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Women in Horror 2013: Lindsay Denniberg talks her “VIDEO DIARY OF A LOST GIRL”

by: Vivienne Vaughn on: 2013-02-13 23:42:52

Horror film enthusiast and indie filmmaker Lindsay Denniberg
kicked off her feature career with the surreal, dreamlike VIDEO DIARY OF A LOST
GIRL (see our review).
The film centers on Louise (Priscilla McEver), a succubus named after the
eponymous silver screen legend Louise Brooks, and details the hardships that
come with being a descendant of the demonic Lilith herself. Fango chatted with
Denniberg about what occurred behind-the-scenes of the film to create the
on-screen visual madness.

FANGORIA: How was the experience of shooting your first
feature?

LINDSAY DENNIBERG: It was probably the most fun I’ve ever
had. Exhausting and overwhelming, but also the greatest opportunity to be
creative with friends; a lot of fun, but also totally scary. I’ve done so many
shorts with people I love, but working on something this big over such a long
period of time is a very different experience. You get closer with the people
you work with but it also tests your relationships. Luckily, we all survived
and had fun, watched a lot of horror movies and ate a lot of hummus. At the
best moments it was like one really long, weird, creatively satisfying
sleepover, or summer camp.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep the big picture in mind, you’re
putting a lot of little pieces together (like Frankenstein’s monster), and with
this project, there were so many layers, formats, materials, tenses – it wasn’t
easy. I think we just kept fun, honesty, spontaneity and a real love for what
we were working on in mind. The film holds together because we kept those ideas
in mind more than anything. Also, working on something so fragmented, in a
formal sense, makes it a little easier; you have more liberties when it comes
to variation from scene to scene. But ideals seemed to help unify it all with a
healthy dose of and goofing off and nudity. 

FANG: How did you conceive the idea for VIDEO DIARY?

DENNIBERG: The film is very autobiographical. Granted, my
vagina unfortunately doesn’t suck the souls out of rapists or ooze bloody TV
static by the gallon every month, but the whole “I love you, but I’m afraid to
touch you” theme is definitely all me. I’ve always had a bunch of intimacy and
body issues, so I’ve learned to deal with that crap over the years by creating
personal films about body horror (David Cronenberg is more of a self-help guru
than a filmmaker for me). I originally got the idea of a girl needing to have
sex to live when I was a lonely, horny teenager, watching EDWARD SCISSORHANDS
over and over alone in my dark room (while eating a lot of pizza and Doritos).
EDWARD SCISSORHANDS has always been my favorite film and the one that inspired
me to become a filmmaker in the first place. Because of that, I promised myself
I would someday make a film as personal for me as that film was for Tim
Burton. 

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Later on, I learned about Lilith (the Mother of all demons)
and started daydreaming about my own mythology that I could create as an origin
tale for this “girl” who needed sex to live. This girl was always me, and my
obsession for Louise Brooks in G.W. Pabst’s DIARY OF A LOST GIRL naturally drove
home the need to name my main character after her. This idea was many years in
the making, so as I grew up and changed, so did Louise’s story. I always knew I
wanted sex and death to be two sides of the same coin for Louise, as they are
really the only two subjects I am interested in. All the characters in the film
are based off of real people (or an amalgamation of many) in my life. If I were
an immortal succubus who worked at a video store, I would be Louise.

FANG: Can you talk about your writing process for the
screenplay?

DENNIBERG: I first started writing the screenplay in my
undergrad feature writing class at UCF, taught by Barry Sandler (who wrote Ken
Russell’s CRIMES OF PASSION). I wasn’t expecting it to go in the direction of a
comedy, but when it was read out loud, the corny dialog that naturally comes
out of me just guided it from there. I remember very clearly the first time I
talked about the idea to my good friend Chris Shields on our porch when we were
roommates in Florida. Chris has been my main collaborator for years and I
wouldn’t be the filmmaker I am today without him. He understood the story on a
level like no one else, and contributed things to this film that are too
numerous to even list. We would talk about the screenplay a lot, but eventually
it was put on the backburner when I moved to New York to intern at Troma (where
I was later hired as Lloyd Kaufman’s assistant). 

The next year I got into grad school at the School of the
Art Institute of Chicago, and decided on the plane ride there that I would make
VIDEO DIARY for my thesis film. So as soon as I landed I called Chris and we
just picked up where we left off. We collaborated by phone and Skype for the
next year, both saturating our minds with ‘80s horror movies to get in the
right mood. Chris and I are both pathetically terrible romantics, and horror
and bad romance is what really draws us together. We love horror romantic
comedies in a deep way, but we’re also experimenters and fans of the
avant-garde. I decided to combine the two because that’s usually how I operate
as an artist: Collaging and mashing together all the things I love into one pot
and not holding anything back.

