Thanks for taking the time Cassandra! We're big fans of what you're putting out their via the Dreams for Dead Cats label; truly some refreshingly unique work. Would you tell us a little bit about the production company's origins and how you yourself became involved in the creative process?
Dreams For Dead Cats Productions was formed back in 2008 when Craig and I were just beginning to work with lo-fi and super 8 cameras. I was in college (studying photography and experimenting with video art) at the time and there was an assignment where we had to design and build our artist website as well as create a business to name for ourselves. Both of my cats had recently passed away, and I had been dreaming about them nightly. I knew that through my dreams they would always live on, so the name just kind of came to me: Dreams For Dead Cats—an embodiment of surrealism and expressionism (and my love for cats). The name stuck permanently. Craig and I have been working on films together ever since with our projects just getting bigger and more complex. We’re now an LLC and hope to gain bigger budgets for our future feature films. As far as how I myself became involved in the creative process, that all began when I was a child and would watch my father paint. When my father took me to museums he would ask me to tell him what story each work of art told, and I would speak innocently about the stories behind each piece. I learned early on that art speaks to everyone differently, and I wanted to speak to people through my art. So my father taught me to draw and paint. From there, I’ve just continued to grow as a person, artist, and storyteller.
Can you point to any person or persons (or even their work) that have been the biggest source of your inspiration? As a viewer, I get a lot of Kenneth Anger and David Cronenberg vibes.
My films are specifically inspired by my nightmares, personal experiences, world views, and fears, but I know that I am subconsciously inspired by many creative entities I’ve surrounded myself with since childhood. I’m all about unique constructed worlds with intricate characters and set design, using practical effects embracing original ideas. I would say that one of my biggest inspirations comes from my love of the films of Jim Henson. I watched The Storyteller, Labyrinth, and The Dark Crystal over and over as a kid, and I continue to be inspired by their magic. The artistry and use of puppetry, practical effects, elaborate character/set design made these worlds feel real, and I truly connected with them.
I can pinpoint the following artists who have had a profound impact on me as an artist, sf/practical effects lover, and filmmaker: Francisco Goya, Bob Ross, Cassandra Peterson/Elvira Mistress of the Dark, H.R. Giger, Dick Smith, Francis Bacon, Boris Vallejo, John William Waterhouse, Salvador Dali, Cindy Sherman, David Lynch, David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, Rob Bottin, and of course Rick Baker.
A quick glance across your social media would indicate you're almost always in the process of making something. What would you say is the biggest motivator in that regard?
I suppose I’m always in the process of bringing a project to life or teaching myself something new. It’s not because I have fear of idle hands or anything like that, I just always have a project to work on! We can’t afford to buy pre-made costumes or makeup prosthetic or physical help in fabricating the props, sets, and costumes. We have to do it ourselves, and this isn’t a bad thing. Budget constraints force you to be creative, and since we’re total control freaks over the look/feel of our productions I enjoy the process of making our own unique props. A huge motivation behind the process of making for me is the desire and determination to see a project done well and to the finish line. Hell, I’ve been making props and costumes for Tearful Surrender for the last few years in preparation for the film. My apartment is filled with boxes of masks, bones, hearts, guts, and the time will come to use them….it would come quicker if somebody would give my 50K, but when you make challenging, explicit, bizarre films investors aren’t exactly knocking at your door. I also love challenging myself to learn new techniques in prop-making and spfx. I’m self-taught with makeup and practical effects, and I am always having to learn new things with every project I work on. So in addition to just plain needing to make props for my own films, I’ve been enjoying making tutorials along the way to share knowledge I’ve gained while teaching myself new techniques. It’s rewarding to me to feel I’ve been successful in learning a craft or technique then sharing this knowledge with others.
Ideas ideas ideas, and only so much time to carry them to fruition. How do you pick which project to tackle and which to throw on the back burner?
Ah yes, ideas are always coming to me, and I write all of them down. I have a large stack of composition books filled with ideas…some good, some bad, some with dream budgets needed that might be in development for a bit. It’s usually a matter of budget, resources, and feasibility considering the scope of a project I have in mind, and the passion I have towards an idea. I generally prioritize working on whatever vision is strongest in my head and most important for me to get out in the world regardless of budget. I’m most concerned with the integrity of a project and will let it take as long as it needs for a special project to be fully realized. I’m not in a race for making films, so I’m not worried about how long it takes as long as my vision is never compromised due to lack of resources or funding.
