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Interview: Maggie Levin Talks Into the Dark: My Valentine (Exclusive)

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Interview: Maggie Levin Talks Into the Dark: My Valentine (Exclusive)

The poster for writer-director Maggie Levin’s horror thriller, ‘Into the Dark: My Valentine.’

Having a unique opportunity to share their stunning talents is all-too-important for any creative person, no matter what medium or genre they work in. That’s certainly the case for both up-and-coming filmmaker, Maggie Levin, as well as the musical characters in her new horror thriller, ‘Into The Dark: My Valentine.’ The writer-director proves that she can successfully bring to the screen commanding emotional character arcs, which are supported in part by trendy visuals and relatable songs. Those arcs perfectly emphasize the title character’s determined quest to finally regain control over her sense of expression.

Levin, who has made a name for herself by helming short films and television shows, made her feature film directorial debut on ‘Into the Dark: My Valentine.’ She also wrote the drama, which is the Valentine’s Day installment of the show. The movie premiered today on Hulu, in honor of the holiday of love.

Producer Jason Blum‘s independent television studio, Blumhouse Television, crafted ‘Into The Dark,’ which is a monthly horror event series that’s inspired by different holiday. The feature-length installments includes Blumhouse’s signature genre-thriller spin in its stories.

‘Into the Dark: My Valentine’ follows the title songwriter, Valentine (Britt Baron), who takes the stage for what’s hoped to be her explosive comeback, and the performance is well received by the crowd. After the show, as she goes backstage to get ready to leave, someone from her past bribes the club’s staff to quickly leave the premises.

As Valentine starts to walk out to leave, she sees her ex-boyfriend, Royal (Benedict Samuel), which comes as a surprise to her. He’s accompanied by his new musical muse, Trezzure (Anna Lore). Royal demands that Valentine stop performing the songs that he now legally holds the rights for, even though she wrote them during their relationship. But this time, she refuses to let the man who for so long abused win. She’ll do whatever it takes to overcome the lies, pleas and rage-fueled domination tactics he has targeted at her for so long.

Levin generously took the time recently to talk about writing and directing ‘Into the Dark: My Valentine’ during an exclusive interview over the phone. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed that she appreciated the opportunity to work with Blumhouse Productions and Hulu on the thriller, as they encouraged her to use her creativity and interest in horror to take big stylistic risks. She also mentioned that she admired the cast for quickly being able to bond with not only each other, but also their characters’ musical and fashion styles, and effortlessly brough those techniques to the screen.

The conversation began with Levin sharing how she became attached to pen the screenplay, and what the process of scribing the script for the drama was like. “It was a great collaborative experience. Working with Blumhouse and Hulu was a really charmed experience,” she gushed.

“I was brought in by my executive producers, Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill.” The duo previously co-wrote the scripts for Blumhouse Productions’s supernatural horror series, ‘Sinister,’ as well as ‘Doctor Strange,’ together. The scribes originally brought Levin to Blumhouse “to talk about another project. It seemed like that project was going to get a place in the ‘Into the Dark’ series in 2020.”

When the writer “then took a look at the various episodes, particularly the April 2019 episode, ‘I’m Just F*cking with You,’ I saw that there was something special about it. It had an aggressive pop-horror aesthetic going on that I felt worked very beautifully for the series’ format.”

The scribe added that she “also the knew the time restraints and the overall parameters of the series, which meant that we were going to have to make things fast, ideally in a single location. So, taking that, and putting it together with contemporary scenes of love, as well as the area of the pop world that I’m particularly fascinated by, led to the conception of ‘My Valentine.'”

The filmmaker then further discussed the fact that ‘Into the Dark’ was brought to Hulu in part by Blumhouse Television. She then delved into what her experience of working with Blumhouse Television, which is one of the leading production company in the horror genre, as well as a streaming service like Hulu, was like on ‘My Valentine.’

“Blumhouse is a very filmmaker-driven company. Due to the way it’s set up as a series, ‘Into the Dark’ is a great space for them to take risks on new and up-and-coming filmmakers, like myself. I felt very much like my creativity and interest in horror allowed me to take some big stylistic risks, which were not only welcomed, but also encouraged,” Levin revealed.

“In the editing process, I found Blumhouse to be particularly encouraging in the process of making this film even more bold. That’s a very rare thing for a production company to lean into,” the filmmaker admitted. “The potential to fall on your face is big. So the fact that they got behind me and this bold movie is really wonderful and exciting.

“The same is true for Hulu; they were wonderful collaborators. From the beginning, we were talking about ways to tie this story into contemporary themes, including love and relationships, and where we’re at with that in 2020,” Levin also divulged.

In addition to cherishing the experience of penning the script, the writer also embraced the process of directing the horror thriller. “I was fortunate that I was able to build things into the script that I knew I would be able to execute really well as the director,” the helmer disclosed. “My background is in music videos, and I’ve also worked a lot creating series in the narrative digital space.

