Mario Bava and Dario Argento may be the most popular names, but from the early 60’s to the later 70’s only few Italian filmmakers have not tried their skills on a subgenre that got its name from a series of cheap pulp novels with yellow cover background. Heavily influenced by the German krimi, the giallo is defined by a well-recognizable pattern of stylistic and thematic trademarks that delivered the blueprint for the American slasher. In recent years, filmmakers like Giuseppe Tornatore (with „La sconosciuta“) or Bruno Forzani (with „Amer“) paid homage to classic giallo mechanics but failed to revive the genre itself. For one reason or another though, the spaghetti thriller with its psychosexual overtones and distincitve visual (and musical) tademarks seems to have generated a growing new fanbase among a younger generation of movie buffs.
L.A. based celebrity photographer and devoted horror fan Ama Lea has been a giallo lover for as long as she can remember and so it was only natural for her to step into the genre with her own film sooner or later. Crowdfunded by 132 giallonista, Ama shot „Red Red“ with a passionate cast and crew in August this year and went into post-production soon afterwards. We talked to her about her lifelong love affair with the genre, the film itself, the role of women in the industry and the need to raise more money to finish her movie.
screen/read: „Red Red is a giallo about a young woman’s journey into lust, love, sexual awakening and murder” – that was the first thing everyone got to read when stumbling across your crowdfunding site back in June this year. No doubt, you were aiming at people who knew and loved what giallo is all about. It’s surprising to see how the genre has become popular again recently while it seemed to be pretty much dead for about three decades. What was it that drew you to giallo or Italian cinema of the 70’s in general?
Ama Lea: I’m probably a little biased because I’m American-Italian, I’m from the East Coast here. So I started watching Italian cinema when I was really young. „Suspiria“ has been one of my favorite movies since I can remember. It’s one of the things that got me into horror from the start. So making a giallo was a project I always had in mind. For a while I was doing a lot of other things, other short films, had other feature script ideas. But then I started working with this really great DP and „Red Red“ was some of the first things that I pitched him because he is amazing at lighting and giallos are all lighting. It’s what makes the movie look the way it does. So once I had him on board I felt like I needed to start writing. And that’s really how the project came to be.
screen/read: You instantly caused enough interest in the project to reach your funding goal and even went slightly above. Why is a second crowdfunding campaign necessary now?
Ama Lea: We went way too far over budget. We had $7000 and we spent about 11000. I think to finish we need another 5 or 6000. Now we want to cut a trailer because I think that might really help. It’s for people who are interested in the project to actually see some of it. And I want to hire an editor who is not only talented but also someone who understands the genre. I’d love someone to sit next to and collaborate with who understands what I want from the start, who knows 70’s filmmaking and why this has to be modern enough for people to understand. And then I really want a good composer, so that’s another money issue.
screen/read: During the first campaign, did you receive reactions from people who pledged, so that you could get an idea why they spent money on your film?
Ama Lea: Yeah, there was a majority of people who pledged and gave feedback. There was someone who donated $1000 because they loved giallo that much and really wanted to see this movie made. I mean, fans of the genre are hungering for getting something new, so there were many people who wrote and said they were excited about the project and that this was something they were really looking forward to and wished me the best of luck. Even those who didn’t have money were willing to post constantly and send people my way. I think crowdfunding makes filmmaking more something of a community experience. And it’s great that there’s a knowledge of the project before it’s even done. You have a fanbase before you start.
screen/read: So now that you got some material like actual footage, what are you planning to offer the second time around?
Ama Lea: We’ll have stills and some crazy props, like custom weapons which are ridiculous and scary or a few pairs of leather gloves from the film that will go up as other items too. Also we did a photoshoot with bloody pin-ups of ourselves. That was one of the things we already offered last time. It proved to be a huge hit. So I guess this time we’re using our girl power stuff again to objectify ourselves [laughs].
screen/read: In the end, emancipation is always about selling yourself.
