Interview with Ariel Sinelnikoff | “Enceinte”

| December 5, 2014

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Its Kickstarter campaign described it as a ‘feminist horror film’, and indeed Ariel Sinelnikoff’s Gothic flick Enceinte delves into the real-life horrors that women have had to face.

Made at San Francisco State University, Enceinte screens as part of San Francisco’s “horror, sci-fi, dark fantasy and exploitation” film festival Another Hole in the Head in the “Short Block 4″ showcase at New People Cinema. We caught up with Ariel over email to brood about her film.

Enceinte

Enceinte

Tell us a little about your background and about your film Enceinte.

 I first came up with the idea for Enceinte during the 2012 General and Presidential elections, when all the debates were happening and the nominees were discussing the issues their platforms were based on. Two topics that were hot subjects, especially for the religious right, were rape and abortion. That wasn’t the first time I had been politically exposed to those matters, but it’s the first time I consistently tuned in to what the candidates were saying about them, and I was completely disgusted. Several candidates, mostly (if not all) Republican, wanted to redefine the word “rape” so that there was “legitimate rape” and “non-legitimate rape.” And all I could think about when I heard this was, “What the hell are you talking about? Rape is RAPE. There’s no question about it!” They would also talk about how they were pro-life, and all I could think about was how little they cared about the lives of the mothers. It sickened me to my core.

Enceinte

Enceinte

At the same time, I was studying German Expressionism in my Film History class, and was in awe of it. We’d watch scenes from films like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and watching the fear and anxiety of the characters seemed to be an exaggerated form of the fears and anxieties that I had when it came to what these politicians were saying about women and their bodies. And suddenly it was like a switch was turned on in my head: I could make a horror film that discussed these issues.

Are you drawn to horror? Or was it just the best way to tell THIS particular story?

To be honest, Enceinte was a combination of my love for horror as well as knowing that this was the best way to tell this particular story. Horror is such an amazing genre in the sense that you get to really explore the deepest fears that we have as a society have, and I think that’s incredibly powerful, and can be used to start real discussions about serious issues. At the same time though, making Enceinte a horror film allowed me to revisit my love for horror. I grew up loving Halloween and reading horror stories. My mom, who grew up watching Alfred Hitchcock films with her dad, first introduced me to horror films at the age of 11 when she rented Psycho from the video store the day after Halloween, and I fell head over heels in love. Through high school though, that love got put on the backburner, but making Enceinte reminded me of how much I love the genre.

Enceinte

Enceinte

Tell us about your screenwriting process. Any tips or personal quirks while clacking away?

The screenwriting process took about six months total. I knew that I wanted to do this story for my thesis before I was even accepted into the class, and was really determined to make it the best film possible, so I decided to start working on it as soon as I could. I’m someone who really needs to talk out my stories with another person, so my friends and my boyfriend were extremely helpful when it came to being soundboards for my ideas, as well as giving feedback and ideas.

My biggest tip would be to listen to what others have to say about your screenplay, but ultimately you know what’s best for your story. I got a lot of great feedback throughout the screenwriting process, some of which I used and some of which I didn’t. There were a few times that people came back to me and told me I should change the ending of the film, but I knew deep down exactly what I was going for, and I knew that I needed to keep it how it was. In the end, I’m so glad I did, because I don’t think the film would have had the impact it did if I had changed it to what others wanted.

Enceinte

Enceinte

How much did the story change from imagination to page to shoot to final edited product?

The most change occurred during the outlining of the film. Originally there was going to be a demon baby and everything, but I decided to scrap that due to the fact that it just didn’t tie in with the theme of the film. Not much changed between writing and shooting though, nor from shooting to the final edit.

Once I got to writing the first draft of the film, the end changed very little (with the exceptions of a little dialogue and the location, but it was always the same outcome in the end). I’m really glad I didn’t change it to what people originally wanted, because in reality it’s an end no one wants. And that’s why I knew I needed to keep it the way I originally wrote it. In reality, most women who are in similar situations as Mary is in the film aren’t going to make it out safely, and that’s a reality that people need to understand when they go to vote for politicians who vow to close down dozens of women’s health clinics in their state, or believe that girls who are raped were “asking for it.” In reality, there isn’t always going to be a “Final Girl.”

Enceinte

Enceinte

Toughest part of the shoot? How about the surprisingly easiest?

The toughest part of the shoot actually happened right before the shoot when we built the cabin. I made the decision early on that I wanted to build the set on the SFSU soundstage for two reasons: to have complete control over the look of this creepy cabin, and to be able to make a proper levitation rig. I had a fantastic production designer, Jessie Chaffin, who really knew what she was doing. The tough part was getting people to help build the set. The set was about the size of an actual small cabin, and took four days to build. Due to school and work, we weren’t always able to get as many people as we were hoping for to help out, but in the end we made it and it was everything I had hoped for.

