I Am Monster is an amazing short film by Lori Bowen (Stella Buio, JustUs) and Shannon Lark (Psychic Experiment, Devotion) that’s full of eroticism, taboos, and dark humor. I had the opportunity to ask these talented filmmakers a few questions…
1. How did I Am Monster come about? How did you come up with the story?
Lori: Something I think people should know about Shannon Lark is that not only is she an amazing actress, she’s also an incredibly talented writer and filmmaker. One night, I received a text from her that read “I just finished the most fucked up script I’ve ever written…would you like to read it?” I was instantly intrigued and said, “Yes please!” I read it twice in one sitting; it was beautiful and twisted and everything I’d expect from her and the discussion between us that night evolved into me co-directing with her and working with her to refine the script.
Shannon: The story of Vivienne had developed in my mind for a few years. I knew I wanted to tackle the subject of necrophilia in a different light, when the timing was right. I stored it away until the opportunity was offered. In late 2012, a producer by the name of Brian Anthony contacted me in regards to an anthology titled FLESH, which would feature short horror films with a focus on sexuality. Monster, even though it wasn’t “Monster” at the time, surfaced immediately in my mind. ! It took me 3 days to write the 8 page script, as I had to walk away and question my own interest in the topic and ensure that I was sane before returning. Once Lori read it, and actually “got it,” it was pretty much full-speed from there in order to finesse the script and produce the film in time for the anthology. Unfortunately, the anthology fell through, but I was blessed to discover that Lori is one of the very best creative partners I have ever worked with. Monster was really just the beginning.
2. How would you describe Vivienne, the main character in I Am Monster?
Lori: In I am Monster, Vivienne is a beautiful, confident, self-possessed woman who, like all of us, has a bit of self-doubt, but generally knows what she wants and how to go about getting it. It just so happens that what she wants is to have sex with corpses. It fulfills her in a way she doesn’t get with living people because the living willfully make monsters out of themselves and each other.
Shannon: Vivienne is not your standard necrophiliac. She is audaciously unapologetic, to the point of terrifying recklessness. She’s inspiring because she goes after what she wants and accepts nothing less. She’s exact, focused, and spends very little energy on actions or people who will waste her time. ! On the flip side of that, she’s frustrated, hurt, upset, and is taking her deep-seated emotions out on the dead…which, compared to the majority of the horrible acts humans commit against each other, isn’t really that bad. However she gives no real attention to those who judge her and demonize her actions. She gets what she wants. No matter what.
3. How did you divide the directorial duties? (Film nerds like me wonder about this kind of stuff)
Lori: We thoroughly discussed every detail about the film and our storyboards were remarkably similar, often the same shot from different angles as I hadn’t seen the location in person before we arrived to shoot – I was living in Florida at the time and couldn’t take part in in-person location scouting. When Shannon’s on screen, I’m directing, but in between takes, she’d watch the playback and we’d talk to each other about adjustments. When she’s not on camera, we’re both at the monitor. Thankfully, we work extremely well together and already had a bit of a shorthand given that we’d worked together since I became part of a non-profit film festival for female filmmakers that Shannon had created called Viscera.
Shannon: Monster had an extremely limited budget, so our selection of crew had to be small. Since we were also producers, Lori and I worked as a team in the pre-production stage in order to get the funding, paperwork, locations, rehearsals, cast, and crew. Monster could not afford a costumer, so Lori and I meticulously created the look and feel through clothing and specific props. We also had various assistance from our amazing crew. ! We had an incredibly small window in which to shoot, so we were as prepared as possible with storyboards and extensive shot lists and we discussed all logistics before production. When I was getting in makeup and in front of the camera, Lori would direct and we would watch playbacks for adjustments. When I was not in the shot, we would both direct. It worked out fantastically.
4. The location in I Am Monster was perfect…how did you find it?
Lori: Shannon found it, sent me some links and eventually some photos she took, and got all of the information we needed to secure it! !
Shannon: I discovered it within about 48 hours of Lori coming on board for the project. The only way that we were going to pull this off is if we had a rundown location that featured a hallway that, preferably, led to a morgue. I was searching for Los Angeles morgues online and stumbled upon images of Linda Vista Hospital. Tons of films and commercials have been shot there as it had been converted to a filming location. I got on the horn with the Landlord and met with him in LA. It was perfect. The flickering lights, the trash, all the gurneys. Gorgeous. Just gorgeous. ! Scenes generally have to be re-blocked or rewritten in order to serve the location, but we got everything we wanted and more. We truly lucked out as Monster was one of the last productions ever shot in the hospital before they shut it down forever.