As a creative myself, I often find that I tend to live in my head more often than not, which can be rather exhausting. I imagine it's the same for many other artists, perhaps yourself included. If so, how do you reset, re-calibrate, and plant both feet back on the ground? Do you even want to?
I feel like it’s healthy to ground yourself every now and then. There are times where if I’m feeling filled with self-doubt, exhausted, or overwhelmed by the scope of a project (especially when entering new filmmaking territory) where I might be challenged in some way and feel that little fear demon inside poking me, I know I need to take a quick step away to regroup before fully tackling a project. This might be as simple as enjoying a nice glass of wine in the bubble bath while listening to music then watching a mindless 80’s action film; or it might be as extensive as taking a month long break from something to regroup or a good session of crying while curled up in the fetal position until all the doubts have been cried away. You have to give yourself permission to take this step away. I find myself refreshed and ready to tackle a complex project after I’ve allowed myself a mental break from it in whatever way that might be.
I gotta say, working with practically no budget on my own short film, making my own props (something totally inspired by you) has been a total life saver. It's a skill you've really seemed to have honed and provides a personally touch, a unique identifier that really allows your work to stand out. Do you think prop-making will always be a part of your creative process, or is it solely a byproduct of budgetary constraint?
Thank you—I’m happy to hear I’ve spread the love for DIY prop-making in others! Our goal at DDCP is to have a high production value on a low budget and thrive on being able to create low budget effects. I feel making unique props (sets, costumes, effects, etc.) is what creates a world people can get lost in and enjoy the magic of cinema. One of the best compliments I have received with my skulls (and a lot of our work) is “I’ve never seen anything like this.” At least I hope that’s a compliment. It feels great knowing you’ve made something specific to another world that can exist in reality with its true home in a story you’re telling. I am truly in my happy place when I work on props for my films. I become very attached to props I make and even name them; there’s this beautiful connection to the prop, yourself, and your film that I feel comes through for the viewer, as unique pieces help drive a stylistic theme in the film. This goes back to my love for Jim Henson and the impact he made on me as an artist. I think even if we ran into some money for our films that I would still be making our props—it would just afford me to be able to rent a studio to work in (I literally work at my kitchen table & have to makeshift extra table space using cardboard boxes at the moment) as well as be able to pay some extra people to help me.
Which aspects of production are most important in bringing a Cassandra Sechler film to life - those related to visuals, or those related to audio and music?
Everything is important! At the core of the project is the concept; so for me that’s the driving force behind all decisions made in the process of production. The decisions made for the audio/visuals and overall production design must reflect the concept. Sound design is incredibly important, and I feel it’s imperative to have music and sound that compliments the visuals, each with the same agenda: delivering the concept of the film with the intent to elicit emotion and also be open to interpretation unique to the viewer.
No question about it, your work is both provocative and evocative. Whether dealing with the harsh mundane realities of a corporate society, or one in which image ideals and appearances become the apex of social desire, to the taboo nature of certain expressions of sex, your art is really good at making its viewers feel, and think. Personally, I feel that's exactly what art should do; good art anyway. Others may see some subjects as going too far. Do you personally feel that boundaries should exist within the realm of creative expression? Are certain subjects or method of deliveries "going too far"?
I feel that with increasing censorship of the arts that artists have a responsibility to push boundaries and be fearless creators critiquing the world around us, challenging viewers to examine the world and their place within it. As a society, we’re getting to a creepy place where art is becoming safe and boring with many creators making art for commerce to appeal to the masses adapting to being overly socially responsible. In addition to this films are just copying what does well, and we’re ending up with cookie-cutter bullshit films that aren’t very interesting or thought provoking. I haven’t personally come across any subject matter that’s gone too far; all I’ve noticed is people not going far enough.
Some would call your films challenging. At the very least, their unconventionality will in turn require more than just surface level analysis from its viewers. Do you go into a project with the goal of being abstract, or does the subject manner naturally lend itself better to that style of expression?