Surprisingly, the easiest (or part that was easier than I had anticipated) was the scene in which Mary has her mental breakdown. It was a scene that I had only blocked but never rehearsed, due to the emotional rollercoaster that I knew my actress, Jessica, would have to go through. I had prepped her before the shoot, telling her that in order to achieve the effect I was going for, she would need to go to the darkest place she could. As someone who has seen directors shove emotions down actors’ throats, I’m very against forcing my actors to go any farther than they feel comfortable with, especially when they have to recount something sad or traumatic, so I told Jess that it was entirely up to her when it came to how dark she wanted to go. I had the utmost faith in her though, and let me tell you, whatever place she went to during that scene worked. After we had shot the scene, my sound mixer came up to me and told me that she and her boom op had actually started crying while recording the scene, because they could feel Jess’s pain purely through her audio. It was an incredible experience.

Enceinte

Enceinte

Tell us about your Kickstarter campaign. What did you learn and would you have done anything differently?

This was my first attempt at Kickstarter, and I was really happy with the results. I think one thing a lot of people don’t realize is that a lot of time and research goes into a successful Kickstarter campaign. You really have to write up a good pitch that thoroughly describes your project, make an intriguing video that has people wanting more, and most importantly, know your target audience. The one thing I would have done differently would have been to reach out to more blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter users, and websites. I reached out to a couple dozen users and sites (mostly women’s groups), and a few posted about my campaign, which was great, but I feel that if I had reached out even further, I would have gotten a lot more buzz going about the film.

Enceinte

Enceinte

Tell us about your San Francisco State University experience.

When I was applying to colleges in high school, SF State was at the bottom of my list. I wanted to go to USC or Chapman, and was really disappointed when my parents told me that they could really only afford to send me to a State school. However, the minute I moved into the dorms my freshman year, I knew I was exactly where I needed to be – a feeling that was confirmed even more so when I started taking film classes. As someone who wants to go into independent filmmaking, especially as a director, SFSU was the prefect place for me. Although they will talk about Hollywood standards sometimes, they emphasize much more on creativity, individuality, and telling the stories that you want to tell. Though I’m sure some of the other film schools teach this as well, it seems like they focus much more on Hollywood’s standards than SFSU does. Which is great for some people, but definitely not for me. It was extremely encouraging and liberating to see people successfully create their visions on their own terms.

Enceinte filmmaker Ariel Sinelnikoff

Enceinte filmmaker Ariel Sinelnikoff

What were your key takeaways from SFSU that made you a better, more rounded filmmaker?

The biggest takeway I have from going to SFSU is knowing the types of film I want to make. After going to such a liberal school that has a film program that strongly encourages individuality, I realized that I wanted to make films about women and the trials and victories they face on a daily basis. I want to explore areas of film that usually don’t focus on women and try to change that. I honestly don’t know if I would have made that discovery at any other school. I also learned how to not rely on funding. While some of the private schools own REDs that students are allowed to rent for free, SFSU has Bolexes from the 1960s that aren’t even allowed off campus. Because of this, a lot of students figure out other resources, and get really creative. This is an extremely useful skill that you wouldn’t necessarily get when you’re handed things for free.

Who were your favorite professors and why? How did they influence the film?

I have four favorite professors, each who are equally amazing and were highly influential on both this film, as well as my other work. The first two are Scott Boswell and Pat Jackson, the two professors who teach the thesis class. I’ve known Scott since my sophomore year, and he’s the reason I found out about and got into the thesis class in the first place. He’s taught me more about directing than anyone I’ve ever known, and really challenged me throughout my time in his classes. Pat is such a great and talented lady, who really changed my perspective on post-production. She’s pretty tough, but in the best way possible, where when she likes something that you’ve done, you feel like you’ve made a great accomplishment. The other two professors are Brian Benson and Julian Hoxter. Brian is the Producing & Financing professor at SFSU, whose class I both took and TAed for. I learned so much about how to organize and market a film from him. Julian influenced me the most when it came to writing. While the feedback that he gave me on my script was great, the thing I took most away from him was his encouragement, both with Enceinte was well as with the encouragement he gives all of his students. He’s the definition of constructive criticism, because while he may be critiquing your work, he is being far more constructive, and he really wants to see his students’ visions become a reality.

Any final words for our fans?

As cheesy as it may sound, make the films you want to make, and make them while in school. You can make all the mistakes you want in school, because you always have it as a cushion to fall back on. You’re a lot more limited when you’re out in the real world. So go out there, figure out the types of films you want to make, experiment, have fun, whatever – just go make films.

Ariel Sinelnikoff is a San Francisco-based freelance director, editor, and assistant director. She is currently in production for her first documentary, as well as in the process of writing her next horror film.

Enceinte screens as part of San Francisco’s “horror, sci-fi, dark fantasy and exploitation” film festival Another Hole in the Head on December 7, 2014 @ 1:00pm.

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Film School Shorts is made possible by a grant from Maurice Kanbar, celebrating the vitality and power of the moving image, and by the members of KQED.

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Credits

Series Producer
Lisa Landi

Associate Producer
Julia Shackelford

Editor
Peter Borg

Design
Zaldy Serrano
Christina Zee White

Original Music
Written and Produced by
Trifonic

Audio
John Andrieni

Interactive
Kevin Cooke
Marie K Lee

Social Media Specialist
Aldo Mora-Blanco

Publicity
Sarah Hoffner

On Air Promotion
Bridget Louie

Legal
William Lowery
Abby Staeble

Director of TV Production
Sandy Schonning

Executive Producer
Scott Dwyer