SISSY WILL BE IN CINEMAS NOVEMBER 3 2022, WITH HALLOWEEN SNEAK PREVIEWS FROM OCTOBER 27 2022.
K: Well, there’s the macros and the micros. We looked at the world at the time; the leader of the free world, Donald Trump, pretty much creating whatever narrative he wanted using his cell phone and social media following. We both thought “Wow, we’ve really hit that era where someone can build a following out of nowhere and tell them (followers) whatever they want, and they’ll (followers) believe them.” There are a lot of people out there who want to feel seen and heard, as well as led in some way. So, there’s that, and then there is the element of anxiety that we’ve all been living with and how crazy the world has been getting. There’s the rise of mental health advocacy which is a good thing, but there’s the misuse and misappropriation of that as well.
H. We already had all the social media and horror elements included in the movie that came from our relationship with social media, considering we are all engaging in toxic behaviour. It’s how people like Belle Gibson slip through the cracks and take advantage of vulnerable communities. But most of the inspiration came from a personal place. The film is about bullying and core traumas, and how they manifest in your life as an adult, if you don’t go through the work to become self-responsible and self-actualised. I was bullied as a kid; we all go through that at some point in our formative years. I didn’t do what ‘Cecilia’ did, but as a ten year old, I reacted in a way that ostracised me further from my friend group. The way I protected myself and self-corrected in order to get over that embarrassing, shameful moment was to become a people pleaser and a perfectionist, which we already do as women, and as I was growing up, I had to do all this work on myself to undo those things. As I was doing that, I also noticed that social media was on the rise and we were all engaging in this toxic behaviour, presenting the best versions of ourselves. It significantly contributes to a decline in mental health as a generation and you realise “it’s not just me. We all have core traumas and we’re all dealing with it in this really weird way.”
K. That’s why we wanted to make a film where the audience is in the shoes of the antagonist as a protagonist. We’re no longer in this era where slasher killers like Freddy Krueger come through and hunt us, as helpless victims. The villain is no longer an outsider or at arm’s length. We are our own worst enemies now.
K. This was our first ‘proper’ screenplay together because ‘For now’ was very much an experimental film making process. Sissy was slightly different because we moved back to Australia and wrote a genre screenplay to speak to the existing audience for horror and comedy, which is huge. Coming off the back of a micro-budget movie, we said “let’s approach a genre we’ve always loved, I mean, standing in the horror aisle in Civic video with all the lurid VHS covers was my childhood”, and to dive into that while using our comedy background. We had a lot of fun putting our own spin on the horror genre, so even with the gore and horror elements, it’s very much a coming-of-age film.
H. Covid was actually a wonderful thing for us. It pushed our film forward because our producers realised that all their other projects weren’t as contained. Our ‘cabin in the woods’ structure kept the budget down and all the actors were available to work because nothing else was happening. We did get smashed post-production though.
K. Oh, we were limping to the finish line. We dodged Covid at every turn until the very end. In retrospect, that’s pretty good. We were very lucky.
K. Go make a film in Canberra! It gave us a lot of locations in a small vicinity.
H. You don’t have to go to film school. The major lesson for me was that you don’t have to put yourself through three years of schooling if you can’t afford it. We have all the tools and tech now, and if you’re willing to collaborate, there are different avenues to arriving into the industry.
K. I just started making movies with my friends in my apartment, so there’s nothing stopping you. Also, I think people are always rushing to get off the script and into filming, but we spent a good amount of time on the story. As long as you have a good, compelling story structure, that’s really all you need. It’s not about what shots you use or the gear that you have. Those are just the tools. What’s most important is what’s on the page and what you’re saying. A lot of the time we think we have to mimic what we’re seeing, but having an original voice and telling something that is important to you, even if you don’t think anyone is going to care about it, is key. Speaking from a personal place is always the best entry point for your creative process. Sissy is very personal, and I couldn’t imagine not telling a personal story, even if its drenched in a genre like sci fi or horror.
H. A skillset that is significantly underrated in the film making process is just having a really great attitude and being kind to people. Be good to your team and be a leader who leads with love. That will sustain a career. You can make beautiful films, but if you’re not good to the people you’re working with, there’s no longevity in it.
K. The biggest pitfall is that it’s very easy to start a project, but not so easy to finish it. I think all of us start writing something and then we throw it away or stick it in the drawer because we’re always our own worst critics. The most important thing is finishing the thing. Go through the process of editing it and then finish it.
H. While you’re doing that, go to therapy.
Truly, if you’re doing the work to further love yourself and become self-responsible then that will permeate through all of your processes; in your personal life and your work. If you’re avoiding that, it will reflect in those areas as well.
K. It’s a confronting thing, putting your work out into the public or even a room full of friends, but you’ve got to just step off the ledge at some point. No matter how disastrous. You’ve got to do it that one time so that it’s easier the next.
H. Though, it’s easier if you love or at least like yourself. Not in a self-aggrandising way, but you need to have your own back.
K. You don’t have to be Spielberg overnight, so quiet that inner critic as much as you can.
H. We’re working on the next one together, and all I’ll say is that we’re leaning further into the genre mashing elements that we discovered in the process of Sissy.
K. We want to go as bold as possible, not hold back, and push ourselves. During the process for Sissy, we thought, “Are we going to get away with this? Is this PC? What is an audience going to get on board with?” Because we’re making the audience complicit and that might be uncomfortable.
Now, four years later, we know we could go way further.
Our project is still in the writing stage but we definitely do want to keep challenging ourselves to push our own boundaries.
SISSY has three AACTA nominations:
- AACTA Award for Best Direction in Film – Hannah Barlow & Kane Senes
- AACTA Award for Best Film – Arcadia, Dems Entertainment and Freedom Films
- AACTA Award for Best Lead Actress in Film – Aisha Dee