Indie Horror Month: Canadian Filmmaker Maude Michaud Talks Quirk Films
At age 16, when most of us are worrying about getting our driver's licenses, an aspiring filmmaker named Maude Michaud was getting busy establishing herself in the independent Canadian film world when she produced, wrote, directed and acted in her first short film, Finding Hope.
Since then, Michaud hasn't had time to look back as she's gone on to write, direct and produce over 15 short films and video projects under her Quirk Films production banner including several horror short films such as Red, T is for Toothpick, Snuff, The Portrait and Recessed.
Michaud also recently contributed to two horror anthology feature films called I Hate L.A. and Frankenstein Unlimited and is the mastermind behind the ongoing documentary web series Bloody Breasts: An Exploration of Women, Feminism, and Horror Films, which premiered online in April 2011.
In honor of Indie Horror Month, Dread Central recently caught up with the Montreal native to hear more about her experiences in independent filmmaking over the last ten years, Michaud's storytelling influences and her Bloody Breasts.
Dread Central: Talk a bit about how you got into filmmaking and started Quirk Films in 2001.
Maude Michaud: Very early in my life I developed a passion for storytelling and for cinema. As a kid I used to write stories and play them out for my friends and family while dressing up as the characters. As a result I started taking drama classes and acted in numerous plays for about 12 years throughout my teenage years. This foray into theatre eventually made me realize I could merge my two passions (cinema and storytelling) into one by making my own movies.
When I was 16, I heard about a film festival in Toronto showcasing the work of teen filmmakers so I figured it was my chance to test it out. I wrote and directed my first short, Finding Hope, which I shot with my dad’s Hi-8 camcorder. It ended up being chosen as part of the official selection so I attended the festival, which confirmed that this was what I wanted to do with my life.
The creation of Quirk Films resulted from this experience; I realized that if I was going to start making my own films, I needed to be taken seriously so I founded Quirk Films. At first it was just a title card I would add at the beginning of my shorts, but throughout the years it eventually ended up becoming my production company as I learned more about the business side of things and started getting paying contracts.
DC: Tell us more about some of your earlier shorts- did you face a lot of challenges being such a young filmmaker at the time?
Maude Michaud: Yes and no. I made my first short a few months before I began film school so I didn’t have to wait long before finding the answers to the questions that arose during my first shooting experience. Given that I started from scratch, with only a theatre background, I did go through a big learning curve, especially concerning the technical side of filmmaking, but I was fortunate to be surrounded by people who were supportive and understanding.
Apart from that I’d say the other main challenge I faced was that a lot of people didn’t take me seriously at first. This taught me to constantly try to surpass myself. I also had to learn very early on the importance of humility and how crucial it is to never take anything for granted.
DC: What kind of stories speak to you as a storyteller? Were there certain films (horror in particular) that have influenced your style along the way?
Maude Michaud: I’ve always been inspired by stories that explore madness and the human psyche. I also tend to be drawn to stories that push boundaries, either because of the chosen subject matter or the way it is addressed. A lot of films have inspired and influenced me (and continue to do so!) for different reasons. I’m constantly watching movies. I believe it’s one of the best ways to feed creativity and it helps push our own boundaries by exploring different ways of telling a story.
One on my favorite films, Lost Highway (David Lynch), had a huge influence on me, especially in terms of aesthetics. I often say I’m an 'aesthetic fetishist', which means that I’m a very visual person and the visual treatment of the story will be as important as the story itself. I constantly seek out and respond to specific looks, texture and elements. A good example would be Strange Circus (Sion Sono), which I found visually mind-blowing, and I’m also a huge fan of Mario Bava, too.
It’s really hard to only name a few, but some movies that represent my tastes would include Videodrome and Crash (David Cronenberg) for the way they skillfully blend horror and sexuality; The Shining (Stanley Kubrick) for its story and its representation of madness; Ginger Snaps for how cleverly written it is and its great characters; À L’intérieur, aka Inside (Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury), for its extreme gore; and Antichrist (Lars Von Trier) for being a downright painful movie. Blend all of those together, add a pinch of William Castle’s lighthearted fun and you should get something that resembles what goes on in my head.
DC: Since I know you've been working in Canada throughout your entire career, I was wondering if you could talk more about the independent horror filmmaking climate up there and any challenges/rewards you've experienced along the way.