“So for my directorial style, I’m used to working in areas where you have to work really quickly, and you want to do things that are attention-grabbing, and hold your focus on the material,” Levin shared. “So for the narrative, I was able to use my already acquired skill set, the best way I knew how.”

The experience of writing and directing ‘My Valentine’ “was great. It happened really quickly; I think we were a green-lit project at the end of May, and we were shooting by the middle of August, which is a really tight timeline to make a feature film,” the filmmaker admitted. “So I was essentially prepping the film while I was still writing it.”

With the tension between the main characters being so high, it was important that Levin found the right cast for the drama. “The cast is wonderful; I can’t speak more highly to their skill and dedication,” she admitted. “I got really lucky that this particularly group of people auditioned and said yes.

“We discussed early on in the writing process that we were going to cast Britt Baron as the title character. I also previously worked with Anna Lore, who’s a spectacular human being. I feel lucky that both girls were all in on the project, and Hulu and Blumhouse felt the same about them that I did,” Levin noted.

“Benedict came to us via a single audition tape. Due to the timeline, and him being in New York, we weren’t even able to bring him in for a call-back. But there was just something about his take that was really fascinating. We could all tell that he was going to bring something special and chaotic to this character,” the director divulged.

“The last person to come on board was my dear friend, and one of the bravest and greatest actresses alive, Anna Akana. She had a break in her very busy shooting schedule, where she could slot ‘My Valentine’ in, and be the power that is Trezzure. I can’t imagine the project without her,” Levin admitted.

Once the actors signed on to star in ‘My Valentine,’ they had “two very short days of rehearsals, during which we discussed the character arcs, as well as some of the bigger, more dramatic moments together. I really believe that if I didn’t have this particular cast, who are all such thoughtful, dedicated people, and really tracked their characters’ arcs through the fast-paced shooting process, we wouldn’t have the same movie,” the filmmaker confessed.

“We also developed a rapport and short-hand with each other very quickly. I think there was a lot of beautiful chemistry that happened between all of the actors really quickly,” Levin added. “I feel really blessed that the spark was just there from the moment they all met each other. The table read was just electrifying.”

With the story being driven by Trezzure and Valentine’s music, the helmer then delved into the process of creating the soundtrack and music for the movie. “The songs were written, performed and produced by an artist named Dresage, who I knew socially and professionally prior to this project. It was really exciting to have her step into this project with me, because she brought a really important voice to it,” she disclosed. “It was important to me that the music be authentically created by a female artist.”

Levin and Dresage discussed where the songs would appear throughout the narrative of the thriller. “We also talked about style and tone. Within a week, she came back to me with these incredibly beautiful pop songs that I think are essential to the movie being effecting,” the filmmaker admitted.

Dresage “was also a key collaborator in helping the actors appear as though they’ve been performing their whole lives,” Levin shared with a laugh. “We did a bit of a band camp together, and talked about how the performances would work. Both Britt and Anna tapped into, and channeled, their inner pop stars.”

Trezzure’s persona isn’t just based on her musical abilities, but also her physical appearance and persona, which is also stolen by Valentine. The director then spoke about what the experience of working with the make-up and hair departments to create the characters’ styles was like.

“We took a lot of cues from our favorite pop artists,” the director explained. “We talked about what the Queens of Pop are doing right now. We also took a look at what would be color trending in 2020, since we filmed the movie in the middle of 2019. So we knew very early on what color palettes we would be playing in. The blue hair was something that was written into the script,” she shared.

“The key make-up and costume heads came in with what felt like thousands of ideas, and we narrowed things down from there. There was real thought behind the textural elements, such as the fabrics that each girl would be wearing. Trezzure is meant to be in a more plastic, manufactured fabric, while Valentine is very grounded and dark. I love glitter, so we put it on everything!,” Levin added with a laugh.

With Trezzure being locked in the small concert venue after her performance with her ex-boyfriend and Valentine, the filmmaker embraced the overall look of the set of ‘My Valentine.’ “I think our production designer, Eve McCarney, really delivered. She transformed what was an abandoned and vandalized sports bar in a small shopping center into this really cool, colorful Hollywood bar that’s soaked in neon,” she declared.

“We walked into this space whose structure was all ready to go for filming. Eve and her team cleaned it all up, and turned it into this magical, scary location that we worked in for the majority of the shoot,” Levin declared.

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As a life-long fan of entertainment, particularly films, television and music, and an endless passion for writing, Karen Benardello decided to combine the two for a career. She graduated from New York's LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic. While still attending college, Karen began writing for Shockya during the summer of 2007, when she began writing horror movie reviews. Since she began writing for Shockya, Karen has been promoted to the position of Senior Movies & Television Editor. Some of her duties in the position include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, producing posts on celebrity news and contributing reviews on albums and concerts. Some of her highlights include attending such festivals and conventions as the Tribeca Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, SXSW, Toronto After Dark, the Boston Film Festival and New York Comic-Con.

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