An Interview with Filmmaker Maude Michaud [WiHM 2017]

Maude Michaud is a multi-talented French-Canadian director, writer, producer, actress, etc.  She creates horror films from scratch and that can hit close to home for some.  Her films have shocked some and enthralled others; she has a style quite of her own.

Maude, please tell us a bit about what drives you to create films.
Storytelling is second nature to me; I always have a million different ideas in my head. If I wasn’t making films, I’d probably be writing books (which is something I’d love to try one day!) or doing some sort of storytelling radio show. Some days, it feels like my brain is a busy highway, so filmmaking is a way for me to pull some of these ideas and stories out and materialize them in order to share them with people. Since I’m also a visual person, these ideas usually manifest as images with a very distinct visual aesthetic, which makes it easy for me to re-create what I see with my mind’s eye. I also have a background in theatre and performing arts, so there’s nothing that fills me with more joy than to see these characters I created come to life!

Why do you think you find yourself working in the horror genre?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to macabre and spooky imagery which led me to thoroughly explore gothic fiction and horror films during my teen years. Horror quickly became my favorite film genre and, in college, it became the main focus of my academic writing and reading. Learning more about the genre helped me understand that it was the perfect creative outlet (and genre) for me. I love how horror allows me to creatively address stories and social issues through metaphors that make the resulting film appealing to a wide audience. The genre’s lack of clear boundaries also gives me unlimited creative freedom when it comes to the imagery I can use while allowing me to be as wild as I want.

As a horror filmmaker, what inspires you?
Everything! Inspiration comes in many forms: sometimes it’s a general concept, sometime it’s a series of images, sometimes it’s a particular situation or scene that pops up in my head… I’m currently drawn to stories dealing with mental health issues. I feel it’s still a widely misunderstood topic with a lot of stigmas attached to it, so this is definitely something I’m interested in exploring in my body of work.

What are some of your big influences and why do they resonate with you.
There are so many things that influenced me… I’ll try my best not to forget anything! Here we go: the body horror films of David Cronenberg, the visual aesthetics of David Lynch and Mario Bava, the batshit crazy “in your face” attitude of Sion Sono’s films, the writings of Chuck Palahniuk, 60’s Italian/Euro Cinema (not just horror films), vintage “smut” films, old Hollywood musicals, Alfred Hitchcock’s entire body of work, Universal Monsters movies, Corman’s Poe cycle, 90’s erotic thrillers, the showmanship of William Castle, David Fincher’s dark and gritty style, and Michael Powell’s masterpiece Peeping Tom.

Throw all of this in a blender and you have a nice little cocktail of what defines me! (laughs) I know it’s a lot, but they all resonate with me on a very personal level, mostly because they appeal to my aesthetic sensibilities, but also because they are constant source of inspiration and represent the kind of work I strive to create.

As a woman in a still male-dominated genre, what does the Women in Horror Month movement mean to you?
The great thing about the Women in Horror Month is the idea that we are all part of the same community and together we can focus our efforts and make a lot of noise to show people our strength in numbers and hopefully trigger positive changes. It’s a movement that brings attention to the issue of gender inequality while also celebrating the work of women directors, giving more visibility to the women actively working in the industry and supporting other women who might want to follow this career path. I dream of the day when gender will no longer influence the filmmaking process and there will be equal opportunities for everyone. However, until this day comes, it is crucial to spotlight and support the work of women filmmakers, which is what the Women in Horror Month is all about.

Who are other female horror filmmakers and writers you believe need more spotlight and why?
In all honesty, I’m surrounded by great talents, most of which have become close friends over the years and I feel it would be unfair to say someone is more deserving of spotlight than someone else. Nothing can be taken for granted in this business and it’s not because someone makes one successful film that it will be easy to make another one. For this reason, I feel all women filmmakers, no matter how much (perceived) success they have, should always be supported and spotlighted. It’s a simple as seeking out films (including shorts) directed by women and buying/supporting/watching/recommending them. People need to vote with their money because that’s what the industry listens to!

What would you say to a teen girl dreaming of making horror films, writing in the genre?
Honestly, just do it! Even if horror has always been my favorite genre, when I started writing/directing films, I pretty much tried every other genre before I finally turned to horror. The silly belief that the genre would be too hard to do properly is what held me back at first, but when I finally took the leap and made my first horror short, it felt like coming home; I had finally found my voice. All that to say: don’t let anything (especially yourself!) stop you! If you really want to make horror films, just go ahead and shoot something with your friends, call in favours, learn from your mistakes, and just keep making more films. And of course: practice, practice, practice!

On a more personal level, do you believe being from Montreal, Quebec and being bilingual have influenced your art?  If so, in what way?
I feel some stories are better told in French, while others are better told in English or without dialogue, so I’m grateful to be able to make this kind of artistic decision.

Aside from that, the main thing that comes to mind is the fact that living in a culturally vibrant city with two very distinct, language-defined cultures (which co-exist along with the ubiquitous American entertainment) has exposed me very early on to the idea of cultural diversity. As a result, finding out what art and culture was like in other countries was never something that felt forced; I’ve always been genuinely curious about things like world cinema.

In my life and in my work, I chose to fully embrace a bilingual way of living and it helped define me as a human being. I’m sure there are probably elements in my work that stem directly from my French-Canadian roots, while others are distinctly (English) Canadian, but it’s hard for me to pinpoint specific examples because a lot of these things end up being subconscious choices.

What do you hope the public take away from your work?
I want to entertain audiences, but I also I like to challenge people and get them out of their comfort zone by forcing them to think about things differently. I feel there’s nothing worse than apathy when watching a movie, so if people come out of the film and their first reaction is to want to talk about it with their friends, then I’m happy and I consider I did my job right.

Please tell us about your upcoming work, what you have coming for fans of your work that you can talk about.
Right now, I’m actively looking for a producer for my second feature. I’m also trying to get various other projects off the ground in addition to working on two other feature scripts. So I’m pretty busy, but I unfortunately can’t really go into details yet. All I can say is: “Please, keep your fingers crossed for me!”

Merci, Maude and please keep making fantastic art.
Merci! It was a pleasure chatting with you!