The Making Of American Mary

The idea

Sylvia Soska: At the time we were trying to sell our first film, Dead Hooker in a Trunk and nothing was happening, we were incredibly broke from that experience, we were going down to LA being very green and had no idea really what we were doing and we were meeting some real industry monsters.

Jen Soska : That hasn’t changed much.

Sylvia Soska : No not too much.

Then we had ailing family members who were in the hospital all the time and I was talking to a friend and he was like ‘You should focus on your next project, what other scripts do you have?’ and I had nothing!

So I thought ‘Nope, I’m going to lie’ and I made up a sentence for every movie that I thought I could write in two weeks.

Jen Soska : It’s really a life lesson, when in doubt, lie.

Sylvia Soska: If you can pull it off.

Jen Soska : That’s the downfall.

Sylvia Soska: So I said I had this one about a medical student, because I had studied body modification before and it was something that interested me, he liked the one about the medical student and asked if I could send it along.

So I asked for two weeks to sort it out and that meant we had two weeks to write a script about body modification, so we did it with like a gun to our head.

It became more therapeutic than we originally intended because everything we were going through just kind of fell out onto the page and it wasn’t until we were into production that people were saying ‘Wow that’s a lot about your personal life’

Now everyone is going to know, shit!

The script

Katharine Isabelle: It was emailed to me with a brief note saying ‘Two hot identical twin sisters who are directors have written this’ and I thought [sarcastic] ‘Oh yeah this is going to be really good’.

Then I ended up reading the whole thing, 180 pages I think, on my Blackberry twice!

And then put it down and went ‘What the shit did I just read?’

I sent it to my dad who has been a film guy forever, to make sure that I wasn’t completely insane.

It just struck me on an instinctual level, I really connected with it, the character was so interesting and original and multi-dimensional and something I don’t get to see very often.

And then I met up with these two twits and that was the end of that.

The beginning of the end.

Sylvia Soska: We wrote the part for Katie, so we were putting a lot of faith in her, if we’d have hated each other I probably would have just cried.

But then she came in, and we were out until about 5am in the morning passionately talking about body modification, radical feminism and the recession, we got thrown out of three different places.

God knows what they thought we were talking about.

I remember in a sushi place she said something loud about nipples being removed and we were like [goes quiet] then no-one sat near us anymore. I thought, 'This is going to work out fine, we’re going to get along very well.'

Jen Soska : That’s the most stupid thing for a director to do, we never write for an actor because you never know when you meet them, if you’ll get along, if they are the person you’re hoping they are from the interpretations you take from watching their work and you don’t know if they’ll be available, we put so much emphasis into this one [points to Katharine]


Sylvia Soska: After Katie, the first person we cast was Paula Lindberg who played Ruby Real Girl.

Because when we were pitching the movie nobody got what we were trying to do so we shot it in my godfathers vet clinic, a little teaser of what it would be like.

We didn’t have prosthetic artists at that point so Paula went under prosthetics for sixteen hours and I kept saying ‘This is what it’s actually like’. On the shoot, with professionals, it took around four hours.

Jen Soska : With the casting, when we like an actor, as proudly failed actresses ourselves, I hate the auditioning process because it’s not really a fair trial for somebody, maybe they got the note wrong or we told them something wrong or they’re coming in with having not really read the script.

If there is an actor that we like then we like to take them out in a social situation afterwards because they will drop their guard and what they don’t realise is Sylv and I are picking them apart the entire time.

If they are rude to the waiting staff, then they can just get up and walk out because we have no tolerance for that. If you’re a bit of a cunt then it doesn’t go unnoticed because we're watching every little thing you do.

We’re looking for honesty in the performances that they do. If we’re looking to cast a bit of a dick then that’s ok. There were some.

One of our actors was a bit of a dick to wait staff and unfortunately that is what we’re going for, but as human beings we were waitressing two weeks up until we started making American Mary , so anyone that treats somebody in hospitality as sub-people we strongly disapprove.

First day of the shoot

Katharine Isabelle: Yeah, I was in lingerie and six-inch heels walking through a terrifying old basement to sew up a good friend of mine, Paul Anthony, who plays Rat, I begged him to take the part.

He said ‘Oh great what’s the character?’ I said ‘Well you don’t really have any lines and you’re sort of mostly naked in a freezing cold basement with blood all over you, but don’t worry, it’s going to be really good!’

So it was good, I was terrified but it was a good scene to start with for me because it wasn’t a lot of dialogue and you’re thrown in there, this is what it’s going to be like, go do it, get it over with, break the ice in fantastic fashion.

Is that all we did that day? The Rat scene and what else?

Jen Soska : The walking underground, the ‘Five grand and you don’t have to show me your tits’.

KI: Yeah all that, that whole sequence. It was a good ‘Hey guys, it’s nice to meet you, yes my ass is hanging out, yes I’m wearing nothing and like six inch heels, hi nice to meet you’.

Most fun day of the shoot

Jen Soska : [sarcastic] The rape scene, for sure.

Sylvia Soska: There are a few very key scenes, Howard Hawks always said ‘A good film is three amazing scenes and no bad scenes.’

