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Feminine Edge: “SILENT RETREAT” Filmmaker Tricia Lee

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Feminine Edge is a monthly column at FANGORIA shining a light on the hardest working women in horror.

Since the inception of horror culture, men have been the primary creators and consumers of everything frightfully fantastic. That isn’t to say that women have no place in horror history, as the likes of Mary Shelly, Shirley Jackson and Anne Rice have penned some of the most influential literary horror fiction of all time. But one must take into consideration that it has never been easy for women to attain the level of respect that they deserve as humans and as creative visionaries.

Throughout the history of cinema, the percentage of female artists who have made their mark in the industry is sorely minuscule compared to that of their male counterparts—particularly within the realm of genre films. When we think of women who have gained recognition for outstanding achievements within the scope of traditional genre filmmaking, few names come to mind: Mary Lambert, Kathryn Bigelow, Jackie Kong, Antonia Bird, Amy Holden Jones and Rita Mae Brown. However, with the dawn of the not-so-new millennium, a handful of vibrant visionaries are joining that roster, including Jennifer Lynch, Jovanka Vuckovik, Jen and Sylvia Soska, Karyn Kusama, Diablo Cody, Mary Harron, Shannon Lark and even FANGORIA’s own Bekah McKendry and Heidi Honeycutt.

To kick off our inaugural installment of Feminine Edge, Fango recently chatted with Canadian independent filmmaker Tricia Lee, who has been working tirelessly for approximately a decade now to build up a solid body of work and develop her production company, A Film Monkey Production Inc. Her second feature-film, SILENT RETREAT—which she collaborated on with her regular professional partner Corey Brown—is slated for a limited theatrical run across select Canadian theaters beginning this Friday, June 13th. Read on to learn more about Miss Lee’s ever-evolving career in film…

FANGORIA: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

TRICIA LEE: When I was very young—I think I was 13—I actually wanted to be a psychologist or a psychiatrist, because I wanted to reach people and help them. Then my parents took me to Universal Studios and I saw behind the scenes of how movies were made, and from that moment on I decided that I wanted a career in media because I wanted to reach people that way, through storytelling and through a medium that people watch.

FANG: You’ve accomplished quite a bit in the way of writing and producing content targeted specifically at youth; you’ve won several awards for the mentorship-focused content that you’ve created. So what has fuelled your desire to create this type of content for younger audiences?

LEE: In my university days, when I was making student films, I had this fascination with discovering what it was that we lost between childhood and adulthood. So a lot of my films have young people in them, and I guess I just really wanted to explore a young person’s view of the world, and innocence and wonder. My last short film that I made was called “Searching for Wonder”, and in a way it was the end of my thesis of trying to discover what we lose as adults. And I think that the answer is wonder. You know, when we’re adults we kind of know everything; we’ve experienced a lot, and I think that’s what changes from being a child to an adult.

FANG: You’ve written, directed and produced several projects, and you’ve also done some work on the more technical side of things. What do you feel are your greatest strengths when it comes to filmmaking? What is your favorite hat to wear?

LEE: I am definitely a director; I’ve always wanted to be a director. I sort of fell into producing because being a director, no one’s just going to give you a script or money. It’s not just going to fall into my lap to make a film, so I’ve had to become a producer so that I could make my own films as a director. I’ve become actually quite good at producing, because you really spend most of your time producing trying to find money, trying to develop scripts. So I’d say 90 percent of my year is spent producing, and I’m lucky if I get to practice my craft of directing once a year. But that’s definitely the hat I like to wear the most.

FANG: What aspect of filmmaking do you hope to improve your skills and strengths in?

LEE: Maybe working with actors, mostly because I’ve gone to some acting classes just to sit in but because I only get to direct once a year if I’m lucky—on short films it’s only two or three days, on features it’s been 12 or 13 days—I don’t really get to practice that too much. There are so many different actors and different acting styles. So that’s definitely something I wish I had more time and practice in.

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FANG: You seem to have a very impervious entrepreneurial attitude. To what or whom do you credit your work ethic to?