I always go into a project with a heavy concept and personal agenda to communicate a subversive story aiming to make my viewers think or feel a certain way. I often use non-traditional and abstract approaches with my narratives because I want to give people a philosophical viewing experience that requires their brain to respond to what I am subconsciously getting them to feel through audio and visuals. I don’t make films that play it safe or with dumb-downed subject matter meant to sell to a certain market. My films are expressionistic video art pieces intended to reach out and tickle one’s senses, make people ponder dark subjects, and feel something.
Speaking of challenging, we understand the difficulty in finding a home for an artist's work in various film festivals, especially for those which align less with say, mainstream sensibilities. How have you personally found the festival circuit process to be? Any tips for those looking to submit their own work?
The festival circuit is a real grind, especially for conceptual artists like myself who don’t make mainstream films that are easily classifiable or use traditional storytelling methods. Finding an appropriate festival for an expressionistic, dark, personal, psychological, feminist work is extremely difficult—you’re not exactly welcome at the cool kids’ table. Searching for festivals is easy—sites like film freeway make it a breeze to access a large majority of festivals…but finding festivals that are legitimate & true to their stated mission and run by actual passionate curators and judges is another thing. So is finding festivals with affordable entry fees (or free festivals). Tracking down festivals for our films Elliot and Lovesick was especially trying. Both films are feminist genre defying films seeming to only exist on the outskirts of popular genres like sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and with the term “underground” and “feminist” thrown around the way they are, it made choosing festivals exhausting. We knew Elliot was going to be snubbed like crazy so we nipped it in the bud and organized our own premiere here in SF, then toured with the film organizing our own screenings in London, and friends have helped screen it for us in New York and Chicago. Sometimes we feel like we may have shot ourselves in the foot by premiering Elliot ourselves, but this way we had the most control over its initial exposure and were able to premiere in the city it was shot in, surrounded by all of the creative people who helped make Elliot a reality; so we have no regrets.
We’re lucky that some festivals actually approached us and requested our films for their festivals. Europe has given Lovesick a lot of love; and Craig and I were lucky enough to have both our films selected for the Sick ‘N’ Wrong Film Festival in 2018 (I even got the “Festival Directors Award” at the fest! I never win anything; that was amazing). By the way, the Sick ‘N’ Wrong is a festival I have at the top of my recommendation list to other filmmakers who create films that are underground and hard to pigeonhole into a genre. Check them out!
If you’re finding it difficult to discover a home for your work, make a home of your own—organize a screening! There are affordable small venues where you can screen your work; or curate your own film night. I’ve been doing this since 2011. Reward yourself with something when you get rejected and when you get accepted—that way it’s a win-win situation for yourself! Set a budget for what you can realistically afford to spend and stick to it. Imagine all of the money you can put towards your next project instead of throwing it away. Only enter festivals that your gut says is a good fit. Look at the festival’s past selections—do the films reflect the fest’s mission statement? Some people need to revisit their mission statements & it shows in their programming. Also look at their social media presence and promotion/documentation of the festival you are interested in as well as the reviews!
Along those lines, have you found the horror community, or even the independent scene to be supportive of what you do? What about the media, and film critics.
Overall, it’s been difficult for me to find support as an underground filmmaker. I’ve felt like such a misfit in the horror community with a lot of people not understanding my work and how it’s “horror.” A lot of my work is more subversive and psychological so I’ve been snubbed by a lot of sites when I’ve reached out with press, etc. I’ve come across a great deal of misogyny and popularity contests within certain circuits, and I just refuse to play to the gallery. But I have found a few select pockets within the indie horror community who have been incredibly supportive of what I do (particularly sites like Thirteenth Floor, Morbidly Beautiful, The Horror Hothouse, and Dead Entertainment to name a few) and local podcasts here in the bay area (The Overlook Theatre and Desmond’s Flicks). I’ve also made a lot of friends online (one thing the internet are good for) and at film festivals who have been extremely helpful and supportive! If it weren’t for some of our newfound fans and supporters I would feel lost, and appreciate their enthusiasm and kind words towards the work Craig and I create. Unfortunately I’ve found a lot of horror blogs to be quite narrow minded & only concerned with big budget films who only really give female filmmakers the time of day during Women in Horror Month. Thank god that exists, or many of us wouldn’t get attention at all. What’s funny is since my work doesn’t exactly fit in the stereotypical “horror” genre and is more psychological and personal, I get fed to the dogs sometimes. There have been a lot of lazy reviewers out there who resorted to using such weak adjectives like “creepy” and “weird” in reference to my work and basically admitted to just not getting it. I guess I’ll always just be that creepy and weird kid not welcome at the cool kids table, and you know what? I’m fine with that.
