Five minutes into Dolly Deadly, Heidi Moore’s debut feature, I was time-warped back to the early 90s; A time when I felt awakened and awed by the cherry-popping experience of watching Pink Flamingos on VHS.
I hadn’t even finished the opening credits of Dolly Deadly yet, when a phantom plastic video-tape smell wafted under my nose, transporting me back to my high school bedroom when I would rewind/re-watch/repeat the apocalyptic color feasts of Gregg Araki. Yet, Dolly Deadly manages to do something incredibly rare: capture the influences of the filmmaker without, even for a second, coming across as anything other then unique and specific to the mind of Heidi Moore.
Conducting this interview left me feeling empowered and inspired. After-all, Heidi “The Director Lady” Moore has a lot of wisdom that any artist can appreciate.
Hannah Neurotica: When did you start experimenting with film making as an art-form? Did you attend film school or are you self taught?
Heidi Moore: I’ve always wanted to make movies. In high school I would carry a notebook around and write my ideas in it, but I wasn’t in a creative environment; I had no clue how to actually make anything happen. When I was 21 I moved to Florida and became a fetish photographer and through that I met so many talented artists. I got my first film job at an adult modeling agency shooting porn. Not very glamorous, but it was something right? Shortly after, I met my friend Kevin Smith who was a film instructor at the Art Institute at the time. He really paved the way for me to become a director. I wrote a feature length script about zombie strippers called “R.I.P. Tease” that was heavily influenced by Troma movies, and Kevin helped me shoot a teaser for it. Unfortunately the actual movie never saw the light of day, but I still have the script somewhere….maybe one day. But writing that script and shooting the teaser taught me so much.
Hannah: So, what were some of those lessons R.I.P Tease taught you?
Heidi: Writing R.I.P. Tease really taught me how to write a script. It was the first thing I had ever written, and it was feature length. Following through with a project and having crew who were helping me create was really empowering.
The biggest thing I learned while filming was that my husband wasn’t supportive when it came down to it. I remember the day we shot the zombie scene, he was supposed to be watching the kids who were 3 and 4 at the time. He showed up on set and dropped them off saying he decided not to take the day off work because that wouldn’t help his career (He couldn’t take one fucking day off from the tattoo shop?).
I had to have the boys sit down and behave as best as possible while we finished. It felt humiliating, and it planted a seed in my mind…..divorce. A month or so later he spent the money I had saved to film the feature, and told me it was better spent on his career because I was never actually going to make a movie.
Anyhow, I honestly believe if him and I would have stayed together I would have never gotten to follow any kind of dreams. So I am lucky I figured it out when I did.
Hannah: Did you find people treated you with respect when you were working in adult entertainment? Did that experience inform your art today?
Heidi: No one cared when I shot porn. I was a pretty popular fetish photographer at the time and all my friends did porn of some kind. One issue I’ve had though is men on my crew thinking I was in porn and looking me up trying to find it. I’ve heard conversations, “dude, she used to do porn”….Kinda gross. As far as impacting my work now, it doesn’t really. Although I do have stories and gross facts that I can write about now.
Hannah: Dolly Deadly is so uniquely Heidi Moore while clearly inspired by the aesthetic of visionaries like John Waters and David Lynch. I also got an old-school Harmony Korine vibe in some scenes. Yet it never feels even remotely like anyone else’s voice but your own. It’s a rare & very genuine convergence that reads in a very honest/raw way. What artists/filmmakers had the biggest impact on you? In one scene there are pink flamingos on the lawn. Was the a purposeful ode to Waters? (I love it!)
Heidi: In the beginning I was just trying to figure out a movie idea that I could film for $5,000. I teamed up with my crazy talented friend Cassandra Sechler and we got going on “Dolly Deadly”. She came up with the dreams and I worked on the parts about Benji’s life. It started getting pretty detailed and…expensive.
After filming a concept teaser and preparing to get started on the film, I had a major break up, and then a four month mental break down (not over the break up, but life in general). I actually decided to quit film making all together.
After I finished boo hooing, I peeled myself off my mom’s couch and made some plans. First, I reworked the Dolly Deadly script; cutting out a ton of characters, locations, etc. to make it more doable. I made it more about Benji and his little world because the actor who plays Benji is my son, and he was available any time I needed him. Plus he works for candy and soda…and the opportunity to use knives and stabbing weapons (Cassandra Sechler can vouch for that).
