Tara Price hails from New England and has her toes in a few different waters. She acts, produces, writes, and directs. For her directorial debut, Earworm, she dips in comedy and horror. She also wrote the horror short Another Grace and Johnny Adventure: Zombie Island in which she stars as Grace.
Tara, please tell us a bit about what drives you to create films.
I’m your typical product of an overactive imagination. I’ve been writing my whole life so I guess it was a natural progression. I loved writing weird stories as a kid but it never occurred to me that I could one day write movies. Women are more encouraged to be on camera than behind it – so I went that route for many years. Ultimately, I had too many ideas bouncing around in my head to limit myself. When I started making my own short films I took on the role of producer, hiring other people to direct what I had written. I kept saying I didn’t want to direct but looking back on it now I realize I just didn’t have the confidence – not something many people would care to admit but it’s true.
Self-doubt lurks within all artists. I wrote and produced a sci-fi short called The Routine where the director I hired walked off the project during post, leaving me to finish the movie solo. It was a crushing experience fettered with legal drama – but I completed the film and it went on to play over 30 film festivals and win 8 awards. I shelved the next script I was planning to produce, took some time to recalibrate, then wrote Earworm specifically so that I could direct it myself. It has changed my life. I cannot imagine not directing now.
Why do you think you find yourself working in the horror genre?
Being that kid raised on Stephen King novels and Tales From The Crypt episodes I have a special place in my heart for horror. The first stories I wrote were all horror related. I don’t like to pigeonhole myself by genre but I almost always find my work having some sort of horror element to it. Stories always involve people and there are no bigger monsters than human beings themselves.
As a horror filmmaker, what inspires you?
It’s that dark side of the human psyche that fascinates me. It’s a never-ending well of ideas for me as a writer. As a director I love the technical aspect of it. When it came to making Earworm I was very adamant about the color scheme and tone of the set we were building. There is so much more to filmmaking than writing a story, hiring actors, and tossing some gore in there. You’re creating an entire atmosphere. I get very excited about the intricate details.
For example, I wanted the bedside table in Earworm to have very specific things on it: an old rotary phone, an ashtray filled with cigarette butts, a stale cup of coffee, etc. Even though it’s only seen in one insert – it’s important. I’m inspired by my fellow artists, especially when you’re lucky enough to have such a killer collaborative effort as I did with my producer Billy Hanson on Earworm. I love seeing the work of other filmmakers when it’s obvious how passionate they are about what they’re creating. Art begets art. We should never forget that and keep encouraging each other.
What are some of your big influences and why do they resonate with you?
My last two films were compared to the Twilight Zone series, which was a huge influence on me as a kid. I’ve seen every single episode and couldn’t imagine a higher compliment. Rod Serling was incredibly ahead of his time. I was a teenager in summer school the first time I read “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. I remember being over-the-moon that a woman wrote such a haunting and gruesome story. I had been told so often that horror stuff wasn’t for girls that she became my personal hero. A critic who saw my film The Routine said it reminded her of a current show called Black Mirror. I had never heard of it so I looked it up and it immediately became one of my favorite TV shows ever. Charlie Brooker has his thumb on the pulse of everything relevant right now. Like a modern-day Serling, his writing is right in my wheelhouse. I’m an enormous fan and aspire to one day work with him.
As a woman in a still male-dominated genre, what does the Women in Horror Month movement mean to you?
Y’know, the Oscars have been around for 87 years and it took 80 of those years before a woman won for Best Director (with only four women ever being nominated before her.) Kathryn Bigelow got her start in horror decades before taking home that historical award. Her 1987 horror film Near Dark is one of the best vampire movies of all-time. It pulled no punches. Any horror-lover who hasn’t seen it needs to watch it immediately. For us to finally be at a point where we actually have a “Women In Horror Month” is wonderful and woefully overdue. The horror industry is such a tight-knit boys club that it’s high time they realized what women can bring to the table from behind the camera. We are more than just scream-queens. We have vision. Mad, crazy, unstoppable vision.
Who are other female horror filmmakers and writers you believe need more spotlight and why?
All of ‘em! There are so many talented minds creating things right now. However, I think it’s very important to shine more light on the past trail-blazing women no one really talks about. Years before Bigelow we had Ida Lupino – one of the first female filmmakers in horror to really break the mold. She influenced so many famous filmmakers but is hardly a household name herself. And she is the only woman to ever direct a Twilight Zone episode! I think we need to go back to our roots and give these women their due. We can’t let their names fade into obscurity. There is so much we can learn from them.
What would you say to a teen girl dreaming of making horror films, writing in the genre?
Be a force to be reckoned with. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do. Most importantly, support other women. Girls are taught from a young age that they need to be competitive with each other. I find in the film world it’s sometimes hard to meet other supportive women. It’s a huge pet peeve of mine. I hope the future generations shatter that stereotype. Work with other women filmmakers, befriend them, help them get their work seen, give them a shout-out on social media. We need to stick together and stop competing for that one “token woman” job-slot. There is room for all of us. The sooner we start acting like it, the sooner the rest of the industry will follow suit.
On a more personal level, do you believe coming from New England and now being LA-based has influenced your art? If so, in what way?
Oh, absolutely. I’m still very much an east-coast gal at heart but Los Angeles shaped me immensely as a person. I think New England produces some tough people. I grew up in a blue-collar town that had hard winters. There’s realness there within the people that I wish I saw represented more on film. These are the kind of characters I’m drawn to in movies. These are the kind of characters I want to write. I get so bored with seeing youth and beauty mashed into every crevice of entertainment.
I think older actors are much more interesting and I like seeing character actors in roles normally reserved for leading actor types. I knew from the moment I wrote Earworm that the lead actor would be older. Ernest L. Thomas brings a world-weariness to the character that a younger actor couldn’t possibly pull off. Ernie’s face is so mesmerizing that I want to hire him in everything. I think that love of interesting faces stems from growing up outside of the Hollywood machine. That’s why I like to get out of town as often as possible. You start to think this obsession with youth and beauty is normal – then you leave for a bit and remind yourself that it’s not. There is a real world out there.
What do you hope the public takes away from your work?
My goal is always to create something that will stick in their noggins for a long time. I like movies that make you think. Earworm was born from me noticing that many people did not know what an earworm was. I thought it would be fun to make a movie that combined what some people think it is with what it actually is – and I love it when I meet people at film festivals who, after seeing it, want to share their own earworm stories with me. There are movies I saw just last year that I can’t recall, then there are films I saw decades ago that are forged into my brain. I strive to make the latter. I hope to leave the audience wondering what the hell happens next and wanting more.
Please tell us about your upcoming work, what you have coming for fans of your work that you can talk about.
Earworm has a bunch of screenings coming up! In March it’s coming to the Boston Underground Film Festival in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Equinox Film Festival in Palmer, Alaska, and the Short Sweet Film Fest in Cleveland, Ohio. Then in April it will be at the Roswell Film Festival in Roswell, New Mexico. There is another screening happening in San Francisco but it’s not been publicly announced at this point so I can’t divulge that one just quite yet. I plug all the screenings on twitter if you want to follow me there (@tarapriceless). Later this year I’ll be shooting a music video in New Hampshire and I’m in talks with my producer from Earworm about another collaboration that we hope to get off the ground this year. There’s a lot I’m looking forward to.
Thank you Tara for this opportunity and for being your awesome, badass, creative self.
Thank YOU so much, Emilie! This was fun!