February 24, 2017 Interview – Roxanne Benjamin
Horror cinema has received a much needed shot to the arm in recent years thanks to the rise of a list of young, talented directors. While much of Hollywood’s big budget Horror films remain lackluster efforts, the independent scene has been making waves, producing some of the genres best original films in over a decade.
On the cutting edge of the movement, Filmmaker Roxanne Benjamin has her own brand of terror to bring to screens as seen in her impressive efforts such as 2012’s V/H/S, 2015’s Southbound, and most recently, 2017’s XX. Learning the tricks of a trade and making a name for herself, Benjamin is prime for a long career in film. Recently we caught up with the ambitious creator to talk her introduction into film, the work behind XX, her love for Horror, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been in film/television for some time now as an actress, director, and producer. First, briefly tell us what inspired you to get involved in the world of film?
Roxanne Benjamin – I wanted to be a writer first of all. I was in school for creative writing and theater. I started working in this independent cinema in Nashville while in college, I fell in love with the place and fell in love with movies. Before that, I grew up in a rural town in Pennsylvania; there wasn’t a lot of exposure to film, and going to the movies outside whatever was at the Blockbuster, which was an hour away. I really didn’t get any cinema education until college; it was through that independent art house. I worked there all through college and then, when I graduated, I was working at Tennessee Performing Art Center. From there I just swung into film.
I then went to graduate school for entertainment business. For the business side, I actually came out to LA and started on the executive side. I started in acquisitions, development, and did a Horror film line with Vivendi Universal and Bloody Disgusting. We did limited theatrical, primarily VOD titles. We were releasing 12-15 titles a year with Vivendi Universal. Through that, I got on the film festival circuit, acquiring all these films, going to all these markets such as Berlin, Toronto, and Sundance. Here I met filmmakers, and through that I started making V/H/S. We were acquiring all these films, getting priced out of the market, so what we were going to use to acquire films for that quarter, we ended up making V/H/S. Then I just segued from there into straight producing, from there into directing and writing.
It is always something I always wanted to do from college, but did not really have a way into it from where I was. I didn’t have the film school background and all of my experience that was on the business side. It wasn’t until we started making V/H/S when I got on set where I was exposed to that more and had the opportunity to segue into directing and writing.
CrypticRock.com – It seems to have worked out well, including 2012’s V/H/S (2012) and 2013’s V/H/S/2, as well as 2015’s Southbound. You most recently teamed up for the anthology-like film XX. This film consists of four shorts and you wrote and produced the segment called Don’t Fall. What inspired this tale?
Roxanne Benjamin – I wrote and directed Don’t Fall and The Birthday Party; I wrote and produced with Annie Clark. For my section, I wanted to make something very pulpy and very Penny Dreadful dime novel Horror, the kind of stuff I wrote as a kid growing up, very EC Comics influenced. The last film I directed was Southbound, my section in that was much more of a slowburn character people that culminates in a big finale.
For this one, I wanted to make it very much like “We are in a Horror movie” from the second it opened. That is why I have the over-the-top title cards coming in. Everything is the tropes to a classic Horror movie. I just wanted to play with that and just go on that kind of fun roller coaster ride. That is the fun about a short too, you are not really going to get into a mass amount of character development and surprises, so you might as well have fun with it.
CrypticRock.com – It is quite a creepy little story. As stated, it is one of four stories showcased on XX. The wraparound story is provided by animator Sofia Carrillo. What was it like working with her and the other talented directors?
Roxanne Benjamin – Weirdly enough, I only really worked with Annie because we did our segments together back to back. I finished working on hers and I started working on mine. I worked on the overall post-production of the entire film, I spoke to the directors then in terms of our final sound mix and color, but we did not have discourse during the actual productions.
When I did the V/H/S movies and Southbound, they were very much connected and the directors were connected. With each one of those, we had more of an interconnected storyline with all the directors working together. With XX, it was very much everyone working in a vacuum. I know they had been working on it for a very long time when Annie and I came on board. I think they had been working on it for two years, so the other sections were already done.
CrypticRock.com – Interesting how it all played out. The tagline for XX is “Four deadly tales by four killer women.” That said, do you feel female directors/producers are getting their proper due in the Horror genre?
Roxanne Benjamin – In my experience, yes. I wouldn’t necessarily know otherwise though, I have never been a man in Horror, so I really only have this experience to go off of. I think, in the Indie Horror world, everyone is making movies on the same level and we are all in the trenches together. I think the disconnect comes from making that leap from Indie film to studio film or television. That is where all those statistics get very grim in terms female representation, particularly in the genre.
There are so many other factors in there, you don’t know what part of that is causality and what part of that is correlation. The film industry has never been a meritocracy. If women are not getting a chance to direct those, then they are not going to be getting more work. One of the big reasons given is “we can’t find any women who are experienced to direct a certain thing.” Of course you want to go with the most experienced and best person for any job, but if they are not given that initial experience to be able to get the experience for those bigger budget projects, then that’s a problem.
I don’t know where the breakdown is honestly. You see all these statics and everyone is ringing our hands about it, but ok great, what do we do with that information? We all know it, but what is the solution? You kind of feel, as a female director, that you are given some sort of definitive answer or representation of all women everywhere, which is within itself a misogynistic theory that one person should have that answer for everyone.
CrypticRock.com – Very good points raised. Hopefully these statistics will change, and, as a whole, we as a people can find a solution to certain inequalities. There are certainly a lot of talented female producers, writers, and directors. My last question for you is if you are a fan of the Horror genre, what are some of your all-time favorites?
Roxanne Benjamin – I am a big fan of Pet Sematary (1989) and Pet Sematary Two (1992). Anything by Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma. Any sense of growing tension is my favorite thing ever. Those, and In The Mouth of Madness (1994) destroyed me as a kid, as well as Event Horizon (1994). Also, I might just be afraid of Tim Robbins.
CrypticRock.com – (laughs) Good selections. You mentioned De Palma, what did you think of his 1981 film Blow Out?
Roxanne Benjamin – It is one of my favorite movies, it is one of the first to use a split diopter. The scene of John Travolta putting together the reels that goes around the room is fantastic. That movie looks amazing in and of itself. It is also so devastating, and there is so much horror in that to me. It is very much a Psychological Horror film.