[Interview] Director Gillian Wallace Horvat for I BLAME SOCIETY

[Interview] Director Gillian Wallace Horvat for I BLAME SOCIETY
Courtesy of NoWhere
I BLAME SOCIETY, the first feature-length film by Gillian Wallace Horvat, is so incredibly good. I went into this film blind because there was next to nothing about it online and that was the beauty of it. I honestly had no idea what I was getting into. I don’t know how many times I found myself saying out loud, “What is she doing?” The film embodies so many things for me. It’s funny.  It’s weird and it’s uber-violent.

For the World Premiere of the film at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, I was lucky enough to speak with Gillian, who is the writer, director, and star of I BLAME SOCIETY. During our chat, we discussed everything about how to be a good murderer to what it was like playing a fictionalized version of herself and, of course, horror movies.

Hi Gillian! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. I watched I BLAME SOCIETY last night and thought it was great. It’s funny, quirky and very creepy. I couldn’t find anything about it online so I went in totally blind and it was so much fun. 

Gillian Wallace Horvat: Cool, cool. It’s going to premiere on Tuesday in Rotterdam, so there isn’t anything about it. You’re going to be breaking the news to everybody.

Yay! That makes me excited. How did you come up with the idea for I BLAME SOCIETY and did you always plan on playing the lead character? 

Gillian Wallace Horvat: It kind of grew out of this short documentary project that I had tried to do a couple of years ago. So, that is true. That thing about the I Murder project. I had gotten a compliment from some friends who are in the film and they said that I would make a good murderer. And I was really intrigued by that because it’s a compliment, but it’s not a compliment at the same time.

Right? How do you take that? 

Gillian Wallace Horvat: I accept validation wherever I get it, you know? I’m totally open to it. They meant it in a way that was like, you believe in what you believe in. And you can make a plan and follow through with it and execute it and you’re not going to be the kind of person who worries a lot about what other people are going to think and get consumed by guilt. And that’s the thing that gets everybody caught. It’s like they break down after they do it. In a positive way, I have the courage of my own convictions and I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think it was right in the first place. That’s the most positive lens to view it. The other lens, you’re transgressing some moral boundaries and you’re doing it because you want to. But yeah, I thought it was really fun. What they said, it got my mind going and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I never had directed a documentary before. I produced them. So, I was like, I’ll just give this a try and I shot some fun stuff. I basically interviewed people who knew me best and that is really all in the film and I took them to murder locales. I interviewed my grandma and my mom down by the docks in Los Angeles. I took my friend Nick to the middle of the woods and I interviewed my old boyfriend sitting behind him in a parked car. It was fun, but I just couldn’t get it to come together as a product as [much as] I wanted it to. A couple of years down the road, I was talking with my managers, Mette-Marie Konsved and Laura Tunstall, about this unfinished short. And they were like, “Oh, this sounds funny. Let’s see it.” I showed it to them and they thought it was really funny and I was like, “Well, what if I finished it as a fictional feature? Where it’s hard to tell what parts are made up and what parts aren’t? There’s kind of this hybrid notion of documentary and narrative that are mixed in together and it ends up with me killing people for real?” The scary thing about that was if I was going to use that documentary footage, I would have to play myself, and that was really terrifying to me. I wanted to do it because I thought it was the best way to execute the concept. So, I got over it and I did it.

Courtesy of NoWhere

It worked. It really worked. What was it like playing a fictionalized version of yourself? 

Gillian Wallace Horvat: It’s kind of unpleasant, really. There is something liberating and, for me, I don’t have a lot of acting experience. There’s always something comforting in knowing how I would react to situations. So, I think that all of my acting choices felt realistic, but it creates confusion for the producers. They’re always wondering if you’re going to lose it, if reality is bleeding into fiction. What I really didn’t like was I didn’t mind cutting my hair and dying it blonde. That was fine, but I hated plucking my eyebrows into that weird tadpole shape because it does change how your face looks. I would look in the mirror and I wouldn’t recognize myself. It freaked me out.