So as I wrote, Chris would read and tell me his thoughts,
and things would just evolve from there. He was great at helping me reign it
all in, because I usually have way too many ideas at once and he would keep me
focused. There’s so much of us both in the script: Our taste, our humor, our
friendship, our love of monster romance, and I think that is what makes it
unique. For those who know Chris, it is obvious that Charlie (Louise’s
love interest) is based off him, so of course it made the most sense to have
him play Charlie (I mean, who wouldn’t want to put the dark love child of Adam
Sandler and Lloyd Dobler in a movie?). So much of it was also written in the
middle of the night with him on the phone as he worked at Dunkin Donuts. It’s a
very haunted script.

FANG: What was the production of your film like? Do any
moments particularly stand out as being memorable?

DENNIBERG: The intro with Lilith and Adam was shot months
before everything else, and it kind of set the aesthetic for the rest of film.
Everything with Priscilla McEver (Louise) and Chris Shields (Charlie) was shot
over the course of a month at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I
flew them in from New York, and then we had maybe a day to rehearse and hang
out, then immediately started shooting. It was a very intense schedule. We all
did so much on the film; it’s kind of a blur. We took the bus everyday to
set, worked all day on the green screen stage, goofed off, and then took the
bus home, hung out and watched some horror movies, then passed out.

After two weeks of shooting the green screen and sound stage
scenes, we filmed the rest at my apartment (where Priscilla and Chris were
staying too). I had a very small and intimate cast and crew of wonderful
friends that graciously worked for free out of the kindness of their hearts. We
were shooting pretty much 24/7 for the whole month of July, so it was hot as
hell and kind of gross with all the blood and FX stuff (very much a summer camp
of horror). 

The most memorable moment of the production would have to be
a prank my producer, AD and green screen cinematographer played on the rest of
us. I would often say jokingly that if anyone was uncomfortable with being
naked in front of the camera that the entire crew would just get naked too. So
when some of us got back from a smoke break, all three of them were naked
pretending to shoot a scene without us! There’s nothing more inspiring then
seeing a naked woman behind the camera or holding a boom. I would say that
moment is a perfect example of the kind of fun attitude we all brought to the
set.

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FANG: Can you talk a bit about creating the visuals of VIDEO
DIARY? How much was practical, versus done in post-production?

DENNIBERG: The film is half green screen sets and half
regular world sets. The choice to have a scene in green screen really just came
down to trying to take advantage of the fact that we had no budget. I don’t
believe in having a big budget to make a movie. I think it’s so much more
exhilarating to make something beautiful out of trash then it is to dump a
$1,000.00 on a stupid jib shot that no one cares about (let the record show
that THE PLAYER is excluded from this statement). Sorry for the money
philosophy rant, but I think budget has so much to do with the integrity of how
a film is made these days. Anyway, I created miniatures for any scene that was
green screened, which was usually constructed out of poster board, paint,
trash, broken CDs, Barbie dolls, animal print, glitter, Christmas lights, TVs
and duct tape. The sets were usually built around a TV so that whatever I put
on the screen would show through as the moon in a night backdrop, or window in
an interior. Honestly, the entire film was a big experiment because it was the
first time I ever used green screen. I did all the post-production effects
myself, and would usually spend eight hours a day editing for the next year,
just trying new things out as I went and keeping what worked. The intense color
palette was the Dario Argento and Mario Bava color scheme screaming to get out
of my brain. My cinematographer Casey Puccini (who also plays Michael, Louise’s
manager and best friend) is really great at capturing that kind of light and
mood. We talked a lot about how I wanted it to look like an ‘80s new wave giallo
on VHS. The flashback scenes in the 1920s are shot on VHS, and I wanted to go
for the look of an Elvira set, or PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. I pretty much felt
like I was in an Ed Wood RPG the entire time. 

FANG:  What prompted
you to choose to go with the unique aesthetic of the film?

DENNIBERG: I wanted VIDEO DIARY to look like that horror
movie I never found (but knew existed) in the haunted video store that’s been
my life. Since I was a kid I was obsessed with going to the video store just so
I could look at the VHS covers in the horror section. I wasn’t allowed to watch
any of the “scary movies,” so ironically my fantasy of what the horror movie might look like inside the box always ended up being scarier and more surreal then
the movie itself. 

The German Expressionist/’80s VHS cover aesthetic just feels
the most welcoming and instinctual to me. I also think certain media I saw as a
kid had a weird imprint on my aesthetic sensibilities, like PEE WEE’S PLAYHOUSE
and the BEETLEJUICE cartoons. My lead actress Priscilla McEver is actually one
of the biggest Pee Wee Herman and Lydia Deetz fans I’ve ever met, so her
playing Louise was just meant to be. She also was a child of late ‘80s
imprinting, and because of that our friendship and collaboration has a very
sci-fi, X FILES twist to it (I know that she knows where the bodies are buried
in the Winona Ryder wasteland of our youth).

When Chris first arrived on one of the sets, he said it felt
like he had just stumbled into my brain. I feel like my set design is my
primary way of directing a film for the actors and crew. I think I’m good at
choosing the right, talented people to interpret my characters, and giving them
a surreal world to exist in. I’m just lucky that these talented people happen
to be my good friends.

FANG: Can you talk a bit about the music in the film?

