Toronto-based filmmaker Tricia Lee may not look like a powerhouse in the horror world, but don’t let her calm and cool demeanor fool you. This up and coming director has been putting out some of the best “some of the best horror to emerge out of the Great White North” according to Bloody Disgusting, and to this, we at PopHorror wholeheartedly agree. In the past four years, Tricia has created three fabulously horrific horror films and has garnered some attention while she was at it, winning Best Canadian Feature at the 2013 Toronto After Dark Film Festival for Silent Retreat (2013) and Best Drama Feature for Clean Break (2014) at the Atlanta Horror Film Festival. Her newest film, Blood Hunters, will premiere on July 4th on DVD, VOD and Digital HD and in select theaters on July 7th. Check out what this filmmaking dynamo has to say on her films, her production company, her work with writer Corey Brown and more!
PopHorror: You’ve been in the filmmaking industry for a about 17 years now. How did you get into the industry?
Tricia Lee: I started film school 17 years ago at York University in Toronto. I directed a student film each year for my 4 year undergrad, which was a fantastic place to experiment, learn and make mistakes. Once I graduated, I started making my own short films. I always knew that I wanted to be a director and the best way to start that career path is to just make stuff.
PopHorror: Tell me a bit about Film Monkey Productions. What made you want to start the company?
Tricia Lee: I applied for some funding for one of my first shorts through the CFTPA, the producer’s association in Canada, now called the CMPA. They had a Young Filmmaker’s Initiative. I made the short film Paper Tulips, about a young girl whose friend reads her diary about the boy she had a crush on and told the whole class. Yes, that happened to me and I guess that film was my very expensive therapy! (laughs) So to make that film, I incorporated my company Film Monkey.
PopHorror: Ouch! I wonder if your “friend” ever watched the short? You’re one of the few female directors working in the horror genre. What has that been like for you?
Tricia Lee: It’s an interesting question because I never really saw myself as a female filmmaker, just a filmmaker. It has been a long and hard process. But I know that being a filmmaker, male or female, is hard. So I attributed my struggles to that. Even now, in the past couple of years, where a light is being shone on female filmmakers, I still find it a struggle to get my projects off the ground or to get hired. While I do want to be hired to direct projects, I hope and believe that it is as a result of my work, voice and style, rather than just because I’m female.
PopHorror: Your most recent projects have been horror related. What draws you to horror?
Tricia Lee: I love the genre because we get to look at humanity from the outside. Humans are put into these crazy, extraordinary circumstances that truly are life or death. We get to explore how humans react in those situations and explore on an instinctual level who the characters truly are. We get to speak metaphorically about our society through the genre, while having lots of fun with scares, blood, guts and gore.
I think it’s so interesting that audiences want to feel scared or uncomfortable. These are traditionally negative emotions, but horror audiences are seeking it out. They want to feel these emotions, but in a safe place. They want to feel scared for a character, and not be in the situation themselves. What I think is cool about that is that the audience opens up their emotions. They want to care about the characters and what makes them scared is the fact that they connect with the characters. So I always make sure that we really develop the characters so the audience genuinely cares about them. And that’s when the scares are most effective.
PopHorror: I guess he’s a Jack of All Trades! Your first full length film was Clean Break. Can you tell me a bit about it?
Tricia Lee: It is a thriller about three roommates who are living the bachelor lifestyle until one of them gets a girlfriend who will stop at nothing to get rid of any excess baggage. We shot it in 12 days, mostly in my parent’s house. It was almost everyone’s first feature. We made it for a tiny, tiny budget and I’m proud of what we did. It starred the talented Tianna Nori, who gave a great performance as Tracy the psychotic yet sympathetic girlfriend. And Sami Osman, who played the arrogant frat boy who also has an emotional secret. This was also written by Corey Brown who has written all the features I have made.
PopHorror: I love that concept, about wanting to feel scared in a safe place. Your second full length film was called Silent Retreat. What was filming in the woods like?
We shot at a summer camp in November, so first of all, it was COLD! If you watch closely, you can see their breath. But the woods and the dead trees we found were amazing. It gave the exact look we were going for. Shooting at night is always interesting, trying to light the scene so we can see the actors, but also not make the moonlight look too fake. I think Christian Bielz, our DP, did am amazing job of keeping that balance to make it scary, realistic and beautiful.
PopHorror: What was it like working with Robert Nolan?
