This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the conversations being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Blaine Morris is a multitalented, multihyphenate. She is a bisexual Latina actor, director, film editor, and producer with two short films at this year’s Outfest. The first is The Ciguapa, a film she produced, wrote, and directed. In The Ciguapa, we follow a Queer Latine couple that goes to a cabin for their anniversary, but a mysterious woman in the woods threatens to break them apart.
The second short she has is Hex The Patriarchy, a short film that she edited. In Hex The Patriarchy, the story follows demisexual and asexual best friends, Bex and Wren, who strike back with a bit of magic that has unintended consequences after being tired of being bullied.
Nightmarish Conjurings’ Dolores Quintana spoke to Blaine, where they discussed how she got into filmmaking while working as an actor, why she wanted to become a director, what it is like to have films premiere at Outfest, and the folklore inspiration behind The Ciguapa.
I understand you have been working as an actor, but you’re also getting into filmmaking. What led to you becoming more involved with making films yourself?
Blaine Morris: I got my first TV show when I was 18, MTV’s Skins, and that was really incredible. But then I was acting in New York for probably five years, and most of the roles I auditioned for were ghetto Latino women. I went to private school growing up, and it just all felt a bit racist. It was something that didn’t really speak to me.
I decided to go back to school. I went to Columbia University for undergrad and started directing, writing, and taking screenwriting classes. And I thought, “Oh, I get to be in control of my own voice. I have things to say. I also don’t have to wait for my agent to call me anymore. I can take create things on my own.” That was really exciting for me. From there, I decided that Columbia was very theoretical, and I watched hundreds of films, and there wasn’t a lot of practical use. So I decided to go to grad school at USC and learn how lighting works, sound design works, editing, and all of that.
Okay, and that’s a good point to bring up with education, particularly in the film arts, that in cinema, is that a lot of times to get the hands-on stuff you have to go to grad school. I don’t know if people know that. I think, generally, they think if they go to film school, they’re going to get that kind of education, and they don’t.
Blaine Morris: No, I did a lot of research about which schools were all-inclusive of everything because I wanted to be a director who knew everything and could be respectful to every department.
Great. Tell me about your projects at Outfest.
Blaine Morris: I wrote, directed, and produced The Ciguapa. That’s in the Scary Monsters and Super Creeps block. Me and one of my best friends, Alexander Flores, he’s also one of the lead actors, and he produced it with me as well. We were upset during the pandemic. We were like, where are the Latinos in horror? We don’t see them and, or we’re just getting murdered really quickly. So let’s make our own horror film with only Latinos in it, and we’re both Queer. So let’s make a Queer Latino horror film!
Let’s bring it into being.
Blaine Morris: Yeah. Then I was looking around, and I thought, well, I don’t want to use the normal monsters. What’s our kind of killer thing? Also, the cabin in the woods story felt very easy to produce. It has an internal structure that we all know. But this is kind of a fresh reinvention of it. Then I was doing research into Latino folklore, and I came across the ciguapa, and I found her very interesting. She’s this forest siren with long black hair and backward feet who lures bad men to their death.
Awesome. I’m learning something because I did not know about the ciguapa.
Blaine Morris: Oh, cool. Yeah, it’s a Dominican folk horror monster from the 1800s.
What was it like, making the film? How long did you shoot? What was the set like? How did you get to where you needed to go?
Blaine Morris: I was lucky because they had a lot of USC friends’ support. I also got a wonderful grant from the Chicana Directors Initiative, where you partner with another DP in the initiative. They give you a two-ton grip truck, which was lovely. I wanted to work with a Latina DP, and we got Veronica Bouza, who’s super kick-ass. Her short just got nominated for a BAFTA. She was at Sundance for a short. Yeah, she’s badass. Then the shoot was two and a half days up in the Sequoia National Forest. We were all staying at the cabin on set and rented another cabin. It was a bit guerilla shoot, fast but super fun, and everyone was very committed. I like to cultivate a set that’s very Queer, BIPOC, and female-forward. So it was just overall. It was a very comfortable environment, I believe.
