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--Interview by Nic Brown--


Susan (right) sets up a shot with Kimberly Amato (Raven, left)


Independent filmmaker and actress Susan Adriensen had a surprising air of calm about her as she waited for the screening of her new film UNDER THE RAVEN’S WING to start on the first night of the Fright Night Film Festival. “I hope the film plays well here.” Adriensen comments casually just before show time. “This isn’t a gore-fest, or anything like that; it’s more psychological.”


Once the film begins, any doubts about the way the film would be received by the crowd fade with the lights. The audience sits almost in a trance as they watch the story unfold before them. This is the time that filmmakers wait for and while the crowd stares at the screen, Adriensen scans the crowd, judging reactions. At the end, the lights come up and festival audience applauds loudly. Although not the overall winner at the Fright Night Festival, it is clear that her film has won over the crowd.


Now B Movie Man Nic Brown has the chance to catch the energetic filmmaker between festivals and talk with her about UNDER THE RAVEN’S WING, her other film work, belly dancing and why it’s important to tell if you have a male or female iguana!



Nic - Susan you wrote and directed your newest feature: UNDER THE RAVEN'S WING. Can you tell us a little about that film?

Susan - UNDER THE RAVEN’S WING is a pseudo-documentary about three women who are interviewed by an unseen amateur filmmaker about their warped philosophies and … about a murder they committed. The leader, “Raven,” has control over the other two women and she tries to maintain control of the filmmaker as well as he tries to portray the girls his way. However, a lot unfolds before the camera. We not only see reenactments of the lives of the young women, we also eventually see the weakness of the filmmaker himself as he becomes seduced by them.

Nic - Where did the idea for the story come from?

Susan - Back around 1999, my husband and I got a single chip mini DV camera. I was thrilled to start playing with it, so my friend, Geoff DeVoe, and I started coming up with a “Blair Witchy” idea of three Goth girls that commit a murder. We wanted to create a simple improvised short. Time went by and our schedules didn’t mesh. However, I had written an extensive character background and several shot ideas. I wanted it to look like a hodge-podge of footage. Years went by and I dusted off the character background and shot list and decided to write a script adding much more depth than the original idea. I included some things that were personal to me and … still kept that hodge-podge of documentary-looking footage… and there you have it!

Writer/Director Susan Adriensen (in the white coat) on location


Nic - Was UNDER THE RAVEN’S WING the first film you’ve written and are you working on any new screen plays you’d like to talk about now?


Susan - Besides some production classes and comedy shows in college, UNDER THE RAVEN’S WING is the third film that I wrote … that got produced … by me, of course. The first film I wrote was an avant-garde Super 8 film I created in college, ILLUSION OF REALITY. The second was my featurette: MAVI GOZ which I also starred in. I have a comedy script that has been shelved that I co-wrote with friend, Michelle Radz, but we are hoping to dust it off and perhaps sell it. I also have a strange script, “Inside Out,” that I am hoping to direct and help produce myself.


I haven’t written anything “for hire” … yet. I’m not necessarily pursuing writing, but I do have some ideas. However, I wouldn’t necessarily trust some of these ideas, or scripts, such as INSIDE OUT, in the hands of just anyone. They could be misconstrued, so I am really hoping to shoot INSIDE OUT myself.


Nic - What was the most challenging part of making UNDER THE RAVEN'S WING for you?

Susan - There are so many challenges in independent filmmaking, one being … taking on many tasks yourself. I set up craft service prior to many of the shoots. I even had to do makeup one day. I also took on the task of shopping and selecting wardrobe. I thought it would be fun, but it wasn’t when you are the producer and director. It was exhausting. But I think the most challenging part of production was creating a schedule. I had to put index cards all over the kitchen table – according to color, signifying location. Then to have it messed up by weather made it even more taxing. Brian Jude, the other producer, stepped in for those days and planned cover shoots and reorganized the schedule. Schedules always change. I learned that quickly.


But post-production has its own challenges as well. Editing is a very lonely process. It takes a long, long time and then you need to trim and shorten even more than you expected. Then there’s the promoting and film festival preparation. It doesn’t end.

Nic - You’ve shown UNDER THE RAVEN’S WING at a number of festivals this year. How’s the response been?


Susan - As quirky as the film may be … with all its “Dramatizations” and faux … or real … trances by the character, “Raven,” I have been told it is an intelligent film. I didn’t plan it that way, but I think scripts change into something more deep when you put yourself into a script. I added some very personal experiences and interests into the script, such as my interest in cults, religious fanaticism, and my fears and nightmares from childhood….


So, that being said, if a person is “ready” to see a film that’s going to make them think a little, they can fully enjoy the film. If they want a little black humor, they will also find it. Although blood and gore is not something you’ll find in UNDER THE RAVEN’S WING, the film is dark and has a psychological creepy feel.


