Husband and wife producing duo Kevin and Jennifer Sluder are proving that women have a place in the horror genre. Kevin has produced several short films including Feeding Time and Play Violet for Me, but he will take the directors’ chair for the first time in his newest horror short, Heartless, which Jennifer co-produced and handled marketing for with their company Sunshine Boy Productions. Heartless has earned several awards at other festivals and will be one of many female-centric shorts at the Women In Horror Festival tomorrow (Saturday October 6th) at 2:00 PM. I caught up with Kevin and Jennifer about Heartless, horror, and the industry, and saw a young and vibrant couple sure to leave a mark on the horror genre.
Q: Can you tell our readers a little bit about who you are?
K: Jen and I are here for the Women in Horror Festival because I wrote, directed, and produced with Jen a horror short film based on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart…I’m a writer, obviously, first-time director, and I’ve been in the film industry for quite a while now and Jen just recently joined in.
J: I’m actually a pediatrician in the daytime and nights, evenings, and all these fun vacations, Kevin’s taking me around the country with our film. I produced, did the marketing and web design.
Q: How long have you been working together?
K: Officially with the company about two years. We did our first film together three years ago, and Jen did costume design and production design in that and helped out with some stuff behind the scenes.… She … contributes in all these different ways. Once we had that film, we did a lot of marketing for that film… and she just took that on.
J: I got into web design and social media marketing to get the word out. It’s a great platform. For very little money you can do quite a bit, which is wonderful for independent filmmaking. I.. really enjoy going back and seeing little touches on a movie. You can look back and say, “Oh, I did that and I helped out with that part.” I even had to be a hand a couple of times. I don’t like being in front the camera, I like pitching in in small ways that contribute to the look of the film.
Q: When did you both know you wanted to be filmmakers?
J: I became a filmmaker in a roundabout way—being on set for Play Violet for Me and watching amazing professionals perform my husband’s writing had me hooked. It wasn’t something I planned to do but after that incredible experience, I couldn’t wait to do more. So we decided to make more films and I wanted to find a way to get them in front of as big an audience as possible so I researched web design and social media marketing. Kevin calls it the grand experiment and that’s pretty accurate—we try new things constantly and keep what works for us. It’s ever changing and lots of fun.
K: When I first went out to Los Angeles, I thought I was gonna be exclusively a writer. Once I got on a set helping out with [A friend’s] movies…. I wrote the script for Heartless and I said “Why don’t I give directing a shot”. Filmmaking has just come along gradually with doing different things on set.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Heartless?
K: I was helping out a friend on a movie set….. The lead actress and the sound guy were having a conversation about [Edgar Allan] Poe and which Poe story they thought was the best, and I just piped in Tell-Tale Heart….. On the way home… I just thought of the very first scene in the movie [Heartless] which is Stacey, the actress we worked with in the movie Feeding Time… staring into a mirror, having done what the narrator of Tell-Tale Heart had done the night before and I though it was a really cool contrast. Like, something so monstrous done by such a sweet-looking young lady. I thought it was something I could explore, and I did.
Q: How did you end up at the Women in Horror Festival?
J: I think we saw the post from last year. A lot of our friends had attended with films and we thought…what a cool concept. Interestingly enough, on production for Heartless, above and below that line it’s more than 50% women and that’s part of the thing with getting into the festival here, which is you have to have women in major roles. Producer, director, writer, DP. We qualified, and that wasn’t intentional. I’m really proud of how we do the filmmaking. We just try to find the best person for the job. We qualified and submitted and we were just over the moon.
Q: How do you approach writing horror?
K: My style of horror is more psychological… I try to tell interesting stories that will be a little different. With this one, being so macabre and being a lover of Poe, I decided to put that in a corporate setting…. I just want to put a character in an intense situation where the thing in front of them just matters so much…. The job of writing horror is to make that, for the characters, the stakes are elevated.
Q: Did you consult with the women on your staff when writing the script?
K: I talked to the actresses at time of casting and they said “I can’t wait to do it”. I’ve always enjoyed writing female characters more than men because they’re more complex then men….. There’s more to tap into when writing them.
J: I’ve been reading his [Kevin’s] work for.. 20 years and he always writes strong female roles. He just knows that women are just as complex is men and they can have a wonderful role just like a guy can have a wonderful role.
Q: What do you hope this film achieves?
K: It’s entertainment. It’s good gory fun. I take shots at corporate aggression, not necessarily just men towards women but women towards women and the aggression in a corporate work space is just the feeling that put behind it, the impetus to get me to write it. The statement a guy said years ago is “If you want to send a message, go to a post office”. I don’t try to preach too much with film, but it does have a little kick to it. This has a lot of American Psycho flavor to it.
Q: Is there anyone you want to work with someday?
K: I always go to Steven Soderbergh. He’s so diverse… All of his stories are different… I would love to watch him work and he uses the camera to tell the story.
J: There’s so many incredible female directors that inspire me. I’d love to work with Kory Lynn Fargeat, who just did Revenge recently, and Lynn Ramsey. You Were Never Really Here was her latest, and that one was just spectacular. If I got a chance to work with both of those gals, that would be great.
K: They both use the camera in such a great way. Such terrific talents.
Q: Where will Heartless be available?
K: It will be online for anyone to see.
Q: What do you look for in a script and makes you want to produce it?
K: Well, I wrote it (laughs). We’ve dropped on various projects as executive producers. We’re interested in sci fi, we’re interested in horror, just something that grabs our eye and tells a good story…. We wanted to just help some young filmmakers out.
J: We had fun. We made 4 short films over the previous year and then Heartless the following year. It’s fun to jump on and help people out whenever you can have a little less involvement in the day-to-day, cause it’s just impossible to do more than one thing at a time if you’re the full one working on it.
Q: Do you intend to go into feature films?
J: Hopefully next year.
K: I’m writing a script for a thing next year so hopefully I can direct.
Q: What’s your favorite horror film?
K: The Descent. It’s a masterpiece.
J: The Shining, more classic.
Q: What are any tips for aspiring horror filmmakers?
K: Sometimes you get that voice in your head saying “You can’t do it”, and my phrase is “Just Do It”… Just go out and find a story that moves you and just do it.
J: Two things. One, help your friends on sets… Do whatever it is they need and they will come help you tenfold. Two, for the marketing and social media, just try stuff. You’d be surprised who you’re gonna meet.
Q: Horror is currently a very male-dominated genre. Do you ever face any resistance trying to get into this section of the medium that is very male-dominated?
J: The funny thing is I got into this right around the time that it has become apparent to everyone that there are so few female filmmakers. I fortunately have been able to jump on whenever everyone’s paying attention to this and everybody’s trying to promote it and help it. All the festivals we go to… They give discounts for females who submit, and we have this with Women in Horror. Doors are opening now that weren’t before…. It thankfully hasn’t come up for me.
Q: What’s the worst film you’ve ever seen.
K: Paranormal Activity. I absolutely loathe that film…. I fast-forwarded through it…. Give me some story.
J: Death Proof. I don’t enjoy torture or gore just for the sake of shocking people.
Jennifer and Kevin’s short film Heartless will screen at the Women in Horror Festival on Saturday, October 6th, 2018, at 2:00 PM at the Crowne Plaza in Peachtree City. Doors open at 11:00 AM and tickets are available at the door.