Star and Screenwriter Brea Grant
By Ali Moosavi.
It is feminist in the sense that it is about a woman’s experience and the whole movie is a deep dive into that experience.”
Natasha Kermani is a young Iranian-American film director, working in independent cinema. She has three feature films under her belt, as well as a few shorts, episodes of TV series and commercials. Lucky is her latest film. It stars Brea Grant (who also wrote the script) as a woman feeling more and more isolated and disconnected from her world. The film the look of a Halloween-type slasher movie with a mysterious man appearing in her house night after night. Every time, she manages to kill or wound him, but he keeps disappearing and reappearing. Her previous film, which she also wrote, was Imitation Girl. That one had the look of a sci-fi film, with Lauren Ashley Carter playing the dual roles of Julianna, an aspiring musician who has ended up in the sexploitation film industry, and the Imitation Girl, who after landing on Earth, much like David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), takes refuge in the house of an Iranian family. Film International chatted to Kermani about her work.
If I describe Lucky as a feminist film in guise of a horror film, would I be way off the block?
No, not at all; that’s actually very good. Our way in with the film was using tropes that we know from horror movies almost like having the skin of a slasher movie that we’ve all seen many times but we’re trying to tackle things that maybe we don’t always see in a horror movie. I think it is feminist in the sense that it is about a woman’s experience and that is what the whole movie centers around and it’s an exploration of, and a deep dive into, that experience.
You start with a few metaphors such as a broken plate and broken glass, indicating the detachment and separation of May (Brea Grant), from her husband Ted (Dhruv Singh).
It’s almost as if she is disconnecting from reality. So, Ted is a part of her world that is starting to fracture. I thought of it as going into the Twilight Zone where you’re leaving normal reality and going into a nightmare version of your reality. Ted starting to act more and more strange and saying things that make no sense or don’t feel like normal behavior is all part of the world around her which is starting to break up. The broken plate, shards of glass and the broken mirror are all showing that things are starting to fracture around her and the world is becoming an extension of her mental state. What she’s going through and the experience that she’s having is being expressed externally. A lot of Ted’s lines that seem really crazy were pulled directly from Brea’s real-life experiences. The film is inspired by some of that feeling of disconnection from the person who is supposed to be there for you all the time and how disorienting that is and it’s part of her going into this living nightmare.
The man who keeps appearing, is like the Michael Myers character from the Halloween films. She’s obviously not hallucinating because we see blood on her face. It’s difficult to discern what’s real what is imaginary.
Yes, again she has left reality behind and is now fully in the Twilight Zone in a living nightmare where bizarre things can happen. When she is attacked, it has the quality of a dream or a nightmare where things happen and they feel very real to you and yet we also acknowledge the absurdist element. So, it’s a satire and meant to be a piece of absurdist comedy to tackle the larger issues. We’re just taking these absurd situations and moments and making them feel real and relevant and hopefully funny at times in the context of a slasher. Yes, it was very much influenced by Halloween, as well as by Scream. It’s not her imagination, it’s her mental state expanding outwards and reflecting into her universe. For example, the house in the movie is an extension of her mental state and you’ll see paintings will change and become more violent as the film continues. The man is an extension and a physical embodiment of that fear.
In the end by showing so many women being attacked, you seem to be making a statement that this is not a single thing and it’s happening for women at large.
Yes, when I came to that scene when reading the script, that’s when I knew I was going to do the movie. Because I realized that Brea the writer has expanded the world so we’re with one experience the whole way through and then we realize that no experience is singular, this is a community wide problem and a global issue and every woman is going through her own version of this experience. Without having the world expand out in that moment, I don’t think it would be as poignant and I don’t think we would be tackling the larger theme which is that everyone is in it together as part of the tragedy. The tragedy is that she is not able to connect and help others and be a part of the community and I think that’s a very interesting choice that the writer made. I wanted to respect that when we brought it to the screen.
Your lead actress is also the film’s script writer. How was that working relationship?
I was initially nervous about that, but she was wonderful. Brea and I knew each other socially but we had never worked together. She and I formed a lot of trust and honesty right off the bat and a sort of no holds barred communication and were able to fall into our respective roles. It was a very physically and mentally challenging role for an actor. We shot this movie in 15 days and she’s in every scene, so she had to step aside and put on her actor hat and trust that I was going to come in and treat her work with respect. I think without that prep and that early trust it would have been much more difficult, but we’re both professionals and we were friends, so that helped a lot.
It seems that you’ve done everything in the film industry, writer, director, producer, editor cinematographer, composer, sound editor, musician. Can you just tell me a little about your own background?
I come from a from a family in the arts. My mother is a performance artist. I grew up around theater and performing arts. Therefore, it was very comfortable for me to move into that space as a professional artist. After film school I explored a lot. While directing was always my primary focus, I did crew quite a bit and came up on the crew side which I think is very valuable because I have an understanding now of all the different facets of production. That allows me to have a bit more of a shorthand and comfort. All of those experiences very much help you in the role of director because you’re managing all of these different aspects of the film making. I’m very grateful for that. I also have a background in music. I am a practicing musician and love working with composers. I’m very fortunate to have been able to sit in all of those different roles and they all lend themselves to my sensibilities as a filmmaker.
