Stacie Ponder is best known by the moniker Final Girl, though a more accurate name might be Renaissance Girl, because this woman does a little of everything—and she does it all quite well. Ponder started as a painter and comic book artist, but then a lifelong love of horror movies led her to begin her delightfully idiosyncratic (and hilarious) blog, Final Girl. A couple of years later, Ponder started to explore filmmaking. Gathering together her friends and a scene-stealing stable of fashion dolls, Ponder wrote and directed projects including the wildly entertaining and campy webseries Ghostella’s Haunted Tomb and Space Girls, as well as the short film Taste of Flesh, Taste of Fear. With her latest film, Ludlow, Ponder has stretched her artistic wings and delivered something wholly different: a dark, disturbing tone poem, featuring a tour-de-force performance from the brilliant Shannon Lark. I recently spoke with Ponder about movies, art and working with real live people.
So, I’m confused. There are no dolls in Ludlow. What’s that about?
I know, look at me—working with real, live people! It weirds me out. Actually, though, there is a doll in the film…but it’s just a doll, not a character. I can see how that would throw you. The doll was going to appear throughout the film, in fact, but I scrapped the idea. Shannon [Lark] and I talk a bit about that on the commentary track, if anyone cares about…well…about an idea that was scrapped. It wasn’t a huge idea or anything, so don’t get excited—it’s not like Ludlow was a killer doll movie or what have you.
There’s no improvisation going on at all. The entire film was scripted. What was most difficult for Shannon, I think—and what she pulled off incredibly well—was getting a grip on some of my dialogue. All of those starts and stops and unfinished thoughts were written as she delivers them. There was a lot of “It’s just…I don’t know what…I can’t tell…when you said….” So much, in fact, that we joked about it. It made her change tack in the middle of a sentence, as the character’s thoughts changed as she spoke. It takes some work for the actors to get a handle on, but I think it’s the way people speak, sometimes.
It’s the way I speak, anyway. The key is making it sound like dialogue and not something tapped out on a keyboard. Hopefully I—we, I guess I should say, since Shannon had to deliver the lines and make ‘em sound natural—succeeded in that a bit.
Obviously so, since I thought most of the dialogue was ad-libbed. Okay, big question: All your past flicks have been extremely funny. Ludlow isn’t funny at all—quite the opposite, actually. Which begs the question: What happened to you? Are you okay? I was a little worried as I watched it.
[laughs] No, no head injuries suffered or nothin’. When Shannon proposed making a film together, I jumped and decided to write something; I knew immediately that I whatever I came up with would be a “serious” movie. I’d never done that before, so I figured it would be a great challenge for me, since everything I’d done up to that point had been funny, or purposely an attempt at camp or what have you. I put all this pressure on myself to write something “good” so she’d think that working with me wasn’t a waste of time—which is something I’m a bit…eh, “paranoid” seems too strong, but it’s something I’m concerned about, let’s say. My goofy movies are so casual. I mean, they’re fun and all, but it didn’t seem worth Shannon making a big deal and spending money to travel back here for, say, an episode of Ghostella’s Haunted Tomb. I’m proud of theGhostella movies and making them is certainly a blast—but…I don’t know. Maybe I’m downplaying my work. I guess I just wanted to make something dark and serious and worthy and work outside my comfort zone, so I wrote Ludlow. In the end, it’s much more nerve-wracking for me to put it out there in front of people than Ghostella is. It’s much more personal.
I get it. Humor provides a shield and acts a distancing tool. I mean, if someone hates it, you can always say, “Hey, it’s just a little funny movie. It’s not serious.” But Ludlow is really great work. You started in the visual arts—drawing, painting. Then you started writing, and now filmmaking. What kind of artist do you consider yourself to be?
Oh man, I don’t know if I consider myself an “artist” at all. I just draw and paint and write and make movies. I suppose I’m putting my point of view out there, which is the essence—or at least one of the essences—of art, but I bristle at the word. I don’t know why. Too many connotations. Or maybe I don’t know what to call myself and “artist” just feels gross and too undefined. I’m not being glib. I really don’t know what to call myself. I sort of fell into writing and filmmaking without intending to and I love them and if it’s possible to clutch disciplines to one’s bosoms, then those are the ones I want to clutch. But am I a writer and/or a filmmaker? I write and I make movies so I suppose those are appropriate labels, but they don’t fell right, somehow. As you can see, I wrestle with this. [laughs]
As I kind of indicated, I fell into it more than anything—if it was ever a goal, it wasn’t a real one in the sense that I actually did anything to help make it happen. I moved to Los Angeles just to move to Los Angeles. I had no intention of making movies. If I’d relocated to anywhere else, there’s a chance I wouldn’t be doing it…but here, it’s so easy. Everyone you meet is involved in film in one way or another. It’s everywhere you look, and everyone is gung-ho and ready to play at a moment’s notice. It’s wonderful and it’s an oddly supportive environment, even if most people are out solely for themselves. All that said, I fucking love making movies so I’m glad I’m here.
Did you make movies as a kid, with a Super 8 or video camera?
Nope. Video cameras weren’t really widely available until I was in junior high or so—yes, I’m old! [Editor’s note: Welcome to the club] Once I got a hold of one, my friends and I would goof around and make…umm, “movies” isn’t the right word, but what else can I call them? You know, we’d make those movies that teenagers make, which we thought were hilarious but were just awful awful. It’s not as if we ever wrote anything or really tried. I mean, we found them wildly entertaining, but no one else needed to suffer through them.
You’re also still working on your webseries Space Girls—which is very funny. So, you’re keeping those dolls employed, eh? They’re not waiting tables?
I am still working on Space Girls, but episode three is taking me forever! I hope to finish it soon soon soon. I love Space Girls with all my heartparts, but it’s a shit-ton of work. I also get easily distracted by the other 50 million things I have going on.
Maybe I’m off base, but your career has seemed kind of “found.” That said, do you have a goal you’re headed toward? A five-year plan?
No, you’re not off base at all. I never expected or anticipated being where I am now, writing about horror movies and making them as well. A goal. Hmm, a goal might be nice. I suppose I want to keep doing what I’m doing, but mayhaps on a larger scale? Like, make a movie with a budget or some such? That would be mighty cool. A five-year plan, though—I can’t imagine what that would entail. I hope to be alive, with a place to live, and not starving. Beyond that…I guess writing and making movies. Unless I find something else in the meantime, which is always possible. Talk to me from five years ago and she’d never say writing and making movies, so…