Ama Lea: [laughs] I don’t know, sadly enough that was a big seller. And since I shoot women for a living I had hundreds of naked photos of models. In the last week of the campaign I offered them to anyone who pledged. They brought us several hundred dollars, so that was that.
screen/read: Let’s talk a little bit about the film itself. How long will it be and what’s the story about?
Ama Lea: It’s half an hour, more or less. As far as the cast and crew goes it involved fourty people. The story is about this girl who inherits this large Victorian house. She’s probably in her mid-20’s, very akward, very shy, and her whole life she had these strange dreams that she can’t deal with. They might be visions or maybe repressed memories, but she doesn’t know for sure. It’s actually a lot about her sexual awakening and who she is supposed to be, but in typical horror fashion people start dying around her and a lot of it is dreams and figuring out who’s done it. That’s the giallo/film noir side of it. But apart from that I really don’t want to give anything away. I tried not to update it too much from the classic type of giallo so it still has got that particular kind of mystery to it. I feel like I tried to keep it as sophisticated as possible and even if a few people are dying it doesn’t have a slasher feel [laughs].
screen/read: Since giallo is a subgenre that has a very recognizable style, would you say that you more or less tried to recreate that look or did you attempt to make something modern that has a giallo feel but still looks very unique, visually speaking.
Ama Lea: It’s really inspired by classic giallo films and as I said I waited until I had the best lighting team possible. Visually it’s stunning, it’s beautiful. We worked on a lighting scheme months ahead of time. We took a classic approach and then really went full on. There’s no less than twenty lights per shot. And yeah, it’s inspired by films like „Suspiria“ and „Inferno“ but I think we took it to another level.
screen/read: You’re actually coming from a different artistic field, you’re a photographer. So it’s expected that the visual side of a movie is very important to you as you know much better how to handle lighting and colour than most other filmmakers.
Ama Lea: Yeah, I always know what I want visually. It’s the most important part to me in telling a story with pictures. So this film is extremely visual.
screen/read: Was it an early intention of you to make movies at some point, or did it evolve from being a photographer?
Ama Lea: I wanted to make horror movies from the time I was about thirteen or fourteen. When you are in highschool, you have to do these sort-out projects on who you want to be, and I always said that I want to be a filmmaker. Nevertheless I started out as an actor. I was auditioned at Juilliard and several different schools. I was a stage actor from the time I was six years old till my early twenties when I realised that this wasn’t where I wanted my career to go. And since I always loved photography I ended up doing that although a part of me kept knowing that I love film and that I’m a total film junkie and so I always wanted to get back into it and really make films. I think it just took me a long time to get the courage to do it. It’s very overwhelming when you haven’t done it before. And it is still overwhelming when you actually get to do it.
screen/read: It’s not your first short film you’re doing, right?
Ama Lea: Yeah, this is my fourth short film. There’s one in festivals now, it’s called „Slay Bells“. It’s a five minute little christmas short film with R. A. Mihailoff from „The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3“. He plays Santa. It’s a very 80’s like Slasher, it’s short and cute. But „Red Red“ is my biggest project by far. Our plan is to get it completely finished by January to enter the film festival circuit for the next year and then as soon as that’s done, I will prepare a feature. I’m writing two scripts right now and one I hope will be made. Pre-production next year, that’s my goal.
screen/read: With that in mind, was the idea behind making „Red Red“ also a step towards promoting your future feature debut?
Ama Lea: It goes hand in hand, but in the first place this was a passion project for me. I would love to do a feature giallo of course. I think I just needed to show people that I can handle a project this big and then it was something I always wanted to do. I’m so happy we did it and I’m so happy with what came out of it. All of us were working eighteen hour days and it didn’t even feel like eighteen hours. We love what we’re doing, we know what we were making was special. So even though it’s a step towards doing a feature film it’s also something I would have done no matter what.
screen/read: In recent years way more female filmmakers made their debut with horror movies. The Soskas, Axelle Carolyn, Jovanka Vuckovic, Elisabeth Fies and so on. Do you think that’s just a natural development resulting from the emancipation movement or do you have a different explanation for this?