What's been the most challenging aspect of being an independent filmmaker?
Finding funding for projects, trolls online limiting your reach and potential, the people who don’t want to pay for your art and pirate your films, and finding appropriate avenues for marketing your work on a limited budget while fighting the crappy algorithms of social media.
editor’s note: fuck those algorithms
And most rewarding?
One of the most rewarding moments as a filmmaker for me is 1) Yelling that’s a wrap on an important project, and 2) exporting the final final cut and never going back. 3) Having someone who has seen one of our films tell us how it made them feel; to have successfully conveyed a concept and affected a viewer is a special feeling.
Here's a fun one. You make movies, but you also watch a lot of them too; horror especially. What are some of your pet peeves of the genre. Conversely, what are the things that put a smile on your face?
Some of my biggest pet peeves of the horror genre are as follows (in no particular order): CG blood and bad CG in general, fake grain or VHS filters with films claiming to be shot on film or video, poorly written characters and token characters…and there’s too many pretty people who are cast poorly for the characters they’re playing; sometimes it feels like a casting director just finished working on The Real World and just marked off the types they wanted off their check list. I hate when a scene of film TRIES to be “artsy” in a David Lynch rip-off kind of way and fails miserably. I’ll also throw in that I am so incredibly tired of the remake trend and then remakes of remakes…and films that just seem like they might as well be a remake because they’re just a lazy copy cat film (and no I’m not overly nostalgic, I just hate seeing crap get funded when there are so many struggling filmmakers with original ideas who should be given a chance). I probably have more pet peeves, but that’s all that’s coming to mind at the moment. Wait, one more, I hate dumbed-down endings that just have to slam in your face the concept of the movie. Give your audience some credit that we “get it.” Way too many horror films these days would be so much creepier if they left a little imagination to the viewer.
I have a love/hate relationship with unnecessary boob shots, but usually a good boob shot will put a smile on my face. I love when horror films and the actors have the balls (no pun intended) to show explicit male nudity, when necessary for the plot/character of course. I love seeing an effect that makes me ask “how did they do that!?” I also really love a good horror film that actually makes me tense up and want to cover my eyes. A good cameo will always make me smile.
Are there any of your own films coming down the line that you can share with us? Any plans to revisit Tearful Surrender?
Tearful Surrender is currently frozen until proper finances can be secured for the film (we need at least $30K to shoot it as a feature). But I can’t just sit here and wait for money to fall into my lap from investors, and I’m itching to use all of the masks, costumes, set pieces, and props I’ve been making for the last several years, so…I have written a short film version of Tearful Surrender titled The Return of the Näcken which has a much smaller budget and will involve abstract storytelling, animation, and focus more on the tragic tale of the main character’s woe and misery. The film is to be filled with full body prosthetic creature makeup, practical effects, gore, and fantastical surreal imagery! Above all, this original dark fairy tale introduces a new spin to traditional water demon myths and focuses on the pain of being a monster.
We are actually crowdfunding for it RIGHT NOW! We’re going to make this movie happen no matter what we raise, but we hope to reach our goal of $5K which will cover the most basic costs and ensure that the effects are as amazing as possible, but the more we make the more grand in scope and gory this picture can be! So I encourage folks who love unique horror that hits hard with a solid story, enchanting characters, and lots of gore and practical effects to check out The Return of the Näcken and help us make some morbid movie magic happen!
If interested in getting involved in this wild film, people can donate to our Indiegogo!
For those interested in our short film Lovesick, as a special treat, here a special private online screener with a password that is valid until August 1st. Password: dreamscream *NSFW, involves dark adult themes and alien nudity. https://vimeo.com/344458434
For people who want to check out our feature film Elliot, our short films, or watch our DIY tutorials, etc, please check out our official website: www.dreamsfordeadcats.com & feel free to follow us on Instagram @dreamsfordeadcats
We also have a quarterly newsletter for people who want to stay informed about and receive special promos, updates, secret behind the scenes information, unlisted DIY tutorials, more. You can join here:http://bit.ly/ddcpsignuphere