I am influenced by everything I see, everything people say to me…just everything. So all of that goes into my writing. I’m even influenced by faint memories of weird commercials and PSA’s I’d see on tv in the 80’s. With all that floating around in my brain, it’s impossible to stick to one genre or style. John Waters, Lloyd Kaufman, Gregg Araki, David Lynch and so many other directors have made a big impression on me. You mentioned you noticed a Harmony Korine vibe at times, and I’ve heard that before…I am so intrigued by the fucked up lives and actions of other people; the weird shit they do. I always think about the part in Gummo when the little boy is lifting makeshift weights and his mom is tap dancing around with a gun. It seems far fetched, but people are fucking weird and stuff like that can absolutely happen. I like to get into that. The pink flamingo in the yard was just a happy accident, but John Waters did influence my fascination with trashy people, hence the creation of Grandma Mitzi and her boyfriend Donald.
Hannah: You were talking about struggling with a mental breakdown (among other difficult things). You pushed through and so many people are unable to do that. What would you say to those who are feeling like giving up?
Heidi: Take a little break, and don’t do anything damaging to your career or project. For example, don’t announce to the public that you quit. Just give yourself some time and get back to work once your depression(or whatever you’re dealing with) passes. Your future sane self will appreciate it so much if they don’t have to pick up the pieces. Obviously most of us artists don’t get to be fully sane, but you know, some days are better than others.
Sometimes you have to go on autopilot and just work. You’ll be happy you did once you’re feeling better. And honestly it’s a good distraction. If you have too much downtime, you give your mind a chance to start fucking with you. Even with distractions, my mind still likes to be a total bitch to me. Sometimes I’ll be writing and I’ll think “Don’t bother finishing this, you suck and noone’s going to pay attention anyway.” But I have to tell myself to shut up and just keep going. Because even if I don’t make movies, someone else will, and these people aren’t necessarily more skilled than me. So….I keep going.
My biggest tip is to never post these things on social media. You have friends and family that you can talk to privately. Keep it professional.
We all have our ups and downs, and it’s really not appropriate to blast it all over to people who you don’t even know, and who are fans of yours. That also goes for times when things are going wrong with your projects; it’s really not for the public to know. Plus how can you expect people to be excited about your project if you’re always posting negative things?
Don’t be afraid to reach out to other filmmakers. Even if you just need to talk to someone who understands, it really helps. Realizing you’re not alone and hearing about struggles others have overcome, has a way of restoring hope (at least temporarily).
Hide in your room and watch TV, eat a whole pizza, rub your face on the cat’s belly….whatever you need to do, but don’t let that shit consume you.
Hannah: So going back to Dolly Deadly- Your film is a mix of horror, psychological thriller, drama, experimental, exploitation, and beyond. Did you set out to work within a certain sub-genre or it just naturally came together?
Heidi: Originally the movie was meant to be a horror. But once I get writing, it never turns out how I planned. Several scenes were made up as I went. During production I’d be sitting there and an idea would pop in my head, and we’d film it the next day. One in particular was the scene where Benji is baptizing his dolls. I was thinking about a time I told my kids that if there was a rapture, I’d be left behind. They said they’d stay on earth with me; I thought it was so sweet. They’d rather go to hell then be away from me. Who could ask for more? Anyhow, I quickly added that aspect to a scene we were planning to shoot soon and there you have it. Like I said, there are too many things to be influenced by for me to stick to one genre.
Hannah: Dolly Deadly is your first feature, correct? How long did it take to shoot?
Heidi: Dolly Deadly took 3 years from concept to completion. 3-Fucking- years!! I had so many setbacks that the years kept going by. I had that breakup and mental breakdown, then I had an editor that disappeared, another editor who was so busy being an alcoholic, that he wasted months of time. Then my apartment burnt down….just a bunch of crummy stuff. But somehow we all pushed through and made it happen. And yes, this was my first feature film, the next one will not take so long!!
Hannah: The makeup/beauty products in the film are so outrageous yet totally believable, as we live in a culture that has readily accepted burning, injecting and cutting ourselves for “beauty.” Had you had an experience that inspired this piece of the story?
