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THE VANITY:
FILMMAKERS MEGAN ROSATI & EVAN WATKINS FIND HORROR TRAPPED IN A DIGITAL WORLD

BY MO MOSHATY, JUNE 10, 2024

The Vanity is the hottest new horror campaign on Seed & Spark that asks "When you - when all of us - look in the mirror, do we like what we see?"

NightTide sits down with filmmakers Megan Rosati and Evan Watkins about the real-world travesties and using social media as a last resort refuge.

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Mo Moshaty: I absolutely adore this idea! What inspired the story for this film, and how did you develop the concept from idea to screenplay?

 

Evan Watkins (Writer): It was the sudden realization that over the past 10 years, without me even tracking it, I spent most of my time interfacing with some kind of advanced technology (whether it be scrolling social media, working remotely, or even my artistic endeavors) collided with the cultural shift brought on by AI, which I believe does pose a great threat to us both economically and creatively. My wife and I have a vanity mirror in our bedroom, the kind that plugs in and has dimmable lights. One night, I could hear the faintest, high-pitched squelching coming from it. Like a digital scream. I unplugged it and the hum stopped. As I lay down to sleep, I had the fearful notion that maybe it was spying on us. And when I woke up, the seed of the idea had taken shape. The idea was that there was a vanity mirror that doubled as a portal to the digital world that we all spend so much time in. What would happen if it wanted us permanently? It excited me and scared the hell out of me because I feel like we're already giving ourselves willingly to that future.

MM: It's such a horrifying truth, about how much we're willing to share and give the digital space. Can you describe the key themes and messages you hope to convey through this horror film?

EW: I suppose rather than theme, the film poses an argument. On one side we have humanity, and on the other, evolution. Will humanity prevail in a time when we seem to be barreling toward a shift into a total digital takeover? It's no longer just Siri scheduling a reminder or an algorithm suggesting another TikTok recipe video. They want it to think for us. And what makes it worse is that there's this sentiment out there that this shift is inevitable. Do we get a say in the matter? It feels like we have no choice here. And that scares me. Any inevitable force is frightening. Michael Myers, the shark from Jaws, Anton Chigurh. And now THE VANITY. All of these are inevitable, unstoppable beings. And these forces are pitted against each other thanks to the cruelty of capitalism and of course... The VANITY.

MM: What were some of your biggest challenges during the writing and directing process?

Megan Rosati (Writer/Director): The biggest challenge during the writing process was making sure the film encompassed everything we wanted to say, in a short film format. My philosophy is, that a feature film is a novel, and a short film is a poem: it exists in a symbolic, metaphorical space, and you should need every second of the run time. For me, a 20-minute-long short film is a harder ask than a 2-hour-long movie: you have to make sure that every second pulls you forward to the end so the viewer doesn’t tune out or turn it off. We’re wrestling with a lot of big ideas - AI, social media, digital overwhelm - and communicating those in a succinct and entertaining way took a lot of revisions. We’re talking like 25 full drafts before we sent it out to potential collaborators and crew. For the record, it is now a tight twelve pages. In this medium, editing is everything. Also, it’s gotta be scary! Building scares requires time, so threading that needle was quite the challenge. 

 

We are still in the beginning stages of directing so right now, my biggest challenge is funding the film! Right now the film exists in many versions: my billion-dollar vision, the scrappy no-budget short, and the reality, which is somewhere in between. Holding space for all the possibilities of our fundraising efforts while still pulling the project forward, and maintaining the creative vision, is the challenge. 

 

MM: Agreed, as a creative, I feel the tiers of possibility are one of the most emotional and hopeful steps of the process. What's been your experience with raising funds, and do you have any tips for others considering this route?

MR: Oh man, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I had resisted crowdfunding for so long because it is excruciatingly vulnerable to go out into the world, hit up everyone you’ve ever met, and convince them to give you their hard-earned money. There have been disappointments, of course, but to stay sane I focus on the beautiful gift of the people who actually show up. To see that someone gave you $25 when they are literally unemployed is such an overwhelming honor. As devastating to the ego as this process can be, every time someone shows up for our project it renews my determination to make the most of their belief in us. 

 

My biggest tip, which is something I didn’t do: bank all your content beforehand! Every member of our team is juggling at least two jobs on top of the crowdfunding process. Add content creation, promotion, and direct outreach to that has been exhausting. It’s like building a plane when it’s already mid-air. If you can make all your videos, make all your photos and promotional assets, and even write your emails beforehand, you’ll do yourself a big favor. Learn from my mistakes! 

MM: What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers who are struggling to find funding for their own projects?

MR: My advice is to find a project you endlessly believe in, and to dream big. I have been making short films, sketches, and short form series for over ten years. In that time, I have been able to work with people who have been far above my pay grade because I was so passionate about the idea. From actors, to DPs, to technicians, people want to do good work. Sometimes you have to leap before the net appears to prove that you are putting your all into it, because that’s the energy that people respond to. No one can believe in your project more than you do. But when you do? You’ll be surprised at who shows up. 

MM: In building out this film, how did you go about deciding that you and Evan would be the sole actors within it?

MR: My husband and I are both professional actors. I have a degree in theater from Northwestern University, and have been a member of SAGAFTRA since 2008. He wrote it, and I’m directing it, and so we created this short film to showcase our talents as actors. Listen, I could cast someone else in the role I’m going to play, but when we go to festivals I want to have that immediate visual recognition that comes with actually being in the film. So our characters in the film are crafted to play to our strengths as actors. 