Ama Lea: I think it’s got to be a natural progression. And I think that there should have been more female filmmakers fifteen, twenty years ago. There have been some great ones in the 80’s that people don’t even recognize, like Mary Lambert or Amy Holden Jones. I think it’s great that women are doing it. I don’t have a real explanation except for maybe now that we are seeing, that girls are doing it, many others think, well, if they can do it, I can do it too. I’d love to say that it’s easier today but I’m not sure. I’m friends with all of those ladies that you’ve mentionend and they’re brilliant and wonderful and I know that they have the same issues that I do. It’s not easy being a female and making movies. A lot of it is about finding a crew that respects you because it’s still a male dominated industry. You need to find people who know that you do it just as good as someone with a penis [laughs]. So it’s all about finding a crew who can be lead by women and not be intimidated by that.
screen/read: Do you think that’s particularly an American phenomenon?
Ama Lea: It’s hard to speak for that because I don’t have much experience outside the US as far as filmmaking goes. But it’s definitely an issue here. I live in L.A. and it’s hard for a lot of girls I know. For instance, I have friends who do monster effects make-up, and they undergo so much sexual harassment in the make-up labs in Los Angeles. I’ve been on sets directing commercial stuff and some misogynist things were thrown at me by people who never worked for me, who don’t know anything about me. I mean, this is not 1956, this is 2012. Let’s celebrate filmmakers no matter what sex they are.
screen/read: Lots of people obviously have a problem with that. And then horror is a genre which is not really best known for being female-friendly. So given the fact that the revolution usually starts where it hurts most, and horror being probably the most male-dominated genre of all, it makes total sense for female filmmakers to enter especially there and turn things around.
Ama Lea: I can see that a hundred percent. And fortunately not everyone has a problem with that. I know a lot of male horror directors here who love the fact that so many females are entering the genre. Not so much the first-timers though.
screen/read: So when you conceive a female character, is she living in the real world that is still so tough for women, or do you rather place her in an artificial environment? And do you think that your characters mirror the current status of women in society?
Ama Lea: I would say „Red Red“ is more of a fictional world. It’s very theatrical and very dramatic. It’s definitely more like an artistic place than the real world. But in one of the scripts that I’m writing now, the female character is very much real world and definitely mimicks what’s going on in society far more. As far as horror goes it’s rather difficult as there are so many established patterns for female characters. A good example is „A Nightmare on Elm Street 2”. It’s one of the few movies where they tried to change the lead to a male character and it just didn’t work. So with horror it’s very easy to create a female character that goes from weak to strong – the traditional final girl. It’s a simple story arc. I try to avoid that as much as possible, I try to make my characters a little more three-dimensional.
screen/read: What do you think, why is the pattern of the final girl still so popular? After all, it’s such a terrible cliché that appears in every second horror movie and you know after five minutes which of the girls will survive and fight evil in the end. Why is that?
Ama Lea: It’s easy. Especially for people who are trying to write horror movies and get them made quickly and look at horror as an easy way to make money. There are always one or two horror films in theatres that are probably terrible and made for maybe a million dollars, but guys are going to take their girlfriends to watch them without doing any research. So it’s an easy money-maker and as long as people are going to see these movies they are going to be made.
screen/read: In Europe the audience at horror film festivals is still pretty much male dominated and I guess that’s not very different in the states. Why is that, what do you think? Are female horror fans still not willing to come out of the closet, so to speak? Do they not exist? What’s the deal there?
