An upcoming filmmaker and novelist, Emily Louise Rua is making a mark on the industry as she manages to work between the various fields of writing, directing or being involved in various genre-related projects. Now, in honor of Women in Horror Month, I talk with her about getting into the industry, the filming of 9 Ways to Hell and her other projects.
Me: Hello and thank you for taking the time to do this. First off, when did you get into horror in general?
Emily Louise Rua: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love horror! My life has revolved around horror and Halloween from the start. My dad enjoyed the old Universal monster movies and he passed on that love to me pretty early on. I learned to read from Alvin Schwartz folklore books (initially Ghosts! and In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories and eventually the Scary Stories trilogy) then by third grade I was onto Stephen King. My poor teachers had to endure me injecting horror into every single school project (from English papers to science projects to essays on Amish economies), and I spent my free time writing horror stories, making short films, and doing Halloween craft projects.
Me: Were you into genre films growing up? What films specifically got you into watching horror movies?
ELR: As soon as I could watch movies, my dad had me watching the Universal monster movies. We had a couple VHS tapes and even super 8mm film. I absolutely loved them and graduated onto all sorts of b-horror pretty quickly. By the time I was 4, I had rented Chopper Chicks in Zombietown so many times from our local video rental shop that my dad decided to just start collecting horror & sci-fi movies to save on rental fees (we now have a collection nearing 3,000 titles).
Aside from Chopper Chicks in Zombietown, the other films that shaped my love for the genre were The People Under the Stairs, Child’s Play II, and – a movie that still terrifies me to this day - The Blob (1958).
Me: When did you initially discover a passion for moviemaking? What aspect of the industrial appealed to you?
ELR: I love how horror uses monsters and fantastic situations to explore societal issues or personal hardships. Horror is a universal genre – no matter where we're born or what socio-economic group you come from, everyone has at least a little fear of what may lurk in the dark. Film is such a creative way to explore horror, so I naturally gravitated to the medium. Audiences get to face their fears together and survive (even though their onscreen counterparts may not).
I started by making short films with my friends and family using my parents’ VHS camcorder and in high school, my dad bought me a digital camcorder. My senior year I took an independent study in art class and made my own film curriculum – culminating in a delightful 2-minute stop-motion Godzilla film. Even though it was just a silly little film, hearing the audience laugh and clap along solidified my resolve to enter into the industry. I want to bring people together through my films.
Me: When you entered the University of Southern California for your studies, was there any kind of push towards a specific style or format?
ELR: Believe it or not, the world’s most prestigious film school did not really embrace my love for b-horror and monster movies when I went there (although now with Jason Blum and Rebecca McKendry heavily involved in the school, it has certainly changed). In the late 2000s, the horror my fellow classmates enjoyed was very “safe” and artistic – Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Silence of the Lambs, Rosemary’s Baby, etc. My film production classmates did not take kindly to my films about a poor college student exorcizing a possessed chair or a puppet monster under the bed desperately trying to scare a young man. I enjoy utilizing a more heavy-handed stylization and adding elements of the fantastic into my work.
But film school did rub off on me a bit – in college, I was exposed to many beautiful and artistic foreign horror films and I am now just a little partial to more whimsical horror. I would love to create films with stylistic & tonal influences from Delicatessen (Marc Caro & Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 1991), The Orphanage (J.A. Bayona, 2007) or REC (Jaume Balaguero, Paco Plaza, 2007).
Me: Having worked on various aspects of film production, do you have any particular preference for working on any?
ELR: I am a director and an actress, through and through! In college, I spent four years as the Post Production manager at USC’s television station, and although it was a fun challenge, being alone in a dark room for hours on end is not fulfilling to me. I need to collaborate with people. I would much rather assemble a strong team of talented crew members and lead them to fulfill a creative vision. Others have a much stronger grasp on camera and lighting technology; my strengths are in communicating with people. Hamming it up in front of a camera is also fun.
Me: With plenty of short films early in your career, what tools and skills do you acquire working on those that transferred to feature-film projects?
