The invisible man
Appropriately presented on the day before Halloween, the SCAD Savannah Film Festival "Women of Blumhouse: Shaping genre storytelling in the legendary House of Horror" offered a fascinating insight into the multifaceted production house of a female POV. Moderated by Jenelle Riley, assistant editor for awards and features for Variety, the three executives who zoomed in included Lisa Niedenthal, physical production director for Blumhouse Television; Bea Sequeira, executive vice president of feature film development at Blumhouse Productions; and Terri Taylor, casting director for Blumhouse Productions.
There is "so much emerging talent in this genre," enthused Niedenthal when asked about work in today's horror film world. Although Niedenthal had been in the business since she was a Boston clerk at The Witches of Eastwick in 1987, she found her source material for projects to be eclectic. (She's particularly drawn to podcasts at the moment.) The EPP also mentioned that after Blumhouse announced that the company was looking for a more inclusive team, she was faced with a variety of material. Ultimately, Blumhouse was drawn to ideas that made her “think on many levels”.
When Niedenthal turned to the pandemic, she found that two of her projects were actually stopped in the middle of production. Certainly a priority, it forced the team to look at scripts creatively, rethinking what they could and couldn't do. The limitations ultimately opened up new possibilities for them, including animation.
Regarding the Madrid-born Sequeira, she pointed out that horror is a genre that you can "smuggle things into" (especially social commentary). It was also the only genre she'd found that didn't allow her to "be a control freak". When asked what she was looking for specifically when considering a project, she stressed the need to "be different, something we have not seen before". However, the EPP also received ideas in a variety of ways. (The week before, for example, she discovered a potential project through a tweet!)
When Sequeira talked about Leigh Whannell's The Invisible Man, which was filmed in Australia, she found that the whole idea of seeing the main character from the victim's point of view sold her in the script. It was also one of the last films to be shown in theaters before they closed, which led Sequeira to reflect on the cinematic shared experience that is so important to the horror and comedy genres. (Seeing Get Out at a test screening was a particularly memorable event.)
Changes in the industry will only occur when women are in positions of power, emphasized Sequeira. While diversity is a priority for Sequeira, there are so many extraordinary women working in the horror genre (and this genre encompasses more than just the classic slasher movie, she quickly added) that it really has never been a major problem Finding women filmmakers for you.
After Taylor explained that the best way to study the craft of casting is to work under a top-notch mentor, she added that horror allows her to discover emerging talent more than other genres. She looked for actors who were "grounded" and "relatable" – and brave enough to take risks – for the "extraordinary" stories that Blumhouse brings to the screen. She too missed the shared experience of the cinema – the collective escape through horror films. Although she found that working mainly with women, to whom “50% of the executives sit at the table” at Blumhouse, is a separate escape from a predominantly male industry. (She also wanted us to know that these goalkeepers "have loud voices".)
As the lesson ended, the moderator took a handful of questions from the virtual audience. A student asked about what is known as the "cheat syndrome". Sequeira immediately jumped in and urged her to "keep moving forward" and "make people uncomfortable". "Never think I don't belong here," she insisted. Taylor added, "It's a journey." The EVP of casting had personally struggled with the feeling of inadequacy at the beginning of its career, but eventually "accepted the size". "We belong here," she said.
A question from the chat box then raised the issue of the troubling "women in danger" trope of the genre. Historically, Sequeira has often seen women as victims through horror. It was a necessary means of showing women on screen fighting back and "women not in danger". To this end, Sequeira rejects scripts that attack women. (We're "very vocal," Taylor pointed out. Niedenthal noted that a story is actually much more interesting if you steer clear of stereotypes.) Sequeira pointed out that teenage women and girls are some of their biggest listeners these days – that's why it was it is important to inspire them. She felt “absolutely” obliged to be part of the change.
As for the final question, what actually scares these horror mavens, there were three unexpected answers in the end. Niedenthal admitted to being afraid of irrationality, Sequeira of "lack of empathy" and Taylor of extremism. While the following day might be Halloween, you couldn't help but believe that election day was much closer.