Your previous film Imitation Girl, which you also wrote the script, is a sort of sci-fi fable. How was the experience of bringing that to screen?
I’m very interested in the space between genres and I think Lucky also fits into that sort of slot where it’s not fully a slasher or fully a comedy. Imitation Girl is a sci-fi movie and also a drama. It was very much an independent film right out of film school. With some of my classmates we formed a production company and worked in making commercials for various brands. As artists we had to do some commercial work to support ourselves. We created that film in an effort to get into feature filmmaking and to get away so much from working with brands and clients, which I still do and I’m very grateful for that work. But it was time for me to explore the feature film space. Imitation Girl’s lead actress Lauren Ashley and I had been working together in some short films. I started collaborating with her and then built on those things that I wanted to explore on the screen. We had the kind of freedom that is born out of self-financing and being very independent. It was a very small movie, even smaller than Lucky, and very much done as a group effort with myself and my producing partner at our production company Alien Pictures. Half of the film takes place in New York City which was my current experience and the other half takes place with the immigrant couple which was inspired by my own family story.
There is a very interesting idea in the in that film that this girl who was trained to be a musician, ends up working in sexploitation film industry
I was pulling directly from my own experiences. The audition sequences were what I had experienced as a musician. Her getting lost in an industry that she didn’t want to be in was very much inspired by the fact at that point I had been working a few years in commercial films, though obviously that is very different from the sexploitation film industry. So, she was very much grounded in my own experiences. Maybe the alien character is the other side of her. I think within each of us lives a duality of personalities and you can go in any different direction. Taking that very simple idea and putting it in the context of a drama was really my intention.
Was it fun making the scenes of the sexploitation movie?
That was our favourite part of the movie! We have so much fun with that and that’s important because I think with everything that I do, even when you’re dealing with heavy issues, you want to have some moments of levity and poke fun at yourself, because if you’re so serious all the time it’s not enjoyable. You need to have moments of laughing at the absurdity of what’s happening. If we don’t and it’s too heavy, then people will disconnect.
What was the main difference for you directing a script that you had written, like Imitation Girl and directing a script which somebody else has written, like Lucky?
I think with someone else’s script you need a little bit more prep time because you haven’t been living with the script for several years. It’s new to you and you have to find your own way and entry point and that is difficult because as a writer you live with the story and the characters, sometimes for many years. So, you’re coming in and you have to find where your soul is in this other piece of writing. That takes time and creativity and a really good working relationship with the writer, because in films the writer does not have the final word, as opposed to theater. A feature film director needs to be 100% clear on what you’re trying to say and before you even start having the conversations about production, these things need to be completely understood and worked through. If changes need to be made, then you need to make those changes ahead of time, especially on a small independent film like this where you have no time or money to sit around. You need to take that extra time to work through every page and every line of the script and really know with your full heart and soul this is what we’re saying, this is the point, this is the attitude, this is where we’re coming from and this is where we’re going.
Now with the current situation it’s difficult even for the big Hollywood studios to put movies out, so how do small independent films like Lucky get distribution and are exhibited or streamed?
Distribution and exhibition are very difficult during the pandemic, especially for a movie of this size. Our financier Epic pictures was also our sales agent, so we already had a sales agent before we even went to festivals or anything like that. We have an advantage in that way. We did our festival circuit last year and were supposed to premiere at South by Southwest, which of course was cancelled. That is the normal journey of an independent film. You try to have a really great festival run and get the movie out to as many people as you can. We ended up partnering with Shudder which I’m thrilled about and we will be streaming on March 4 on Shudder as a Shudder original. This was always my goal for the film because I think it is very niche and targeted towards people who would be interested in a platform like Shudder, looking for new voices and something different than what you’re seeing in everyday Hollywood fare. For Imitation Girl we did not have a sales agent and didn’t know what we were doing and stumbled our way onto the festival circuit and ended up having a really wonderful positive experience because people saw it and were talking about it. I believe in festival programmers who really have vision and want to find new voices and promote independent films.
Is Shudder a streaming company like Netflix?
Yes, Shudder is an all horror streaming platform. If you like horror movies, you can get a lot of horror on there and I believe we will be exclusively streaming with Shudder for a few months and then we’ll have a physical Blu Ray release later this summer.
Have you started work on your next film?
Yes, I hope so! I think it will be another genre movie and most likely another horror project. I’m very excited and I hope things continue to get better with this virus so that we can all get back to safely work and not stop and go as it is right now. I’m hoping the world can be up and functioning again very soon.
Ali Moosavi has worked in documentary television and has written for Film Magazine (Iran), Cine-Eye (London), and Film International (Sweden). He contributed to the second volume of The Directory of World Cinema: Iran(Intellect, 2015).