[Interview] Anna Zlokovic for APPENDAGE

In APPENDAGE, Hannah (Hadley Robinson), a young fashion designer, seems fine on the surface, but secretly struggles with debilitating self-doubt. Soon these buried feelings begin to make Hannah physically sick and sprout into a ferocious growth on her body: The Appendage.

As Hannah’s health declines, The Appendage begins to fuel her anxieties – her perceived lack of talent at work, her deteriorating relationships with her boyfriend and best friend, and her parents’ lack of love and understanding. At her breaking point, Hannah makes a shocking discovery—there are others out there like her.

Ahead of the start of Huluween, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Sarah Musnicky chatted with writer/director Anna Zlokovic. During their conversation, they discussed expanding APPENDAGE from a short to a feature, the design process of the appendage creature, and more!

The APPENDAGE is a secretly brutal film because we all have that inner voice that we all just want to smack in the face. In terms of fleshing out the story of this horrible inner voice from short to feature, what was that process like?

Anna Zlokovic: The short, because it’s only five and a half minutes, and that was the challenge and mandate of Hulu Bite-Sized Halloween, we were only able to delve into imposter syndrome and work stuff and kind of touch on other stuff. I knew that that could go deeper. As we all know, that voice can really dig in. So, with the feature, I was really excited to sort of start with work almost as a top layer, and then go into friendships and relationships, and then your relationships with your parents. [laughs] So, that’s what the guiding line was for me in terms of expanding it into the feature and being excited about where it was going.

And then, in terms of the actual appendage itself, the creature is constantly evolving. It goes from like, a practical effect puppet thing to an actual person later on. What was the creation process like from storyboard sketch to physical creation and crafting the specific look of the appendage?

Anna Zlokovic: It was a lot. It was a lot of work on a really short timeline, and we were really inspired by so many things. But The Fly was a really big reference where, you know, that’s a movie where there’s a lot of stages and a lot of things going on. Obviously, we didn’t have that budget necessarily, but because I had worked with our creature effects designer Amber [Marí Creations] for, I think it’s been 10 years now, we just have this really amazing shorthand, and she also did the short film version.

So, we could kind of take that as an example and be like, okay, what do we want to do differently? How do we want to do this differently? Okay, so send me a 3D model. We’re looking at Kuato from Total Recall. We’re looking at Belial from Basket Case. Okay, but we also kind of want it to be our own thing. And so, using sketches, using 3D models, having a texting and phone call relationship with Amber was really huge, and a big part of how we were able to design so many stages so quickly.

We also worked with Douggy Pledger, who’s an amazing digital artist, he created like 1000s of images from one of our second stages that we talked a lot about, and then combined, and he photoshopped it into one being and then Amber was an amazing sculptor to actually create that. I could talk about this for days, but it was a lot and really, really cool.

[Interview] Anna Zlokovic for APPENDAGE

I could talk about creatures forever. They’re my favorite part about horror. Did I hear correctly that you guys shot this in two days? Because I read somewhere that it was shot in two days.

Anna Zlokovic: The short film was shot in two days. The feature was shot in 20 days, technically 21. Because I think one of the days, we had a monsoon, so we couldn’t shoot that day. So, technically it was 21.

Because APPENDAGE was on such a tight schedule, and on a restricted budget, what logistical challenges did you have while filming?

Anna Zlokovic: We had a lot. We had locations. It was a very ambitious film to shoot with practical effects and stunts and stuff in that amount of time. I would say that just the crunch of it was probably the biggest challenge every day. It’s like, okay, we’re shooting like 12 pages today, or we’re shooting six pages, but four of them are stunts or practical effects.

The only way that that was possible was because of the team that I was working with, and all of my department heads I’ve been working with for, again since college, so like 10 years, and with that shorthand, you’re really able to do that where I could be like, for example, to my DP Powell [Robinson], I was like, I want a close up on a 40-millimeter lens. And he’s like, like that? And I’m like, like that. We got it.

We created this language instantly with each other because we knew each other so well. That was the only way that we could have gotten through it.

That’s good. Having that shorthand always makes things super easy.

Anna Zlokovic: Yes, it helps so much. [laughs]

The ending of the film has such a sort of lovely message that we all need to – sorry, spoilers – nurture that negative inner voice. Was the ending originally that positive? Did you workshop a couple of other endings in the process?

Anna Zlokovic: I knew the ending, before even I started writing the film because it was something that just in my own life, I had come to accept that, okay, this isn’t gonna go away. So it’s about learning how to love that side of myself, coexist with it, and maybe even use it in a positive way. It’s still really hard, but I just wanted that to be the message from the beginning. So the whole movie kind of was architected to land there because of that.

APPENDAGE will be available exclusively on Hulu on October 2, 2023. To learn more, check out our review here.

Sarah Musnicky
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