Interview with Lisa Hunter and Alex Epstein about “You Are So Undead”

Posted: 2011/06/20 in Interviews
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You Are So Undead is a refreshing six minute vampire sex comedy written by Lisa Hunter and directed by Alex Epstein in 2010. It has aired on Bravo!FACT’s new show In Short and has also been screening in many festivals. Among them, Screamfest LA, Just for Laughs Chicago, Bleedfest LA (For which Lisa won the screenwriting award), Vampire Film Festival in New Orleans (For which Lisa won the Outstanding Award), the 13th Mecal International Short Film Festival in Barcelona, and has even the Dead by Dawn horror film festival in Edinburgh! Lisa Hunter also won the WGC Award for Best Short. Everywhere they go, You Are So Undead and its creative duo receive a lot of eulogies and it’s yet just a start!

David Martel: “First off, Thank you Alex and Lisa for doing this interview with me and congratulations for the awards that you have already received for You Are So Undead. This is quite a journey for such a short film! Did you expect that much success?”

Alex Epstein: “A long time ago I learned to stop expecting success or failure. It  will drive you crazy. I just do what I think will work, and I’m happy for  whatever happens.

I kind of figured people would get a kick out of it. I figured we wouldn’t win any  awards – it’s not that kind of film — but audiences would dig it.

I actually figured it would do better at LGBT festivals, but of course if you’re at an LGBT festival, you’re way ahead of the joke.”

DM: “Where did you get the idea for You Are So Undead?”

Lisa Hunter: “My teenage son was complaining that his girlfriend was obsessed by Twilight. She had posters of Robert Pattinson all over her room, and he felt dissed. I tried to cheer him up with ways he could tell her that dating a vampire would actually suck.”

AE: “Then Lisa and I were at the playground watching our daughter play, and Lisa thought it would be fun to do a sort of high school parody where “going all the way” meant letting your boyfriend bite you. I came up with the idea that Mary Margaret doesn’t reflect. And then Lisa wrote the first draft in about an hour. We tweaked the script for about a day, and then we pretty much had the draft that we shot.”

DM: “Are you big fans of horror movies? Your film having a unique tone; I suppose that your inspiration was taken from completely different genres. Is that right?”

AE: “I think Lisa’s a big fan of high school TV shows. I’m a fan of speculative fiction, and I do love vampire stories, except for a certain hit series with sparkly vamps. Lisa’s all about goofy comedy, and I’m big on mythology, so we came at it from different angles.”

LH: “I like horror comedies like Zombieland, American Werewolf in London, Sean of the Dead. But straight-on horrors are too scary for me. When I was a kid and all my friends wanted to go see slasher films, the only way I could watch was by rooting for the villain.  That’s still my secret coping mechanism for watching scary movies – “Go zombies! Get ‘em!”

DM: “Lisa being the writer and Alex being the director, did you have a lot to say into each other’s function on this project? Being husband and wife, I suppose that it already brings a little bit of chemistry. What kind of relation did you have?”

AE: “One of the joys of our marriage is that we get to bounce our creativity off each other. Lisa had a lot of input into the look of the film, and the costumes, among many other things. I story edited the script. You can pretty much assume that almost anything either of us does has some input from the other.”

DM: “On a more personal note, when my wife and I work on the same creative project, we often get carried away and argue a lot, but the result always ends much better than what it was at first.”

AE: “Well, yes. Lisa and I don’t always agree, but I usually try to convince her, and if I can’t convince her, then that’s a sign that maybe I should try to come up with something better. She’s got a girl’s perspective, and I’ve got a boy’s perspective, and unless I was designing a first person shooter video game about robots and trains, I’d be nuts to ignore her point of view.”

LH: “So that’s why he’s working on a first-person shooter about robots and trains!”

DM: “When I watched You Are So Undead for the first time, I said to Lisa that I’d certainly watch a whole series, if well written like that! Do you have anything going on into that direction for the future? Do you plan on working on something longer together soon?”

AE: “We have a pitch for a web series, but we’re not producers. So we have to find someone who wants to produce a web series. We pitched it as a series to Space, but for some reason you can’t do a high school show in Canada, unless it’s DeGrassi. The audience for Canadian shows seems to be much older than the audience for American shows.”

LH: “I have springboards for an entire YASU web series. We just haven’t figured out the production model yet. If you know any producers who want to jump into web series…”

DM: “Prior to You Are So Undead, you both co-wrote, along with Vito Viscomi, the animated feature film Walter’s Christmas (related to the Walter & Tandoori youth series), and story edited by Thomas LaPierre. Was it the first time that you were writing together? How was it for you to work in animation?”

AE: “We’ve been writing TV and film together since, oh, 2006, when we developed a series about teenage models for Global.