Tricia Lee: Robert Nolan is a director’s dream. He is so dedicated to his craft and open for collaboration. He embodied the character of Dr. Prince and that made it so easy to work with him. He is a great collaborator, which is what you want in an actor and he is ready and willing to throw himself into the world and the story and do what needs to get done to make the scene believable. And he is also a great promoter. He is a social media expert and, in fact, he is the one who taught me how to use Twitter!
PopHorror: You’ve worked quite a bit with Corey Brown. How did you two meet?
Tricia Lee: We met on the first day of Frosh week in University and we have been friends ever since. We were both in the film program at York University and we worked together on projects in school. He has done sound on my student films and he tells me I shot one of his films, but I honestly have no memory of this. (laughs) After we graduated, we stuck together and continued to make films. Corey would help me write my short films and eventually, we fell into the roles we have now. He writes and I direct. He has tons of great ideas and he pitches them to me. We find what we really connect on and push those projects forward.
PopHorror: Your third film, Blood Hunters, is being released in theaters on July 7th and VOD & DVD on July 4th. I’ve seen the film and even reviewed it for another site that I write for called HorrorGeekLife. I love the female body horror aspect as well as what I like to call The Spatula Scene. Can you tell our readers what this film is about? How was this project different from the first two?
Tricia Lee: Blood Hunters is an elevated genre film that tells the story of a single mother who wakes up in the basement of a medical facility, only to discover that everyone around her is dead and she is somehow nine months pregnant. While it is also a creature feature like Silent Retreat, we dealt with very different ideas and themes. The characters are all very flawed and have all made mistakes in their pasts. This film takes place 95% inside a medical facility. After shooting outside in the cold for Silent Retreat, we decided we would write for a one location interior shoot so we wouldn’t have to be so cold! (laughs)
The budget was a little higher than my last film and so we had 20 days to shoot this one. It still didn’t feel like enough time or enough money! (laughs) I got to work with some fantastic actors. Lara Gilchrist embodied the main character of Ellie in a way I couldn’t have imagined just reading it. In her audition, she brought the character to life and I knew she was our lead. She was very well paired with Benjamin Arthur who plays Henry. They are strangers when they meet, but with their chemistry and his comedic background, they found a great banter throughout the movie. And I got to work with some experienced and talented veterans like Julian Richings and Torri Higginson, so I feel so blessed that they all signed on for the film.
PopHorror: Where did the ideas for Blood Hunters come from?
Tricia Lee: Corey pitched me the idea of a woman waking up, pregnant, and everyone is dead. It is such a great premise that starts off with so much mystery. That never changed throughout the process, while pretty much everything else did, including the title. Originally, it was supposed to be about vicious vampires. I think what had killed everyone was something in the water. The film used to be called One Drop, which tied into this water disease. But it also thematically represented the fact that one drop can create a ripple effect in an ocean and one choice can create a ripple effect in the world.
PopHorror: Do you have a favorite horror movie? What do you love about it?
Tricia Lee: I’ve got lots, but my most recent favorite is Train to Busan, which I was lucky enough to see in a theater at FrightFest where Blood Hunters played. I am amazed that the concept of zombies on a train was able to keep me entertained for a full length feature. But the thing that amazed me the most was that I cared about every single character in that story. I understood who they were, what they believed in and their emotional plight. I was affected every time someone died. Also, I have never hated a villain as much as I hated the bad guy in this movie. The movie made me laugh and it made me ball. And that is the magic of filmmaking, when you can pull on the audiences’ heartstrings until they feel deep emotions for characters that don’t exist! It’s genuis!
PopHorror: Do you have anything you’re working on now that you can talk about?
Tricia Lee: I am developing a grounded sci-fi feature called Buying Time, a supernatural family adventure called Tin Cans, and a crime thriller called Driving Mr. Edwards. They are all fully written scripts by Corey Brown that we are packaged and getting to the next stage.
PopHorror: Are you inspired by anyone in the business?
Tricia Lee: Pearry Teo [director of The Curse of Sleeping Beauty 2016]. Not only does he have a creative brain and a discerning eye, but the way he approaches life and this industry is very inspiring to me.
PopHorror: What scares you?
Tricia Lee: My husband dying.
PopHorror: What’s your favorite Halloween candy?
Tricia Lee: Twizzlers!
PopHorror: What do you like to do when you’re not making movies?
Tricia Lee: Go for hikes and do hot yoga.
PopHorror: Thanks so much for talking with us, Tricia! Now I really want to know what hot yoga is…
Tricia Lee: Thanks so much for taking the time to interview me! I am very excited that Blood Hunters is finally coming out.
To keep up with Tricia, check out her social media here:
Stay tuned for the upcoming PopHorror review of Blood Hunters!