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WiHM: An interview with Karen Lam

Today we're lucky to have with us a writer, director, and producer of countless projects. Visiting us at Dead Celluloid Towers: Karen Lam.

You work as a writer and director on very different projects – what’s it like having someone else adapt your vision to the screen, versus adapting someone else’s into your vision?

I think it’s important to stay flexible and also to keep an open mind.  When I’m hired to write only, then the story and script are my only concerns.  I’m not thinking about how I would direct but to provide as much assistance as I can to the director.  I try to stay out of their way so to speak, but not directing from the page and allowing room for someone else’s creativity.  When I’m directing only, then it’s about finding the visuals and doing justice to the script.

Do you have any desire to be in front of the camera?

Apart from interviews about my work?  Absolutely not.  I’ve been in front of the camera very briefly and I was horrid.

What is it about horror that draws you to it?

I love exploring the dark side of our lives, whether it’s another person’s messed up psyche or my own.  I love the creep and find it so much gratifying than straight drama or comedy.  The idea that something could literally explode out of your chest gets me creatively excited.

Do you feel that horror – and filmmaking in general – is still a very patriarchal business? Do you feel that has affected opportunities open to you?

I’ve had so much support from the horror and genre industry – and much of it because I’m a female writer and director.  On the flip side, I do have more issues with the industry as a whole:  so many mentorship opportunities aren’t there, just because of the realities of gender imbalance.  When financiers and executives make decisions, they often turn to the people they already know and/or work with:  people they’ve had drinks with and are close friends with.  As a woman, I might not hang around at networking functions until stupid-o-clock, mainly because it’s a can of worms I’d like to avoid.  That can mean not forming the same kinds of bonds my male counterparts enjoy without danger, and this leads to missed opportunities.

Do you feel that opportunities in mainstream cinema and TV are becoming more open to people of different ethnicities – or that the Hollywood archetype of white washing is still prevalent?

I am guardedly optimistic that the current trend towards more inclusive storytelling is finally on the rise, but I’ve been around long enough to keep my hopes in check.  The worry is that we face backlash from moving too fast or too soon, even if I do think it’s long overdue.  The issue is the bottom line:  we’re still in a business and as long as audiences are there to buy tickets and support the films, then we’re in a better position to turn things around.

You’ve worked as a series director with factual (true story) projects. What difference – or indeed difficulties – have you found, opposed to working with completely fictional work? 

I love working in true crime and documentary, which I’m just about to do again this month.  I think it’s vitally important for me to be able to work at both:  working in true crime allows me research and access to information that would be nearly impossible to access otherwise.  Talking to FBI, forensics experts, victims and their families, truly evil criminals…There’s a huge different between doing real, primary research and merely googling something or watching another program.  The research that you’re doing in documentary fuels to fictional work because you’re working from reality, not just regurgitating something that someone else has done.  The only challenge is that we’re often working with a tiny crew and little prep, so what suffers is the visual quality in documentary.  We don’t have the control over environment in the same way as in fiction, when you get to create the world you’re shooting in.

If you could have anything, what would be your dream project?

I would love to work on Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.  That would be the penultimate dream project.

What is next for you?

I’m currently in post production on my third feature film, The Curse of Willow Song which we hope will be done by the end of the year.  With any luck, we can get it on the festival circuit for 2019.  I’m putting together a new true crime series and in early stages of a new web series.  So many ideas and projects, so little time!

Thank you so much for joining us, Karen, and taking time out from your busy schedule to talk with us.

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