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PHOENIX — SHE is a dark horror comedy film that was produced in the Valley by Gravel Road Production and lead actress Hannah McKay; it will premiere on July 5, 2018 at a private screening at Filmbar. The 90-minute film has already stirred some controversy, having been described as a jarring film about female empowerment. The plotline involves an Airbnb owner, who uses her sexuality to manipulate her male guest into doing her evil bidding.
(Viewer discretion is advised – some scenes may not be suitable for all audiences.)
Q & A with Film Writer/Director Will Goldstein
SHE’s Writer and Director, Will Goldstein, spoke with Burning Hot Events about the film and it’s impact:
What is your background in filmmaking?
I’ve been making films since I was a teenager. I studied film production as an undergrad at U of A, then got a Masters at USC. Since then I’ve directed or produced a handful of indies that you can find on Amazon.
Your IMDB profile shows credits dating back to 2010 – How long have you been doing it?
The first short films I made that actually got shown publicly were screened as early as 2010, so that IMDB timeline makes sense.
What inspired the plotline for this film?
My original goal was to write a horror movie that took place in one location, and had a dynamic female lead. When I set out to write, the sexual assault scandals had been all over the news and I think that subconsciously influenced the tone and narrative arc of the film, and it became less of a horror movie and more of an outrageously over-the-top dark, dark comedy.
In your opinion, what are some films that would be favorites of someone who would enjoy SHE?
Ah, cool question. The film that inspired me the most is a bizarre Greek movie called Dogtooth, though fans of that film are few and far between. It’s a lot to stomach. A more mainstream comp might be Kill Bill, if it was directed by the Coen bros. And that’s on SHE’s ‘best’ day.
What do you think makes this film different from others in the same genre?
I’ve been personally struggling with the film’s genre. I think that’s what makes it so unique, though. It’s an amalgam of a few genres.
How long did it take to write the script?
About 3 weeks.
What style of cinematography was utilized for this film?
It’s a very raw, verite style. A good comparison visually might be the films of Kathryn Bigelow.
Some would describe the Phoenix filmmaking scene as a desert. Why do you think that filmmaking has been underrepresented in our arts & culture scenes?
There’s a ridiculous amount of filmmaking talent in Phoenix. The issue is, in my opinion, that these artists don’t have a significant mouthpiece in the local media. For instance, azcentral only employs film reviewers that review theatrical fare. There’s no appointed person in a position to cover local productions.
How has the film provided opportunities for local talent, and in what ways do you think the film will help the production communities in Phoenix in the future?
This film was made entirely by local talent, excluding the sound editor. The producers, actresses, actors, and crew are all Phoenicians. I’m hoping that, with this film, which will definitely play as controversial to a variety of audiences, we’re able to galvanize the media to take a more active look at local film productions.
Why did you choose Filmbar for the premiere?
Filmbar is the best. It’s the indie film hub of the community. They have a ravenous spirit for the weird and avant garde. And our film is definitely that.
What importance do you think a venue like Filmbar plays in our society?
Indie theaters like Filmbar are so few and far between outside of major cities like LA and NY, and that’s unfortunate because they’re so necessary as a distributing outlet for artists that are taking chances and making challenging films that aren’t afraid of alienation at the cost of vanity.
Will the audience have the opportunity to meet you and/or the cast at the premiere?
Local band Jane N’ The Jungle provided the title track for the film. Will they be doing anything for the premiere?
They’ll be in attendance.
In the past, you worked with the band when you created their music videos for “Wild Side” and “Killed Someone”. What made you feel that JNTJ would be a good fit for the film’s soundtrack?
JNTJ are genius at disguising contentious subject matter as fist pumping, radio friendly anthems. I think that’s really brilliant in a subversive way, and that’s primarily why I think they’re a great fit. Subversion.
