Q+A: Director Katie Aselton talks indie thriller “BLACK ROCK”
FANGO recently chatted with independent filmmaker Katie Aselton about her latest feature, BLACK ROCK (which hits theatres this Friday May 17) – a horror thriller about three lifelong friends who get much more than they bargained for after they set out on a camping trip with the intention of reconnecting with their childhoods. Aselton also acts in the film, alongside Lake Bell and Kate Bosworth. The screenplay was written by Aselton’s husband Mark Duplass, a film director, actor and producer often cited as one of leading visionaries of the mumblecore movement – a subgenre of independent film primarily characterized by its highly naturalistic approach. Aselton gave us the details on her filmmaking experience in addition to her take on mumblecore, and her relationships with both acting and directing. (Read more on the film in our current print issue FANGORIA #323.)
FANGORIA: The film is very dark; can you talk about some of the themes reflected in it?
KATIE ASELTON: For me, the biggest theme I like to focus on in a movie is loyalty, and how fierce loyalty can be. It’s something that we all have in us, but I think women in particular don’t realize it until we get a little older. A lot of the time as we’re maturing and finding out who we are, we get in our own way and fight each other – but I think you reach this point in your thirties when you realize you’re so much more powerful if we come together and love our friends and families . . . That’s what [the characters] realize, how powerful they are when they put the petty shit aside and get down to what really matters. It’s also how I view my close friends; if any of them were ever threatened in any way, I think I would do things that, personally, would shock me. I’m not a violent person but if someone threatens the people I love, I would kill someone for them.
FANG: This film has already been dubbed as “mumblehorror,” as in a crossover between the mumblecore and indepedent horror genres. Can you talk a bit about your affiliation with mumblecore and the relationship between the two genres?
ASELTON: I’m afraid it’s probably been dubbed mumblecore because I had something to do with it. For some reason, any movie Mark and I put our stamp on is labeled as mumblecore. But to put a positive spin on it, what came out of the mumblecore movement was a very naturalistic approach to filmmaking, and performances that were very raw, honest, and simple. So I think if anything, that’s what I tried to do in this movie: Approach the horror genre in a very simple, naturalistic way. It’s not PARANORMAL ACTIVITY – there are no aliens [laughs]. This situation could very much happen to me or my friends or family, and none of us know how to do a roundhouse kick or do secret kung fu or whatever. The fighting is sort of awkward, bizarre and uncomfortable and their ideas are rather half-baked. It always drives me crazy when you’re watching one of these movies and they come up with this ridiculous plan and you’re like, “What? How?” No. In a moment being totally panicked and freaked out, you’d make some stupid decisions. You’d try to find a shred of hope and hold onto it. So I think that’s the mumblecore approach to what I did. But I’m not sure if mumblecore is really appropriate… You can understand everything they say, which is exciting.
FANG: Can you talk a bit about your transition from actress to director?
ASELTON: I love doing what I do as an actor and it satisfies me creatively. If I were a painter, I’d want to be painting; if I were a musician, I’d want to be playing music. It’s hard [as an actress] – you often don’t get to pick when you work and when you don’t work. But I’m married to a guy who does it all and does it on his own terms, so I can’t sit back and complain that my phone’s not ringing and that I don’t have opportunities. The opportunities are there if you create them for yourself.
FANG: You also acted in your previous feature; can you talk a bit about what it’s like to act in a major role in your own film?
ASELTON: Honestly, it’s nice to approach filmmaking as an actress because it’s a very interactive experience. You get to experience filmmaking from the inside; there’s a lot you can do as an actor within a scene to direct, navigate, and almost caption a scene while it’s happening. I will admit it’s much easier to do in a scene when there’s two people verses six people, which is super difficult – and you’ll notice in the movie there are few scenes with six people [laughs]. But aside from just a lot more planning ahead of time as a director, it’s kind of nice. As an actor, you pretty much always know how a scene is going when you’re in it. Beyond that, I had a very talented and creative group of people on the other side of the camera – my DP, producers, everyone was a part of telling the story. So when I’d yell “cut,” I was able to look at them and say “Did we get it?” It’s different, and it’s equally as challenging and rewarding at the same time.
FANGORIA: Were there any challenges you felt you had to overcome because you’re a female filmmaker in a typically male-dominated genre?
ASELTON: Honestly, the biggest thing was just thinking that I couldn’t do it. I didn’t encounter any exterior roadblocks, or anyone telling me I couldn’t do it because I’m a woman. I think if anything, people are excited to see a thriller done by a woman – which is not all that common, so it’s actually a plus. Will there be some hardcore genre aficionados who will think I went soft on it? Sure. But I’m proud of the movie – I love the movie I made. If it’s a thriller for girls, great. Girls need a thriller! But as far as glass ceilings or roadblocks in the film community, I think I’m certainly my biggest roadblock.