Talking With the Dead: 13 Questions with Jessica Sonneborn
Jessica is an actress, writer, producer and director, who lives in Los Angeles, CA.
She grew up in Connecticut, always on an adventure outdoors, and with numerous pets, which included: horses, ducks, chickens, parrots, mice, rabbits and her favorite: a trained goat named Whinchombe.
Feature Film credits include: Alice D (writer/director and actress), The House Across The Street (lead), Rabid Love (lead), Dorothy and the Witches of Oz (supporting), Bloody Bloody Bible Camp (lead), A Lure (writer/ producer/lead), Money Shot (writer/producer/lead), American Girls (ex producer/lead), Never Open The Door (lead), Spring Breakdown (day player/ stunts), Pain Is Beautiful (supporting), Weapons (day player), Repo (day player and stunts), Camp Slaughter (lead), School of Horror, and Detour into Madness Anthology 1.
TV credits include: The United States of Tara, Him and Us, Witches of Oz (mini-series on Encore now), and Love Squared (lead).
1. “CAMP DAZE takes you back to the days of tube socks, bongs hits and short shorts, throws in a quiet summer camp full of blood and mayhem and watches the fun unfold” is the premise of Alex Pucci’s 2005 film. This was your first jump into the horror genre, and you play the character of Elizabeth. What can you tell us about working on your first horror film, what did you think of the throwback to the 80’s style of the film and what is the difference between the 94 minute cut vs the 110 minute Director’s cut?
Camp Daze! It was Camp Slaughter when we made it. It wasn’t my first experience in horror, because I actually did Detour into Madness Vol 1 first, I guess it came out after? That’s the ‘biz. It was the first feature film that I ever worked on, which was very exciting, and the first location shoot…. And actually the first of three movies I’m in that took place in 1984 (Bloody Bloody Bible Camp and Rabid Love being the others).
We all stayed at this awesome camp in Maine for a week or two, and basically had the time of our lives. They woke us up every morning with hits from 1984. “Jesse’s Girl” was in my head for months after the shoot. I had been thinking about moving to LA before this movie, and had made the decision by the end of the shoot, that’s how much fun we had. I’m not sure which cut I have seen or what the difference is…? I’m assuming the shorter cut was for distributors and I think I must have seen the directors cut at the premiere.
2. You followed up Camp Daze with co directors Joe Patnaud’s and Timothy Whitfield’s Detour Into Madness Vol. 1 (2005). It is a collection of 5 short thriller/horror tales in one feature length DVD. SNUFF: 2 girls audition for a horror film and discover the director is off his rocker and the horror is all too real. SAMHAIN 101: A tale of 3 students studying a horror legend. ROADKILL: When Jenni hits a pedestrian while driving drunk, he comes back for revenge. REVELATIONS: A tale of faith, sex and murder. THE DEVIL’S WINDOW: 3 girls decided to contact the other side, only top discover a cruel twist of fate. DEVIL’S WINDOW: 3 girls enlist the power of a spirit board, and evil is released. I had a hard time finding any info on this film other than the names of the characters you played in it (Nikki/Carrie). Can you tell us which segment(s) you were in and how you became involved as a writer for the film?
Detour into Madness was one of the first projects I ever worked on. I was hired to play Nikki in the short: Samhain 101, and it shot one week after a comedy I was in, which was my first project. We started filming Samhain in the summer and finished shooting that winter, which was a tribute to how much you have to love being an actress to do it… it was literally freezing out and we (actress Erika Stone and actor Steve Hludzik) were wearing our summer clothes, to match the scenes. We really had fun, though.
I’ve been a writer since I was a kid, and I was inspired to write a screenplay, so I wrote Revelations with my actor friend, Steve who is also in that short. We pitched it to the Timberwolf crew, and Joe shot it for us. That one was about a religious guy who thinks his sweet innocent girlfriend is trying to seduce him.
3. In 2006, you continued your work with Timothy Whitfield’s Shadows Fall, playing the role of Jillian Storm. Can you tell us a bit about how you met Timothy, what led to your decision to work with him again and what is it about his directing style that appealed to you the most?
I met Tim at one of my first auditions down in Rhode Island, for Samhain. He was super nice, along with his partners Mike and Joe. I was easy to work with on Samhain and they were super cool to work with, so they hired me to replace an actress who couldn’t finish the movie. I think she had a kid? Tim was always great to work with and let us have a lot of creative freedom with the roles.
4. School of Horror (2007) was your next horror film, directed by Daniel Cayarga. The story details the madness and frustrations of a director whose films never quite seem to make it, so he utilizes a dangerous situation to give his film that spark all of his others have missed. What did you think of the premise of the film, and looking back at it now having been a director, does the story in the film reflect some of the frustrations you felt when you directed your first feature film?
Ha ha… I think this one was about a snuff film? I had a really small part as someone’s girlfriend in a bar scene. I can relate… and I believe in real method acting in horror movies, but only when I’m the director. I’m kidding. I actually had very little frustration with the actors in Alice D. Except for with Al Snow and Kane Hodder, had to bitch slap both of them a little during filming.