Heidi: I used to work at Clinique and ladies would come buy hundreds of dollars of night creams and all that crap. I would always think to myself, “this shit isn’t going to help, why don’t you take this money and pay an aesthetician to melt your face off?” As a cosmetologist, I’m always thinking of dorky cosmetology humor so naturally I had to put it in the movie.
Like when Grandma Mitzi accidentally melts a part of her client’s face. That’s from times when you’re working in the salon and you fry someone’s hair; then you casually offer a free conditioning treatment “just to be nice”. Or when you tone someone’s blond hair and see it’s green while rinsing it out…then you tell them you’re conditioning it when you’re really doing a bleach wash to get that shit out of there. Hopefully some people will get it. Ha!
Hannah: Your film incorporates stopmotion. Had you done that before?
Heidi: I hadn’t really worked with stop motion before, but as Lloyd Kaufman says in “Make Your Own Damn Movie”, work with what you have access to. And I have access to amazingly talented friends. It just so happens Josh Funk who is the editor of Dolly Deadly makes his own stop motion movies. So, uh, why wouldn’t I jump on that?? Wormholes by Josh Funk.
Then I met the ever so creative Abbie Louise Alb who does animation and stop motion. I thought she was fantastic so I asked her to make the opening title sequence. I would love to work with her more one of these days. (Note to self, talk to Abbie about working on something together).
Theeeeen I met Pascal Little. He makes some crazy weird and wonderful music videos and stop motion. We were fortunate enough to get him to make some face melting end credits. Thanks Pascal!! Pretty Addicted Mania( Filmed and edited by Pascal Little).
Hannah: Your son plays the lead. Were there ever moments that caused tension working with family?
Heidi: Oh jeez. Let’s just say I lost my shit a few times. Justin(Benji) is a cryer so once he got tired, we had to be so careful not to set him off. But one time when we were running on fumes, Justin wouldn’t stop crying and I was flipping out. That footage got lost and honestly I’m glad. I never want to relive that moment and I will never act like that again. I’m sorry Justin!! Mommy loves you.
Hannah: I learned first hand that working with child actors can be really difficult and even take longer to shoot. Did you run into any setbacks working with younger actors?
Heidi: A lot of times the kids were bigger troopers than the adults, but once they got tired, forget about it. They would get sleepy and grumpy. Then that would lead to crying and falling to the ground; the works. There was a lot of bribing with candy and treats. I started trying to think of ways to get them focused, the main thing that worked was getting them to be silly and “shake it up”. Shake it up!
Hannah: In the opening scene cigarette smoke is blown into a baby’s face. This is something that happens everyday, yet watching it staged is oddly uncomfortable. Has anyone commented on it?
Heidi: No one has said anything about it yet. We made sure to blow the smoke up and not directly in his face, but it was definitely all around. I’ll have to wait for the movie to get out to the public more before I get shit for that I’m sure.
Hannah: What was a lesson you learned the hard way during the Dolly Deadly shoot? And one what one of the most wonderful moments?
Heidi: Do not work with people who are interested in you romantically. They lose their minds when all you want to do is work and not fuck them. They ruin scenes and cause problems.
I think my favorite part of shooting Dolly Deadly was the night we shot Donald and Mitzi’s death scenes. We were all having so much fun and the scenes were amazing. Then after Jay and Kim (Donald and Mitzi) went home, we were still good to go so we filmed the dream with the large blue doll. It was 3 am and we were all so out of it and silly. So fun!
Hannah: As a woman working in a male dominated field have you ever personally run into any situations/ experience(s) that made you feel like an outsider as result of your gender?
Heidi: Let me start by saying I have gotten a ton of support from men in the industry. Most of the people out there showing the movie and helping to promote are guys. These are good guys who are the model of what everyone should be like (Shout out to Kurt Walsh, Kevin Smith, George James Fraser, and so many more).
Unfortunately it’s not always the case.
I’ve never told this story to the public, so here goes nothin… I had a feature film in the works called “Wurms,” and wanted to shoot the opening scene to use to possibly get funding.
I was introduced to a guy who said he could film and edit it, and being so excited and new to filmmaking, I jumped on the opportunity.
