Note: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SGA-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, The Monster Inside My Head being covered here wouldn’t exist.
It’s my favorite time of year! No, not Halloween or Christmas. My other favorite time! It’s Fantasia International Film Festival time! And just like always, the fest if chock full of goodies for me.
Next up in my coverage for Fantasia is an interview with filmmaker Maude Michaud for her short film, The Monster Inside My Head.
When she gets home after work, a woman is tormented by a menacing creature who tries to take control of her body.
What sets this film apart from others that I have covered this year is the reason Maude wanted to make it, and that is because of her daily struggle living with Tourette’s Syndrome. To celebrate The Monster Inside My Head playing Fantasia, I chatted via Zoom with Maude about making the film, the creature design, what she hopes to accomplish, what’s up next, and more!
PopHorror: The Monster Inside My Head was so good. I’m really excited to learn more about it.
Maude Michaud: Thank you!
PopHorror: When we first started talking about this, you had mentioned to me that the film has a very specific reason for existing and that you had a clear goal in mind. After watching the short, there’s a note that says it’s inspired by a real condition. Can you tell us more about that and the inspiration behind the film?
Maude Michaud: Yes. I never know if “suffers” is the right term, but I have Tourette’s Syndrome. I’m fairly fortunate that I have a fairly mild case of it. I’m able to control myself fairly easily but I still have bad days, like everyone living with the condition. But that leaves me very much in that strange gray zone where technically I have this disability that I can mask, but that still impacts my life. My reason for making the film is that when I got diagnosed 20 years ago, it was very devastating to me mostly because I really felt like there were so many negative stigmas associated with Tourette’s Syndrome and the way it’s presented in the media. I heard so many harmful jokes over the years and I would only see the ways it’s represented, it’s not poor taste but it’s always the butt of a joke in movies whenever you see characters with Tourette’s Syndrome. For me, when I got diagnosed as a young adult, it made it very hard for me to be comfortable enough to affirm myself and to tell people because I was ashamed of it. It felt to me like I didn’t want to be perceived as this freakish image that they had of the condition. It took me pretty much 20 years to be comfortable enough in my own skin and do that self-work in order to be able to express that yes, I have Tourette’s Syndrome and say it publicly and stop trying to make excuses for whenever I have bad days to try to mask and try to say, “Oh, I had too much coffee,” of “I’m nervous today.” Stuff like this, just to really be able to fully accept my condition. Being a horror filmmaker, one day I had a kind of click in my head where I’m like, my annoyance with the way Tourette’s is represented is that it’s the butt of a joke, it’s represented in a funny way, it’s making fun of it, while for me it’s pretty much a nightmare and I figure why don’t I use my power as a genre filmmaker to actually show what it feels like for me on the inside and how nightmarish it can be for someone living with this. This is why I made this film. The clear intention from the beginning was to show a different type of representation, and that’s why I included the note at the end where it’s like, this representation is very true to me but maybe someone else has a different relationship with the condition. To me, it felt like it was very much my way of putting it out there and being like, “Well, you’ve seen it represented in that way, here’s how it feels for someone living it.”
PopHorror: I appreciate that and thank you for making a film like this. I think it’s very brave of you.
Maude Michaud: Thank you.
PopHorror: You mentioned a stigma being attached to it and being ashamed of it, and speaking only for myself, I don’t know a lot about it. There’s not a lot about it in the media or in entertainment, and I think people don’t understand it because I know that I don’t. I think when people don’t know much about something, that makes them make fun of it or joke about it or make it the butt of a joke because how do people deal with things they don’t understand? They laugh it off.
Maude Michaud: Exactly. And the part that’s the most annoying is that the thing we see the most often is the swearing, right? Or the barking. Only 10% of people with Tourette’s have that, but somehow that 10% became the poster child for the condition. It’s making it especially harder as someone struggling with it to try to accept ourselves when we have all these representations. I don’t want people to think I’m going to be necessarily that because they have this preconceived idea. I used to say, “I have Tourette’s, but don’t worry. I’m not going to bark at you.” It’s sad that I had to say this but that’s very much where society was or how I felt it was. So again, that’s also why I really made it a point to not have… I’m fairly lucky that I don’t have any disturbing verbal tics. Mine are mostly physical. That’s why I really wanted to also show Tourette’s in a way that’s not related to the verbal tics because it feels like we’ve seen those and that’s what we expect so how about the other 90% of people that don’t struggle with that.
PopHorror: How did you come up with the creature design?
