I had the opportunity sit down and ask her how the film came to be, what her creative process is like and what her opinions are on being a woman in the film industry making a movie about three beautiful and powerful vampire ladies. (Click here for a full review of the film!)
Were you doing other narrative films before this feature film or…
XC: Well no, but I had been trying. [laughing]
What was the experience like for you, jumping from documentary to narrative film?
XC: Well, there was a long time in between because I’d been trying to make movies very, very hard. I was working very hard, taking it very seriously. Obsessive-like, but they were not necessarily the kind of movies that financers like, jump up and down and clap their hands for. But finally, you know, I was about to get another movie made before Kiss of the Damned. It was a movie that I’d written like 5 years before, right after Z Channel and it was an obsessive love story that took place in Mexico City. I did get it green lit and I got it ready to go, but by the time I did, it was just, I wasn’t connected to it the way I was when I had written it, you know? And I just longed to do something that was immediate and you know, had that immediacy and that was very fresh.
XC: Yeah, I mean, I sort of had changed as a person, and I really loved the screenplay. I think my producer is still going to make the script with another director. But you know, sometimes…I outgrew it, sort of stylistically and thematically.
If I saw that movie I’d love it, but it’s just not for me to make. So I took some of the people who were working, financers working on that, and for a fraction of it wrote a vampire movie in 3 weeks and that’s how [Kiss of the Damned] came to be.
XC: Well, the house was the whole motivation and inspiration for the movie, cause the guy who owned the house wanted to make a film there, a horror film, and so I guess I was one of several people who came through the house to look at it and see if I had an idea for it. And you know, I did, and the idea was this house, nature, with this sort of sinister aspect, and this lonely girl who is in transition, this vampire girl.
You know, I thought about it but I was doing my own thing. I was tied up with the other movie kind of. It wasn’t a fully formed idea. And then a year later when I wanted to jump out of this other thing, I thought of the house and I knew every room in my memory, it was just right there and I wrote it in 3 weeks, just channeling my memories of that year before, looking through that house.
[The house] must’ve been pretty iconic then, if it stuck in your memory that strongly.
XC: It really did, it really did make an impression on me, and I was really longing to make something that could be really heavily atmospheric. At first, I thought, I was determined to shoot it all in the winter, in the snow. And I tried and tried and tried so hard to make the winter. But actually, I went up there in the snow and it was just so ugly. Everything was white. The house was white, everything was white. I’m like “forget winter.” [laughing]
On top of just the production issues of being in the cold and subjecting yourself to that. [laughing]
XC: I know, I was like “Seriously guys, it has to be winter. I need snow. I need icicles.”
I know that you consider there to be three leads in the film, but to me the two sisters are just characters that jump off the screen; they’re both fantastic actresses. Was having the sisters in that dynamic, was that always something important to you when coming up with the story, and why is that?
XC: Like I said, the screenplay came together very quickly and I write in a stream of consciousness manner. So I don’t, you know, plan out what I’m writing. So every day I sit down and I write and it takes me where it wants to go. And a lot of it is just getting it out – thank god, you can just delete it. [Laughing]. But so, you know, I had in sequence started writing and then just without thinking – like, I do that with the characters names, like the first name that pops into my heads is always the character’s name, like Djuna. Mimi’s character (played by Roxane Mesquida) appeared in the screenplay in a sort of stream of consciousness way as well.
And you know, she and Josephine’s character (“Djuna”) are nothing like my sister and myself, but I do have a sister who is very prominent in my life. And we had for a time lived in a strange white house in a nature setting that wasn’t our house. And although we weren’t fighting in it, it was a very tumultuous time for both of us. Some things we went through that were really hard. And maybe that factored into it, subconsciously. A lot came into this screenplay subconsciously because of the speed and the way in which it was written.
Had you worked with these actors before?
How did you find them, they all seem so suited to their roles?
XC: Well, I always was a fan of Roxane Mesquida. I find her so incredibly fascinating. So…just badass. [Laughing] You know, those eyes and that look, you know? Just her stare alone is something that not many people can achieve. She always has this sort of quality of being extremely sexy and intimidating almost, and then extremely vulnerable, which I find fascinating. She has a lot of range that way. And I loved her; I was so happy that she said that she’d be in it.
And then Josephine (de La Baume) was someone that Jen Gatien my producer showed me. “What about this girl?” and I was like “If this chick can act and wants to do this, we are so golden.”
And so, she was new at acting but she was real natural, she’s so surprisingly…like her qualities also are, even when she’s not speaking and she’s looking and she’s communicating something with her face, she telegraphs such depth. Like in the video store when she looks at him, or when she’s in the bathtub and she’s dreaming of him. I mean, it’s very powerful, how she’s able to convey emotions through expressions on her face.
What she did in this film was very brave and very impressive to me, because she starts out the movie being the protagonist, somebody that you know, that she’s in love, you’re on your side, this and that. And as her sister comes in and starts challenging her and calling out her own denial of her own darkness, and this starts bothering Djuna, she becomes very awkward and sort of, you know, she starts being bitchy. She allows you to be betrayed as an audience member. “I liked you but now you’re turning into a character that’s unpalatable” or whatever, which I think is interesting and it’s true to the character... and so did Josephine. She’s very like, no holds barred, “yeah, that’s the character, that’s so cool”. So I really admired all of their spirit for working and embodying the characters. And then Anna Mouglalis (who plays Xenia)…
Yes, the third woman…
XC: Anna was incredible, and Riley (Keough, as Anne). Anna and Riley came and had the first day together on the set, that end scene with them. That was both of their first days and I mean, when I see that scene still now I mean, I cannot believe those women just stepped into that situation. And Roxanne was so good in it too.
I really appreciated that the majority of the cast is filled with women. And the leads are these 3 very powerful women. Did you face any pushback because of the fact that you had these 3 women as your leads?
XC: Oh, for this film? No, this movie, I wrote it Thanksgiving and we were shooting in May. But basically my investors, some of the investors were investing in the one I was supposed to make in May, which I stopped, they just piggybacked onto this one. So this was a very effortless project.
XC: …and nobody I hang out with thinks women are boring. They wanted to see those women vampires, yes they did!
So it sounds like you had a vast amount of control creatively.
XC: Yes, 100%.
XC: Well, it’s really hard for me to know. You know, I really believe that the reason I’ve had the difficulties I’ve had getting a film made, and having so long to wait to finally happen, is because of…I really believe it’s because of my choice of material. I will never direct a film that I don’t feel very personally about. I would be happy to write a screenplay, as a story, and for a job, but directing something, no, it would have to be…my taste is a little unusual. So I don’t know if…I think probably the bottom line is they look at money, and can this person make them money. And my motivations don’t scream “money” [laughing]. But that said, I’m very protective of my investors and I take very seriously making their money back. I mean, I have to feel that I know that I can at least make their money back, to feel good about making the movie.
Lastly, do you have any pieces of advice for any fledgling female filmmakers who are trying to get their first feature produced?
XC: It depends. There’s two things, two ways to go: do you want to make money and have a career and stability and not go crazy? If so, you know, learn your craft. If you want the thrill of making something so personal, and being so obsessive with it and living this fantasy all the time? Just prepare to get your ass kicked and keep coming back because it’s worth it, if you’re so inclined.
Right on! [laughing]
XC: It’s the truth!
Kiss of the Damned is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. Visit the film's website.