5. 2012’s Pain is Beautiful, directed by Chris Staviski, tells the story of William who is a heavily scarred loner who was born with a rare disorder called CIPA, Congenital Insensitivity to Pain. He feels no pain and no pleasure. After years of wondering what pain feels like he decides to go to extreme measures by “recruiting” victims to help him understand what others take for granted. What can you tell us about the motivations of your character Samantha Raymond and how well was the film received at it’s screening at the Days of the Dead Convention in LA?
I wasn’t at the screening or the Days of the Dead Convention… so I haven’t seen it. It’s one of those movies I want to see on DVD, because I’m pretty lame about gore … okay, I’m really lame… so I prefer seeing really gory movies at home so I can hide my eyes and cry like a little girl. I love ACTING in gory movies, but even though I know it’s all fake… I’m a wuss while watching.
I played a detective and all of my work on the film was with Tim Sullivan (who is terrific). It’s all the exposition of the film, so unfortunately I didn’t get to scream and get bloodied up. I’m just the one talking about it.
6. Vito Trabuco’s Bloody Bloody Bible Camp (2012) was a scream! By far, this film had an impressive cast of not only you, but Reggie Bannister, Tim Sullivan and Ron Jeremy! Can you tell us how much fun you has working on this film, what was it like being on set with Reggie, Tim and Ron and how did you get involved in the film?
You are going to H.E.L for liking that movie, that’s Hell! I loved my experience on BBBC. I was supposed to audition for the movie and couldn’t make the audition for some reason. About a month later a friend referred me to Ivet Corvea, who was casting…she was having a hard time casting that role. She put me in touch with Vito, I met him at Starbucks, and we started filming less than a week later.
We shot on this crazy little ranch filled with horses, goats, pigs and DOGS, tons of barking yapping dogs… which loved to bark right when we were rolling. It was heaven. I’m an animal lover, so it was truly heaven to me. They had this crazy goat that would harass and butt people… I loved that goat. We have several awesome photos together. There was a great energy on that set and all of us campers were super excited to work with Reggie, Tim and Ron. We had a blast.
7. You recently finished up Paul J. Porter’s Rabid Love. Paul and Hayley Derryberry combined to write and produce the film, Paul directed and of course, you acted alongside Hayley. Can you tell us how you met Paul and Hayley, how did you go about preparing for your role of Julie Allen in the film, and how impressed were you by their ability to not only wear several hats on set, but make a horror film that has a look and feel that is more impressive than what Hollywood is making these days?
Brandon Stacy referred me to Rabid Love. Paul and Hayley watched my feature film, A Lure and cast me off of that. I really had to hustle to work on this project and The House Across the Street because they were originally overlapping days. I flew back and forth from Boston to Kansas; Kansas to LA then back to Boston. It was a bit hectic, but well worth it. I’m really glad it worked out because both movies are so different and both look great and I met so many awesome actors and filmmakers on both.
Paul really had a vision for what he wanted for Rabid Love, which he stuck to. Not many people stick to their guns and he really did… I actually fought him on one outfit I had to wear in the movie, this funny authentic 80s sweater. After talking with him about why I was wearing the sweater, I came to understand his vision and drive to make this movie completely authentic. Cheesy sweaters were like, totally the 80s, man. I respect that, and think that their vision and belief in that vision will pay off. Hayley and Paul are both terrific people and filmmakers.
8. Rabid Loves is premiering in LA on April 19th. Hayley in particular is really excited: “I am unbelievably excited about the LA premiere. From editing, I’ve seen the film so many times and I know every line by heart, but for most of our cast and crew this will be their first time seeing it. And of course everyone else who’s coming. When you show in front of a fresh audience, its like you get to see it again for the first time yourself, so that makes it scary and exciting. There are going to be a lot of people from the film and horror industries there, so this is the real test to see if the film is as good as we think it is, or if anyone will even like it so… We screened it a month ago back in Kansas and it was very well received. We’ve gotten some more interest from theaters in the Midwest so we may decide to take it on the road for a while before selling it. We’ll see what reactions we get from distributors.” How happy does it make you to see how much she appreciated everyone’s work in the film, how excited are you about the premiere and what are you hoping for out of the audience reaction?
That’s awesome! It’s definitely Paul and Hayley’s movie, they are the ones who gave this baby wings… but the cast and crew on every movie are so important in making the movie work. We all are hoping it’s as great as we think it can be!!!
I’m really excited for the premiere! I know so many friends old and new that are going, it’s going to be a lot of fun. I hope the audience has fun watching and enjoys it.
9. You have three horror projects currently in different stages of production. You have Arthur Luhn’s The House Across the Street (post production), Keith Smith’s Crimson Saints (filming) and Kevin DiNovis’ The Stand-In. What can you tell us about your characters and their motivations in the films, what cast members you will be working with and how you got involved in them?