DENNIBERG: Friends’ bands and some other folks I met through
Danny Gallegos, the first AD and the main punk in the movie. He introduced me
to Bestial Mouths, whose music is all over the film. I saw them play and asked
if I could use their stuff and they said sure. Danny’s band Cemetery contributed
a great song “Stateward,” and all the songs Chris sings are his originals from
his one man punk project, Mr. Transylvania.  Other stuff came from people
and bands Chris and I knew from playing music and performing in Florida, like
Outmode, Father Finger, and Counters. The song played in the intro ‘Shadow’s
Connected to the Light’ is actually the only song written specifically for the
movie by my friend Matthew Donovan, who also goes by Teaadora. Teaadora also
plays Adam in the Garden of Eden. The film’s aesthetic and music are very much
one homemade, collage-y, intense, and colorful makeshift. 

FANG: You’re obviously a genre fan yourself. Can you name
some of the inspirations for your film?

DENNIBERG: Oh god, here we go: Chris and I are such
video-holics, it’s sick. When we lived together we devoured at least three a
day. Fassbinder and MORGAN STEWART’S COMING HOME, Andrzej Zulawski and Stephen
Sayadian. It was a constant high brow/low brow roller coaster. I think that’s
largely where the film comes from. I’m a huge fan of Albert Pyun, and because
of VIDEO DIARY, I actually have become friends with him since our films showed
at the Pollygrind Film Festival together. He helped get me out to the festival
since I’m still poor as ever, and it really is a dream come true when a
filmmaker you admire actually likes your work! RADIOACTIVE DREAMS is such a big
inspiration!

{vimeo}47488668{/vimeo}

MY DEMON LOVER and ROCKULA were the biggest influences for
the tone and humor of VIDEO DIARY. My great affection for romantic horror
comedies of the 80s and 90s is their sleazy innocence that just makes me swoon.
Chris Shields is manic for MANNEQUIN and MANNEQUIN 2, so that shines through in
the script as well. People have told me on more than one occasion that VIDEO
DIARY feels like an experimental John Hughes film, and I can’t deny that THE
BREAKFAST CLUB and WEIRD SCIENCE had some kind of wonderful effect on forming
my cinematic identity. To me there is nothing more romantic then making out in
a graveyard, or watching a horror movie while eating pizza, or just plan
‘getting the shit scared out of me’. Now, in one last quick breath: Lloyd
Kaufman, Woody Allen, Catherine Breillat, Tony Oursler, Clive Barker, Frank
Henenlotter, Agnes Varda, Derek Jarmen, Jodorowsky, LIQUID SKY, Argento, Bava,
Maya Deren, John Waters, NADJA, Jean Rollin, Paul Naschy, George Kuchar, George
Romero, Nick Zedd, Jerry Lewis, ROCKY, Buster Keaton, Roger Corman, Hammer
Films, David Lynch, Guy Maddin, HEATHERS, CLUELESS and last but certainly not
least, Tim Burton. 

FANG: What project(s) are you working on currently? Do you
foresee doing more horror in the future?

DENNIBERG: Chris and I are working on another feature! It’s
a horror anthology very much in the style of VIDEO DIARY, only this time we
want to push the insanity of the visuals even further. It’s about a haunted
video store in the middle of a graveyard, which sets the stage for five horror
tales, all romanticizing the act of watching a horror film in their own unique
way. I will direct two, Chris will direct two, and the fifth one will be a
collaboration of both of us. The tales of terror will consist of a cyberpunk
Medusa, werewolf women, sex cannibal lovers, a Dr. Frankenstein celebrity video
mortician, and a gender-bending haunted nerd frat house. My main influences for
this one are HOLY MOUNTAIN, BOXER’S OMEN and Ancient Greek mythology, whereas
Chris’s are more in the realm of George Romero, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Stephen
King. There are many different body parts we are using for this next video
creature we that we like to call making a movie.

I’ve also developed a new way of experimenting with
different looks and moods by working with video installation and performance.
Right now I am a part of a noise performance group called Viral Swan with my
friends Caleb Yono and Cassandra Jackson (which I sometimes say feels a lot
like abstract post-apocalyptic LARPing). Many of the psychedelic sequences in
VIDEO DIARY were remnants from previous projects and performances in the same
way.

FANG: Anything else you want to share?

DENNIBERG: I guess I would just like to share the crazy
irony in general I’m feeling right now. FANGORIA has always been one of my
favorite horror magazines since I was a teenager, and the first boy I ever had
a crush on is the one who introduced to me to it. It’s so bizarre for me to
experience the horror and romance involved in just doing this interview in the
first place, it is very surreal for me. My friend Casey yesterday told me that
he remembers me talking about dreaming about getting interviewed by FANGORIA
someday when we were in pre-production for VIDEO DIARY. We laughed thinking it
would be crazy if that ever happened. And yes, this is totally crazy that this
is happening, and it is awesome! 

For much more on VIDEO DIARY OF A LOST GIRL, visit the film’s Facebook

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