Ama Lea: I see a lot of women being interested in horror. In Los Angeles there’s the Viscera film festival just for women in horror, which is awesome. But even then the tendency is that the audience still consists mostly of men. I’m not sure what the deal is. I grew up liking horror films by the time I was five or six years old, but I didn’t go to my first horror movie convention until I was like nineteen or twenty. I didn’t have anybody to go with, I didn’t know any other people who were into the same things I was. And even now when a new horror film comes out I don’t have any other girl friends to call and go to the theatre with.
screen/read: What kind of audience are you aiming at? Who do you think your film is made for?
Ama Lea: It’s really got to find people who love cinema for the art of cinema and not just want to see a film where everything is laid out for you so you get to understand it. I tried to not spoonfeed people a story, I tried to get them something they could leave and think about. I don’t think people who watch romantic comedies or even slasher films will feel fulfilled with this. It’s really going to appeal to people who love art cinema and really strong visual filmmaking. That’s why I want this movie to get into as many festivals as possible. I think that’s where it’s going to find its audience.
screen/read: How will people respond to your film? What do you expect?
Ama Lea: I’m fully prepared for people to hate the film. Maybe the only saving factor is that there is a lot of nudity and sex involved. Actually there’s so much sex in it you might think it’s a porno [laughs]. One sex scene we did on a really, really old cemetary. It was inspired by „Cemetary Man (Dellamorte Dellamore)” by Michele Soavi, so there’s giallo lighting, but it’s also pretty raunchy, you get full-frontal nudity and stuff. But there’s also some really fucked up shit. It even touches on child molestation and shooting that scenes wasn’t easy. We handled it the best way we could but the actor was just too good and it was shot really well. It looked beautiful but at the same time all of us on set were just totally uncomfortable. So I’m either going to get chastised for doing this or people will love it. But we’ll see.
screen/read: Hopefully a lot of people will hate it as that’s the best thing that can happen. Because if you please everyone you have certainly done something wrong. Well, from an artistic point of view at least.
Ama Lea: I think the percentage of people who love it will be pretty slim. When my mom read the script, she was like „Really? This is what comes out of your mind? What’s wrong with you? Are you really going to a church to shoot a Lesbian sex scene?” [laughs] But my mom is in the movie, she has a small role. It was cool she was involved in it, even though I’m sure she won’t show it to anybody [laughs]. Her costume is crazy and amazing. It involved a corset and she had to wear it for various hours and there was heavy makeup and stuff. My mom is a retired model, so she’s a bit high-maintenance, high-strung. When she was in the last shot of the film, it was about 4:30 in the morning and the sun was coming up. It was supposed to be nighttime and all of a sudden there was a short circuit and all of our lights went out. That was the only time I lost my temper, I was flipping out. We got the lights back on and everything worked out fine, but I was just scared to lose the last shot of my film, knowing I had no time to reshoot it. So my mom experienced that and wasn’t very happy about it [laughs].
screen/read: With about 30 minutes runtime it’s somewhere between a short film and a feature. Interestingly enough, many shorts these days tend to be that long. So if you watch three or four of them in a row it’s like watching an anthology. Now with a shifting in viewing experience on the web and mobile devices and people not having as much time anymore, do you think longer shorts are easier to be sold than they used to be?
Ama Lea: It could go either way. I think the best thing about a long short film is that it gives filmmakers the freedom to be creative and to make things that they find interesting, like passion projects. Generally, there are not many distribution options for short films. So they always will end up on the internet at some point. And I think there are people who like the instant gratification of being able to download something, click and watch it. So there is an audience. But I don’t think there’s a money device for studios in this. It’s more for people who like movies. I personally prefer to watch a movie in a theatre as opposed to a computer screen, but there are people who perfectly get along with it. So it’s really a matter of time until we see what the future may be for this.
screen/read: Ama, thanks for taking the time and good luck for your second funding campaign. We’ll support you anyhow we can. Consider it a promise.
[Photo Credits: Ama Lea]
LINKS for further reading:
- RED RED First trailer
- RED RED @Kickstarter
- RED RED @Facebook
- RED RED @Twitter
- Ama Lea @Facebook
- Ama Lea Photography