Women in Horror Spotlight: Andrea Mark Wolanin
All throughout October, I will be highlighting the work of Women in Horror and introducing some new people to their work. I will be writing about authors, filmmakers, podcasters and other aspects of horror-related creative endeavors; I ask each of them several questions and share their answers with you in this series of articles.
In this article, I’ll be discussing director/filmmaker Andrea Mark Wolanin. I met Andrea through some mutual friends when she appeared on the Trick or Treat Radio podcast, episode 66. Through those folks, we eventually crossed paths at gatherings and horror conventions (in between her flying around the world for her films).
Andrea knows her stuff and has a very specific voice in her films. Her short M is for Mundane is only a few minutes long but is phenomenal. It depicts the common drudgery of everyday life and the lengths some people will go to break up their monotonous mundanity of their own personal 9-5 rat race. In addition to being an excellent director and filmmaker, Andrea is a great person to hang out with because she’s very cool, despite her enormous talent. Some folks let their abilities and success go to their head, but not in Andrea’s case. She’s constantly striving to get better and it shows in her art.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.
Wolanin: So, I was born and partially raised in Worcester, MA, a post-industrial town about which Truman Capote once said: “that even in the best of weathers seems cheerless and hostile.” While I disagree with the cheerless, I can see the hostile. The rest of my time was spent in New Braintree, a farm town with more cows than people that my parents moved us to when I was 5. As the only kid in a five-mile radius, I spent a lot of time running around the woods barefoot and watching movies like they were an addiction.
So, I guess what I’m saying is, writing films about isolated home invasions, the brutality of society and lonely obsession comes naturally. Most of my previous work is based around the feminine, and about how it is perceived in society, as well as the mistaken theory that “home” is always a safe space. I’m working on two pieces at the moment – Sylvan (w.t.) and Glass Houses. Sylvan deals with the feminine and how it can be mistaken for weak; the misconception that humans are somehow no longer animals; and the world fighting back against climate change. Glass Houses plays with the feminine in religion, as well as the age-old practice of sacrificing your children and their future to an unseen, unknown ‘god’.
What’s your earliest memory of horror influencing you?
Wolanin: My earliest memory is probably from when I was four or so – I remember getting up for a glass of water and my dad making a big deal about putting me back to bed and saying I should call if I needed anything, but not to get up – big mistake. Naturally, I snuck into the living room. And long story short, Jaws is the reason I always make sure there’s someone further out than me when I’m in the ocean.
What drove you to the horror genre?
Wolanin: I was raised by a movie-loving mother. She rented a lot of classics and a lot of sci-fi/fantasy that were a little beyond my ken as a youth. So a lot of times, films that were perhaps not horror came across that way to me – Brazil is a notable example. That movie influences my perception of what is horrific in a big way, and about what can be made scary. Or Edward Scissorhands, which shows ‘other’ as deserving of love, ‘normality’ as disturbing, and loneliness and missed opportunities as the ultimate fear.
As you started delving deeper into the horror genre, how did your influences change? What I mean is, there was something that drew you in, and eventually you branched out and started becoming interested in other aspects. What drove you to the other branches of horror maybe from slasher flicks to zombies, or to psychological horror?
Wolanin: It’s funny because thinking back on it, there were a lot of directions that pulled me further into horror. Moving from Full Metal Jacket and the brutality of humanity in reference to Serbian Film and the brutality of humanity in technicolor. Following Sam Neill from The Piano to Possession to In the Mouth of Madness to Event Horizon. The path from Close Encounters of the Third Kind to Alien. All my path’s of interest kept pulling me further into the genre and showing me how many ways it could be done.
When you settle in to write something, what do you watch or listen to in order to help get your creative juices flowing?
Wolanin: Oh, that’s a loaded one! What I listen to changes all the time; Nick Cave, to Ke$ha, to Biggie, to Donovan in the span of a day. So, when I’m writing, I try to draw on whatever has the right tone for the piece. M is for Mundane got me obsessed with the song “All By Myself” by Bobby Darin which is melancholy with a dash of angry boredom. For Penta, I was looking for something delicate and fragile, so there was a lot of Chopin and local artist Twink. Cleaning House really needed a party girl vibe (Wild! Young! Free! Etcetera!). So, there were a lot of Duran Duran dance parties going on.
My next piece is going to be feature-length and I’m aiming for something dark and primally feminine. So, I’ve been listening to Meg Myers, Nina Simone, and Jay Munly. Sometimes, if I get distracted by the lyrics of the music I’m listening to, I’ll switch to Brian Eno’s instrumental work, or any of Nick Cave & Warren Ellis’ soundtracks – though “The Assassination of Jesse James” by the Coward Robert Ford is a particular favorite.
As a woman in the horror genre, what are some of the biggest challenges that you have faced in the pursuit of your art?
Wolanin: Being taken seriously. Conventions, film festivals, networking events – the question always is “what film did you work on?” never “which film is yours?” I’ve been standing next to my male PA and had someone ask him which film he directed, and immediately ask me what film I’d worked on. The assumption that is always there –that is ingrained into our society as a whole is that women are there to help, not lead.
What other things influence you, aside from horror?
Wolanin: For writing inspiration, it’s probably everyday life and other people; most of my films are written after conversations with people, or personal experiences or desires. Other things, like scene setting, lighting, color correction and the like – Caravaggio, Jane Campion, Wong Kar Wai, Hal Ashby. For jokes, Coming to America era Eddie Murphy.
Is there a specific person in horror that you try to emulate?
Wolanin: In life or in my films? In life, it’s always, always, always Ellen Ripley. Not only is she tough af and can kick major ass, but she looks great in a tiny pair of white undies – a look not everyone could pull off. #goals.
In films… I mean, I would say more than anything else, my dream is to make a Terry Gilliam-meets-David Lynch level fantasy surrealist horror film (I dream big, ok?), but neither of them is classic horror, I guess. I would say, if we’re talking undebatable horror, I try to emulate John Carpenter’s use of silence and showing, not telling; Karyn Kusama’s impeccable visual storytelling; and Takashi Miike’s magical realism.
Who is your favorite horror villain?
Wolanin: Wow. That’s a hard one. Can I say Roy Batty? Jack Torrence. Annie Wilkes. Anna in Possession. The Candyman. The Cenobites. Minnie Castevet!
Tell us about another woman in horror whose work you think the folks reading this should check out.
Wolanin: So, if you’re not already watching them, anything by Jennifer Chambers Lynch of Karyn Kusama; they’re really great heavy hitters right now. On the super-indie side, Brazillian-transplant-in-Boston Leticia Alves-Bortoli makes some really lovely hyper-realist horror. Ashlea Wessel just came out with Ink, which I believe is her first film – and it is AMAZING, so keep an eye on her. Also, I recently saw the film Black In, Red Out by college student Monica Moore-Suriyage, and it was a brilliant take on infection and body horror.
Finally, what’s the one Halloween-specific movie that makes its way into your regular rotation throughout the year?
Wolanin: For Halloween-specific, it would probably have to be The Craft. I’ve wanted to be Nancy in that movie since I was 12. I mean, what witchy-creepy-horror-lovin’ girl didn’t?
Patrick Rahall covers entertainment for MFST. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickrahall.