Powerfully crafting a visually lavish and narratively head-spinning horror movie isn’t always an easy task for filmmakers. That process can be even more daunting for first-time writer-directors, especially female filmmakers in a male-dominated genre. But Mitzi Peirone leaves a stunning first impression with her feature film debut, the horror thriller, ‘Braid,’ which is driven by an impeccable female-led cast, including Sarah Hay, Madeline Brewer and Imogen Waterhouse. The scribe-helmer, who also served as an executive producer on the psychological drama, applied a dizzying sense of dream logic and an uncompromisingly feminist edge to the Gothic-infused fairy tale story, which makes it one of the most eye-opening genre film debuts in years.
Blue Fox Entertainment will release ‘Braid’ in theaters and On Demand on February 1, 2019. The official distribution comes after the thriller had its world premiere at this past spring’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.
‘Braid’ follows Petula Thames (Waterhouse) and Tilda Darlings (Hay), two self-proclaimed artists-turned-drug dealers who are forced to go on the run. After mishandling thousands of dollars in narcotics, the girls are given forty-eight hours to repay their vengeful drug lord. Fleeing town, they head to the desolate mansion of their wealthy childhood friend, Daphne Peters (Brewer), and have their sights set on the house’s safe.
But Petula and Tilda soon discover that Daphne, who’s living alone in the manor, has grown into a dangerous schizophrenic and prisoner of the fantasy world the three created as children. To abscond with her money, the duo are forced to take part in Daphne’s twisted and bloody game of make-believe, which leads them down a demented maze of hallucinations, role play, torture and murder.
Peirone, Hay, Brewer and Waterhouse generously took the time to sit down for an exclusive interview at The Roxy Hotel in New York to discuss writing, directing and starring in ‘Braid’ during the Tribeca Film Festival. Among other things, the scribe-helmer-producer and actresses discussed how no one else could have directed the the drama besides Peirone, because she wrote it and there’s so much of her in the story and the three main characters. The group also spoke about how they embraced the opportunity to have the horror thriller have its world premiere during the New York-based festival.
ShockYa (SY): Mitzi, you wrote the script for the new horror film, ‘Braid.’ What was the inspiration behind penning the screenplay, and what was the overall process like?
Mitzi Peirone (MP): I started writing the script in 2015, and worked on it for about a year-and-a-half. It originally came from a deeply rooted philosophical place that reflected on reality and our roles in society. It then transformed into this psychedelic crime thriller. I then spent about a year figuring out the financing, attaching producers and getting my lovely actresses. We then shot last year. So it’s been a three-and-half-year ride overall.
SY: Speaking of the actresses, Mitzi, what was the casting process like? Sarah, Madeline and Imogen, what interested you all in your respective roles?
Sarah Hay (SH): Mitzi was the selling point. When you get this kind of indie, which is so abstract and hard to picture, if you get a director who doesn’t explain it well, you won’t really understand it, and may not want to do it. But she explained it so thoroughly, and had such a clear vision of what she wanted for these characters. So the second that we all met her, we were like, ‘Yes, this sounds amazing.’
Imogen Waterhouse (IW): We Skyped for about two hours, after which I immediately wanted to sign on!
Madeline Brewer (MB): Every conversation with Mitzi was great. Even listening to her now, I’m learning so much. When I read the script, I thought it was very cool. I initially wanted to be either Petula or Tilda. But she was like, ‘I actually had you in mind for Daphne.’ I was like, ‘Fine, the crazy one!’ (laughs)
SH: I actually wanted to play Daphne the first time I read it. (laughs) I was like, ‘I want to be crazy! Oh wait, I already am!’ (laughs)
MB: After (Mitzi) explained Daphne, and ultimately all three of the characters, to me, I realized that I couldn’t picture myself playing Petula or Tilda anymore, or have anyone else besides Imogen and Sarah play Petula and Tilda. But Mitzi was absolutely the selling point. (Brewer turns to Peirone and says,) You wrote this movie, and understand it, on such a deep level, that if people see it and say, ‘What the f**k is going on,’ I wouldn’t even care. (laughs)
IW: You had such a great vision for it that you articulated so well. So I was immediately like, ‘Yes, I want to be on board.’
SH: We then got on set, and it was even better than we could have expected. When we got to the set, which was on Alder Manor (in Yonkers, New York), I immediately thought it was going to be even more intense than I initially realized.
IW: And fun.
SH: Yes, and fun. It was also terrifying and liberating at the same time.
MP: I’m so humble that I found these three. The script called for the right people. It took a specific type of mind, which can wander into the dark and unknown, to understand these characters. They also had to be hopeful and bursting with energy. In addition my actresses, everyone, including the department heads and producers, felt the story was theirs.
The script definitely had different realms of reality, as we had to find different alliances between the three girls. It was spiraling deeper and deeper into a dark hole. It was a tricky one, so it definitely took the right people to take on these roles.
SY:Sarah, Madeline and Imogen, what was the process of relating to your respective roles? Were you able to have any rehearsal time together, in order to build the bond between your characters?
IW: I liked that Mitzi always allowed us time to rehearse together. We did that before we even began filming, which is always so great.
MP: I was like, ‘If you ever need to rehearse, I’m here!’ (laughs) You guys were also at the hotel together. Imogen, you were working on the script for a few months before we started shooting, but Maddie and Sarah were cast at the last minute. If we hadn’t found Sarah, we would have had to postpone the shoot.
MB: I had to take the script apart in pages, and made piles of what I thought was going to be set in reality, and what was going to be the dream sequences. Then I get to the set and had a couple weeks worth of work, and Mitzi said, ‘No, it’s actually like this!’ (laughs) The puzzle started to fit together as we were filming it. We shot the movie out of order, which is really complicated on a psychological thriller, for which you don’t know what’s going on during a lot of it. (laughs) You really have to use your mind to understand the story.
MP: Looking back, I should have printed the script on different color pages, and use different colors to show the reality and dreams.
SH: I think shooting out of chronological order actually helped us stay in each moment. If we got lost in knowing the ending of the story, and where our characters would eventually end up, no matter how good of an actor we are, we would have been taken out of the moment.
MB: I also think it ended up helping us, because we didn’t get lost in what we did the previous day, or what we were going to do in three days.
It also helped that we mainly stayed in that one location in Alder Manor. It was easy to get absorbed into whatever room we were shooting in. When we were shooting in the kitchen on the first day, I couldn’t think outside of that room, and how much more story there was to be told outside of that room.
IW: It was helpful, because the characters don’t even know where they’re going. (laughs) Petula and I were learning at the same time!
MP: Yes, as a human, you don’t know what’s going to happen next, and you barely remember what happened before. You don’t have organic memories; you remember what you want to remember, and the future doesn’t really exist. So in the movie, we play a lot with time as this fluid thing. So I agree that shooting out of chronological order really helped us.
SY: Speaking of shooting at Alder Manor, did mainly filming in that one location really help you all?
IW: Yes, we loved it there. The house is huge! We actually had to stop filming for a few days, because they had a big party there during the shoot. Besides allowing movies to film there, they also hold events at the manor, but it was weird to see so many other people there. We thought, this is our home, get out! (laughs)
MP: When we got back after the party was over, a table was missing!
MB: My dressing room was all turned around, and there was a different couch in there than what was in there before!
IW: But overall, it was really nice to be in one spot, and get familiar with it.
MP: Not doing too many company moves definitely helped.
MB: It definitely helped us feel as though we were all making this film together. When we said to someone in the crew, ‘Okay, we’re going into the kitchen,’ it really felt like our house, as we all knew where the kitchen was. Everyone claimed different areas of the house.
MP: On set, we also used walkies, and there were different channels. By the end of the shoot, we just had channel 13 set aside for ghost stories. People started hearing things in the house!
The house really echoed, and is so big. We had a few moments on the set where we had to tell everyone to be quiet, because we could hear a whisper from across the house. At one point, I had to tell everyone that they had to stay with me near the monitors, so that we wouldn’t pick up noise from anywhere else. I’d be like, ‘Quiet on set!,’ and my AD was like, ‘Mitzi, everybody’s here.’ I was like, ‘What do you mean?!? (laughs) Someone’s upstairs!’ But no one was upstairs! So maybe I got mad for no reason!
SY: With ‘Braid’ marking your feature film directorial debut, Mitzi, what was your overall experience like helming the horror thriller?
MP: It was the greatest joy of my life! I don’t think there was an exact moment where I decided to become a director. Everything I’ve worked on and love, from philosophy and art history to music and graphic novels, collided into this. I wrote the script because I was in a personal battle that translated into the movie, including manifestation and perception of things. So the movie kept me sane.
I didn’t have any money, experience or connections; all I had was a script that was about 100 pages or so. So I thought about how I was going to get it done. So I shot a concept teaser trailer with a student film crew for $3,000 in an Airbnb in Warwick, New York in 2015. I actually played one of the girls, because I couldn’t even afford actors. I thought about who was going to direct it, and figured it had to be me. Then once I started directing it, I realized this was what I was supposed to be doing.
SH: No one else could have directed the film, because you wrote it. There’s so much Mitzi in the story. I feel like each one of these three main characters represents a piece of your mind, Mitzi. They’re all so vastly different, but are all a part of you. When I try to explain Mitzi to people, I say she’s a genius.
MB: She’s this beautiful girl who’s also so smart. Since she is so pretty, no one expects her to start talking about the Renaissance, and all of these other things that she’s drawn from.
MP: The movie’s completely cerebral, complicated, philosophical, dark and deep. Since it’s so twisted, I’m blown away by the fact that anyone can understand it. Also hearing people completely immerse themselves in it, and say things like, ‘Petula would wear this,’ or ‘The doll house should look like that,’ is amazing.
IW: There was such a joint effort on the set. Everyone was equally inspired, and wanted to do their best.
MP: Yes, I think this was a transformative experience for all of us…We’ve all grown so much from working on this movie.
SY: ‘Braid’ is having its world premiere here at the Tribeca Film Fesival. What has the experience of bringing the movie here to the festival been like for you all?
MP: This is actually our first day here. But Tribeca’s been great to us-they’ve been giving us a lot of care.
IW: It’s so great being here in New York-there’s such a great energy here.
MP: It’s also great to be able to play here, because we shot here in New York. To be here with all three of these actresses at our first festival is a really proud, special and awesome moment.