For the love of gore, interview with director Cassandra Sechler
It was fun to talk with DIY horror film director Cassandra Sechler for this interview. I learned that she creates professional-quality films on a shoestring budget and she told me about her approach to depicting the macabre. She makes the most disturbing horror movies and I’m struck by how she doesn’t compromise her vision for anyone.
In this interview, she generously offers advice on how to be a good film director if you’re just starting out.
I think you’ll enjoy this!
How do you express your creativity? How did you become interested in your creative practice?
I have various outlets for my creativity. I love being involved with film/camera work, photography, spfx makeup, lighting, wardrobe, painting, design, sculpture, writing, acting, drawing, poetry, just to name a few, with my main interest in writing, directing, and photography.
When I first saw King Kong as a child, I became interested in filmmaking and acting. Fay Wray screaming fascinated me at the age of 3, and I asked my mom, “Can I be her when I grow up?” My mom, said, “Yes, she’s an actress. You can be an actress. You can be whatever you want.” Of course, I found that I prefer being behind the camera, but from an early age, I found I was obsessed with the cinema and wanted to be creatively involved with it. I mean, come on, screaming in front of the camera as a job? Hell yeah. My dad also taught me how to draw and paint when I was very young, which I am grateful for as drawing is my favorite method of brainstorming for projects.
How do you decide if an idea is viable? Do you act on all your creative ideas?
Even if I had all the money in the world I wouldn’t act on every idea I had. Some of my ideas are ridiculous! Often my ideas that are rooted in genuine interest and passion come from my dreams and nightmares. I know that they are worth doing 1) because I feel it in my heart, gut, and loin, and 2) because I can make them happen no matter the team or budget. Budget is always a concern but never something that holds me back. I make things happen because a voice and feeling inside my body tells me that a thought/story/feeling I have is worth trying to tell the world.
What are you working on currently? And could you talk about Lovesick?
We are currently in pre-production for Tearful Surrender, and as it is part of our Mythos and Eros horror trilogy, we have two more feature films lined up to shoot down the line: Chained, and The Homecoming (two more tales of terror involving dark themes, ghosts, witches, demons, and a monster in the closet!). We also have a web series called Acrotalk, a special VR project called Windows, and a new sci-fi feature film in development!
Lovesick is my newest conceptual art video piece. It acts as a psychosexual dreamscape delving into a dying alien’s fantasy about what it’s like to have sexual intercourse as a human being. The film is an abstract analysis of idealization, objectification, and the Other; a dark fetishized look into how we view and explore the complex darkness of love and human sexuality.
How have you made it financially possible to focus on your creative work?
The expression “don’t quit your day job” rings true here. I work two jobs to pay rent, bills and support my art. I am the lead director at Dreams For Dead Cats Productions, a DIY art/film collaborative here in San Francisco, co-run by filmmaker/musician Craig Jacobson. Together we work as freelance photographers/videographers/editors/actors/you name it, with the goal being to help bring zero/low budget projects with a soul to life and to promote underground artists. I also support the art community in San Francisco with my day job as a graphic designer/Administrative Assistant/social media coordinator for a nonprofit called the Friends of Sharon Art Studio.
Most all of what I do creatively is self-funded because I want final say in my work with no outside producers. I’ve had a couple projects partially financed with crowd-funding and donations, which has been a great experience, and still allowing me to have final say in the project.
What are some of your influences?
My biggest influences are my dreams/nightmares and feelings about life, social issues, and various existential crises I want to confront. I’m also influenced by my favorite artists, such as David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, Cindy Sherman, Charlie White, Francis Bacon, Kenneth Anger, and many others. My influences are constantly evolving, often stemming from my subconscious.
How do you record or remember and respond to your dreams? Do you keep a dream journal?
I’ve kept dream journals since I was a teenager. Remembering my dreams and being inspired by them has been important to me for many years. When I was a child I would awake from hideous nightmares screaming and crying. My dad taught me to love my dreams AND my nightmares. He reminded me of how much I love horror movies and that nightmares were FREE horror movies. He told me to always write down my most vivid dreams and to remember my nightmares and make them into art.
So, yes, I keep a dream journal/sketchbook and write/draw about anything that stood out in a dream of mine. I have many recurring dreams, issues and fears I must confront in both my dreams and my art. It’s a beautiful and inspiring ordeal to deconstruct such dreams.
There are macabre, dark themes running through much of your work, can you describe how they enable you to express your vision?
When I see people smiling, laughing, riding bikes through the park or having a picnic with their families and being “happy” I feel that it’s such a lie. Just call me Holden Caulfield. For me, it is much more honest to portray unhappiness, dark thoughts, and macabre imagery. I want to talk about death, sickness, sadness, sexuality, etc. It’s healthy. People who smile all the time without a care in the world frighten me. Macabre is beautiful. Macabre is honest.
For the uninitiated, could you talk about the intersection between sexuality and horror? Tell us about the erotic horror anthology you have in the works.
Sex and death have always been of interest to me. They are so close to being the same thing, and are so beautiful, sad, and fascinating to me. Sexuality and horror tie together so well because both are intense, sometimes violent, dangerous, dark aspects of humanity and psychology. What makes them so entertaining is that they are so revealing of all of our fears and thoughts about mortality and the self, both worth examining and fantasizing about.