Maude Michaud: I don’t feel there is a huge indie horror scene in Canada, mostly due to the way film production works up here. Most productions are governmentally funded through grants and investments, and this is the way the industry has been for years so private financing isn’t as prominent here as it is in the U.S. Most filmmakers will try applying for funding and, if they don’t get it, turn to DIY (or just give up and try with another project). As a result most indie filmmakers avoid horror because they want to increase their chances of getting government financing.
There is also a huge DIY scene, especially where I live, where there is a huge emphasis on trashy films and comedic gore. All this definitely makes it challenging to be a serious indie horror filmmaker- especially if you’re interested in producing non trashy/campy horror films. However, it is also rewarding because there are a few who 'tough it out' and keep making films, which encourages a sense of community among these filmmakers and a mutual respect.
DC: I know that you're heavily involved with Women in Horror Month; can you tell us more about where that involvement came from and how it's changed your career? Also, is your involvement in WiHM part of the inspiration behind your documentary project?
Maude Michaud: I actually began my documentary project about a year prior to the first WiHM so the creation of this yearly event had a huge impact on the work I was doing, helping to validate my topic and proving that my documentary was not just looking at a small isolated community. When I began my project – which initially was supposed to take a positive, feminist look at women working within the genre – I came across Ax Wound and contacted Hannah Neurotica to chat about this and have her input on the topic.
A few months later she contacted me asking what I thought about her idea of creating a Women in Horror Month. I immediately showed my support as it felt natural for me to do so as: one- a woman horror filmmaker and two- a scholar preparing her thesis on that very topic. The first thing I knew, programmers started contacting me about my short films. I had interview requests, bloggers were reviewing my films... it was a wonderful experience, and I must admit it REALLY helped put my name out there. It was also a sort of crash-course on how to properly promote my work and establish festival strategies. I owe a lot to that first edition of the WiHM so I like to stay involved as much as possible so I can give back a little something and hopefully help more women benefit from it.
DC: Can you talk more about Bloody Breasts and what fans can expect from your work on the doc? How is production going on that? Has anything that's come up during the interview process surprised you or changed your doc?
Maude Michaud: Production is currently on hiatus because I spent the last few months writing the accompanying document that was required as part of my thesis so I didn’t have much time for shooting and editing. However, now that this is done and out of the way, I plan on resuming the editing of the last two episodes out of my first batch of shooting.
I do want to continue the project and expand upon what I already have by shooting new material, but I’m still studying the options. There are so many different tangents I could take! I’m hoping that by the summer I’ll have a clearer idea of what shape the project will take.
As for the second part of your question, I can’t say I had any major surprises, but the creation of the first WiHM month definitely changed the scope of the project. I had to make wise editing choices so that the episodes, which were shot prior to February 2010, wouldn’t feel too dated because they didn’t include coverage or mention of the WiHM. It also inspired me to pick the web series format as opposed to a more straightforward documentary so that I could keep expanding and adding more participants- which is exactly where I’m at right now!
DC: How rewarding does it feel to still be going strong after 10 years of filmmaking?
Maude Michaud: I tend to forget I’ve been doing it for that long! It does feel rewarding, but it also serves as a reminder that filmmaking is a constant effort. You can’t just make a movie and sit there, waiting for the next project to happen. You constantly have to be thinking about your next move and planning for it. For some people everything seems to happen overnight; for others it takes longer. Even if my early shorts played different festivals, my career only started to really take off in 2008-2009 so perseverance is really important; if you’re really driven (I am) and keep working toward your goal, something is bound to happen. This is the motto I keep repeating daily- even after 10 years.
DC: What's up next for you then?
Maude Michaud: A lot of really exciting projects actually! I’m currently polishing the script for my first feature film, which I will be directing later this year, so I am extremely excited about that. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, but I never dared take the plunge before and I’m really looking forward to the experience. I’m going to get a crowd-funding campaign started later in the spring, and you can check out my blog regularly for more information on that.
I also recently launched the Quirk Films website, where people can watch most of my shorts, and I’m also actively working on a horror-themed conceptual photography project that I want to submit for gallery exhibition that hopefully I'll be able to take on the road as a touring exhibit.
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