Interview: Ursula Dabrowsky

Ursula-DabrowskyCrimson Celluloid: From conception, gestation to birth…it’s been a long wait for INNER DEMON. Have there been times when you’ve been sick of the sight of it and dying to move onto something else?

Ursula Dabrowsky: It took two and a half years from go to woe which isn’t that bad for a no budget feature. Having said that, it definitely wasnt meant to take this long . Yes, there were times it was very frustrating, but if I was resilient before, I am now even more so. Throw anything you want at me, not having enough money, hiring the wrong people for the job, technical issues that, at the time, seem impossible to resolve, and I will push through it all and get the film finished. I am so fucking resilient now, it scares me.

Crimson Celluloid: What kept you going?

Ursula Dabrowsky: Drugs and alcohol. Kidding. I was excited by what I had shot and wanted to see the finished film. I really believed I had something special on my hands, particularly in terms of performances.

Crimson Celluloid: What lessons did you learn from your experience on FAMILY DEMONS that you carried over to INNER DEMON?

Ursula Dabrowsky: That I can make films that people will sit through and not get bored. That I cast well. That I come up with good stories. That I will make mistakes and learn from them and never, ever repeat them. That making horror films is where I want to be.

Crimson Celluloid: It was a brave move casting a relatively unknown actress in Sarah Jeavons in the lead role. Especially considering she had to carry the whole film. What qualities did you see in her in the audition process that convinced you she was right for the role?

Ursula Dabrowsky: I already knew Sarah could act from a couple of taped auditions. But we also had a one-day test shoot where she was crammed into this tiny closet. She didn’t complain once and she delivered take after take after take. She was also very keen to get the part. All those things sold me on Sarah.

Crimson Celluloid: Your decision to cast her was vindicated when you see the final film, she does an amazing job. Were you conscious of having to guide and protect both her emotional and physical well-being during filming, especially given her young age?

Ursula Dabrowsky: Not really. Sarah was able to take care of herself. I was quite blown away by her maturity. I was never that mature at her age. Shes bloody amazing, on and off camera.

Crimson Celluloid: I can’t think of too many other films where the film is told virtually entirely from the perspective of the lead character…do you think it really aided in feeling sympathy for her plight?

Ursula Dabrowsky: I love films that are told with only one point of view and minimal cast. Films like High Tension, Buried, 127 Hours, Gravity. I find them to be powerful cinematic experiences. Unfortunately, most of the main characters in these films are doomed. Mine is no exception.

Crimson Celluloid: How grueling was the shoot in comparison to FAMILY DEMONS. Does a bigger budget simply mean bigger headaches?

Ursula Dabrowsky: If I had paid everyone on Family Demons it would have come pretty close to the budget I had for Inner Demon. So there wasnt much difference there. I still found that I had to make just as many compromises as before. The main difference is that, when I made Family Demons, I didn’t have any expectations. With Inner Demon, I did. I wanted to surpass what I’d done before, so the pressure was on, and it got pretty stressful at times. I’d like to ease up a bit and find a happier, more joyful middle ground with the next film I make.

Crimson Celluloid: The supernatural element to the film comes late in the piece and out of the blue. It’s effective and very scary…how important is the element of surprise in your work?

Ursula Dabrowsky: I’m surprised that people find the supernatural element comes out of the blue. Granted, it is unconventional what happens to the lead character and maybe the audience finds it difficult to accept and refuse to take it on board. I don’t know. For me, it makes sense that things happen they way they do. Perhaps it’s a question of the execution, and I’m willing to take that on board, but I had limited resources and did the best I could with what I had. Twists and turns in the story are paramount. It’s all about keeping people interested in what’s going to happen next.

Crimson Celluloid: You’ve never played the gender-card, and that’s admirable, but did you find being a woman in charge of the film production offered any unexpected or unwelcome challenges?

Ursula Dabrowsky: Up until the Inner Demon experience, I never had any issues with my gender as a filmmaker. I did on this shoot. I just ignored the bullshit and pushed on. Cuz that’s what it is. Bullshit. I’m also fully aware that men with less experience than me are being offered better opportunities. I try not to think about it too much, and just stay focused on my own filmmaking journey.

Crimson Celluloid: How has the film been received by those lucky enough to see it already?

Ursula Dabrowsky: I’ve been told that it’s a strong calling card that will help me get my next film financed. So that’s encouraging.

Crimson Celluloid: Given your films and persona, what do you think surprises people when they actually meet you?

Ursula Dabrowsky: That I’m funny. And I laugh. A lot. I guess people expect a horror filmmaker to be morbid and serious, but I put my dark side on the screen and not in my every day life.

Crimson Celluloid: There seems to be a stigma these days in regards to funding horror films where the limp-wristed, panty-waist funding-bodies are concerned. Did you have to keep this in mind when pitching the film?

Ursula Dabrowsky: Panty-waist? Ha ha! To be honest, I didn’t have any issues with the SAFC when it came to content. I was lucky with Filmlab in that I was offered carte blanche and was free to write what I wanted. Stephen Cleary, my Script Consultant, never once asked me to tone it down. In fact, the opposite. My next screenplay, Demonheart, was recently funded for SAFC script development and I wrote it without any hassles. So have I been lucky? Or does the SAFC get it? I dont know. I still havent dealt with Screen Australia, so perhaps I will face obstacles there. I hope not.

Crimson Celluloid: Have your past experiences in life shaped you in regards to your interest in females-in-peril and horror movies?

Ursula Dabrowsky: The underlying themes in my work are usually about the abuse of power, both by men and women. I don’t discriminate. I take a particularly traumatising time in my life where psychological or physical abuse has occurred. I then raise the stakes and wrap the story in the horror genre . What comes out are survival stories. Not terribly complicated, and yet utterly cathartic.

Crimson Celluloid: I was surprised that you received some negative feedback about your POZIBLE funding project to finish the film. To me it showed dedication and commitment, in that you wanted to touch-up the film and finish it to your high-standard, did the negative feedback (albeit limited) surprise you? Also, it must have been pleasing that so many people had faith in your vision and wanted to contribute?

Ursula Dabrowsky: You must know something I don’t! I had no idea that there was any negativity. I must’ve been too busy just trying to finish the film to notice and even if I had, I tend to ignore the naysayers. My cast and crew had put time and effort into the film and had something at stake. They were as keen as I was to see the finished product.

Crimson Celluloid: What’s next on the drawing board for Ursula Dabrowsky?

Ursula Dabrowsky: I am currently on board to write and direct a segment of an all-female directed horror anthology and a segment of a horror web series. I’ve been sent some horror screenplays that producers want me to direct. The fact that they are being sent to me is bloody fantastic. I’m also working on the third installment of my Demon Trilogy: Demonheart. So despite the fact that I didn’t have to die to go to hell making Inner Demon, I’ve come out the other side with plenty of opportunities to keep growing and learning as a filmmaker which is what you want.

Check out Crimson Celluloid’s review of INNER DEMON here.

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