When he got to town and we started getting production underway, he started saying really inappropriate and sexual things to me. I brushed it off because I just really wanted my movie made. Then he started trying to take over and change things. One time he took me location scouting with a few of his friends and once we were in the middle of nowhere and I had no way to leave, he stopped the car and went off on me about how he knows what he’s doing and he knows what sells and that he needs to be in charge, not me.
I actually said okay and told him to go ahead and write a scene. I wish I still had what he wrote; it was two girls wrestling each other and pulling each others clothes off. That made me come to my senses and tell him that I’m still in charge. He got mad, but pretended to be okay and we filmed the scene I decided on.
He touched my butt on set and sent several texts implying he wanted more from me, so I quit being so nice and told him to basically stay away from me. Well…since he was editing and I wasn’t smart enough (yet) to have my own copy of the footage, he stole it and sent this email out to everyone on crew:
“While I am fully aware of the impact and affect this decision has on others who volunteered their time, talents and efforts toward the production and creation of the movie WURMS, I am greatly dissatisfied with the standard in which you have conducted yourself pertaining to this project, and moreover in this field of film making, and more specifically in the business we have engaged in. You have misrepresented yourself in retaining my participation and talents, withheld crucial information regarding the production and goals therein, displayed blatant disregard for your partners, their investments and the agreements therein, created financial penalties for your partners and their associates, and have continuously shown and created insurmountable obstacles due to your lack of clarity, cooperation, good faith and professionalism throughout this journey. As I weigh the good against the bad, I return to the same point… I WILL NOT in any way contribute my talents, moneys, time and efforts toward your career. The simple truth is that my work and talents pertained in the footage and edit of Wurms has the potential to open new doors for you, of which I am certain you are undeserving at this juncture. Therefore, my position is to withhold my creations (image and edits), and to prevent you from capitalizing on my talents and furthering any progress toward circles which will definitely hold you to much higher standards than you have proven yourself capable of.”
He did everything he could to drag my name through the mud and even showed a trailer of it at an event. He gave the event coordinator specific instructions not to give it to me. And even wrote it on the DVD. But guess what, I got it!! Fucker.
After a year of us all trying to figure out what to do, my good friend stepped in with all the emails and texts this guy had sent sexually harassing me and told him to either give us back the footage or we’re going to sue. He gave it back!! But he didn’t give us the audio. I edited the movie and had someone clean up the camera audio best as possible. We had gone too far to give up over shitty audio.
I learned so much from that experience so I try to look on the bright side, but holy shit, it was so discouraging. Some advice my mom gave me during this whole fiasco that I will always look to:
“Even though you want something so bad, you can’t let people screw you over and treat you like shit. That’s not how to get what you’re after.”
Hannah: I want to talk about Crowdfunding. You raised money for your film via a crowd funding campaign. Had you done that before? For those thinking of doing that do you have any tips or advice?
Heidi: I had never done any crowd funding before, but Cassandra had and she helped out with it a lot. We got $3,000 and the rest of the $10,000 came out of my pocket. It was really stressful for me to post about it all the time and ask people for money. I won’t do it again, the main reason being once the movie is done there is absolutely no money left. But then you still have to get all those perks you promised during your campaign. You better hope you didn’t offer tshirts and all that expensive shit. Another reason is that micro budget movies tend to take a long time to make and people start getting upset wondering if it’s ever going to get finished and think they threw their money away. It’s all too much for me; I’m an anxious person. lol.
Hannah: For those who are broke but want to jump into DIY filmmaking what would be your first couple tips or words of wisdom?
Heidi: Listen, we’re all broke. I’m a single mom of two, I get it. But I worked a day job and funded “Dolly Deadly” paycheck to paycheck. It’s your dream and if you really want it, you’ll make it happen. You can’t expect other people to do it for you. So until you get producers interested in funding your films, you better be ready to live in tweaker apartments, eat top ramen, and work a shitty day job.
Hannah: Now that your film is out what are you working on next?
Heidi: I’ve been working on a few side projects like a short documentary about an awesome drag king named Tucker Noir, and an audio book for my friend Margaret Elysia Garcia. I have a few scrips out to producers and I’m anxiously waiting for at least one of them to be picked up. In the meantime I’ve been co-writing a script for the upcoming feature film “Driller Queen” by Kurt Dirt, promoting “Dolly Deadly” and planning the theater tour.
It’s a crazy amount of work so it’s good I’ve had some time to work on it all.