The haircutting was real? That was your real hair? 

Gillian Wallace Horvat: Oh my God, yeah.

That’s some commitment. That’s really awesome. I love that. 

Gillian Wallace Horvat: I felt that I really did have to commit. I felt like I probably wouldn’t ever have this opportunity again so, I wanted to do it 100%, which is very like Gillian “the character” to say. But, I guess that’s where we do have some crossovers. There’s this kind of overachiever tendency to push yourself to do it to the best of your abilities no matter if it’s self-destructive or semi-permanent. It’s this kind of Black Swan mindset I think a lot of women have.

How long did it take you to shoot and how long was post-production? 

Gillian Wallace Horvat: Those timelines are super different. We shot it in 13 days, but the post took like a year because we really wanted to work with the best people. We hardly had any money, so we had to wait for people to get off their decently paying projects to come work for pretty much nothing. We had to wait around a lot due to people’s schedules, which is fine because it gave us a lot of time to sit with the film and not rush it and to work with the best people possible at a very teeny budget level.

Thirteen days is not a lot of time. It seems so short. 

Gillian Wallace Horvat: Especially when you’re taking a lot of that time to stop and look at the monitor and watch take backs because you don’t know how it looked.

Courtesy of NoWhere

What made you want to be a filmmaker? 

Gillian Wallace Horvat: I did a lot of theater in high school. All my acting experience comes from high school theater. But I was pretty serious about it and I would go and do intensive Shakespeare camps and intensive musical theater camps and that kind of stuff. It sounds super nerdy but eventually, I got very disillusioned with it right around when I turned 16. I did that really intensive Shakespeare camp and I got a great part as Feste in Twelfth Night. I just didn’t think I could bring what was needed to the part and I didn’t have any direction. Then I came back to high school and I also was having personality conflicts with my directors there because I didn’t feel like anybody was committed like I was. I felt that all the good parts were going to people who really sucked up to the directors and not people who really worked hard on their craft, which was true. Basically, I was feeling a lack of control. That’s when I started writing my own plays. It was cool because we had these high school one-act things where you could write and direct your own one-act and they’d get performed. That ended up being the fulfillment that I needed. It felt really good because you were working with performers, which is definitely a passion of mine. There wasn’t the feeling of self-consciousness of performing yourself and there’s also other aspects of craft to work with as well. It wasn’t just all performance and that’s why I got into film too because I loved the idea that you weren’t totally reliant on actors. There was so much else in mise en scene to help you create the story. That felt liberating too.

If you could collaborate with anyone living or dead, who would it be? 

Gillian Wallace Horvat: That’s so interesting. I love directing, but I would say writing is where I come from and kind of my comfort zone. I would be so fucking happy if Paul Verhoeven would just direct something that I wrote. I could die happy.

My last question for you is what is your favorite scary movie? 

Gillian Wallace Horvat: There are so many. It’s funny. In February, I will be teaching two classes on basically the art of performance in horror movies. I’m doing one class for the Miskatonic Institute in Los Angeles on expository monologues in horror films. And then my friend is a professor at Northwestern and he asked me to come out and teach his students how to audition for horror movies. I’ve been rewatching a lot of my favorite horror movies and for like monologues and stuff. It’s just so amazing to see the stuff that people bring. My favorite scary movie I think right now is, I have gotten obsessed again with Raising Cain. I can watch that movie pretty much every year and I think it’s so brilliant. The use of tone in that film is at a level of nuance and mastery that blows my mind and it also has one of the best expository monologues of all time. I think right now Raising Cain is my favorite scary movie.

Thank you so much to Gillian for taking the time to speak with us. I BLAME SOCIETY has its World Premiere at the Bright Future Competition on Tuesday, January 28, 2020, and you can read our review here.

Tiffany Blem
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