Interview: Director Jill Gevargizian on Kickstarter for THE STYLIST feature film and How Leatherface Has Inspired Her
I first saw The Stylist short film a couple of years ago and thought it would make a great feature film. Written and directed by the enormously talented Jill “Sixx” Gevargizian, The Stylist is a more glamorous take on Maniac or even The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The film tells the story of a lonely hairstylist named Claire, played by Najarra Townsend (Contracted), in a chilling performance. Claire escapes her world through her clients, in a disturbing way, and takes on new and more exciting realities. The Stylist has played at over one hundred film festivals and won twenty awards. The short film is now available on Vimeo, watch it for free at the link below.
Over the past few years, fans of the short, myself included, have been asking Gevargizian when she was going to realize her dream of making The Stylist into a feature film. Now that dream is getting closer to being a reality with the launch of a Kickstarter page for The Stylist feature film. The campaign launched on August 22nd and will run until September 26th and will include exclusive rewards based on the amount pledged. You can be a part of The Stylist feature film by pledging to the Kickstarter campaign here.
Dread Central was delighted to have the opportunity to speak with Jill Gevargizian about the short film The Stylist, her inspiration for Claire, the struggles of making a feature film, and more! Read on to find out what we talked about during the interview.
Dread Central: I came across The Stylist when it was on Shudder and loved it. I think it will make a great feature film. I know you’re a hairstylist, but what specifically inspired you to write this story?
Jill Gevargizian: Obviously, we didn’t go this route, but one day it dawned on me and I wondered, “Why isn’t there a silly slasher with a hairstylist killer?” We have movies like The Dentist and Dr. Giggles, movies about someone in a specific profession who is the killer. It just seems like such an obvious one, because we have all these weapons and things to torture people within a salon (laughs), so I feel like someone still needs to make that type of hairstylist slasher (laughs), one that’s over the top and full-blown slasher, because that’s not exactly what I’m trying to do.
I had read Robert Rodriguez’s book, Rebel Without a Crew: Or How a 23-year-old Filmmaker With $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player, and it’s like the advice a lot of people give about how when you’re starting with no money and not a lot of resources, you write backwards. You write for the things you have at your disposal that will make your movie better, like if you have access to a super awesome location or a car, anything, and then you write for those things. Everything about The Stylist just seemed like it was something I should do; I work in a salon; I can actually make it right, meaning that a hairstylist could see the movie and know that I knew what I was doing. It was just a mixture of so many things and I’m really attracted to stories about disturbing, but still, emotional stories, conflicting things and confronting characters that make you think. There aren’t a lot of horror movies that tell the story from the villain’s perspective instead of the victim’s perspective. It’s traditionally the victim’s story. This was just all those things I felt like I could do.
From the start, I wanted it to be a feature, but it was also only going to be my second short film at the time, so I knew there was no way I was jumping right into a feature film at that moment (laughs). I learned a lot from making the short, so it was a long process to make this tiny movie honestly.
Dread Central: You’ve told me in the past that the main character in The Stylist, Claire, is sort of like your female Leatherface. Can you tell me more about that?
Jill Gevargizian: My first vision of her was that I saw this room where there were all these scalps on heads like trophies because that’s a thing that some real-life serial killers do, too. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has been one of my favorite horror movies my whole life and I see Leatherface as a sympathetic villain. I know people who don’t know the movie that well don’t see him that way (laughs) and they changed him in the remake. The remake gave him more of a feeling of a monster, like evil spirited. In the original, he’s just doing what he’s told to do by other people. He doesn’t even have his own will, really. He doesn’t have evil intentions, I don’t feel, in the first film. I feel like he’s just been raised to go get food for his family and that’s all that he’s doing in his eyes, (laughs) as fucked up as that sounds, in a very fucked up way of course (laughs). He cowers when they yell at him and tell him what to do and he’s always in disguise, wearing a face. In fact, I never realized this until recently, but with every mask he wears, he’s acting different, he’s more like the person whose face he stole, which is what I try to do with Claire.
There’s a scene that isn’t in the movie that I only recently saw in a ‘Behind the Scenes’, of Leatherface looking in a mirror, putting makeup on one of the masks. It’s this awesome moment that I wish was in the movie. You don’t get to know him really well, but I’ve been attracted to that movie way more than any of the big-time slasher movies, because it has complexity and emotion. It’s not just this fun slasher movie about teenagers getting killed. It’s much more than that. Claire and Leatherface are just what I took from it and he’s also like Norman Bates, and all the characters based on Ed Gein, but in this sense of someone who has this need to be someone else and can’t even confront what they’re doing as themselves.
Dread Central: Najarra Townsend stars in the lead role as Claire in The Stylist, and she also appeared in your short film 42 Counts. She’s terrifying in the short film version of The Stylist and I can’t wait to see more of Claire’s story in the feature film. How did you end up casting her in the role of Claire?