The House Across the Street is a fantastic thriller. I got cast in it last year, and got one of my business partners and close friends Bill McAdams on board to produce. He attached a kick ass cast; Eric Roberts, Ethan Embry, Courtney Gains and Alex Rocco. I had already referred Josh Hammond (he’s also in Rabid Love, A Lure, Money Shot and American Girls with me )
I had the privilege to act with all these awesome actors, and my character is no wallflower, she’s in charge and she’s pissed. Director Arthur Luhn trusted me to play this part and I’m so glad he did… he pushed me hard; it was the most challenging role of my life. My character is on almost every page of the script. What made it even cooler: I got to go back to my old stomping ground, Boston, and play a chick with some serious balls. It rocked.
The Stand-In is Bill McAdams baby. One of his best friends is Kevin DiNovis, who has won all sorts of Film Festivals, including SlamDance for his movie: Surrender Dorothy. Kevin was an actor in the first feature I wrote: A Lure, which Billy directed. The Stand-In is this really awesome twisted script. It’s so unique, dark and funny. I’m not even sure what part I will play, it just depends on how casting goes, but I’m up for anything in that one. It’s really really good.
Crimson Saints is something I got attached to because of Billy and our friend Chanel Ryan, who is a producer and actress in that. I’m really excited to be a part of it!
10. 2014 is starting to book up for you as well! You return to work yet again with Vito Trabucco on a sci-fi film entitled Never Open the Door as Tess, as well as the horror film Psycho a G0-Go playing Goldie. Can you tell us a bit how you got involved with Vito, what drew your attention to these two films and what are you expecting from these shoots?
We actually shot Never Open the Door a couple years ago, a little bit after Bloody Bloody. It’s creepy as hell! I play a character I’ve never played before and I can’t say too much without giving away spoilers. It was written as homage to Director John Brahm, who is the grandfather of BBBC, NOTD and PA G0-GO producer, Chris Maltauro. John Brahm was a director of The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock presents, so the movie feels like that. It’s black and white and very very creepy… it also has some BBBC cast, Debbie, Matt and Mike, along with my best friend and business partner at Two Chick Pix: Kristina Page. Also the first place I met effects artist, George Troester, who came and did his magic for my directorial debut Alice D.
Vito decided to cast me in his next feature: musical and remake: Psycho a Go-Go. I get to sing and dance and flashback to the 1960s, so I’m super happy about that! I also get to play a parent for the first time, which is very strange. I’m way too young to be a parent! Vito and I get along really really well. I understand his directing style and I totally trust him. He should have a degree in horror; he’s that knowledgeable on the genre.
11. While you have worked in other genres in the film industry, horror has certainly become a staple of it. When you began your career, did you ever think that horror would be the genre that took you to where you are today, what would be your dream horror project to work on and what do you think the future holds for you in the genre?
Horror films are the most fun to work on and the fans are the best. What other genre has fans like that? I could be wrong, but is there a RomCom convention happening anywhere? As an actor, horror gives you patience. It’s not always comfortable to be covered in lots of blood, or dragged along the forest floor when it’s 30 degrees and you’re in your underwear… but if you still love it at the end of the day, you’ve found the right career. It teaches you humility and gives you a sense of humor about it, or it least it gave me that. If you get a little more pampered later in your career, you probably deserve it at that point.
12. You have worn multiple hats in your career as well, and you had your own run as a director, producer, writer, stunts, casting department and of course, acting. Over your career so far, which of these aspects have you enjoyed the most, which was most challenging, and which one would you never care to do again?
I didn’t go to film or acting school, so my education was and is my work experience. I started in casting (as an assistant and off camera reader) so I could learn how to be a better actor, I started writing screenplays so I could give myself parts that I wanted (If you have seen A Lure, this may make you laugh) … you have to be open to learning many hats to make it in the indie film world. I can’t say there is a job I would never want to do again. Casting is really tough and tiring, long hours and a lot of repetition, but I LOVE helping find the actor that connects with the part. It’s magic.
Producing is great for me, because I’m a multi-tasker and can think quickly on my feet. I love the challenge of making all the pieces work. It helped with my directorial debut: Alice D http://www.alicedmovie.com/ (staring Kane Hodder, Al Snow, Juan Riedinger) because we set the table for the shoot. With our team of producers: Kristina Page, Chris Maltauro, Josh Hammond and our star cinematographer Eric Latek, we thought of everything before we started filming. We were bulletproof and it paid off in a smooth and fun shoot. We finished ahead of schedule and under budget and I think everyone had a great time, I did.
13.Thank you so much for your time and your work! What else would you like to tell everyone about you and your work, and what would you like to say to all of your fans?
Thank you to everyone who enjoys watching me doing my thing. I love what I do and I think it shows in the projects I’m in, and help create. My parents are my biggest fans and supporters, so thank you to them for always being so understanding of their wild, artistic child.
If you like comedy, you can check out my Kevin Smith released feature film staring Jason Mewes and Al Snow: Money Shot. It’s a movie about a group of ridiculous characters attempting to make a horror film.
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