Yeah, I think it’s really important. Of course, there are a lot of people who don’t want representation in film for obvious reasons. But it’s important to give people examples that they can recognize themselves in, not just Latino, but also LGBTQ. You have to know that genuinely, it’s also reinforcing that you’re not alone. You’re not weird. You’re just who you are. Here are these other cool people who are like you making films. So you know, it’s really encouraging and empowering, I find.
Blaine Morris: I wanted to make a film, me and my friend, Alex, we were kind of sick of a lot of the queer stories are either full of trauma, or it’s another coming out story that’s usually very white. Let’s do Latino people who are a year into the relationship, and what are their problems? How is that relationship breaking down? Just let them be people who happened to be queer, and it’s a bisexual man and a gay man. It’s a bit about bisexual prejudices within the queer community. A very specific problem, but I thought these are nuances of the queer community we don’t really see often.
It is important that you focus on bisexuality. Actually, I’m bisexual too. How was it working with the actors that you brought in? Can you tell me a little bit about them and what it was like working with them?
Blaine Morris: Alexander Flores plays Manny, and he’s my producer, and we put the story together. We’ve known each other for a decade now from an acting class in New York. So it was very easy because we grew up in the same language. We know how each other works. I can say two words, and Alex knows what’s happening. We brought on Jorgie Goico to play Leo. Someone dropped out last minute, and I brought him on early, and he was just the character. There was not much to do. He was who he was. It’s a very femme gay man. But sometimes those can get into, I feel like characterizations, are a stereotype. He got so much depth and soul to it while also being his fun, fabulous colorful self. So great. Then we had Claudia Servan, who played the ciguapa. She’s an actress but also a belly dancer.
I wanted someone who could contort themselves. In her audition, she did like a full backbend and was crazy moving her shoulders and fingers in fun ways. She was just so game she immediately went and dyed her hair black. She got long extensions on her nails. My makeup artist, Angie Shell, did this crazy airbrushing all over her back, so she was like iridescent in the light, so we could play with that because she’s semi-nude in the film. Claudia said, what if I did this? What if I did this? I was like, sure, I don’t even know what words I would use to tell you to move your arm in this strange way. So that was so fun to play with her.
That sounds cool. Do you have much in the way of makeup effects and creature effects in the film?
Blaine Morris: Just very simple things, dirt covering, and then it was all really practical with this crazy airbrush shading that Angie did. We put a mouthpiece in, and Claudia’s hair was already all the way down to her waist. So I didn’t have to do anything with that, and it was historically accurate to the creature.
I’m excited about the film, hearing you talk about it. You’re so excited, and what you say about it. What about your other project at the festival where you are the editor?
Blaine Morris: I was the first AD and editor on Hex The Patriarchy, directed by Anne Brashier. It’s Heather Muriel Nguyen and Xan Churchwell’s baby. They’re all USC friends of mine. I was just supposed to be the first AD, and then I read the script. And I was like, oh really let me edit this. I want to. It’s a queer witchy short, and I love witchy things. And it’s also a comedy, so I was like, okay! So it was fun, weird things that I hadn’t seen before. It’s a seven-minute film, so like fast and easy turnover. It’s an all-female and queer team, basically, as well. I just always feel more comfortable and creative in those spaces. So that was an Outfest Fusion Gala short, and now it’s playing main Outfest.
So are you excited?
Blaine Morris: Yeah, I’m very excited. I’m going to be planning my outfits after this call. But there’s now a director’s brunch and press day. I’m thinking, Oh, I have to go through my closet. Because it’s also like queer people, they show up. It’s also like an opportunity to play and have fun. I’m wearing feathers tonight to the opening gala. Why not?
It’s the perfect place. So what are you looking to do in the future?
Blaine Morris: In the future, I would love to make a feature version of The Ciguapa. I’ve already started getting materials together for that and using this as a proof of concept. This is a simple five-person, one-location horror film that I feel is easy to make with a diverse cast, culturally relevant monster. I’m like, come on, help me out. Then I have a feature that I produced and co-wrote. I’m the lead actress in Anne, With Love, a psychological thriller with Mena Suvari and Adriana Barraza in it, and that will hopefully be coming out in the fall.
The Ciguapa and Hex The Patriarchy played as a part of this year’s Outfest.