Jill Gevargizian: She’s freaking amazing. I honestly can’t imagine how The Stylist would work without her. I met her through the director of Contracted. I went to a film festival with John Pata, who actually edited The Stylist. His feature film, Dead Weight, was playing in Palm Springs where Contracted was also showing and Najarra was there. I met her there, but I was just like, a dorky fan and I got a picture with her (laughs). I kept in touch with her through social media and a year later we were working on the beginning of The Stylist and I kept thinking about her because she’s just so talented. In Contracted, you get to see her go through every kind of emotion and she carries that movie. I watched a lot of her other work and I was super nervous.
As a self-defense mechanism, I always assume people aren’t going to be interested in doing things when I ask them (laughs). She was really enthusiastic right away and we didn’t know each other super well and just talked to each other through video chat. Then she was on board and we did a little Kickstarter for the short as well. All we did was a tiny read through on Skype, which is super awkward (laughs). I already knew that she could nail it and wasn’t really concerned with seeing some perfect audition. I’m not really a fan of auditions in general. She brought Claire to life in a way I couldn’t even imagine. That ending scene, and how emotional it is, I had never dealt with anything like that. A lot of that was me asking her what she needed to do that, and it seemed so effortless, and when we shot it, it was almost scary how well she could do that (laughs). I feel just crazy lucky that we got her.
Dread Central: The Kickstarter campaign for The Stylist feature film started on August 22nd and ends on September 26th. This will be your debut feature film and I know you’ve wanted to do this for a long time. How does it feel to finally be doing this?
Jill Gevargizian: It feels incredibly exciting, but also so very scary! I think that’s a good thing. If you’re not doing things that are scary, you’re not pushing yourself or doing new things. Doing a Kickstarter is like a constant stomachache until you can make your goal, if you make it (laughs), but you just have to move forward like it’s all going to be great. We’ve been trying to make the film for a couple of years, at a much bigger budget, honestly, it’s written for a much bigger budget, but I just got to a place personally where I said, “I have to make this movie now.” It’s just the right time for me personally and the state that I’m in emotionally, (laughs) as cheesy as that sounds. I just know that it’s the right time for me to make it, so I talked to the people that I know are vital, the people that if they’re not going to help me I can’t do it type of people, which is Najarra and she was like, “Hell yes, we have to do this right now.” Then I talked to Robert Stern, who is the cinematographer on this and one of the producers on the short, and Sarah Sharp, who was the production designer and the producer, they’re a team.
Dread Central: So, you have pretty much the same team from the short who would be working on the feature film?
Jill Gevargizian: Yeah, I wanted everyone to be on it, if possible, and they all deserve it. They’ve all been part of the plan this whole time. I just didn’t know if they would want to do it as basically a micro-budget version instead of what we were hoping for initially. But when I talked to everyone, they were just as enthusiastic, and it seems like they want to do it as much as I do. It’s the most amazing feeling for me because I’ve been wanting to make it for like five years and I will do anything to make it. I don’t care if I ever make money from it, it means that much to me. This was only maybe four weeks ago that I told them that I wanted to do this, and they were just so on board with it They live in Chicago, which is why I haven’t made every single short film with them. It’s just not feasible. I found a crew locally that I love, too, so that was the only thing I felt weird about. I was like, “I have to bring them back, because they made the short with me, but now I have this local crew, too, that I love.” But they came down already, a couple of weeks ago, and we had our first round of meetings. Well, actually both of my crews are going to work together on this, so that’s going to be super cool. So, once I had a conversation with them, it was already moving on, like making it essentially, so it just feels so exciting. Before this it was just me trying to map out this plan of how impossible would this be to make this on a small budget. So, it just seems like, okay, we’re actually going to do this. Wow. Everyone’s on board. That’s crazy!
I’ve had this feature and another feature in development for over two years, trying to find the financing through investors and all, the fancy way (laughs). When you do that, there’s a decent chance for everyone, not just me, that that will never actually pan out. It’s kind of like the luck of the draw that your project ends up in the hand of the right person at the right moment. So, I was just like, “I can’t wait forever to make my first film.” And you can make a thousand short films and it’s still a major difference when you’ve got to prove yourself that you’re going to make a feature film. I feel like it’s just time and I can’t wait any longer (laughs). I’ve felt that way for a couple of years, so I’m just like, “We’re doing it (laughs).” The Stylist isn’t necessarily written for a tiny budget. Like often you’ll totally plan your whole thing around the fact of how much money you have or whatever. You’ll see tons of horror films where they’re all set in one location with maybe five characters max. Those are the kinds of films you make for under a hundred grand or fifty grand, but this is huge. There are twenty locations, a shitload of characters (laughs), a couple of scenes with tons and tons of extras needed. It’s just a big project, but we’re going to do it. We have a plan.
Dread Central: I know I’ve asked you several times over the past couple of years when you were going to make this feature film, so I’m really happy and excited for you. Congratulations!
Jill Gevargizian: Thank you.