What I am pleased to find is that the horror community has really embraced UNDER THE RAVEN’S WING. Horror fans are intelligent. They like good scares, but they enjoy being surprised by the depth of something like UNDER THE RAVEN’S WING. I am glad that they appreciate the dark as well as subtle humorous aspects of the film.


So far, UNDER THE RAVEN’S WING has been screened at horror film festivals. Kimberly Amato (“Raven”) and I just got back from Dark Carnival Film Festival in Indiana where we had a blast. It is a real honest-to-goodness horror film fest with a beautiful historic theater, events, panels, and workshops. I advise everyone to check that festival out. But I am also proud to announce that UNDER THE RAVEN’S WING just got accepted into its first non-horror film festival, Queens Film Festival, in New York and will be playing November 8th.


Nic - Congratulations on getting accepted to the Queens Film Festival! It should be interesting to see how the film does with a non-horror audience. Speaking of audiences, how are things going on the distribution front?


Susan - I’ve only contacted a handful of distributors so far. I got three rejections and the others I’m still waiting to hear back from. One distributor said they didn’t want to risk releasing my film because of the pseudo-documentary style. I realize making UNDER THE RAVEN’S WING was a risk. The style was a risk. The humor was a risk. Making “Raven” a realistic rambling psychopath was a risk … and creating a narrator who is a long-winded voyeuristic unlikable character was a risk. I hope to never stop taking risks. Once you get comfortable, you lose your soul and your essence.


Angel (Kamilla Sofie Sadekova) and Jessie (Jessica Palette)

Nic - UNDER THE RAVEN’S WING had a lot of interesting and deep characters. Was it a hard film to cast?


Susan - Yes. We were lucky and found “Jessie,” played by Jessica Palette, right away, on our first round of auditions. Jessica is perfect as “Jessie,” don’t you think?


Nic - Yes, she was excellent in the role. What about the others?


Susan - “Raven” was the next character we found. Kimberly Amato was the only actress who pulled that character off so incredibly well. Had I cast anyone else, UNDER THE RAVEN’S WING would have been campy.


We had a difficult time finding the voice of “The Director.” We were looking for a voice … that portrayed a character. Coy DeLuca has a rough and natural voice and you can imagine his character even if you don’t see him. That was very important as he is not only the narrator of the film, but he is an unseen character with emotions and terrible weaknesses.


“Angel” was the most difficult to find. The song of our cast and crew became “Send me an Angel” by Real Life. I was looking for an exotic, flirty, tough, yet vulnerable character to counter-act, yet compliment the other two, “Raven” and “Jessie.” Kamilla Sofie Sadekova auditioned and we found our “Angel!”

Nic - In addition to your work behind the camera, you are also an actress. Do you think that gives you a different perspective as a writer/director?

Susan – Absolutely. I see and understand both sides. It’s a fragile thing. As a director, I need to respect the actor’s art and emotional state. As an actress, I need to respect the director’s direction, vision … time, and money. With my knowledge of filmmaking, I also have to be sure not to step on the director and producer’s toes. I also have to be true to the script as an actress. It is the “job” of the art.

Nic - Talking about your acting for a moment. You were recently in a film that was very different from your own production: THE BLOOD SHED. Can you tell us a little about that film and your role in it?


Susan - THE BLOOD SHED was truly fun for me. I describe the film as a mix of “TEXAS CHAINSAW MASACRE,” “SPIDER BABY,” and “PINK FLAMINGOS” (without the killing of animals!), with a splash of “CARRIE” (without the pigs blood). It was my dream role – the role of “Sno Cakes!” An inbred, Jersey back-wood, child-regressed “Daisy Mae” with a speech impediment. I got to hop around in springy shoes in one scene. That was a load of fun. We just had a screening in New Jersey that was presented by the zany magazine, “Weird New Jersey.” It was awesome. It was a big party with bands and fans of the magazine and movie. There were two men there dressed up like “Beefteena,” the lead character played by Director, Alan Rowe Kelly. It was a riot! Awesome fun!

Nic - I understand that you have some interesting hobbies outside of filmmaking. Is it true you are a belly dancer?

Susan - I belly dance, yes. I took it up for fun about a year ago. I also started for my lower back (I have herniated discs from being hit by a car when I was 13). So far, I have only performed in public … TWICE! First, was for my teacher’s talent showcase and then a week later for the Dark Carnival Film Festival. It’s a trip! There are many more talented belly dancers than myself, but I am doing it for fun and loving it. It challenges me physically and brings on this whole spiritual freedom I didn’t expect. There are many types of belly dance. I am learning the groundwork in Egyptian, but I like to perform what’s called Gothique, Fusion, and East Coast Tribal style.

Susan Belly dancing at the Dark Carnival Film Festival (Photo courtesy of Mike Trace)

Another hobby I have … well, it’s not really a hobby, … it’s my FAMILY, … is PARROTS. My husband and I have two parrots and I hope to, one day, share the proper ways of taking care of them … from my own failures and experience. My poor African Grey went completely bald because I cuddled her too much! They are complicated creatures. She’s fine now and is flying again, but it was traumatic especially when she fell off her perch so many times ... like a rock. She even chipped her beak. Many tears were shed. I hope to share the story and how we got her flying again.

