In Courtney Paige’s directorial debut, THE SINNERS, seven schoolgirls, part of a clique dubbed The Sins, become the lethal target of an unknown killer after a harmless prank goes horribly wrong. Tackling themes such as religious oppression and sexual identity through the use of a striking visual palette, THE SINNERS is a murder mystery that’ll keep you on your toes until the very end.
For the release of the film, Nightmarish Conjurings had the opportunity to speak with co-writer/director Courtney Paige where they discussed everything from tackling the challenges of a first feature film to pulling inspiration from the late ’90s teen-horror/thriller classics.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today about your film THE SINNERS. What was the inspiration behind the story and tackling so many different themes?
Courtney Paige: You know, it was hard to pick just one. I grew up as a cheerleader and my mom grew up in a strict religious household and I think I wanted to shine a light on how it feels to be in a religious-combined situation, and what that may bring if you push the boundaries. LGBT and religion, shining light on those elements I think were the two major themes of the film. And I think if you watch, it’s very much pro-anti-sinning so it’s got a good message and a good moral – it’s not just one of those “let’s kill everybody and there’s no moral here” movies. It does have a great message and I think audiences will appreciate that and pull that from the feature.
I absolutely adored the visuals in this film. Can you elaborate on bringing those visuals to life and where you pulled inspiration from?
Courtney Paige: My sister Madison Moore, she created the masks from scratch and she’s very talented. I was really lucky to have her and our production designer, Kevin Mosley, who actually wrote the horror film Suspension, which I acted in years before. It was nice to pull in everybody who’s close to me and create something beautiful. Though I couldn’t have done it without Stirling Bancroft, he’s such a force and an incredibly patient guy and so, so talented. He just has the best eye and the nicest way of doing coverage in a unique way and also an efficient way, which I think was important cause we had 36 cast members in 11 locations, which is a lot for your first feature. We definitely had an incredibly supportive and hardworking team, a lot of thought went into it. And watching a lot of these inspo movies like Jawbreaker, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream, Cruel Intentions, and some of those favorite nineties cult classics. So definitely bringing in [a] clique-esque Mean Girls vibe to this was really fun.
Since you brought up acting, this is probably a great time to talk about that! How was it going from acting to directing?
Courtney Paige: Oh, it was an incredible experience. I think it was nice to be able to understand where an actress is coming from and what they need. I learned a lot about, you know, each actor is so different and all of them have a different process. It was fun to understand that what may work for one actor won’t work for the other one. I think I’ve gained more empathy and compassion on this film than ever before. Just working with these actors who were so incredibly gifted was such a joy.
The chemistry that all these female characters have feels really genuine. Did you all grow closer as a team throughout this experience?
Courtney Paige: Oh yeah definitely. The girls and I still talk all the time and we celebrated all our little wins when we got a sales agent, when we got distribution, we’re very much each other’s biggest champions and cheerleaders and we stayed close. We have a group chat, actually, we have a few group chats – we’ve got a group email, we’ve got a group DM, we’ve got a group WhatsApp, and they call it “Mama C and the Sins,” it’s so cute. They’re very, very supportive of each other and always celebrate each other’s wins and other roles and I think that this is a bond that’ll carry through with us for the rest of our careers. There’s nothing like making your first feature and I think we cast the perfect group.
What type of challenges did you face with THE SINNERS being your first feature?
Courtney Paige: I grew up as a cheerleading captain and a coach. I have this kind of controlling nature about me where I expect perfectionism but I’m understanding that not everything is always going to be perfect and go according to plan, it’s kind of rolling with the punches and wearing multiple hats on an indie. I think all filmmakers have to do that. I drove our three and five-ton gear trucks to and from set with my dad, so I learned how to drive a massive truck. I would pick up crafty, ice, bring it to set, help set it up. We would all be running around like chickens with our heads cut off just doing so many things. Same with our producing team, like everybody, was wearing multiple hats and that’s one of the joys of making a movie, it’s like, okay, we’re making this movie, it’s like a gun to our head. You have 18 days to pump this out and you have that many locations with that much cast and all these important story points you need to hit. It’s a lot of pressure. On our next feature, it would be so nice to have a really solid team and proper things in place so that we’re not sleeping two hours a night (laugh). It’s nice to make a movie but it’s also nice to keep your sanity while you’re doing it.
What do you hope people take away from THE SINNERS?
Courtney Paige: I hope they take away the understanding that good girls can do bad things and it’s nice to have empathy and compassion. At the end of the day, I always remember that love is the most important thing.
THE SINNERS is available On Demand, and for more on the film check out our review here.
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