Animation is fun and different because you can do things you can’t afford to do live action. We had an entire factory unfold out of a cargo container on Walter. You also challenge yourself to do things that can’t be done live action: that’s the point of doing animation. And Lisa is full of fresh, goofy ideas that might be hard to accomplish in live action.”

LH: “I LOVE animation and would like to do more of it. I just finished working on a live-action series with humour similar to cartoons like Kid vs. Kat, League of Super Evil, etc. I’m told my sense of humour is similar to an 8-year-old boy’s, so I’d love to write for the “boy cartoons.” I also watch a lot of preschool with my daughter and think it would be fun to work on some of the more comic ones. (I’m not good at writing earnest, for any age group. If I tried to write a “family” movie, it would probably turn into The Addams Family.)”

DM: “Alex is an experienced and well known writer trained at UCLA and Yale (Among others, he co-wrote Canadian box-office hit Bon Cop / Bad Cop, co-created the Gemini-nominated comic drama television series Naked Josh that ran for three seasons and wrote highly successful books about writing for television and cinema), but little is known about Lisa’s background. What kind of experience did you have prior to You Are So Undead and Walter’s Christmas?”

LH: “Ironically, I owe my writing career to Loi 101. In New York, I was a writer and editor for museums and did my ‘creative’ writing as a hobby. I wasn’t brave enough to try writing full-time. But when I moved here to be with Alex, my French wasn’t good enough to do the same type of museum work, so I finally took a chance on writing. I was extra motivated to succeed, because I didn’t have a Plan B.

Fortunately, it worked out. I wrote a book about art (The Intrepid Art Collector, Crown/Random House Canada) and developed some TV and film projects that didn’t actually get made, but which helped me become a better writer. This year everything seems to have come together – a TV gig, the Writers Guild award, and the animated feature coming out at Christmas. That’s a good year!”

DM: “You are both from New York but you decided to move to Montreal about 10 years ago and learned French. What made you choose to live in our province and, of course, adapt to our culture and our language. This last subject being a delicate issue around here, I’m sure that many people appreciate your dedication!”

AE: “Well, to be precise, we learned French and then moved to Montreal. My father is a big francophile – he spent two years in Paris in the 50’s studying at the Sciences Po’. So naturally I studied French in high school and university. Meanwhile I knew Lisa in college, and we were fans of the Modernist writers – Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein – and Lisa had me pretty convinced I should go to Paris and write stories in cafés. So that’s what I did after deciding not to do anything with my computer science degree. I hung around Paris for a year making videos in French, going to movies, and writing in cafés.

Then, because I had French and computer science, I got hired out of film school to work for an Israeli producer making an Israeli-Québec-French co-production shot in Poland and financed through a Welsh TV channel. That was my first break in showbiz. My next two development jobs also involved finding features to shoot in Québec. So I became aware that Montréal has a warm, nurturing cultural environment. I was pretty sick of the cold, hostile LA vibe, so I moved here, figuring I could write features for francophone producers who want to shoot in English, and for LA producers who want to shoot in Québec. The LA producers promptly forgot I existed, but Montréal has been very, very good to me since, and has given me opportunities I never would have had in LA.

Meanwhile, Montréal turns out to be the most livable city I’ve ever lived in. It’s very easy for a New Yorker to be at home here. Both cities are bilingual, cosmopolitan and passionate. But you can live well in Montreal without being ridiculously rich. So we’ve made our home here.”

LH: “French is a big part of why I love Montreal. As a teenager, I was obsessed with the art and literary scene in Paris in the ‘20s — my dream was to be an expatriate writer, speak French, and hang out in cafes with writer-artist friends. That’s pretty much my life here in Montreal.”

DM: “Thanks again to both of you for the interview! It’s always a pleasure to discuss with you! I hope we meet again soon!”

If you are interested by the television and cinema industries, Alex Epstein’s books (Crafty Screenwriting: Writing Movies That Get Made and Crafty TV Writing: Thinking Inside the Box) are absolute musts for any writer looking to improve. You can also follow his very popular blog (Complications Ensue) to get a glimpse of what how he writes about our craft! If you are more of a fiction reader, Alex also wrote The Circle Cast: The Lost Years of Morgan le Fay. If you are interested by art collecting and would like to read Lisa Hunter, go get her book : The Intrepid Art Collector: The Beginner’s Guide to Finding, Buying, and Appreciating Art on a Budget.

Finally, if you’d like to meet Alex and Lisa to so see how fun they are in person, you might want to attend a Soirées Schmooze. These are occasional gatherings for people working in Montreal‘s film, tv, theater, games and new media communities, organized by Alex Epstein and Mark Morgenstern. Ask to join the Facebook group, if you’d like to get invited to the next Soirée Schmooze in Montreal. You will meet a lot of fun and interesting individuals. You could even run into me sometimes!

The current pictures belong to Alex Epstein and are used with his permission.

  1. […] interested, there is an interview with director Alex Epstein and writer Lisa Hunter about working together to create “You Are […]

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