, but in horror, the poetic justice can flow freely. The blood she spills in vengeance is symbolic and represents the real-life social ills we often feel powerless to address."

Elizabeth focuses much on the layered presentation of the monster and how much an audience can identify with the hero in horror films. It's this struggle for survival that really pulls her emotionally and sparks her creativity. In regards to the latter, she feels what's lacking in the genre is a more diverse representation of that person: "What I missed growing up, was seeing more black people in these films. Not that I wanted to see my people get hacked or eaten alive, but it would have been nice to have a strong black protagonist. Tales from the Hood was the closest I got until college when I finally saw Night of the Living Dead. It was filmed in Pittsburgh, where I was attending school and they had a screening on the anniversary. It was the first horror film I’d seen with a black actor as the main protagonist, not only that, he was the voice of reason amidst a room full of hysterical white people. It was awesomely frustrating to watch, especially at the end, but incredibly poignant."

But the landscape is slowly revealing the numerous works from independent and more well-known creators that take to task giving the genre this kind of variety as well. Elizabeth is a part of that trend. In the meantime, she's been checking out some recent entries. "The Guest, I’m Not A Serial Killer, and Kristy are three contemporary horrors that I’ve really enjoyed. The Guest for it’s many homages to the genre, I’m Not A Serial Killer for its dark humor, and Kristy for it’s simplistic and satisfying setup with two female leads.

I’m looking forward to seeing the remake of It. I remember my brother and I sitting in excited anticipation to see the film on VHS as kids. The build and tension felt very slow and we had to watch it several times before we could sit through the whole thing as kids, because we usually got bored before the clown finally appeared. I’m curious about re-watching it now to see how it holds up."

Although The Fortress didn't make it to the next round in the Reel Fear contest, we are deeply committed to encouraging Elizabeth to follow this project to completion. If this sounds like something you'd love to see, please send Elizabeth your support on Twitter (@graybayne) and follow the rest of her work via the resources below.

Elizabeth on the web and Facebook.

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