It is that time of the year again when horror comes home with the diverse, intelligent and daring film programming of the “Boston Underground Film Festival” at The Brattle Theatre March 22-26. Celebrating the 19th BUFF, the schedule and lineups are set for the festival with many of the regions hometown filmmakers, performers, writers, crew and more ready to ignite the town of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
One of those performers will have a huge role in BUFF as actress, writer, director and more will be part of several projects during the five day stretch. Jay Kay of the “Horror News Network” was able to grab a few minutes with Diana leading into BUFF to talk her varies projects and roles including the short film “Looker” and the feature “Trinity” plus working on set, disrespectful lookers, reaction, her peers, the 2017 BUFF lineup and more!
Jay Kay: Diana, thank you for taking the time to talk with me about the short film “Looker” that you co-wrote and starred in. I remember last year sitting with you watching the shorts and now “Looker” which will be playing as part of one of the short form film blocks at the “Boston Underground Film Festival”. What does it mean for you to be a part of this film festival again?
Diana Porter: I LOVE attending BUFF every year and they have been very good to me. It’s simply amazing to be included alongside so many wonderful films. I really admire the organizers and if they enjoy our film enough to include it, then we must be doing something right!
JK: What sections of the short form film blocks will you also be a part of?
DP: “Looker”, is part of the “Homegrown Horror” Block. As a Boston actor, it’s one of my favorite parts of the festival because I get to see what wonderful and evil machinations my fellow New Englanders have come up with. And nowhere else in the world has better horror than New England.
JK: What does seeing your own film work on the screen at “The Brattle Theatre” mean after years of playing roles in other collaborators films?
DP: The Brattle is such an amazing part of the film community, hosting multiple festivals and special screenings throughout the year. Getting to be part of that is thrilling.
JK: Before we jump into “Looker”, you will also be part of the feature programming with Skip Shea’s “Trinity”. How was it working with Skip on that set?
DP: I’m in 3 films at BUFF! I’m also in Izzy Lee’s “For a Good Time Call”. I think at this point, it goes without saying how much I love working with Izzy!
As for “Trinity”, I was absolutely honored that he asked me to play such an important role in his film. It’s hard to explain how important and heartfelt “Trinity” is, it’s really a film that needs to be experienced.
Skip has a lot of respect for actors, possibly because he has done the job himself. He likes to let actors explore their role, it’s a wonderful situation to be in. He’s also amazingly efficient. Time is never wasted on his set.
JK: How has that been to see Skip get this opportunity to play such a personal story for the BUFF faithful?
DP: It’s always gratifying when important stories are so well done and well received.
JK: You come to BUFF for the first time as a writer not just a talented actress. Going back, what idea or event spawned this realistic tone, feel and storytelling for “Looker” with your fellow collaborator Kyle Johannessen?
DP: Funny enough, it started as a burlesque routine. I loved the routine so much and wanted to turn it into a film and I brought it to Kyle and at first, it just wasn’t working… so we turned the whole thing inside out, changes the primary motivation for one character. It still has many of the bones of my original idea but is now a much better story and we got to work in stories we had heard from a slew of women. Kyle and Mikel Wisler (Cinematographer) worked out our shooting style so that we used as few cuts as possible, which I love and I think really adds to how personal it feels. Like you are spying on the main character.
JK: “Looker” offers a powerful message that adds that edge and misdirection to the story. It is fully realized by the use of technology like the smart phone. Give some insight to effective use of this tool and your discussion with DOP Mike Wisler on how it would be placed to build tension and pace the narrative? I love that shot of you walking through the parking lot and just your face illuminated. Where did that sequences come together?
DP: Smart phones are such a part of our lives now, I think it’s natural to include them in modern stories. We thought a lot about how Abby used her phone but the shot with my face illuminated almost didn’t happen. Like most things, we weren’t sure how it would look till we were shooting. We had the crane set up and we we’re racing to get the shot done before it started pouring rain, but the phone wasn’t casting enough light. The crew was discussing options, and I flipped on my flashlight app and flipped the phone over in my hands, Viola!
JK: You play the lead female character Abby in “Looker” who deals with the objectifying of her physical appearance by several different men. However, as troubling as it is, Abby has some very deep seated trauma that we find out is truly dangerous and vengeful. Why go this route to such an extreme to teach a deadly lesson and feed a compulsion? Did you and Kyle ever worry about losing the overall message of making a woman feel less within the horror storytelling? How did you work through that?
DP: Oh no! I don’t want to give it away! I wasn’t worried about losing the message. I feel that Horror and drama in general is about taking things to an extreme conclusion and I embrace that. I want to push further. I also don’t like the common narrative that every woman represents ALL women. It’s not just in films but in real life. If a man directs a Flop of a superhero movie, then that movie is a flop, but if a woman does it, then suddenly all women are accountable and therefor unable to successfully direct a superhero woman. It’s hogwash. Abby isn’t all women, but maybe she represents a bit of fantasy that some women have.
