Sophia Cacciola Opens On Her Love of Horror, Film, and Career
Sophia Cacciola Exclusive Interview
Actress, Director, Producer, Writer
DecayMag: You have such a diverse portfolio, but you have definitely worked a lot in the horror genre. What draws you to be so involved with independent horror?
Sophia Cacciola: I love horror because you can be very bold about inserting themes and sociopolitical commentary and still make an entertaining movie. The possibilities are unlimited. You can create a whole world and mythology. Horror fans are incredibly engaged and loyal, so it’s really possible to build an incredible community of like-minded people to work with and to champion the films.
I also find that the tone, shots, music, and acting can all be more artificial, garish, and exciting with genre film. I don’t really find anything about real-world relationships terribly interesting to watch on film for 2 hours, so straight dramas don’t really appeal to me as a viewer or creator.
I like movies that have something to say. Because sci-fi and horror can mirror the “real world,” but are not bound by any of its rules, you have so much room to play.
DecayMag: You directed, wrote, produced, and edited (among other things) the successful independent horror vampire feature, Blood of the Tribades. Was there a reason other than budget to perform so many roles, and are there certain roles in a film you like more than others? With so much cross-departmental knowledge, are there any areas of filmmaking you haven’t yet explored but would like to?
Sophia Cacciola: A lot of it is primarily budgetary concerns, as we want every dollar to appear on screen. I’m also a bit of a control freak when it comes to the realization of the vision of the project. I think as I grow (and hopefully the budgets grow), I’m excited to work with more of a team of creative people. I’d say my continuing focus is primarily as a director and cinematographer (a lot of my favorite classic directors were both).
I do also love doing costumes and art department work – if it is in the shot, then it is of utmost importance to me. I spend a lot of time thinking about set dec and wardrobe and running around to vintage stores and to the deep depths of the internet to find clothing and props to get all of the look of my films to be as perfect as the budget allows.
You just commit to the limited resources you have and make the best film you can.
We also had a very large cast, so just costuming alone was a big financial and logistical challenge. We had an extremely small crew. For many of the days my partner, Michael and I and our incredible make-up artist, Pearl Lung, were the only crew on set. I think that’s kind of the magic of independent filmmaking though. Michael does almost all of our post-production, and we work with another great friend, Catherine Capozzi, on our scores. It’s all very much a small and close family affair!
I have been busy with production work and haven’t acted recently as much as I used to. When I’m a few years older, I’d like to get back into acting a bit more. I think in 20 years or so, murderous grandma would be a perfect role for me!
Blood of the Tribades was especially insane to do on a micro-budget because it’s also a period piece of sorts. We set it in imaginary future-medieval France through the lens of 1970s Hammer Horror. The look was really a huge part of the movie working at all, so we had to put everything we could into it.
DecayMag: Blood of the Tribades had a censorship issue with one of its distribution platforms. Can you speak to that incident, and about how you feel about censorship in art?
Sophia Cacciola: Blood of the Tribades got caught up with Amazon labeling hundreds of independent movies as “mature” and thus blocking our films from searches and rejecting free streaming to Prime members. It is also categorically banned in Japan. Tribades has no swearing and no graphic sex scenes, but it does have a lot of male and female nudity. (The non-sexual male nudity is the actual problem causing censorship.) The nudity in the film is directly important to the feminist message of the film (we talk about this extensively in the feature-length documentary we made about the themes/making-of the film, called The Blood is the Life!), so taking the nudity out was never an option for us, even when there were possibilities for wider distribution in exchange for exclusion of male nudity.
Don’t tell Amazon, but we eventually found a workaround to end up on Prime, but I’m not sure how some other indies fared. And unfortunately, Amazon is where we make most of our money, so it’s not like we can take our ball and go home. We have to figure out how to work within their system while maintaining our artistic intentions.