ELR: Feature films are just very long short films. Working on a short you learn how to tell a concise story and keep everything simple because you don’t have the time to make it too complex. Learning how to make that strong, simple skeleton to your feature is very important. If you have a stable skeleton, you can then add extra layers and more drawn-out moments to fill out the piece.
Me: You’re part of the upcoming anthology 9 Ways to Hell as a writer, director and actress in one of the segments. How did you get involved with the project?
ELR: I met producer Nick Dragon at a horror filmmakers meetup group, which did not really take off as we had hoped. After doing a couple shorts together, that group disbanded but Dragon invited me to join another group he was a part of, “Hollywood Guerilla Filmmakers.” One day he reached out and said that one of the filmmakers slated to work on an anthology feature they were putting together had dropped out and they needed a last-minute replacement. Dragon knew that I loved horror and he felt I was fun to work with, so he thought I might be a good fit for the project. I was honored to be considered and within a week sent over my first draft of the script. A few weeks later we had auditions and within a couple months, my short segment was filmed. It was a wonderful whirlwind experience!
Me: Where did the inspiration for your segment, ‘Gluttony,’ come from? Were there any unique stories about its conception?
ELR: Each segment in 9 Ways to Hell is based off one of the levels of Hell from Dante’s Inferno. I read the original work and tried to think of ways to weave the themes into a modern setting. I knew right away that I did not want to go the obvious route of featuring fat characters or extreme over-eating. I also knew that due to having a limited budget (I financed my segment myself), I needed to utilize a limited setting. So I turned to a situation I knew – living with a roommate who doesn’t always hold the same values as you do – and sought to create an unconventional take on gluttony. "Gluttony" does not just focus on food, but overindulgence in many aspects of life. It concerns an empty excess in everything at the expense of the people around you. That was the core of the story I wanted to tell. I also loved the imagery of tormented souls in putrid, black slush and knew that I wanted to incorporate that into the segment as well.
Me: What was the set like while shooting the film? How did the cast and crew react to the type of film being made?
ELR: The film set was my actual apartment, so we had a very relaxed feel and plenty of emotional support cats running around the set between takes. Every inch of the place is actually covered in either Halloween or horror movie décor, so making it look like a “normal” apartment took a decent amount of time to set up (and we still had to only shoot in certain directions to avoid giant skull canvases, an 8-foot spider on the ceiling, and other crazy décor).
Having a background in editing, I meticulously storyboard my films before shooting since I have a strong sense of how I want to cut it together and what I want each shot to focus on. However, I love to collaborate with my cast and crew and do multiple takes where we try different delivery options or set-ups once we have filmed what I know I need. Everyone in the cast and crew had a voice on this set and I was constantly impressed by their own interpretations of the script. I think we all loved horror and just wanted to make the best film possible.
Me: Do you recall having any odd or funny on-set stories about yourself or any of the other cast/crew members?
ELR: Despite not having food be the main focus on the entire piece, some of the most memorable moments on set were the ones involving filming the actors eating. Ginny O’Keefe (Stephanie) was such a good sport. We made custom chocolates with caramel filling (I would have preferred using peanut butter but we were afraid of anyone on set having nut allergies). Ginny is not a fan of caramel at all, but she had to bite into dozens of the chocolates for the various takes and she made it look like she was loving each bite. The most challenging scene for me as an actress was eating cookies and drinking milk on camera. The first take was completely unusable because I was visibly stressed having to eat with my mouth open, drip crumbs all over myself, and chug milk all while about 7 cast & crew members stared at me behind the camera. You never realize how ingrained it is within you to be polite and demure while eating until you have to consciously go against that training. By the 5th or 6th cookie & glass of milk, I got the hang of it, though.
Me; Are there any details you can provide about its upcoming release?
ELR: 9 Ways to Hell is nearing the end of its festival run. We hope to have more information about the release soon. You can stay up-to-date by visiting: www.9waystohell.com.