 

For the other roles, casting was both harder and easier because they were so specific. The main thing I look for in actors is a quality of being excited to play, no matter the arena. We have actor V Nixie, a hugely accomplished scare actor, on board to play a scare character (no spoilers!) She has a physicality that worked perfectly for the part. For the role of the AI repairman, we cast Geoff Ross in part because his comic timing would bring an added dimension to a smaller part. I wish I had directed more when I was auditioning, because as a director a huge part of casting is just an ineffable vibe: do you fit my mental image of the world and the story? When you find the right person, it feels like they just click seamlessly into place.

 

MM: Accessibility has always been an issue in the film industry, the horror genre being no different. What challenges have you faced as a woman in the horror film industry, and how have you overcome them?

MR: I was a finalist for the Project Greenlight/Shudder Indendependent Horror Filmmaking contest in 2018. I remember at the finalist interview stage, I looked around the table and almost everyone there was a white man over the age of 30. The one woman there was an assistant. In a key moment in my story, the female protagonist gets her period while having sex with her boyfriend. It turns into a scare where the period blood flows out over him, turning into a black goo that consumes him - and then she wakes up. 

 

I remember one of the executives saying, “I really like that scene, where she gets her, you know. It was great.” I was like, oh her PERIOD? I couldn’t believe that in a room full of horror fans and professionals, the one word they were squeamish about saying was “period.” And I WAS THE ONE WHO WROTE IT. You think you’re going to scare me with my own idea? 

 

It opened my eyes to the difference between how I perceive myself, and how others perceive me. As a petite brown woman, with no visible tattooes or crazy hair, I don’t fit their mental image of someone who can be fierce, powerful, intellectual, and relentless - which is how I see myself! 

 

Since then, I co-founded a female horror director’s collective, Fatale Collective. Together we made a short anthology that went to multiple genre film festivals. I also contributed to an all-female director anthology film in response to Roe vs. Wade being overturned called GIVE ME AN A (now streaming on Amazon and Apple tv). I’m a big believer in community building and solidarity. More women than men watch horror movies, so why don’t we see ourselves represented at the director level, the executive level, and beyond? Where is the female Jason Blum? I’ve always loved horror because to me, it represents the outcasts and the underdogs. I can’t wait until we rule the scene. 

MM: Moving the needle at the executive level is still elusive to women but our day is on the horizon. On the topic of representation, how do you think the representation of women in horror films has evolved over the years, and how do you aim to contribute to this change? 

MR:  I love a classic 80s scream queen as much as anyone. I actually wrote an essay for FANGORIA magazine back in 2020 about the power of sluts in horror: the title was, “Sexually Liberated, Undeniably Tough.” Girls who have sex and then kill bad guys are my favorite people! The brunette final girls of horror classics like Jessica Harper and Ashley Laurence were my original inspiration. Yes, they may play victims, but the movie was focused entirely on them and their stories - and not whether or not they ended up with a man at the end. 

 

I think where representation has changed is that nowadays, horror movies allow more space for female interiority: movies like RELIC, or STOPMOTION, are not afraid to dive deep into the psychic space of the tortured feminine, and I adore them for that. I think the most exciting change has been the increase in representation of queer women and women of color as central protagonists. And that comes from promoting the work of female directors who are queer and people of color! When you give new filmmakers a chance to make work, you increase the amount and complexity of characters we see represented on screen. 

 

My short for GIVE ME AN A, titled PLAN C, featured a character of a Patient who is waiting to get an intrusive, horrific form of birth control. I made an effort to find and cast a queer actor who was a person of color. I ended up with an amazing trans actor, Maze Felix, who absolutely slayed the role. Their non-binary identity gave an added depth and dimension to the role that was just breathtaking. It also highlighted the point of my short, which is that bodily autonomy affects everybody, not just white cis women. Everything I’ve made has featured actors of many races, because that’s the world I live in. And i intend to continue. 

MM: What advice would you give to other women who aspire to create and direct horror films?

MR: Reach out to people you admire! Slide into that DM. Ask them for coffee. Compliment their work. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met just because I’ve been delusional enough to reach out. On the flip side, do favors for your friends! Hold the boom on your pal’s short film. Sit in the background of a crowd scene if you like the people involved in the project. Give more than you ask for, and people will remember you. 

 

Also, watch and support independent horror movies! To me, it always feels like money well spent. We can’t expect an industry to support us if we don’t support it back. 

MM: What's next for you in the projects department?

MR: We are working on a feature version of this short film! We want to explore the world of THE VANITY on a larger scale, and now is the time to do it. I also have some collaborations in the works with friends - one is a feature about a gym that kills you, and one is a narrative horror podcast about a rideshare driver who can’t remember anything about their life before the drive. Lots of fun stuff, and I can’t wait to get it all out there. 

You can support THE VANITY on it's Seed & Spark page here!

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thevanityfilm/ 

X: https://x.com/TheVanityFilm

TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@thevanityiswatching

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=61559275335468

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Megan Rosati is an actor, writer, and maker of stuff living in Los Angeles. She's appeared on the TV show Everybody Hates Chris as well as an HBO show that never aired and she probably can't name.

Megan on Instagram

Evan Watkins is an actor, writer and musician with Tenement Rats and American Galactic Band living in Los Angeles. 

Evan on Instagram

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Mo Moshaty is a horror writer, lecturer and producer. As a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist and life long horror fan, Mo has lectured with Prairie View A&M Film & TV Program as a Keynote, BAFSS Horror Studies Sig  and The University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. Mo has partnered with horror giant, Shudder Channel, to co-produce the 13 Minutes of Horror Film Festival 2021 and 2022 with Nyx Horror Collective and her literary work "Love the Sinner" was published with Brigid's Gate Press in July of 2023 and her two volume collection, "Clairviolence: Tales of Tarot and Torment Vol. One and Two" will be published in 2024-2025.

Mo is the creator and Editor-in-Chief of NightTide Magazine

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