Maggie Levin – dare we say – is the personification of a rock n’ roll, glittertastic unicorn. While her roots are firmly planted in the musical realm, she has made strides in other aspects of the entertainment industry. Keeping it in the live-zone, she has created the live club production of The Rocky Horror Hipster Show. Previously, she has worked as a director and staff writer on Season 2 of Miss 2059 (New Form Digital/go90) and is the co-creator of the podcast Chicks Who Script. Now, with her recently released debut feature, she returns back to the musical realm with Into the Dark‘s MY VALENTINE. This film dissects one of the most controversial music industry events and takes it into a fictional, explosive realm and it really works.
For the release of the film, we had the opportunity to chat with director Maggie Levin where we discussed everything from her collaboration with musician Dresage, popstars that influenced her work, and what she hopes people will take away from the film.
To start things off, can you tell us a little bit about what inspired the story for MY VALENTINE?
Maggie Levin: MY VALENTINE comes from both a very personal and a very blissful place. It is a mixture of both my own experiences, the experiences of people very close to me and then influenced by some of the biggest pop scandals of the past ten years.
Speaking of pop stars, where there specific ones that influenced the look and feel of Valentine and Trezzure?
Maggie Levin: Lady Gaga is for sure in there, Ariana Grande is in there, Melanie Martinez as well. We looked at not the fashion style of Charli XCX but certainly the work that Charli’s doing, which is really the front lines of creativity in pop music, but we are pulling from a wide swath of pop artists. We are also living in a kind of golden age of the female popstar – there are so many of them out there who are doing such cool work that it’s really an exciting area to play visually and through the music that we created for the movie.
One of my favorite aspects of this film was the addition of music video vignettes. What was that experience like?
Maggie Levin: I come out of the music video world as a filmmaker so that is deeply my comfort zone (laughs). The day we got to shoot all those music videos was really exciting for me because I was in my normal jungle gym – it was very happy and playful. Working with Dresage, who is the artist who wrote, sang, and produced all of the songs for both Valentine and Trezzure, was hands down one of the most incredible artistic experiences of my life. I think that Dresage is a genius. We had these fairly quick conversations about what needed to happen plot-wise and emotionally for everyone in the movie and areas that we wanted the songs to cover and what we wanted them to sound like and she went off and came back with almost these completely finished, gorgeous, totally addictive pop songs.
I was going to ask how closely you and Dresage worked together and it sounds like it was a collaborative effort.
Maggie Levin: We had known each other socially for a number of years and also worked together on a club production of Rocky Horror Hipster Show. I’ve been a long time admirer of who she is as an artist and her voice is astonishing. I just think it’s so cool and fundamentally important to this project that the actual musical voice from a writing perspective was female and was female produced. I’m just so thrilled Dresage wanted to do it.
I noticed that Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill (director and writer of Sinister, respectively) were executive producers on this project. What was it like working with them and how did the three of you link up for this project?
Maggie Levin: Scott and Cargill introduced me to Blumhouse to begin with to talk about a different project and that’s how MY VALENTINE was born. I was trying to see if this other script that the three of us had developed together, that I wrote and was attached to direct, was going to potentially be a part of the Into the Dark series. Unfortunately, it was going to be really challenging to shoot on the Into the Dark timeline and budget, so we kind of went and had a discussion about whether or not it was going to be really suitable for this series. I took a look at all of the other episodes and there was one from April of 2019 called I’m Just F*cking With You that had a really aggressive, bright, visual style. I knew from my past experience with music videos, narrative digital filmmaking and all the little things I’ve done along the way, that I could do something in this style – simple, easy, single location. We could also use it for Valentine’s Day because I was really excited to talk about contemporary romantic themes and the nightmare that is the dating world in Los Angeles in our current era.
When it came to shooting the film, was there a scene, in particular, that was your favorite or one that was particularly challenging?
Maggie Levin: The scene that I’m most proud of just from a collaborative directorial perspective is the least bells and whistles of the whole film. It’s the scene in the parking lot between Britt Baron and Benedict Samuel where you really get to witness sort of the height of the trouble between them and the real sinister nature of who he is. Shooting that scene, which was towards the end of the shoot, was a really powerful experience and I was so proud of everyone’s work that night. There were also a lot of things that were just a lot of fun throughout the course of shooting. Shooting the live concert scene, shooting all of the music videos, and then also I loved, loved, loved the day in the freezer area where Benedict and Anna Lore were having that conversation about him being a real-life murderer. Anna is one of the funniest people I know and everyone behind the camera was really having a hard time not losing it with laughter during that whole scene.
MY VALENTINE deals with a lot of heavy themes mainly focused on abuse. What are you hoping that people take away from this film?
Maggie Levin: I guess if there is something to walk away from this with it’s that even the smartest and most empowered and powerful person can be taken in by a monster. It’s so easy to tumble into that. When it happens, it’s not your fault and the process of escaping that can be deeply painful. I would hope that there is a degree of catharsis that happens in this movie. I would love all of the women and persons in the world who are experiencing the cycle of abuse to know that they have the power within to step outside of it and to get free and to learn how to love themselves. The film itself is wrapped in this very candy-colored, electric, Instagram filter craziness. If you watch any film and have any kind of experience they are all valid – if you watch it and you hate it that’s okay too! I think MY VALENTINE is one of those movies you either get how deliberate the style is or you go, “What the fuck is this?” (laughs). Either way, I think both experiences are totally valid.