Something I admire about the independent world of film is the freedom of artistic self-expression and the chances these filmmakers are able to take that may be too risky for studio films. Many individuals involved in indie film work are driven by passion and their need to create. When this enthusiasm is paired with a strong message, some powerful, lasting storytelling can come to life. One passionate creative I had the pleasure of meeting during my time in L.A. is Brialynn Massie, who has developed a background in indie film from both sides of the lens. After some extensive experience working on several short films, Brialynn will be making appearances in the upcoming features Serena Waits by Hunter Johnson, as well as Alexander Hwang’s horror anthology, Lilith. I had the pleasure of speaking with Brialynn about these upcoming films, her move to L.A. and her upcoming full-feature directorial debut, Vengeance!
PopHorror: Thank you, Brialynn, for taking the time to speak with me! So, to start, how long have you known that a career in film was for you?
Brialynn Massie: I have been into artistic expression and telling stories since I was a little girl. In high school, I was exploring theater, and I wanted to validate the human experience rather than just show the human experience. So, when I began diving into film as an actress, I discovered that I can actually tell the story from a more realistic point of view.
PopHorror: It seems like it was a gradual process for you. When did you make the jump into film? What was your first project?
Brialynn Massie: I first jumped into film when I was 18, so I got to sign all my own paperwork. (laughs) My first project was a short film called Alone Together. My character is stranded on an island with a boy. Both are the type of young people who have never even been camping, let alone being placed in situation to where they must survive on a deserted island. So, the two have to find a way to fend for themselves. It was awesome, because we ended up traveling all over the state of Washington, which is where I’m from. We filmed a bunch of scenes out in the wild and on an island in the ocean. It was pretty amazing for my first introduction into film.
PopHorror: That sounds like a great experience! When did you decide to finally make the big move from your small town in Washington to L.A.?
Brialynn Massie: It was always a plan to move down to L.A. However, it was breaking up with an ex-boyfriend that propelled me to make the move about 4 years ago. I packed up my little car that didn’t even have handles. (laughs) You had to crawl through the window to get inside. So, it was me, my cat and my belongings packed into this screaming metal death trap. I had very little money to my name with no connections in L.A. or a sense of where I was going. All I knew was that it was going to be the same anywhere else I went, so I might as well make my dreams come true. (laughs) So, I’m scrolling through Craigslist trying to find couches to rent while driving this death trap of a car with no power steering or air conditioning. One of my first locations was in Crenshaw, Compton. What could go wrong, right? (laughs) My roommate was really nice, but the area wasn’t so nice. (laughs) It wasn’t until my tires were slashed when I figured it was time to move on. I am so blessed that nothing horrible happened to me along the way. So, it all came down to an impulsive breakup that propelled me to say screw it and follow my dreams. (laughs)
PopHorror: That sounds like a crazy journey! Since then, you have built up quite the resume surrounding many sides of the filmmaking process, from wardrobe to composer to cinematographer to director to, of course, acting. What would you say is your favorite part of creating a production?
Brialynn Massie: I would have to say that acting, hands down, is my absolute favorite part of filmmaking. Between acting, writing and directing, I can’t necessarily say that one is a better way of expressing myself over another. I think they are all equally expressive to me, and I love all of these parts of filmmaking. I don’t direct just to put myself in my own films, although that is what happened. I direct because I love the idea of having something to say. I love the idea of forming a story and shaping a human experience for other people, to create a way for my own voice to be heard as well as give a voice to those who aren’t necessarily heard in the industry.
PopHorror: I think that’s very commendable. That type of passion is important in the arts. Looking at your IMDb, you apparently made a very brief appearance in the smash hit AMC series, The Walking Dead, during the cannibalistic sanctuary days of Terminus. How did you become involved with this series? What was your role?
Brialynn Massie: Actually, I never appeared on the show. Someone put that on my IMDb, and it is very frustrating. I address this in every interview. I have reported this to IMDb. Every one of my directors have reported it to IMDb. Every single one of my connections has reported this to IMDb, including someone who works for IMDb. Please, IMDb, take this off of my resume!
PopHorror: How did that even happen?
Brialynn Massie: I’m listed as uncredited, so I think someone went in and thought it would be cool to list it on my IMDb resume. I don’t know who it was. It doesn’t even really help your career when it is false information.