Me: In addition, you're also a published writer with several stories in the anthology Haunters Tale: Vol. II. How did you get involved in the book? What is your process and staying focused on writing?
ELR: J. Michael Roddy’s Haunter’s Tale: Vol. II is an anthology book featuring members of the Halloween & horror industries. As I work in the events industry, specializing in Halloween & horror events, I met Michael at a Halloween trade show where he had been selling Volume I and we kept in touch after that. As he was preparing for volume II, he reached out to many of my friends in the industry and they recommended that he reach out to me to contribute as well. Networking has been key to my success with my creative endeavors!
When I was a child, I would sit down with a notebook or at the computer and effortlessly write pages upon pages of content. As I became an adult, however, I found myself paralyzed when facing a blank page, fearing that what I could write would not be “perfect” or the “right” thing to commit to the page. To combat that I have found a couple methods that work. Firstly, I make writing a habit with a daily journal; it is a safe space where I allow myself to write any random thing that pops into my head and I force myself to complete an entry each day. It isn’t hard to learn to abandon the quest for perfection when you are tired at 2 a.m. and just trying to finish an entry before bed. That habit really changed how I perceived writing and has helped reduce my insecurities. Secondly, when it is time to write an actual piece, I carve out a set amount of time (usually an hour) and commit to writing anything in that time. I can always come back and edit, but that hour is just typing anything related to the piece at hand – a chapter, a page, or even just a paragraph.
Me: With your writing taking you into the Haunted Attractions Network as a contributing writer to the foundation, what does this relationship entail?
ELR: Having worked with publisher Philip Hernandez at past Halloween industry events, I have occasionally stepped in to help during the haunt industry’s busy season to cover events and news. This past October I wrote a few articles covering COVID-safe trick-or-treating ideas, haunted car washes, and other industry news, but my main contribution has been spearheading the annual industry report research for Halloween & Christmas events. So many events pop up during the Halloween and Christmas seasons but no other outlet was really compiling the data (such as pricing, event features, number of open days, etc.) to analyze for overall trends in the industry. I have spent the past few months sleuthing around the internet to gather as much data as possible to present in the network’s annual report – my understanding of the industry has been greatly enhanced through this research!
Me: As well, you've been involved with the Screamfest Horror Film Festival as a volunteer coordinator. What do you usually provide for the experience?
ELR: I have been volunteering with Screamfest since 2012 and officially coordinated volunteers for the past two years. It entails a lot of scheduling, paperwork, and e-mail coordination prior to the event, and then ten days of non-stop excitement during the festival itself – not to mention the monthly screenings we put on throughout the year. This past year was especially challenging as we pivoted from a standard festival to a drive-in festival experience. The team is amazing, however, and does a fantastic job with thinking on their feet and creating a supportive and welcoming environment for all. As part of the Screamfest volunteer team, I strive to help filmmakers, guests, and other volunteers network, have fun, and celebrate a genre we are all passionate about.
Me: What else are you working on that you'd like to share with our readers?
ELR: I am always up to something! Keep an eye out for my cameo as a super fan in the Howard the Duck documentary, Howard the Doc (directed by Ernesto Trinidad). I am also working on a script for a new anthology feature in development. Lastly, I invite everyone to see what Halloween & horror shenanigans I am up to on my Instagram: @EmilyIsHorror
Me: Lastly, being that this is Women in Horror Month, what special message do you have for any women out there looking to join in the industry in any capacity as you are one yourself? Thank you again for your time!
ELR: The biggest thing for everyone – especially women – who want to go into a creative field is to network and seek out supportive allies to help you towards your goals. I have been very fortunate to have truly caring mentors in the horror and Halloween industries from Lora Ivanova and Shar Meyer of ScareLA to Rachel Belofsky and Karen Martin of Screamfest Horror Film Festival; they took me under their wings and shared valuable knowledge to help me on my journey. Help one another and lift up the people around you. We are all connected and it is surprising just how many people know one another in the industry. The more people we help to succeed, the more opportunities we all have to work and explore our craft.
Thank you for the opportunity for this interview!