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WRITES.CAMERA.AX-TION!: Monica Ferrall

By Mo Moshaty  April  16, 2024

Monica Ferrall (née Farrell) is a director/screenwriter molded in the rainy Pacific Northwest. She tolerated the Los Angeles sunshine to study screenwriting at Loyola Marymount University where she now resides. With a twisted imagination and dark humor, she writes queer, feminist-themed horror features, television—-and the stray novel. Monica’s work earned her a fellowship in After Dark Film’s Feature Lab as well as a place in Millennia Scope Entertainment’s TV Writer’s Room, which focuses on bolstering LGBTQIA+ representation. She is currently writing and directing a collection of feminist horror shorts and seeking independent producers for her latest feature. 

1.  Give us the best elevator pitch on your work.

Three words: Girls Behaving Badly. If the Coen Brothers and Robert Rodriguez had a gay baby, it would be my screenwriting portfolio. I write brutal character-based psychological horror that ranges from twisted social thrillers to tongue-in-cheek grindhouse monster movies – all with a focus on LGBTQIA+ themes and “unlikable” female characters.  

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2. Tell us about your first brush with the horror genre. 

I vividly remember stumbling upon A Nightmare on Elm Street on television, back when televisions had Picture in Picture. I watched the entire movie muted from that tiny PiP box because my brothers wanted to watch Dumb and Dumber instead and keeping my ‘weird horror movie’ on in the corner of the screen was their compromise. 

When I think back on it though, I was obsessed with Goosebumps, Scooby-Doo, and Deadtime Stories (which I thought were a bit more hardcore). I started reading Stephen King as soon as I was above a fourth-grade reading level. I was always that weird kid obsessed with different ways you could die, partially because I was so aware of my own mortality and terrified of it. I guess you could say I was born to be a horror writer because now I can make a living off that anxiety.

3. What about the genre pulls you to work within it? 

Horror forces us to confront the uncomfortable – both in ourselves and in society as we connect with our own mortality and primal fears. That connection has always been so cathartic and fascinating to me. As humans, we’re frightened of so many things, but when a horror story resonates with a wider audience it hits on something deeper below the surface—the unspeakable. There have been a million movies about serial killers, but the slasher formula that has generated the most success always centered on anxieties around class struggles and rejecting female sexuality (hello virginal final girl). In that way, horror reveals deeper truths about our society and point of view – that’s what pulls me into it. Horror is a great medium to examine horrifying ideals. For my work, specifically, I challenge the societal narrative on how women are expected to behave.  

Horror shows us who should be protected, who should be empathized with; who’s a helpless victim, and who’s a monster. The heart of every horror movie questions what it means to be human and what it means to be a monster. The best ones, like The Shining, show us that we’re both.

4. On this horror journey have there been bumps or disappointments?

My biggest disappointment is how many people want to talk me out of writing horror! It would break my heart in college when professors would tell me to ‘aim higher’ when I pitched horror ideas simply out of disrespect for the genre. I had a few standout professors who encouraged me and my weirdness, which I’m so grateful for. 

5. What was the first horror screenplay you’ve written? Any production, publishing?

I’ve been writing scripts since back in high school when I barely knew the formatting, mostly about ghosts and cannibals. Those are all hidden from the light of day in a drawer somewhere where they belong, ha! The first “real” script I wrote was about an unstable young woman who must survive the zombie apocalypse with her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend when they get trapped in a hospital together – even though she would very much rather murder the new girlfriend and win her boyfriend back. It wasn’t published, but it did land me a fellowship at After Dark Films, so it was a success in that regard. It was the first of many of my scripts featuring “unlikable” homicidal female characters. 

6. What’s your process when beginning a screenplay?

I always let an idea fester and grow in my head. From there, it becomes a process of discovery.

I force myself to spend days (or even weeks) vomiting out ideas into a Word doc. Once I have ideas for every possible direction I could go in, I can narrow it down thematically and decide what I want to say about the project. It sounds silly, but I’ll imagine that I’m at the film premiere being interviewed and describing what the intention of the film really was – that helps me crystalize how I want the audience to feel as they leave the theatre. Then I can cross out the ideas that are cool but not thematically in line with the story I want to tell. From there, everything is expanding and contracting like a tiny pulsing universe. I write out an outline and then constantly take it apart, expand, put it together, and take it back apart again until I have something completely solid — structurally and thematically. 

7. World-building in horror can be as extensive or as contained as we wish. What comes first for you in the idea department, the plot, the character, or the atmosphere?

I’m definitely a character-focused writer. Since fear can be so personal, I almost can’t separate the character from the premise. When I hatched the idea for “Prom Queen of the Damned”, I could picture my main character, Alana, standing in a ripped-up bloody prom dress with a bullet-lined sash, tiara, and a machine gun. I knew I had to write a story for her.