PopHorror: It’s surprising that IMDb has not taken care of this mix up since so many people rely on the website for film references, but hopefully they will get around to it. Your first bigger role in a feature film, unless I’m mistaken, was as Brooke Carson in Lilith, starring Vernon Wells, Felissa Rose, Devanny Pinn and Thomas Harley. Could you tell me about this film and your character?
Brialynn Massie: One of my first feature roles was actually in Serena Waits, but Lilith will be released first. In Lilith, I play Brooke Carson, a young tormented girl who is torn between a love interest and how women can be negatively viewed in society. She’s coming of age and she’s learning about how women are objectified and thought of as sex objects because now she has a sexual body, which is something she has never explored or knew before. Eventually, she has a pivotal moment to where she must decide what she is going to feed in terms with how she deals with a specific situation. It was a fantastic acting part. It’s definitely the acting parts that I like to study and I like to do. However, it was challenging to play the role of a tormented girl who is coming of age because you have to put yourself in the mindset of a young innocent girl who has a bunch of things happen to her for the first time. She is completely vulnerable with the mindset of not knowing that certain things can happen to her. I think that is going to speak to a lot of young girls that have had these types of things happen to them who do not see it as horrific as it actually is. Through a drama with horror elements such as this, you can really address the human experience for how certain experiences feel. For the character to have to make a decision adds so much more gravitas to the film.
PopHorror: That sounds like it’s going to be a great film to check out! What was it like working with Felissa Rose and Vernon Wells?
Brialynn Massie: We were in different segments, but we’ve met in passing, and they are both so nice and down to earth! I was really nervous, and it was surreal to think that my name is going to be on the DVD cover along with Felissa Rose. It was definitely nerve-wracking to be involved on such a project, but they are such nice, sweet, down to earth people. They are just regular people doing things from the heart just like I am. It was very humbling, but also very inspiring to see that something like this is within reach for myself while remaining a humble girl from Duvall, Washington.
PopHorror: That would be pretty inspiring! How did you become involved with Lilith? What was your favorite part of production?
Bialynn Massie: Alexander Hwang, the director, and I have known each other for a couple of years, and we’ve worked together on a couple of short films. He saw some of my work and offered me the part. I immediately jumped on board, and we went from there! I think my favorite part about Lilith, since it is an anthology, is my character’s segment and seeing how it plays into the film as a whole while matching the style and tone of the entire story. Because it has to work with these other segments, I couldn’t necessarily take it in my own direction. That made this acting experience very cool and unique. It was also cool that we shot it in two or three long days. So, it was a great experience to portray a character in a film to where we’re shooting everything very quickly and out of order.
PopHorror: When and where will people be able to check this one out?
Brialynn Massie: I think it will be hitting the film festival circuit before going to video on demand, but people will be able to see it early next year.
PopHorror: I’m looking forward to checking it out when it becomes available. You mentioned earlier that you have another project coming out called Serena Waits?
Brialynn Massie: Yes! So Hunter Johnson, the director, called me up one day, asking if I would like to be in his low budget feature film he planned to shoot in three days where my character gets raped. I said, “Okay! Just send me the script!” Hunter wrote it with a team of mostly women, and he is very open and collaborative. He tried to understand where women are coming from, and he interviewed people and talked to people. So, it was really inspiring to see my friend work so hard to develop a message and have something to say. We should see a release of Serena Waits soon after Lilith.
PopHorror: It sounds pretty intense!
Brialynn Massie: Oh, yeah! Scary intense!
PopHorror: What is it like for you filming scenes with such intensity?
Brialynn Massie: Oh, I love scenes like that! Acting wise, I love being able to go to darker places. I love being able to have that ugly, raw feeling that everybody has in their lives, and the ones they’re told that they shouldn’t have. People shame you for having these raw, emotional feelings. So, to be liberated from that and give complete empathy to another character – another human being, another human experience – and give myself entirely in an ugly way is a beautiful thing. It’s very important to me that people don’t feel alone. That’s why I went into acting, and it’s why I went into storytelling. I don’t want people to feel alone for things they should not feel alone for. So, in Serena Waits, it was amazing to be able to go to these dark places, have terrible things happen to my character and get to develop a character arc from that. Hunter was fantastic in letting me just go there. He wanted it to be rough. He wanted it to be ugly. He wanted to give validation to women who have been raped.