All of those scenes where she’s [KI] in with another character but that person isn’t saying anything, the whole performance is on how well she does and I was thinking of her as her own Buffalo Bill/Hannibal Lecter kind of scenes.

It was really cool to see those scenes, I was like a little kid. I’d say ‘Well Mary, today is the scene where you do this’ [really excited] and she’s like ‘Yes I know’ [bored].

Jen Soska : There are two scenes, two intimate Buffalo Bill moments with Dr. Grant after the fact, I love those scenes.

Sylvia Soska: The end sequence, I had storyboarded that and obsessed about it.

Jen Soska : She cried all day.

Sylvia Soska: Actually that was the day that I liked Katie, there’s a picture of me staring at her like [swoons].

Jen Soska : You could see the little hearts over her head.

Sylvia Soska: And I’ve been sadly in love with her ever since.

Jen Soska : For us, our characters are as much real as you and me and actually in some ways they’re more real than normal people.

When you make horror movies, sometimes characters have to ‘kick it’ and for us it’s always a really emotional part. Usually we get it out during the writing but Sylvia decided to bring it with her onto set.

Worst day

Katharine Isabelle: It wasn’t a particularly difficult film for me oddly enough. I think it was the fourth movie I had done in a row and the one I had done before that I was chained to an abandoned house being gang raped and doing horrible things, so this was actually a lot more pleasant.

There were a lot of people on the crew that I know and these girls were there, everyone really wanted to be there and it was a really good vibe on set.

So there wasn’t any days that I was upset or cranky or tired, I was so enthusiastic about the movie and would show up and be like ‘What’s up, ready to go, nine litres of blood? Awesome! There’s no hot water to wash it off? Only three wet wipes? Fun!’ [Enthusiastic].

So no, there were no bad days for me. I got to go into the vet clinic that I performed the clitorectamy in, that’s my dogs vet clinic, and tell them a little while after ‘Oh, I performed a clitorectamy here!’

And they just blinked at me, I thought maybe that’s something I should keep to myself.

The editing process

Sylvia Soska: There were a few things that we had to lose, I think we won more battles than we lost.

Bruce MacKinnon is our editor and he is one of the most tasteful human beings I have ever met, the complete opposite of Jennifer and me, he is zen, he is calm and the man had to sit between two crazy harpies demanding all this stuff.

One day, Jen and I had the biggest argument over a shot and we were throwing things at each other and screaming and he was like ‘so what would you like me to there?’ [Calm]

Jen Soska : I got my way though.

Sylvia Soska: She was right, she was absolutely right.

Jen Soska : We’re an unstoppable force and an immovable object and one of us is the immovable object so sometimes the force just has to work.

Sylvia Soska: Who would that be?

Jen Soska : I’m never sure.

Sylvia Soska: He’s [MacKinnon] one of my dearest friends right now and it’s almost like we can talk without talking.

Girls can be a little passive/aggressive so we would watch a sequence and he’d ask if I liked it and I’d be like ‘Yeah it’s fine’ then he’s like ‘Oh you hate it, we’ll start over’.

Watching it with an audience

Jen Soska : I think it was the FrightFest audience that made all the difference because it could’ve been anywhere else. I’ve been to places where they didn’t quite get it, they didn’t laugh, it was more conservative.

Katharine Isabelle: They walk out or they get confused.

Jen Soska : But the FrightFest audience, they are just a really smart audience and they are very clever.

No one here has ever asked us ‘Why American Mary?' because they’re like ‘Oh yeah, because of this, this, this and this. I’ll ask you a more interpretive question’.

It’s not uncommon to have things open to interpretation and they’re ok to think about things and they’re ok with characters that aren’t good or all bad.

Whereas in North America largely, those kind of things can be very confusing. They are like ‘Well, she’s not really a good guy’ and we’re like ‘No one, sweetie, is really a good guy’, let alone the three of us.

Katharine Isabelle: We were really nervous.

Jen Soska : Couldn’t sleep at all.

Katharine Isabelle: We were really excited, we knew people would probably like it maybe? Or people would just walk out and throw things at us and call us names. You cried [to SS] but when do you not cry?

Jen Soska : It was also a surprise, we didn’t know that the one hundred year anniversary logo of Universal was going to be at the beginning of the film the first time we saw it and then we just lost it because you grow up watching Universal and to have that in front of one of your films, there’s no words for that.

It’s not even a dream, it’s more than you dare to dream about.

Sylvia Soska: It’s really surreal, like even being here right now, I remember before I had to go to a waitressing shift and we worked up until four days before production.

Jen Soska : Hopefully I’ll never have to ask someone if they want a refill unless they’re at my house as a guest!

American Mary will be released on DVD and Blu-ray from Universal Pictures (UK) on 21st January 2013 and will open at UK cinemas on 11th January 2013 (FrightFest).

Sam Ashurst is a London-based film maker, journalist, and podcast host. He's the director of Frankenstein's Creature, A Little More Flesh + A Little More Flesh 2, and co-hosts the Arrow Podcast. His words have appeared on HuffPost, MSN, The Independent, Yahoo, Cosmopolitan, and many more, as well as of course for us here at GamesRadar+.