It’s not really about content either. Amazon gave full uncensored featured advertised spots to very graphic shows with big networks behind them (HBO, for example). I think that’s where censorship gets really dangerous. There is nothing “wrong” with the independent content, but we’re being punished for being expressive when bigger outlets are celebrated. It’s a dangerous double-standard.
DecayMag: You directed and wrote a segment for the upcoming horror anthology, Phobia. Can you tell us about your segment and when the anthology is expected to be released?
Sophia Cacciola: We were asked to participate in this international anthology, with each director taking on a phobia of their choice. Our segment is on Somniphobia, the fear of falling asleep.
In the US, when we meet someone new, we usually ask them what their occupation is first. In other countries, especially throughout Europe, this is considered uninteresting because people consider working for money an imposition rather than a point of pride. I agree with the Europeans! I think our film gives a little of that perspective.
I co-wrote and produced it with my partner, Michael J. Epstein (who also acts in it!). I got called away with a family situation so I couldn’t actually be there the day it got shot, but the very small team we put together did a fantastic job.
We wanted to do something a little bigger with it than just a straight, simple, irrational phobia, and because it’s an international anthology, wanted to do something very American with it. Our film explores the societal pressures and expectations for individuals to make great personal sacrifices for their employers.
DecayMag: Speaking of your vast cross-departmental knowledge of filmmaking, can you provide any words of advice or encouragement to independent filmmakers who are just starting out?
Sophia Cacciola: Get onto any set you can as a production assistant and really watch and listen to learn. If there’s downtime, go ahead and ask questions about the camera or lighting or sound.
Be helpful! Put your phone away and ask what you can do to help. It will probably be mostly lifting heavy things! I also think it’s really important to learn several jobs, even if you want to be just a writer or a director or an actor; learning how camera, editing, and sound all work together will inform how you approach your job and knowing what is possible will save you time and heartache on set. Be as independent as possible, be careful who you rely on, but also work at building up a team!
I think the best advice is just to get out there and get involved. Just make something without worrying about all the mistakes you’ll make because that’s how you learn.
DecayMag: You’ve worked on several projects with artist Izzy Lee, including Innsmouth and Picket. What is it like to work with her, and do you plan to collaborate again in the future?
Sophia Cacciola: I think I’ve worked on 5 or 6 of Izzy’s films, and I’m here for Izzy any time she needs me! (We now live in the same place again!) Izzy’s films create atmosphere that culminates in a punch in the gut, which is my favorite kind of film. Despite the heavy subject matter, her sets are always fun and outrageous, as any good film set is!
DecayMag: Your work is quite prolific. Are there any filmmakers in the horror genre with whom you haven’t yet collaborated, but would like to?
Sophia Cacciola: In general, I really love working and collaborating with others, and I’m especially here for women who want to express their truth. But, really, almost anyone can hire me to do nearly any job! I love being on set, and I love helping bring ideas to life!
The energy of having a group of people in a room creating something together is euphoric.
I haven’t made a ghost film yet, and I would like to because I’m actually terrified of them. I would die happy if I got to do a space-horror film!
As for specific filmmakers, there are so many people I admire and would love to work with that it’s difficult to give names, but basically, if you love making genre films, I’d love to work with you.
DecayMag: Where can horror fans keep up-to-date on your upcoming projects, and where can they see your many films?
My previous features:
My shorts usually end up on Prime.
As for the future, there are a whole lot of projects in the pipeline at various stages. I’m working on getting my feminist coming-of-age, battle-of-good-vs-evil witch film, The Caul, up off the ground after the project was one of the winners of the Epic Pictures/Dread Central/ScareLA Pitch Contest. Hopefully, I’ll have news on that early next year.
I’m also writing an apocalyptic sci-fi film about an astronaut returning to Earth to find it’s quite different from when she left. I’m probably doing a short soon about aliens laying trypophobia-inducing eggs into people. I’m also the cinematographer on a micro-budget feature shooting in December called Clickbait. So, lots of exciting projects coming down the line!