Especially when it comes to sex, your expectations from when you’re young can be very different from reality. Everyone has watched porn. Let’s just admit it. So, if you haven’t experienced sex and your first introduction to it is porn, you think it looks like fun and that everyone is enjoying it. You have this idea in your head about how something is going to happen, but when you actually experience it, it can be almost traumatic seeing what a real clitoris, penis and pubic hair looks like. And all your expectations in your life change. So when girls see something glamorized, but then experience it firsthand, they realize that they were not prepared for how ugly it can be, how ugly it has made them feel. And so Hunter really wanted to validate how terrible these people are for committing the act of rape and how it feels when it happens to someone.
PopHorror: That sounds like a message that needs to be heard, especially with everything going on in today’s world. From my understanding, you have your own full feature directorial debut currently in post-production called Vengeance, which conveys a strong message in itself. Could you tell me a little bit about what we can expect?
Brialynn Massie: Vengeance is about many things, but the story follows the character of Casey Schmidt, played by Emily Kirk. After developing depression issues due to relentless bullying at school, Casey begins questioning everything in her life and goes online where she essentially makes a deal with the devil. When she wakes up the next day, she discovers that every wound that she puts on her own body also effects her tormentor. So, she ends up going on a full on rampage on herself. It’s definitely symbolic for vengeance being a self-serving poison. My producers are nervous because it is NC-17 status.
PopHorror: Do you have plans to dial it down to an R rated level?
Brialynn Massie: Nope! Absolutely not. In fact, I will push and I will fight for it to be unrated at the very least. It’s not a studio film, so it’s not going to get a worldwide theatrical distribution. Obviously, we would like to make our money, but the purpose is not a cash cow. The purpose is to tell the story, to have a voice be heard and to open up dialogue about controversial things. Vengeance is not only about suicide, but it’s about rape for both males and females. We have a very intense rape sequence that addresses the conversation of what society has established and qualified as rape. We also address the concept of suicide and how it effects other people, but it is your life. I wrote this in particular because I was very frustrated and angry with all of these films that hop on the bandwagon of mental health, especially 13 Reasons Why. I don’t care if their casting director says, “Fuck you!” If this catches their attention, then apparently I’m doing something right with my career. That is a dangerous show in that it is glamorizing suicide. It is telling people who are feeling depressed, who don’t feel they have an impact on this world and that they don’t think anyone knows they exist to kill themselves. And then everyone is going to think about you for two seasons. Kill yourself, and you will be glorified and remembered. They romanticize suicide and make it into something that it isn’t. Because, unfortunately, people move the fuck on.
This is you’re life. It’s nobody else’s life. And what you do to yourself is your responsibility. I think that is an important message to have in a context to where someone can feel for the character. The feeling of being conflicted to where you want what the character wants too, and you understand the consequences just as much as the character does. So that’s why we chose to have the premise of her hurting herself because of her mental illness, being that she can’t stand up to the bully when it’s a fight that she would lose. She’s so traumatized by this bully that she puts it on herself, and she actually thinks she is getting revenge, but in reality, she is just killing herself. I think that is the most important thing you can learn in the world in terms of mental health without hopping on the bandwagon by romanticize and glorifying suicide. What these films are doing is conveying the height of the meaning behind their story as their suicide. That isn’t the height of the meaning. That is lazy writing because suicide is a mental illness. We are wired to survive. It isn’t that someone is crazy or that their brain isn’t working. What is happening is that something is causing the brain to think differently than the way we are wired to think.
It is just disgusting how people have hopped on this bandwagon as a cash cow and not for the people who are dealing with depression, not for the people who are dealing with suicidal thoughts. That’s not who these films are speaking to. These films are speaking to the people around those who are struggling. They are speaking to the people who don’t understand what is going on and don’t know how to help. They are putting it in terms of what they think people can understand who aren’t going through depression, but in a very dangerous way. So, with Vengeance, we are putting things in terms of understanding for the people who are dealing with depression. We are saying that we know what you are feeling and it sucks, and it is terrible. We know how you see the world, and that’s okay. And you don’t have to kill yourself.
After hearing the passion coming from Brialynn as we spoke, I cannot wait to see her work as she tackles such controversial subject material from both sides of the lens. Having such a passionate drive to create with self-expression, I find it likely that this is merely the beginning. I know we will continue to see her growing presence in indie film.