An Interview with Heather Buckley [WiHM 2017]

Heather Buckley is a behind-the-scenes lady and a writer for multiple publications and websites.  She has supervised effects on films such as We Are Still Here, played a monstrous mother in the SyFy original movie Dead Still, produced special features for discs such as the newest releases of The Thing, Exorcist III, Return of the Living Dead, and many more.  She has written for Fangoria, Dread Central, Scream magazine, Diabolique, Vulture, and a slew of others.

You can hear her on podcasts such as The Bonus Material Podcast and the Mass Hypnosis Podcast.  She’s basically a horror super woman and a total badass.

Heather, please tell us a bit about what drives you to work in the horror genre, why this genre over any others and why so many fields/hats in the genre.
I was always an outsider, a rejected kid. What is left for you when you are on the playground alone with scribbles of nightmare creatures? I was recently sent my drawings from primary school and they were all dragons and beasts – not creatures that I feared, but creatures with whom I identified. In a social exile a child can’t fully understand, you can feel like maybe the reason you did not belong is that you are not even human like the others? And so you live by creating inner narratives and mine are reflected by horror and Halloween images. At an atomic level  I am made from that world.

There is great rubber monster fun, but also dealings with death and the nihilism that always hovers around our knowledge that we won’t survive this life. Some of my loved ones growing up were not very empathic and that creates a singular being, and when you are  “weird” and pushed out of the herd, you are left to observe. And from those observations, and from your dreams, when you feel safe — (in my case, most especially during those childhood times spent with my empathic, loving grandparents) — you create art and tell stories. I was a draftsman, then a designer; always a storyteller like my Grandfather and my Mother of the old world oral tradition. If I can do one thing, what about another and another and soon you gain a varied skillset just because you wanted to see if you could—if you can do, successfully what you admired.

What makes you choose one type of project, say special effects supervision or festival coverage, over another?
The world is filled with opportunity and I work with whomever at that time can be best served by my skill-set. I have a background in creative management jobs in Advertising—it is this skill-set I draw upon to run a department or a film. I write because horror meant a lot to 13-year-old me and relaying stories, discovering and then identifying with certain films helped define who I would grow up to—so I seek to give back to all little Heathers that might need these things to live and be inspired by. Someone needs to see the world and relay back what was seen, in all these creative endeavors you have a voice, so strive to use it in all aspects, with all materials, in all roles.

As a horror super woman, what inspires you?
Gale Anne Hurd. She is a powerful producer who works in horror because she loves genre, mentored by Roger Corman.

What are some of your big influences and why do they resonate with you?
My Grandfather Sadlowski taught me I was wonderful just the way I was. My Bauhaus design training at University of the Arts taught me how to confront a creative problem visually and conceptually and the skill of presenting solutions to an audience that telegraphs clearly, but also to describe the process, the goals, and the outcome. In corporate advertising, as a design/art director/creative lead, I sought out Associate Partners to show me how to run meetings. I worked with project managers to create documentation on how projects are run and worked on creating consensus of vision among different groups with different types of goals.

Once aligned, keep the vision clear and speak to each department’s needs and goals within the bigger vision—how their unique skill and area of focus helps bring the bigger thing to life, how that is meaningful, how that is essential. Always be client-focused. As a producer my “client” is my director. When I grow up I’d like to be like Dino De Laurent is. He created projects and hired teams to bring stories to life. He owned his own studio and took a chance with decently-budgeted genre work and made things we loved. (Blue Velvet, Evil Dead II, and yes, even Maximum Overdrive.)

As a woman in a still male-dominated genre, what does the Women in Horror Month movement mean to you?
All year I advocate for diversity (a battle cry you hear in gaming media as well), which is slightly different then a woman-only call-to-action. Horror belongs to everyone and we need everyone’s voices: people of color, LGBT, disabled, women, and in every combination. We need new stories and that come from different eyes, different cultures, and different experiences. I am very lucky to be born in the NYC/NJ area where I had exposure to many different sorts of people. My friend group is everyone.

