From her shorts ranging from the eerie, coming of age story Fry Day (2017), to her existential comedic tale Allen Anders: Live at the Comedy Castle- Circa 1987, Laura Moss is a director who should be at the top of your film radar. Her impeccable approach to directing and production design demonstrates sheer talent and authenticity and is a creative voice that I’d like to see more of. I had the chance of sitting down with Laura and discussed her directorial beginnings, inspirations and techniques, and future projects.
Hello Laura, thanks for sitting down with us today! I really enjoy your approach to filmmaking, and I think you have a very creative and distinct voice – how did your journey as a filmmaker begin?
Laura Moss: I was doing art department stuff and prosthetic makeup work in my mid-twenties, writing stuff with Brendan O’Brien, my then-husband, now-writing partner, on the side. We wrote this ridiculous zombie ‘documentary’ together with a DP friend, and I just assumed one of them would want to direct it because they had both been to film school and I hadn’t. But Brendan wasn’t keen on directing at that time, so I stepped in. When I realized what directing was, I felt like all the random skills I’d picked up in my life finally came together: I had studied music in high school, worked on plays with actors in college, managed hi-stress situations as an EMT, worked in design. On set, all that experience became relevant.
We had to recreate a lot of archival footage in that movie, and that became an obsession of mine going forward. It probably started because of my insecurity around camera, around the language of shooting. I learned a lot about different shooting styles and how they can make the audience feel from faithfully recreating clips from the past.
Fry Day was my absolute favorite short film of 2017 – could you tell us what lead to the creation of this short, and the inspirations that powered it?
LM: Brendan and I were writing a feature film, set in the era of serial-killer celebrity, really about a man trying to be a good person in a world that wants to turn him into a monster. Bundy was this kind of shadowy ‘role mode’ figured laced throughout the background, and so we ended up doing a lot of research on him. When we saw the real-life footage of the gathering outside Bundy’s execution, it was so chilling to both of us that it immediately felt like a place to set a whole other film.
It was really important for me to explore not Bundy himself, but how the public obsession with him affected me as a woman. You can get stuck analyzing him, we’re seeing a renaissance of that right now, and that’s not what’s interesting to me. In a lot of Bundy coverage, he is almost vaunted, treated as this enigmatic genius. His victims feel like an afterthought; they blend together in our minds. I wanted to explore what it feels like to move through the world looking like one of Bundy’s victims in the shadow of Bundy Mania. That’s where we started with Fry Day.
Was Fry Day actually filmed in Florida near the prison that Bundy was at? If not, where were some of the filming locations?
LM: We shot a small amount of the daylight stuff in and around Starke Florida, where Raiford prison is, where they still do executions, but most of it we shot in New Milford, Connecticut. We went down to Starke and did a lot of research, interviewed folks who were at the Bundy ‘BBQ’, made copies of old yearbook photos for visual reference, but we just couldn’t afford to bring a crew down there for the whole time, so many of our resources were in New York.
Grace Sloan, our production designer, did an amazing job of faking New England for Northern Florida. She was a master at analyzing a location, removing anything that felt out of place, and then sneaking in a few elements that felt authentic to the space but really tied the ‘Florida’ back in.
The cinematography for Fry Day is very haunting and beautiful, which really sets the tone for the upcoming events. How did you approach that process: do you create story or mood boards, or just vocally discuss it with your team ahead of time?
LM: Greta Zozula, my DP and I did camera tests and talked a lot about it beforehand, and we created a communal look book with visual references, lighting, costume, etc. We also came up with a few rules for ourselves. We avoided camera conventions that felt too modern; it was very important to me that the film look like something that could be made in 1989, not just something set in that period.
I also really enjoyed Allen Anders Live at the Comedy Castle- Circa 1987, which I saw during one of the short film blocks for North Bend last year. You tackled some interesting subject matters, and was curious how that protect came to be?
LM: I’m a huge fan of Tony Grayson, who wrote and performed the material in Allen Anders. He’s a filmmaker and comedian I met a few years back at SXSW. I came to Chicago and saw him do his Allen Anders routine, this insane existential comedy bit, and I was floored. We decided to try to turn it into a film, which wasn’t so simple because the power of the lighting shifts and the sound design that had worked so well for the stage show didn’t automatically translate on camera. We ended up playing a lot with repetition of shots and VHS-related effects to try and make the viewer feel as entranced as I did watching it onstage.
The atmosphere of Allen Anders really feels like it was set in the 1980s, which makes me wonder what type of camera and filming equipment was used for this short?
We shot on newscast quality, period-appropriate video cameras, as close as possible to what they would have used for ‘An Evening At The Improv’ in the 80s and early 90s. Eythan Maidhof, our DP, masterminded this great setup where we could record from a cable signal onto a solid state hard drive, to avoid the complications that come with recording on VHS.
In order to get some of those great glitchy artifacts though, we dubbed the finished short onto VHS and then reimported it into Premiere, then enhanced the glitches with Mark Reynolds, who did our post VFX.
I would love to see you direct a feature – do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to (and are allowed to) discuss with us?
My feature, After Birth, is going to be produced by Mali Elfman and FANGORIA this year. It’s a female-centered adaptation of the Frankenstein story, about a woman harvesting materials from her own body in order to further her experiments. It’s a lot about my shifting attitudes towards creation and legacy, as a woman of child-bearing age. You could say I’m up to my elbows in it at the moment.