LEE: I think I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I don’t know if I really learned that from anyone in particular, but I’ve never really had a full-time job—a 9 to 5 sort of thing. I worked in marketing mostly, which had a very flexible schedule so that I could work on my films.

FANG: How has the transition from short productions to feature-lengths been for you? How has it altered your perception of the industry and your own professional endeavors?

LEE: In order to make a living, I think that you have to make features. I just don’t think that you can make enough money to support yourself doing shorts. Not to discredit shorts, but I think that feature-films are sort of the Holy Grail for anybody who wants to make film their career and make a living from it. I find that people take me more seriously now, even after I made my first feature. I find that I’ve been able to get meetings with producers and distributors. I’ve spent the last seven to ten years introducing myself to people so they know that I’ve been working and I’m still in the industry, and I’ve now moved from shorts to features. I feel like I’m part of the industry now.

FANG: Can you tell me a bit about the history and evolution of your production company, A Film Monkey Production?

LEE: It has mostly been my writing partner, Corey Brown, who wrote my last two features as well as the next few features on my plate, and myself. It’s been the two of us, attached at the hip trying to make movies. We’ve had our side jobs to be able to live while we pursue this career. So I’ve made all my short films and my features through that company. I think that it’s sort of being branded now, especially with the logo. People are starting to recognize the production company now.

FANG: Prior to helming SILENT RETREAT, you also directed the dark drama-thriller CLEAN BREAK—also written by Corey Brown. How did you two meet and come to form such a strong working relationship?

LEE: We met at frosh week in university. So we’ve known each other since the first year of university, back in 2000. We became friends in school, and outside of school we started working together on some shorts—not necessarily in the writer-director capacity, but just as collaborators; we sort of fell into the writer-director relationship. We’re best friends, so we know each other very well. It’s a very, very collaborative relationship. Even though he’s written the scripts, a lot of time I take a “story by” credit because we do create it together. We’re both working towards making a good script and a good story and a good film. So we’re never fighting against each other; we’re fighting to make the best story possible.

FANG: So you grew up in Toronto, Canada, traveled to England for post-secondary studies, and worked within the film industry in L.A. Comparatively speaking, can you share some insight as to how the film and television industries of various countries operate?

LEE: I was a [production assistant] when I went to L.A. I think in L.A.—or Hollywood in particularis where the movie industry lives. That’s where all the celebrities are; that’s where all the big studios and producers are. I think that the Canadian [film] industry is a lot closer knit. I feel like it’s a small industry and everyone knows everyone, and they’re a couple degrees separated. It’s hard to say because my experience in L.A. was as a P.A., so I didn’t really know much about anything at that point. I was really young. And now it’s different; I’ve spent like 10 years trying to work my way into the industry. So I’m glad I came back to Canada. I think that if I would have stayed in L.A. I would have been someone’s assistant for the rest of my life. But here in Canada I’m able to make my own films. I have my own connections here. We also have great support—government film funding agencies.

FANG: Your feature-length debut, CLEAN BREAK, also won a few awards at the Atlanta Horror Film Festival and the Blood in the Snow Film Festival. How would you say you’ve progressed as a filmmaker since then?

LEE: I think I’ve progressed hugely. I mean, you learn from every film. That was my first feature. You know, every director has those moments where they watch [their own films] and they cringe and they think, ‘Oh I wish I could change that,’ or, ‘I wish I did that differently.’ My biggest thing about CLEAN BREAK is I thought that the shots were too still, and I didn’t really get close enough to the characters. So I really feel that my directing style improved in between the two films. I’ve used the camera to tell the story, as well as the characters—and also just working with actors. Every time, you get more experience. And so I feel like I was able to communicate with the actors better.

FANG: There have been few Canadian female filmmakers that have really made their mark in the industry—especially within the realm of genre cinema. Your second feature-film, SILENT RETREAT, looks like it could really bring something fresh to the horror genre. How would you describe it? What genre tropes did you pull from to create the idea for the film?

