Jovanka Vuckovic is one of the bright lights in the horror field today. The former Editor-in-Chief of Rue Morgue Magazine is the author of Zombies! An Illustrated History Of The Undead and the forthcoming Vuckovic’s Horror Miscellany, and has been named by Chicago Now “one of the most important women in the history of horror”.
Not a bad cv.
While Vuckovic is a horror historian, she’s also become a creator in her own right. Her first short film, The Captured Bird, produced by Guillermo del Toro, recently screened in theatres across Canada in front of The Soska Sister’s film, American Mary, before making its way onto iTunes, where it’s now available for $2.99.
Jovanka Vuckovic was kind enough to answer some questions about her film, her work and much more via email. Read our interview after the jump!
Jovanka Vuckovic: It’s been so long I can barely remember! Just kidding. It was my first film so I wanted to make an art piece, something that relied on visual storytelling. That part was new to me. Writing was not. So I intentionally wrote it with no dialogue in an attempt to force me to tell the story without words. It was inspired loosely by a dream, or, paranormal experience my twin brother had a child. These black, formless entities would come to him at night. One would hold him down and paralyze him while the other looked on. It’s an experience that happens cross-culturally and is linked with sleep paralysis; knowing that now didn’t make it any less terrifying for my brother back then. His description of those creatures stayed with me forever and eventually emerged in The Captured Bird. From literature, I was hugely inspired by Lovecraft’s “dream cycle” including The Statement of Randolph Carter, as it was based on one of Lovecraft’s dreams, and especially The Silver Key in which Carter uses the key to transport himself to his childhood and enter the Dreamland. A place where there is no fundamental distinction between dreams and reality. The little girl in my film encounters five unnamable, unknowable creatures in what is pretty much the Underworld of the Dreamlands, inside a house that is inspired by Kadath, the domain of the Great Ones. So it’s definitely “Lovecraftian!”
Andy Burns: At Biff Bam Pop, we’re always interested in an artist’s creative process – what was your writing process like? Did the script come quickly? Do you have music on when you’re writing?
Jovanka Vuckovic: For The Captured Bird, it was almost like automatic writing. I had a very clear vision in my mind of what I wanted the piece to be and just wrote it down. In this case I wrote in complete silence. In the case of my newest short, The Guest, I wrote it to Chopin’s Waltz in a Minor Op.34 No.2 because I wanted to capture the mood of that piece, which I love. I just listened to it over and over until I was done. I even used the piece in the film and it suits it very well.
Andy Burns: You’re so well-known in the horror community as a writer and editor and cheerleader for the genre – was it intimidating for you to become a filmmaker yourself?
Jovanka Vuckovic: Well, many years before I was an editor, I was a digital special effects artist. I had won a Gemini Award for Best Visual Effects back in 2000. So I had been working in the film and television business for many years. It was always my goal to make films. Editing a magazine was just a little detour I took in order to study the horror genre intensively. I really missed being creative and longed to tell my own stories. Thankfully I met a lot of great people working in horror and when I asked them to help me make my first film, almost all of them said yes. I haven’t looked back since.
Andy Burns: You captured a really special performance from the film’s star, Skyler Wexler. As a first time director, what was it like working a child on the set? How did you maintain her comfort while getting the required performance from her?
Jovanka Vuckovic: Everyone warned me not to work with animals and small children, but I did it anyway. Skyler was 6 years old but very professional. She was fairly easy to wrangle. Director Fred Dekker (Monster Squad) gave me some great advice on directing children and I kept that at the front of my mind when dealing with her. We were a union gig so her days were short and we gave her a lot of breaks and it was a bit hairy in a few moments, but we eventually got everything we needed. Skyler was great. The Captured Bird was her first film. After that she was cast in the remake of Carrie as “Young Carrie.” She’s also a regular now on Orphan Black. I’m really proud of her.
Andy Burns: Obviously, you were working with a budget, but you had some wonderful help funding the film from Bravo!Fact and a successful Kickstarter campaign. Were you surprised at all by all the support you received?
Jovanka Vuckovic: Yes, of course. It was all so amazing to see all the fans kick in and support my film endeavor. They were not only contributing to my first film, they were supporting my transition to filmmaking and my career as an artist. For that, I am forever grateful. As you pointed out, we had a generous grant from broadcaster Bravo and crowd funded the rest. So it was a pretty expensive production on a tight schedule of three days. We meticulously storyboarded everything, so that we could time manage more effectively. Working with that full size animatronic puppet was like a dream come true for a practical effects fan. I’m a child of the 70s and 80s horror films. For me, that is the only way to do monsters.