I travel the world and meet horror fans from all over. It is not until you ask your friends from different backgrounds about representations do you see the hurt and frustration that they don’t see themselves very much in the genre they love the most, and when it comes to the films’ creators and crews. In a genre that draws so much of its strength from the different, from the idiosyncratic, from the extreme, the lack of diversity is a serious problem. It’s a creative crisis before it’s even a social one. We all need to make it our jobs to change this.

Who are other females in the industry you believe need more spotlight and why?
Everyone on earth should have a crush on and want to make every one of Roxanne Benjamin’s films. I love her creative choices—they are horror- and monster-centric, which remind me of the ’90s heyday of horror I grew up on, films like Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight. She is also an engaging, dynamic speaker, great at press. Her pitch at the Fantasia Film Market in 2016 was fantastic. I hope that film becomes a reality soon. I have not seen her piece in XX yet when I get a second I need to rent and put my eyes on it.

What would you say to a teen girl dreaming of working in the horror genre?
As far as filmmaking goes, write and draw like I did, even if you don’t think of yourself as either a ‘writer’ or an ‘artist’ – scribbles and stick-figures are enough to learn how to communicate in sequenced images. Get a camera and shoot and keep shooting, recruit your friends. Watch films, read about films, talk about films. Watch Blu-ray behind-the-scenes and listen to commentaries to get insights and context.  Go to film fests and meet everyone. Spend as much time on-set as possible in any position. Mentors are nice, but don’t live and die by finding them—be around film and a film career will find you. You are the one that will push you forward, keep doing it and others will advocate.

On a more personal level, do you believe being from the heart of New Jersey and so close to NYC has influenced your work?  If so, in what way?
Being from The Jerz will always be a grounding experience. It is tacky and sociopathic at times, but I love the absurdity. You should not admit you are from New Jersey to too many people; they get ideas that maybe you are not cool enough, skilled enough—they ask about organized crime stories. When I call folks for the disc work, and they have some Jersey background, regardless of level of fame when they see my 732 NJ cell number we need to take a Jersey minute to talk about Jersey things. The first time I really bonded about the Jerz was founder of VCE Films VFX wizard Peter Kuran—diners being a key thing to bring up. NYC is about never ending energy and excellence of creativity. It is to be made of lightning and with that pace never stop moving and creating the impossible. NJ is hard, NYC is hard—forged in these places you can only make diamonds. I am also surrounded by all cultures, all people at all times. And NYC was where I saw my first punk show, and still go to them regularly to this day.

What do you hope the public take away from your work?
From my critical writing: how to contextualize genre, speak about it as any legitimate art form, but never lose sight that it is wild and outlaw.

From my interviews: to relay wisdom to the fan/artist to again better understand the work, the process; to inspire and learn from.

From my disc work: a sense of film history and the different types of artists involved to create work and the critical importance of all departments.

From feature producing: that I am an advocate for stories and those artists whose voices should be heard. My focus will always be on genre: horror, exploitation, noir, westerns—it might seem paradoxical, but the strictures of genre  can allow for a broader creative freedom – genre can be a language, almost like music— to discover and to create frontiers within those genre boundaries, limited only by imagination and resourcefulness within the inevitable limitations of budget, at all scales of production.

Please tell us about your upcoming projects, what you have coming for fans to look forward to and that you can talk about.
I am one of the co-producers on director Jenn Wexler’s The Ranger for Glass Eye Pix and Hood River Entertainment. It’s a punk rock slasher film with one hell of a badass final girl. We are looking to shoot this Spring. As for my disc work, most of it is unannounced, but we are just finishing up our work on the Phantasm box set for Well Go Media. I’ll continue to work with Red Shirt Pictures and Kino Lorber. The feature doc on Al Adamson, which I co-produced, is currently in post. I am excited to see it. That was for David Gregory of Severin films. It speaks to Al’s place in horror-exploitation cinema in the 1960’s and the circumstances of his untimely death. And hey some of my disc were just nominated for a Rondo Award (The Thing and Exorcist III), each category is nominated by your peers and so it is very much an honor.

Thank you Heather for talking to us and for showing everyone that a woman can do anything she puts her mind to.