Nic - Those are some interesting hobbies! So what attracted you to Parrots?


Well, it’s a long story, but my pet iguana wound up being a MALE iguana and I took very good care of him as my previous docile FEMALE iguana passed on early due to my lack of knowledge in the diet of iguanas. So this iguana, “Moli,” (the previous iguana was “Guaca”) became so healthy and big that he was 5 feet long from snout to tail tip. And he was STRONG. Well, to make a long story short, he attacked my face. I threw him off of me, and he leaped up for more. When I ran into the bathroom, I could see my chin bone in the mirror. I had over 30 stitches on my face.


After that, and losing a dear brother, my husband and I thought it would be a good idea for me to get an “average” pet. Well, dogs are not allowed in my apartment building. I’m not a cat person, but was willing to give it a try.… but my husband always wanted an African Grey parrot for its intelligence.


So, we visited a parrot store and we were introduced first to a Green Wing Macaw. I fearfully held her … and she put her beak and head on my shoulder! I instantly fell in love! I scratched her head and a woman said, “Isn’t she like a puppy?” Well, my husband and I left the store and as we did some extensive research on the Internet about African Greys, I kept saying, “What about ‘Puppy?’” So… we also did research on Green Wing Macaws.… and we wound up getting both! We got our “Puppy” and we were handed an African Grey. Kind of like, “Here. Take this one. She’s ready to go.” And we named her Einstein. She is our little baby discount bargain basement bird. Well, not really, but we tease her because they gave us a slight discount on her because we bought two parrots.


But I must say, parrots are not to be purchased on a whim. People must do their homework and do a lot of research before buying one … better yet … ADOPTING one. They are a lot of work. They need more attention than cats and dogs … or they will self mutilate themselves.


Nic - As a filmmaker what affect do you think the internet is having on the industry, especially for independent filmmakers like yourself?


Susan - Oh my gosh, the Internet gets the word out! If you Google UNDER THE RAVEN’S WING you can see all the interviews and news and more! It is amazing how helpful the Internet is for a filmmaker. And now filmmakers have the ability to upload their films on various sites. I haven’t done this yet, but am slowly looking into it.


Nic - We’ve talked about the films you’ve made; now let’s talk about some of the films you like. What are some of your favorite movies?


Susan - There are many movies I enjoy, but I think the key thing for me is if I can watch it over and over and never get bored with the flick. You know when you’re in front of your TV, flipping through the cable channels, and you come across a movie you’ve only seen about … a gazillion times?! … and yet, you stop to watch a little … and then you never change the channel and you watch the entire movie AGAIN! … for the gazillion-and-one time! … and YET …you own the DVD! …that’s when I know I love a movie.


To name a few of those movies:

THE DOORS, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, THE SHINING, BLUE VELVET, DONNIE DARKO, FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, ALIENS and ALIEN: RESSURECTION, and most every Tim Burton movie. I can’t get enough of comedies like BOWFINGER (why can’t I get enough of that silly ass movie?! Is it the risky filmmaker in me?!), THE WEDDING SINGER (I’m stuck in the 80’s!), and MY COUSIN VINNIE.


Nothing good is going to happen to the man in the red scarf...

I also love the movies I rarely get to see on television like ROSEMARY’S BABY, NATURAL BORN KILLERS, MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, CLOCKWORK ORANGE, and Hitchcock flicks like PSYCHO, REAR WINDOW, and THE BIRDS (but I love birds….). One of my favorite rare horror flicks is PSYCHOMANIA. I got the VHS tape and the DVD!


Those are only a few of my favorite flicks. I’m sure I’ve left out many others that inspired and influenced me throughout the years….


Nic - As a director, if you could work with one actor/actress on your dream project, who would it be and what kind of film would you like to make with them?


Susan - My dream project would be to produce and direct my script, INSIDE OUT. I’m very much a realist and I realize the “dream” project will be work.


There are many actors and actresses I admire, but I admire them in the roles they play. For instance, I love Anthony Hopkins as “Hannibal Lector,” but I’m not going to write a character like “Hannibal Lector” for Hopkins to play. Right? I also can’t imagine him in INSIDE OUT. (But, heck, don’t get me wrong! If Hopkins came along and wanted to be in it, I’d figure something out and write him in! Someone with his talent will only help … and not hurt the production.)


As a director, I guess I would want to work with versatile actors who can mold themselves into the characters the writer or I have created. There are many great actors who are like blank canvases and can become a character from scratch. Those are the ones I want to work with.


As for attainable actors for my “dream” project, I have chatted with my friends and associates, Kimberly Amato and Alan Rowe Kelly thus far. I can imagine them contributing their acting talents and making my DREAM project come true!

This time Susan wears her cinematography/camera operator hat.

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