Maude Michaud: To me, I really wanted to clearly have the image of the puppeteer. The hand because, again, it feels like to me that a lot of the time in my life, people have told me, “Oh, why don’t you control yourself?” It’s not a control issue. A lot of the time it’s like sneezing or an itch that you have to scratch. It’s a feeling that builds up to the point of you can’t control it anymore. Most people, when something itches, we don’t think twice and we scratch ourselves. It’s that type of reaction except mine is like flailing my arms on my side. What I used to explain to people and try to put it in my words, it was like someone else is controlling my body. There are certain gestures or movements where my body does them on its own, essentially. Without me thinking of them or even wanting to control them. They just happen. So this is why I really wanted to have a creature that could embody the idea of a puppeteer. I chose to only show the hands of the creature – for budgetary reasons as well – because that was the most important part. To me, it speaks to the idea of controlling and having this idea of having another entity that’s coming to bug you. Then afterwards, the creature design just kind of happened organically when I decided I wanted to have hands and a puppeteer. It needs to have really long claws so you have the wires come out of the claws and play around with this, and just play around with the idea of the shadow creature because I didn’t want to attribute it to any kind of specific real look. With something that felt a little bit organic, veiny and glistening to play around with the idea that this is… When you know a little bit of psychology, it’s a little wink to the idea of the shadow self and everything that’s hidden in the brain. Just having this shadow part of your brain or your head that you might not know about and there’s this creature that lurks in there.
PopHorror: I really enjoyed the puppeteering, like the strings and her being controlled. I really liked that. Like a marionette. It was really truly unique. How did you convey your vision to your cast and crew?
Maude Michaud: I had the first real honest conversation about the condition with them after years of being very shy about it and not really feeling comfortable to talk about it. For the cast, in terms of the movement, I worked a lot with the main actress to really figure something out that was physical but I didn’t want it to be too graceful because that’s a danger sometimes, especially with a marionette, whenever their puppeteering. There’s a tendency for people to want to do something nice and pretty and fluid, where for me it’s very jagged and it’s a very glitchy feeling. Trying to play and see what you can do within the physical limitation of that rig that we had with the wires and all of that. The rest of it happened fairly organically on set. For the other sequences where there’s the puppet element, a lot of it is inspired by a situation, where I have this thing where sometimes I’ll just shake my head or sometimes by the way my elastic is on too tight and it’s going to create a pressure tic that just makes me shake my head. I’m like, “Oh yeah, what if it’s like the annoyance with the hair and the hair pulling while I’m… Like during the beginning, building up and leading up to that moment and really drawing inspiration from a lot of my tics that are the most frequent and the most often occurring, and just trying to translate them on screen in a way that felt like it’s a clear action that the creature can do and a reaction that someone would have in that situation. Establishing the relationship between the two.
PopHorror: What do you hope people walk away with after watching your film?
Maude Michaud: My hope is to make them think about how they might perceive… Just to put it out there, I don’t want it to be preachy in any way. I don’t want anyone to feel bad. I just hope that people will understand this other facet of the condition and hopefully – it’s my humble expectation – this film might help further the discussion about Tourette’s and what it is and how it’s felt and how it’s lived. And hopefully, maybe bring a little bit more of an understanding towards the people. Have people not resort so easily to Tourette jokes. I have friends who did not even realize I have Tourette’s and tell me that joke. At some point, I expressed that I was nervous about starting a new job that was an open space concept because I have tics, and a friend of mine said, “Well, don’t worry. You don’t have Tourette’s,” and I’m like, “But I do.” It’s that kind of social and the way its present in society and everyday discourse that people don’t realize and then hopefully they might understand a little more so then when people see someone who’s twitching, they might be like, oh that’s probably what they have, rather than just stare for an uncomfortably long time.
PopHorror: What made you want to become a filmmaker?
Maude Michaud: That’s a hard question because I’d been wanting to be a filmmaker since I was 14. That happened a really long time ago. I was always really drawn to storytelling as a kid. I really loved reading and I really loved writing stories. I also really loved acting. I did a lot of theater when I was a kid, mostly because I was really shy at first. My parents were trying to make me more comfortable and then I just fell in love with it. Then when I became a teenager, I realized that filmmaking was a perfect way to embody the storytelling that I liked so much and the acting element that I enjoyed. Then I just started reading everything about it and then it just kind of happened. I taught myself, reading all the books I could find, making movies with friends, using my dad’s camcorder, editing on a VHS with pause/rewind/record type thing. Then that just confirmed that this is what I wanted to do and then I continued on this path.
PopHorror: What is up next for you?
Maude Michaud: I’m currently in development on a second feature. I made a first feature film that came out nine years ago on the fest circuit. Right now, I’m still in development trying to finalize the financing. Also, I’m developing a few other projects that are written but are just being shopped around right now, looking for producers, looking for different outlets. So hopefully, I will have something bigger happening soon, but definitely will be making shorts again on a more frequent basis. This short is the first one I did in a really long time, a few years due to the pandemic and everything so it feels good to be back into it.
PopHorror: I’m excited to see what you have coming up so good luck with that.
Maude Michaud: Thank you.
PopHorror: Just one last question for you today. What is your favorite scary movie?
Maude Michaud: I will be going with the original Black Christmas. I really like slasher films. It’s always been a guilty pleasure, and this was my gateway into horror when I was a teenager. The original Black Christmas has a special place in my heart.
Thank you so much to Maude for taking the time to speak with us. The Monster Inside My Head is currently playing festivals.