In the current climate of the entertainment industry with the #metoo movement, and recent killings that have been tied to self-proclaimed “incels” (involuntary celibates), some individuals and groups believe that women use their sexuality as a weapon. In the renaissance era, paintings were made of women having relations with demons and animals because female sexuality was so heavily feared. Can you explain how you think the film is progressive in terms of female empowerment? And how do you think viewing the film would impact someone who shares those viewpoints on female sexuality?
I think everyone is going to have differing opinions on this front, and part of the construction of this film is to incite a reaction, whether positive or negative. Without giving anything away, I will say that the film subverts the traditional sociological role of ‘agency,’ as it’s respective to gender.
To your second question, I honestly can’t say. I can’t purport to know how anyone will react specifically, but we’ll find out soon enough.
The lead character is shown to be calling the male guest (Troy) a “pussy” on multiple occasions. Does the film shed light on the topic of toxic masculinity?
I think it does. I was aiming for a meaner, satirical display of toxic masculinity.
Can you tell us more about what other/related controversy has been triggered by the film?
I can tell you that it involves subject matter that will have some people heading for the doors.
Do you feel that controversy can bring about anything positive?
Absolutely. In the jaded world we live in, I think controversy has to be stoked to even start a debate.
Would SHE pass the Bechdel test?
Actually, it would. Barely. But it would.
It’s admirable that Hannah McKay both served as a producer, and lead actress of the film. How did McKay initially become involved in SHE, and what lead to her to wearing both hats in the production?
I would say it’s more than admirable. The role of producer is demanding enough itself. If you add to that a leading role, with a character that has pages of dialogue that not only has to be memorized, but delivered so precisely take after take for hours a day, I don’t think ‘admirable’ is the most apt term. Maybe ‘superhuman.’ I dare any actress or actor to try to pour themselves out emotionally for 6 hours straight while simultaneously worrying about the status of film permits, actor’s schedules, and whether or not lunch will be prepared in time.
I met Hannah on the set of JNTJ’s “Killed Someone” video shoot. She played the lead in that video. She’d had no prior acting experience. I thought she had a natural, honest demeanor on camera, and that’s such an unbelievably difficult trait to come across, so I asked her if she’d be potentially interested in acting in a film. Luckily, she was.
Did McKay have a lot of input on how her character, Jane, was portrayed?
When you’re working with actors, you’re collaborating. The script version of the character takes on a new form in a new body, and together you try to make this new entity as honest as it can be. So of course that requires an open mind, suggestions, and encouragement.
How did the actresses and actors influence the final product?
Funny you ask that. I think the actresses and actors are the reason this film evolved from a horror into a dark comedy. And it’s so much better because of that.
Are there any opportunities left for local artists to be involved with SHE?
Definitely. I would love to work with a variety of local musicians on the soundtrack. JNTJ did a cover song that works perfectly in the film, and I’d love to get other local acts on the team if there are any willing to collaborate.
What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to someone that dreams to be a writer and/or director?
Learn all the “rules,” and then do whatever you can to break them.
What is your favorite inspirational quote?
“I’ll rebel against powers and principalities, all the time. Always, I will.”
– Paul Thomas Anderson
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about SHE?
Don’t watch it.
Phoenix band Jane N’ The Jungle does incendiary title track for brash indie film SHE
Popular local PHX band Jane N’ The Jungle is expanding their repertoire to film soundtracks, covering Aloe Blacc’s “The Man” as the title track for the contentious local indie flick, SHE, that has been stirring debate here in the Valley. The song was selected by the film’s director and frequent JNTJ collaborator, Will Goldstein.
“The original song is sung by a man, with male-dominated lyrics. When we perform it, the song takes on an opposing point of view,” says Jordan White, the band’s front-woman.
At a time when sexism has been a featured topic during the #metoo movement, the irony of a woman performing such a male-centric song is intended to spark discussion about a male-dominated culture that undermines female power. The raw, stripped down performance by Jane N’ The Jungle, has a haunting grit that embodies the controversial film.