Tearful Surrender is an erotic horror trilogy that explores the fantastical facets of love, death, eroticism, and the unknown. Filled with lust, the hunger for blood, the mysteries of immortality, demons, zombies, necrophilia, and copious amounts of blood, each story uses nature, sexuality, and violence to represent the sadness of what it is to be immortal. With this film, I want to examine the terrors and desires of the unknown, the unforgiving qualities of love, the struggle to understand these desires, and the acceptance of fate of inevitable death alongside the pains of longing. Each story examines the heartache and frustration of what it is to be an immortal monster in this lonely world.
What challenges have you faced in your creative work?
Besides funding challenges, which are always an issue for DIY/micro-budget films and projects, I would have to say that the biggest struggle has been finding like-minded artists to work with who are as passionate about art but can leave their ego at the door (AKA trustworthy, honest, hardworking individuals…sounds easy but it’s not). It’s been a challenge to stand your own ground with making projects that are tough to swallow while so many others are making pictures for the sake of distribution or recognition. It can be daunting to know what you’re doing may only appeal to a limited amount of people, but you also have to recognize you’re still communicating with people on a subconscious level no matter what size the audience, and hopefully connecting with people in a way that stimulates meaningful conversation.
Have you ever reached an impasse where you thought the project had become impossible? What changed your mind?
Roadblocks. Issues. Nightmares. Anxiety. Of course! With low budgets, sometimes a little voice inside pokes you and asks you if you really want to continue and if something is “worth it.” It’s a bigger voice, filled with integrity, pride, and passion, that speaks up and yells, “I want to do this, and nothing will stop me!” When I have a vision, setbacks, funding issues or not, I keep going, because the light inside of me can’t be pushed out by fear or any other anxiety in the air.
Are you more motivated by an intrinsic interest in a project or extrinsic accolades and rewards, or both? What do you do if you don’t get the response you want after completing a project? Do you care more about your audience “getting it” or about keeping true to your vision?
I never get involved in or write a project in the interest of the genre or a specific audience, nor do I care about money when it comes to the future of a film. Instead, I make something because I want to, and because something inside me compels me to do so. I don’t make films for attention, I make films to tell a story that burns inside me with visuals. If the audience doesn’t “get it” they can go back to playing games on their phones, and forget about it. What’s important to me is that my team and I collaborate on an idea and bring a concept to the screen that we’re happy with.
Do you think artists should starve?
I think an artist should pay one’s dues but not starve inherently. I know I definitely literally often “starve” whether it be sacrificing meals or whatnot to make things happen when filming a project out of pocket. That’s life. I personally like sweating and bleeding to be able to make my art. It makes life worth living and a concept worth sharing. But…inherently? Maybe not. Everyone should be able to see the fruits of their labor and starve a little less in life, especially if their work is good!
What three pieces of advice would you give people who want to make films but feel overwhelmed by how to begin?
My first piece of advice is to not let fear or the amount of work it takes to make a movie get in your way. Being overwhelmed and stressed is part of the fun! Big ideas always like to disguise themselves as unachievable goals. Don’t be fooled by this. Always dream big then make adjustments based on realistic budgets for your project/ideas. Then get ready to do the work!
Not sure where to begin? Don’t worry about an exact starting point; just start anywhere! Have an idea for a script but aren’t sure how to format a script? Get a book (or even look up free resources online) on screenwriting & script formatting and teach yourself! This goes for makeup techniques and the like—if you want to get involved in a particular aspect of filmmaking, start there, and teach yourself as you go.
Learn from others if you want to get your feet wet. See if there are internships in your area in film/media that interest you. Check the classifieds for anyone looking for help. Read autobiographies and interviews with your favorite filmmakers about how they got started. Inspire yourself to see where you want to grow & what skills you want to build.
Just jump in the pool! Don’t even test the water…just make sure the pool isn’t empty.
Thank you for the great tips on how to be a good film director/how to start working in the industry. How can people stay up-to-date with your creative work?
I always post news about screenings, art shows, and what I am working on via my personal site as well as my production site, Dreams For Dead Cats Productions where people can sign up for our newsletter and find links to related social media accounts.
Craig Jacobson (my film partner) and I also registered Dreams For Dead Cats Productions as an LLC last year, in hopes of helping increase funding for future projects and endeavors. So we’ve been focusing on getting the word out about us as a company. In fact, we have a short films collection being released this November that people will be able to get their hands on at our website.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, what are your Halloween plans?
I celebrate Halloween ALL year! However my specific Halloween plans are to carve a Jack-O-Lantern, dress up in costume (this year I shall be a mix of Sylvester Stallone’s and Brigitte Nielson’s characters in Cobra), eat junk food, make goodies to share with my neighbors (it is my Christmas after all), enjoy a few cocktails, tell ghost stories/read scary stories, and watch horror movies by the light of my Jack-o-Lantern until I pass out. It might sound simple, but there’s nothing I love more than curling up with my boyfriend and watching a movie, especially on Halloween…and ending the night with John Carpenter’s Halloween of course!
Cassandra Sechler is a DIY filmmaker, makeup artist, curator & visual artist based in San Francisco, California who mainly works in the experimental/erotic/fantasy/ horror genres.
With a background in conceptual art and psychology, Sechler provides her viewer with expressionistic, cinematic works that are both personal and poetic, confronting them with an alternate reality filled with beauty and despair.
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