Last summer I attended, as I do every year, Toronto’s FanExpo. While there, I had the opportunity to attend a screening of Scream Queen Danielle Harris’ directorial debut, the horror-comedy Among Friends. I was also fortunate enough to meet the film’s writer and star, Alyssa Lobit. Alyssa is very friendly, charming, and articulate; it seemed to me she would make an ideal candidate for a short interview. As luck would have it, she was agreeable to the idea.
MD: Every little boy who finds his way into the film industry seems to share the same backstory of being a television/movie junkie who, at a young age, created his own movies in the backyard with his friends and the family camcorder. Does the tale of a little girl named Alyssa follow a similar theme?
AL: Absolutely! This is exactly how I started making movies – in the backyard with my two sisters and the family camcorder. We had a lot of fun “re-making” classics, with a twist, like Browndilocks and the Three Bears. Ha-ha! True story.
MD: Among Friends is your second feature length writing credit but only your first in the horror genre. Are you a horror fan yourself and do you see yourself working on future horror films?
AL: I’m somewhat obsessed with the human mind, which the horror genre is perfect for exploring. I get scared very easily and watch most horror films peeking through my fingers – yes, even Among Friends, even though I know it’s just a movie. I really like that the horror genre is limitless and pushes the envelope. Personally, I prefer horror films that have an underlying depth, that exploration of our psyches that I mentioned. The Shining is one of my faves. And yes! I hope to continue to work on films that peel back the layers in interesting ways. I had so much fun shooting Among Friends. Very different vibe than watching the movie! It was the first time I’d done anything like it, with blood, etc. I LOVED it! It was so interesting to play with another aspect as an actress. Not only to play a scene, but to add that physicality in. Great fun!!
MD: You mentioned The Shining. To peel back the layers of your psyche a bit more, what are some of your other favourite horror films? Or any favourite films for that matter?
AL: Delicatessen – freaky, odd, beautiful and the first film I watched where I was blown over with the realization of how much artistry is possible in motion pictures. Misery, Shaun of the Dead, From Dusk Till Dawn, Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill 1 & 2, True Romance (sensing a theme?), Amelie, The Matrix (ONE!) and way too many more to list…
MD: Among Friends paints a rather bleak picture of the nature of friendship. What should the viewer take away from this? Should your own friends decline any party invitations?
AL: Hah! My hope is that the film makes people think. Beyond the scares, after the squirting blood… It’s a movie that intentionally asks questions more than it provides answers. From Bernadette’s perspective, she’s the protagonist, the heroine. But she leaves very little room for any gray area, which is where a lot of life exists. Is not telling the truth the same as lying? What should the consequences of betrayal be? Who should decide? The answers may change over time and certainly differ between viewers. Who’s “right”?
MD: I think it safe to say that Danielle Harris is rather beloved in the horror fan community. Certainly her association with Among Friends can only help increase awareness of the film (I’ll admit it was her name that initially sparked my interest). As both the writer and the star, however, did you have any trepidation when it came to working with a novice director?
AL: Not at all. Danielle is a veteran of not only horror, but of Hollywood, movies, TV, all of it. Her time spent on set working as an actress made me confident that she’d be great… That whatever she didn’t know how to do (simply because she hadn’t had the opportunity yet) would be taken up by the rest of the team, who had producing experience. Athena Lobit (The Things We Carry, The Girl in the Lake) and Jennifer Blanc-Biehn (The Victim, The Night Visitor) were there in support of Danielle and her vision. It was a solid foundation, with Danielle bringing her expertise on the genre to the table.
MD: Were there any directorial decisions that took the film in directions other than you had originally intended?
AL: This is a tricky question because I go into making a movie without much “vision” as to how it will end up. I know that the story and script are there, but beyond that, I really feel that the collaboration process — between cast, director, production designer, cinematographer, editor, everyone — creates something new, which I can’t or wouldn’t even want to “dictate,” so to speak. It’s like the Wild West. You know you’re on a horse and headed west to find gold, but everything else is unknown. That’s the thrilling part of it!
MD: The film looks great. You should be very pleased with the end result. But there must have been things that you and Danielle wanted to do but there just wasn’t room for in the budget. Can you share some plans that fell by the wayside?
AL: Thank you! Actually, we knew going in that this would be an indie production. The script was written with that in mind, so I didn’t write any helicopter chase scenes or anything that was too big. I did end up re-writing the script on the fly because the limousine we’d rented was “vintage” and died on set. We had to cancel an entire location because the limo couldn’t drive into the hills. So it was more of an issue of not being able to throw money at problems or buy more time. But that’s indie filmmaking! Ha-ha! Our motto on set was “We’ll make it work.”
MD: Some of the fun in Among Friends is in the cameo spotting. Was the use of cameos something that was planned from early on or was it a case of people being available and offering some support?
AL: It was both. We knew that between Danielle and Jennifer, we’d have a handful of cameos to make use of. But we didn’t know until very close to shooting exactly who would be available when we needed them. The exception is Kane Hodder. Danielle called on him and he basically said whenever you need me, I’m there. Such a sweetheart and fun to work with!
MD: I love that you describe big, bad Kane as a sweetheart. But I’ve heard before that he’s an incredibly nice guy so I’m not too surprised. During the screening of Among Friends, this murmur of “Hey, isn’t that…” went around the room when he first appeared on screen. For someone who is often not recognizable on camera, I thought that was pretty cool.
AL: RAD! And yes, he really is a funny, sweet guy.
MD: None of characters in Among Friends are particularly likeable which, of course, is kind of the point. As a writer, how do you keep the audience engaged without a hero to root for?
AL: By asking them to root for the “villain”. This turns everything on its head, which is a great place to begin the exploration of morality and justice.
MD: In the film, Sara (portrayed by Kamala Jones) is the most sympathetic of everyone at the table. And yet she seems to receive more than her fair share of abuse, and not just from her captor. In fact, at one point she actually asks, “What the hell did I do to deserve any of this?” Was there a twisted amusement in making her take the brunt of the maltreatment?
AL: Ha-ha! I wrote that part for Kamala, knowing we’d be casting from friends. She was a real trooper through all of it, the blood, the barf… We shot the movie in sequence, so by the time her character asks that, I think she really is asking me, Alyssa, why she deserved it! But along the lines of your last question, what do you do when the protagonists all kind of suck, when the one of them who is “innocent” attempts to defend them and reaps abuse or sits in the line of fire, so to speak, by association? Where is the justice there? The whole barometer is thrown off. It forces people to look at things in a different light. Did everyone else deserve their punishment? Did anyone deserve it? Who should decide? Me? You? No one?
MD: Your writing shows a knack for straight forward but memorable dialog. I’m thinking in particular of the rhetorical question conversation but that is certainly not the only example. Do you enjoy playing with the spoken word?
AL: Thank you again! I like this interview, where you embed compliments into your questions! Indeed, I do. Words are awesome because their function is to allow us to communicate, to connect more deeply with one another. But they are also tools of limitation and definition. Once you’ve defined something, it’s all but dead, because it can’t change or evolve. I have plenty of blog entries trying to hack my way through this very conundrum.
MD: What can people expect to see from you next?
AL: I wrote another feature called Mindless, which is a thriller about a young woman who wakes up with amnesia and pieces together her past with deadly consequences. Jennifer Blanc-Biehn will be producing and we will both be acting in it, with shooting slated for March 2014. I have a couple of other feature writing projects lined up, one of which is in development and will hopefully be greenlit this year. Other than that I’m auditioning and looking forward to acting more!