5. How has the reaction been at festivals and cons to I Am Monster?
Lori: The reaction has been wonderful! The first question we normally get is “Will there be a feature?” and the answer is that we are indeed working on a feature! I am Monster is such an intense film featuring a very taboo subject so people often feel weird about watching it in public, like they don’t know if it’s okay to laugh or if it’s okay to like Vivienne, and if we’re fortunate enough to get to go to a screening, people come up and tell us so, but they follow that confession with praise for the film and the actors, how we handled the subject matter, and the production value.
Shannon: It’s been pretty amazing. The content is provocative. It’s extreme. And it’s certainly in-yourface, so we weren’t exactly sure how the general public was going to respond. However, the response has been incredible and the question that returns to us the most is “when are you going to make a feature?” That question alone is perfect – that people want to see more. They want to see the evolution of this woman and what made her the way she is.
6. What/who inspires you (artists, directors, actors, music, etc.) ?
Lori: My list of inspirations and influences would be crazy long so I’ll try to be concise: there are the usual staples of a good horror diet like George A. Romero, Wes Craven, Lucio Fulci, and Dario Argento and more esoteric fare like the works of Alejandro Jodorowsky, David Lynch, and Terry Gilliam, not to mention a cadre of inspiring friends like Shannon and so many others. My all time favourite music comes from Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks, but I also adore groups like Puscifer and NIN. I’m all over the map!! I need to read more, but some of my favourite books and authors are Dune, Don Quixote, The NeverEnding Story, The Divine Comedy, Clive Barker and Stephen King and Stephen Fry… !
Shannon: Frida Kahlo is my saint. She embodies everything magical about being a female artist. Lula from “Wild at Heart” is as much apart of me as Inanna is. I love the work of Lars Von Trier, Gregg Araki, Alejandro Jodorowsky, David Lynch, Harmony Korine, Park Chan-Wook, Richard Stanley, and Gaspar Noe.
7. Weapon of choice?
Lori: I’m good with a ballpoint pen, but gels are good in a pinch. I also have a katana, a wakizashi, and a tanto that I can swing around like John Belushi.
8. Do you have a dream project ?
Lori: The majority of the scripts that I work on are dream projects. If I didn’t dream of making it, or of it getting made, I wouldn’t have written it.
9. What are some of your favorite films, of any genre?
Lori: This list changes constantly, always depending on my mood and what I’ve been watching for inspiration, education, or to make my brain happy: A Nightmare on Elm Street (I hate that I need to say “the original”), City of the Living Dead, Blue Velvet, The Mist, Jodorowsky’s Dune, The Zero Theorem, Up (Pixar), Alice in Wonderland (the animated Disney movie), El Topo and Santa Sangre, Day of the Dead (Romero), The Fall (Tarsem Singh), All That Jazz, Frankenstein (James Whale)…I can go on and on and on…
Shannon: There’s really too many, but “Thirst”, “Hardware”, “Nymphomaniac”, “Spring Breakers”, and “Santa Sangre” are a few titles.
10. You’re given an obscene amount of money to make a film. You have control over casting, you have final cut, etc…the only proviso is that it must be a remake. What film would you do, who would you cast, and what changes would you make?
Lori: Hmm…I don’t really think about remaking films so I can’t really answer this without forcing myself to develop one. I’m generally against remakes right off the bat, though I have been known to watch on the off-chance it’s actually good – there are good remakes out there like John Carpenter’s The Thing or Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Shannon: If I was forced to do a remake, I would most likely do a French New Wave film or perhaps Polanski’s “Repulsion”. But honestly, I would never do a remake. It could be a take on the subject, but never a full-blown remake. I have too much respect for the original piece of work and what thrills me the most is original content.
11. Do you have a favorite project you’ve worked on?
Lori: I am Monster holds a special place in my heart, but I love pretty much everything I’ve been a part of.
Shannon: So far? Monster is my favorite. I had stepped away from directing for 3 years and the film was my entry back into my passion. Lori is absolutely amazing to work with and we have been busy ever since.
12. What’s next? What projects do you have coming up?
Lori: We’ve got plenty brewing right now – but we can’t announce yet! !
Shannon: We have several projects, but we can’t talk about them yet. I can however, talk a bit about some films I’ve starred in as of late. This year, “Dys-” by Maude Michaud and “The Girl Who Played with the Dead” by Cory Udler were released or are on the festival circuit.
13. Thank you both,best of luck to you! Keep up the good work!
Lori: Thank you! :D !
Shannon: We will! Thanks!
I Am Monster is currently making the rounds on the con and film festival circuit; check it out if you can!