LEE: Corey [Brown] is the horror buff. I’m actually quite terrified of watching horror movies, myself. I’ve recently gotten into them in the last two years. So starting with a really great script from a writer who really knows the genre was the first place to start. We wanted to make the film—I don’t know if you’re familiar with the term “elevated genre”, but the way we kind of describe it is by taking a poignant story and unique characters and resonating scenes, and mixing that with the scares and suspense and thrills and gore from horror movies. So it’s not just your typical horror movie where it’s just about survival; we wanted to make it visually and intellectually and emotionally stimulating as well. So we have the gore, we’ve got the creature, there’s a lot of tension. But I also hope to draw some tears from people, which isn’t typical of horror films.

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FANG: Your second feature-film, SILENT RETREAT, first premiered at the 2013 Toronto After Dark Film Festival. Can you describe that initial screening and the general audience consensus?

LEE: We had an almost sold-out house. It was a Sunday afternoon matinee, so they don’t typically sell that time slot out, but I really promoted that one hard. I think that the audience reaction was quite positive. I had a lot of people come up to me and tell me that they don’t normally watch horror films but this one really spoke to them. I did read some reviews that some people thought that it was a little “message-y.” I wanted to have a strong theme, so if that rubbed some people the wrong way then that’s their opinion, which is absolutely fair. But I think I did what I set out to do, and I think that the people who it did reach and it did touch, they really liked it.

FANG: With its upcoming wide theatrical release, what would you say is the key message that you hope to convey to viewers through SILENT RETREAT?

LEE: Thematically it’s about women standing up and using their voices. Some reviewers have called it feminist. I don’t really see myself as that. I wanted to make a movie that touched people. In the movie the gender roles are: the men are the people who you find out are brainwashing the women, and the women defend themselves basically. So, I don’t think that I was really trying to be ‘message-y.’ I think it really is just a movie about women standing up and using their voices.

FANG: What are your thoughts on the current state of the horror genre in relation to feminism and gender politics?

LEE: I think that the genre has traditionally been targeted towards men. There are not a lot of female directors in the film industry in general, particularly in the genre. So I think it’s time for our voices to be heard, too. And I’m really thankful for people like the Soska sisters, and Jovanka Vuckovic and other female directors—and of course there’s the anthology XX coming out. So I’m so glad that there is a path that’s being paved for female directors—and again, particularly in the genre. But yeah, I think traditionally horror movies have been focusing on what I call, ‘The Three Bs’—beasts, blood and boobs—but it doesn’t have to be. You can still make a movie that plays on all the genre tropes that people expect and want, while having a story that can touch feelings inside us.

FANG: What are you currently working on and what’s in store for your production company?

LEE: We’re actually working on another elevated genre creature-feature; it’s called ONE DROP. We’re currently looking for financing for it, and trying to attach some name actors. So hopefully we’ll go into production this winter. 

Tricia Lee’s SILENT RETREAT opens at select Canadian theaters this Friday, June 13th:

June 13 – 19, 2014
Toronto, ON: Carlton Cinema | 20 Carlton St

June 13 – 16, 2014
Ottawa, ON: The Mayfair Theatre  | 1074 Bank St

June 13, 2014
Peterborough, ON: Market Hall | 140 Charlotte Street

June 15, 2014
Carnduff, SK: Carnduff Community | 117 Broadway Ave.

July 22 – 24, 2014
Glenboro, MB: Glenboro Gaiety Theatre | 508 Railway Ave.

July 24 – 27, 2014
Regina, SK: Regina Public Library Film Theatre | 2311 12th Avenue


You can learn more about Tricia Lee and A Film Production Inc. at their official website and Facebook page.

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About the author
Lacey Paige
Lacey Paige is a die-hard horror enthusiast, avid reader and movie collector. A recent post-secondary journalism graduate, Lacey is currently freelancing for FANGORIA, GOREZONE, Absolute Underground and Cinesploitation; past publications include Diabolique, West Edmonton Local, The Griff, Intercamp, Fan-Girl-Tastic, Cinema Head Cheese and GRIP, as well as her now-defunct personal blog, Absolute Cinephilia. She currently resides in Deadmonton, Hellberta, Canada with her two cats, Buddy and Guy, and steadily growing DVD library.
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