JK: “Looker” features several men who are just plain assholes. Writing this with Kyle, how did you distinguish particular character traits and visual style for each of the male who play the antagonists?
DP: So many of those characters came from life, from stories we had heard from other women or that I had experienced myself. We wanted our jerks to come from a range of backgrounds and socioeconomic classes since this can (and does) happen seemingly everywhere. (Now I’m bracing for the “Not All Men” comments). We worked first on the situations, then let the characters grow from that. We’re also very lucky to have some wonderful actors come and bring their special touch even though they are all lovely people. Jose, Giovanni and Kage are all very respectful unlike the jerks they played. Also, I had to explain to Kyle what Manspreading was while we were writing, he was horrified, then decided to play the character himself!
JK: Can you talk from a performers standpoint the reaction to being cut in line or having your boundaries disrespected and such? How much of reality plays into your reaction?
DP: Being cut in line was a very natural reaction. Jose is great to work with and his timing was flawless, each time I was prepared with an order, ready to get my tea and Jose would just come in out of nowhere. It really let me stay in the moment. You’ll also notice that one of our wonderful background actors reacts as well and we got to share a great moment. Giovanni also kept me on my toes because with his background in comedy he played with the lines a bit so I just needed to be open to what the other actors were doing and let Abby live!
JK: Once Abby lures her “looker” into the trap, she confronts him with the pain, rage and fear she has felt with each set of eyes watching her and getting under her skin. Of course, there is an incredibly disturbing connection to how Abby deals with the men’s need to objectify. How was the practical FX side of the punishment utilized to present the consequence? Even though it was not real, did it feel satisfying?
DP: Our FX were provided by both the amazingly talented Julie LaShane and our own wonderful producer Andrea Wolanin. I love the idea of a female serial killer and her compulsion not being so much self-serving, but almost a public service. In her own eyes (heh, pun intended) she’s a vigilante, protecting the world, and rooting out the problem. Walking up to that cabinet in the end felt very gratifying, she felt triumphant and if this film can help one person feel empowered to stand up for themselves, or just make them feel less alone, or make someone else think about how they treat others or how their behavior in the world reflects on them, then we’ve done something amazing.
JK: Can you talk about your choices for costume outside and inside of the house? These choices reflect a great deal on self-confidence, a façade and baiting.
DP: I wanted Abby to get progressively more covered up in all of her outdoor shots, representing that creeping feeling of discomfort many women face over time. When we’re young we can run around in almost nothing, but as we age we are constantly body shamed whether it is covering stretch marks with a one-piece bathing suit or longer hemlines to look “professional”. However, when Abby’s at home, she can wear whatever because no one is looking. She can finally let all the pretense drop, but you will also notice that she does go along with it, she has also bought into the need to be “pretty” to be accepted and she’s brought it home with her.
JK: How did you handle filming in multiple locations like the park, books store, the T and more?
DP: I give Andrea a TON of credit here, she is an absolute genius with locations and scheduling, plus our whole crew was very efficient and great at time management. We stacked our days and stuck to schedule. There was only one time, moving from the bookstore to the coffee shop, that things were tight but I think we still ended ahead of schedule that day. Having an experienced and hardworking crew was essential, but even with that I would never count on it happening again. I always say we should have as few locations as possible, but then I go and violate that.
JK: What did producer Andrea Wolanin bring to the production? How did her short form film work influence you?
DP: What didn’t she bring?!? I love working with Andrea and if it was up to me I would never work without her. As I mentioned earlier, she’s a wiz at locations and at finding bizarre props. She got both the torture chair and some of our squishier props. And by “Get” I mean not only did she locate it, she and I drove to a Tattoo shop and loaded that extremely heavy chair into my car. It took 4 people to get it out on set. She is a goddess of organization and good advice and her diplomacy keep everyone on task and on schedule without them even realizing she is doing it. She’s been a huge influence on me as a film maker both with her encouragement and advice and also because her films remind me of the thoughtfulness and polish possible in indie film. You don’t need a huge budget to have a great, thought provoking script and her films prove that.
JK: What did the film community around Boston mean to you in the process of this short film?
DP: There is so much talent in New England, it was never difficult to find what we needed. Our amazing PA Molly Zalman was a student at Emerson, and each one of the actors and almost everyone on crew, is someone I have worked with before in some way or another. Working with great people, like you find in New England, means that ego doesn’t get in the way and collaboration can happen. We are also all extremely resourceful. Even the manager of the bookshop was part of the New England Film Community.
JK: Where can we find out more on LOOKER and yourself Diana?
DP: You can find both Looker and I on Facebook, I’m also on Twitter @DianaMPorter and my website is DianaPorterActress.com.
JK: Find out more about the “Boston Underground Film Festival” at Bostonunderground.org.