I last spoke with actress/writer/director Rachel Grubb about a year ago. At that point, she’d just formed a female-centric production company, Silent-But-Deadly Productions, with her friend Brooke Lemke. She had also started work on a project titled Why Am I in a Box? In honor of Women in Horror Recognition Month, I recently checked in with Rachel to see how this woman in horror is doing. And guess what? She’s doing just fine.
Let’s start by discussing your company, Silent-But-Deadly Productions. What is the aim of SBD?
Brooke [Lemke] and I first started Silent-But-Deadly Productions as a way to keep working together. When we set goals for our company, we decided we wanted to bring more of the female perspective into filmmaking. We were focusing on creating some strong female characters and utilizing the talents of the many amazing women we know who work behind the camera. More recently, we’ve been focusing on working with other women’s non-profit groups. We’ve partnered with a women’s group at the University of Minnesota to make some fun and informative sex education videos.
Do each of you have a specific role?
It didn’t really start out that way, but I do think we have specific roles now. It wasn’t planned, but we both gravitated toward our strengths in the company, and we each found our niche, and we complement each other. Brooke and I both have our strengths and weaknesses. Brooke is good at production work, and she’s particularly interested in AD [assistant director] work. I’m more interested in acting and casting, and I have a background in writing. We’ve gotten good at filling in for each other when we need help. When one of us is directing, it sort of becomes the other person’s job to just be there to keep the director calm and step in if anything comes up.
I would say so, yes. Brooke and I never went to film school. We learned how to make movies entirely by doing. And we had the opportunity to learn by being on so many sets. There are so many movies being made here all the time, and that was what helped us when we prepared for our first project.
What have each of you produced through SBD so far?
We’ve both been producers on all of our projects. So far, we’ve done the feature Why Am I in a Box?, which I directed. Then we have Brooke’s shorts, A Broken Family, Young Eyes and A Young Heart. Then, we have the webseries SBD. We also produced a short called Whiskey by John Mackin.
Let’s talk about Why Am I in a Box? for a minute. Rachel, you wrote the film. On one level, the film is about a girl that’s kidnapped and forced to write a novel. But there’s something deeper going on. Can you talk about the subtext?
I first got the idea when I took a class on novel writing. My teacher, who was a mystery writer named David Housewright, gave me an assignment to come up with three ideas for a novel. I thought, “Why would anybody want to try to come up with an idea for a novel? If you don’t have any ideas, you’re off the hook. You don’t have to write a novel. Why out yourself through all that work?” Then I thought, “Unless someone was forcing you to write a novel.” And then I thought, “Maybe there’s something.” So I came up with the basic concept and got to work. I didn’t turn it into a screenplay until Brooke and I decided we wanted to make a movie together.
I think that most of the characters, particularly Jeremy, use life to avoid art. It’s fun to talk about art and share your ideas with your friends. But to actually follow through with something is a big commitment, and isn’t always fun. We do have real-world commitments that don’t allow us to spend every waking moment creating. But it’s easy for us to use those real-world commitments as an excuse not to finish anything. Because if we finish something, what happens when it’s not good enough? Ted had all the free time he needed because Ellen was supporting him. He still couldn’t get anything done because he was lazy. Paige decides to take all of Ellen’s excuses away when she kidnaps her and locks her in a room. Here, she doesn’t have to go to work and has the whole day free to write. So now, the question is: Will Ellen write the great American novel, or will she end up like Ted?
Let’s talk about Paige for a minute. Did you write a backstory for her to figure out how she got to where she is when we meet her? I guess I’m asking, why is she so crazy?
When I was explaining to Brooke what Paige was like, I told her, “She sees herself as Joan Collins, but she’s really her frumpy cousin.” I think what makes Paige crazy is that she wants to be an artist so badly, but she just doesn’t have what it takes. She tries and tries, and she keeps writing, but she can’t produce anything publishable. And she’s kind of a weirdo, and she doesn’t really fit in with the arty crowd, with people like Jeremy, who may not be producing a lot of art either, but at least have that hip factor. She wants to be an artist over-badly, and she can’t, and it’s driven her crazy.
It’s going great! The feature has been picked up and will be coming to DVD very soon. We still have some work to do for the new DVD. We hope to put together something really special for our debut!
Whoa, congratulations! Let’s talk about the webseries you mentioned. How did that come about?
We were asked to do a webseries for the Numa Network. They approached us about doing a series, because they were specifically looking for some female-centric shows. Brooke and I both knew right away that we want to do roommates, and we each created our own characters. Brooke wanted to be obsessed with reality TV, and I wanted to make fun of my obsession with The Dark Knight. So she’s off talking to a camera, and I’m off talking to my Joker poster. It’s kind of about the odd little things people do when they’re alone, only more exaggerated.
Unfortunately, we got dropped from the Numa Network after the first few episodes. We were originally asked to do a PG-13-ish show. Then, after we had already started, they decided that wanted only G-rated content. It wasn’t really anyone’s fault. The person we had been dealing with was unaware of the change when we started working on the show. But each episode had to be censored a little bit, and then it got dropped. So, we stuck the whole thing up on our own YouTube channel.
I think it’s still in the development stages. One thing I think we’ve learned from Howard Dean and Snakes on a Plane is that internet hype doesn’t necessarily translate to real-world hype. When I was a teenager, we didn’t have internet, and after school while I was doing homework, I always had the TV or the radio on. That was our mass media. And it was everyone’s mass media. Generations before me grew up with it, too. Teenagers today have the internet as their mass media, but it’s a young form of mass media, and it isn’t as saturated into our culture as TV and radio. Right now, you know something is a big deal on the internet if you hear about it in other media.
I think that in the future, the internet will become equal to all other forms of mass media. I think this is a good thing, because everyone who wants to can use it to promote their work.
Do you have another film ready to shoot?
Yes. My next project is a psychological horror thriller called Sky Is Falling. It was written by Joshua LeSuer. I love the script, and I can’t wait to work on it. I’ll be directing a script by someone else this time around, and I’m interested in seeing how it’s different from directing something I wrote. I’m also going to be playing the lead. That was quite a challenge last time, but now that I have a feature under my belt, I’m ready to give it another go.
When we last spoke, Rachel, you mentioned that women were making major advances in the horror genre. You said that within a few years, women in horror “will become a more mainstream thing.” That was a couple of years ago. Have you seen any progress?
It’s been happening, slowly but surely. We now have a Women In Horror Month, and the first annual Women In Horror Awards! The amazing women in this genre will continue to celebrate each other until the rest of the world takes notice.
I want to thank you for your time, Rachel. I also want to thank you―and Silent-But-Deadly Productions―for what you’re doing for women in film. You should be proud of your achievements. Any last thoughts?
Thank you for supporting Women In Horror and women in film!