Andy Burns: Guillermo del Toro is credited as one of the Executive Producers – could you talk about how he became involved with the film.
Jovanka Vuckovic: Guillermo and I were mutual admirers of each other’s work. We met years ago when I was editing a horror magazine. I had told him way back then that it was my long-term goal to make horror films, and he said that if I ever needed any help, that I should just ask. We became friends over the years and sure enough, when I asked him for help, he said yes. He’s one of the most generous people you could ever meet. The Captured Bird could never have been done at the scope it was were it not for his blessing.
Andy Burns: You referred to The Captured Bird as film school for you – on that note, what lessons did you learn making The Captured Bird that you applied to your next films, Self Portrait and the upcoming The Guest?
Jovanka Vuckovic: When we started the project, I simultaneously launched this thing called Horror Film School where I interviewed some of my favourite horror directors, asking them for advice on how to make my first film. We recorded them all and put them on the DVD, which is available at my online store. In fact, I documented every step in the process and shared it with our fans and followers on thecapturedbird.com. So yeah, that was my film school! Most film students don’t get to make shorts in that budget range so it was a huge learning curve for me – as a director. I have, of course, been on many sets as a visual effects consultant and supervisor. But this was different. I was lucky to be surrounded by such talented people, who did everything in service of the film and made sure I got everything I needed. Again, it’s probably the most spoiled I will ever be on a film! It has played over 60 festivals around the globe and won 5 Best Short Film awards. It even got a theatrical release in Canada, opening for the Soska sisters’ American Mary. So it was a great primer for Self Portrait, which was just a little assignment I made for the Toronto International Film Festival Talent Lab last year. And this year, I was one of 18 directors from around the world invited to compete in the Toronto International Film Festival Emerging Filmmakers Competition. The theme was memory and we were given a small bursary to make a short on the theme of memory. I wrote a little existential horror piece called The Guest. We’re just waiting to hear if we are among the 5 finalists. Even if we are not, it is still a win because we will have this beautiful little film to submit to other festivals. So making all these short films has been great practice for features, and for my next projects. One is a feature documentary and the other I can’t tell you about just yet, but it’s a very cool collaboration unlike anything the genre has ever seen. So I’m very excited about it.
Andy Burns: The Captured Bird is now available on iTunes, and you’ve also got a new book coming out this fall – Vuckovic’s Horror Miscellany. What can we expect to find in its pages?
Jovanka Vuckovic: Ilex Press approached me to write a gift book that’s sort of a museum of horror, curated by me. As a writer, I could not resist doing a book that will have textured paper and a ribbon in the spine. I love my previous book, Zombies! An Illustrated History of the Undead (St. Martin’s Press), but every writer wants to have in their collection a classy book with ribbon in the spine. Anyway, inside you’ll find all kinds of stories, trivia, reviews and lists relating to horror, from its pre-history to now. It’s the kind of thing you can give even the casual horror fan as a gift. Every time they open it they’ll find a new tidbit on the genre. Kind of like an encyclopedia, but subjective and pocket-book sized. Perfect for the back of your toilet. [Laughs]
Andy Burns: Something I’m curious about – I know you have a daughter who you dedicated The Captured Bird to. I have a young daughter myself, too young to let her see horror films of any sort (though she has watched some Real Ghostbusters – who knew season 2 was significantly scarier than season 11?). As a parent who loves the genre, I foresee it being difficult knowing the right time to let my child into that world. Has that been a struggle at all for you as a parent and as someone so intimately involved in the industry?
Jovanka Vuckovic: I’ve met parents at conventions who think that showing their five-year-old The Exorcist is like some kind of badge of honor. I think that’s abusive. I have zero interest in showing my daughter horror films. That’s MY interest. Not hers. Her room is pink and girly and she likes Ariel as much as she likes The Iron Giant. She is only three years old. While she is used to seeing monster paintings around the house and a collection of figures in my office, I don’t let her see anything that isn’t age appropriate. Of course, when she is older, I’ll show her age appropriate horror films, but I’m in no rush to do that. I’d rather her stay a little girl for as long as possible. The dedication was more of a thank you, for choosing me as her mommy. Being a mother is the most important role I will ever play. I made the decision to have her at home (no drugs whatsoever) so that I could be truly present for her birth, and for every moment thereafter. She deserves it.
Andy Burns: Finally, is there anything you’re listening to or reading that Biff Bam Pop readers should check out?
Jovanka Vuckovic: See: Byzantium. Read: Gillian Flynn. Hear: Lucinda Williams.