8. Who and/or what are your horror influences?

I have so many! Wes Craven and George Romero are my OG influences, of course, though Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento are also on my mood board. It always stuck with me how Romero hid societal critiques in pulp entertainment. My work is heavily influenced by him and Jordan Peele. Though I have to say, Julia Ducournau’s Raw is one of my favorite films. Her work has really inspired me to draw from the horrors of the female experience. Now when I sit down to craft a story, I think about those fears that are super personal to me – like grief and underestimation, instead of just death.

9. Is there a story inside that you have seeds of but can't seem to connect that's dying to get out?

I was working on a pilot for a minute about the emergence of flat-track roller derby in Texas in 2001. It’s a true, almost a ‘Fire Fest ’-esque story about a man named Devil Dan who scrapped together a cheaper, more accessible roller derby league with ambitions only of sex and money. He created a team of badass rollerskating Texas women – as soon as they got the inkling he was ripping them off, they kicked him out and kept the team. I technically have a draft, but since it’s not horror I haven’t taken the time for good revisions on it.  As a roller derby rookie myself, I got so excited about the characters and writing about the landscape of female sports in the early 2000s, since that has so much relevance to my growing up. If not that pilot, hopefully, I can write something badass about female skaters soon!

10. How do you handle extensive notes or a rejected screenplay?

People give you notes because they trust you are capable of addressing them. Any time I get extensive notes, I am overwhelmed of course, but then I let it empower me. Time, energy, and thought are such generous gifts. Someone believes in me and my story enough to help me make it better and that’s the feedback that I try to pay attention to. Every note is saying something and whether I choose to follow the advice or not, I always pay attention to what they’re reacting to and why it’s not working for them. All writing is communication and sometimes a note is not telling you that your idea is bad, but that you’re not properly conveying it or doing it justice. 

11. What has been the most difficult part of your screenwriting journey?

One of my favorite (paraphrased) quotes is “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cut your heart open and bleed all over the page.” Writing can feel difficult and impossible. One of the hardest parts is knowing when something is ready, especially when you’re growing and you nurture the feeling that you can always improve, learn and make things better. I remind myself that as long as I’m pouring my emotions and soul into my work it’ll turn into something worthwhile. When I work on something, I dig deep, I put in long hours and I pretty much never stop thinking about it. And that if I’m challenging myself and inviting my own vulnerabilities into my work, it should be a painful process. But I can take pain.

12. What has been the best/most rewarding?

Making my short film, The Bargain, was the most exhilarating and rewarding experience – far more than placing in contests and earning fellowships. The cast and crew were so supportive, amazing to work with, and most importantly excited to be a part of it.  It was the first time really that someone had read my work without the intention of giving critical feedback, which you don’t realize when you’re in that breaking-into-the-business zone that that’s all you’re hearing. So when I had my first meeting with Estela and she not only told me how thrilled she was to be involved in something she deemed well-written and meaningful, but she was able to dig deep into a character that I conjured out of my own head—and as we talked about her, she became a living breathing thing with a whole life, backstory, everything. And then seeing her come to life on camera was awe-inspiring. I won’t say it was like giving birth because I can’t make the comparison, but it was incredibly arduous and magical. The whole experience was such an affirming high for me and I’m so grateful I was able to pursue it. 

13.  Which horror element or creature from film/lit terrifies you and why?

I have a contingency plan for everything. Especially zombies. I’m obsessed with the undead, though I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of them. The idea of demons chills me to the bone because demons are not just terrifying creatures, but a complete paradigm shift. Demons imply the existence of God, which is a truly terrifying prospect.  And because everything I know about how to fight demons comes from a mythos I don’t believe in, I’ve never been able to make a contingency plan.

14.  What project are you looking forward to next?

I’m looking forward to finishing out my short film collection later this year. My “High Road” Collection is a series of feminist horror shorts that focus on controversial issues within the female experience. Every film is female-focused and female-led, down to the cast and crew. The "High Road" is all about creating my own opportunities and collaborating with other underrepresented folks in the film business. It was super important to me to lend opportunities to other women when I'm able since we're in such a male-dominated field --- especially DPs, editors, and sound designers!

I also have three script ideas that are bidding for my attention. One of them is a low-budget social thriller about true crime media that takes place in Spokane, Washington where I’m from. I would love to get that made with an all-local crew in Spokane because they have a cool indie film scene and a local production company.

15.  Where can folks find your work?

You will be finding my “High Road” Collection of Short Films in film festivals later this year. Follow me on Instagram @ferrall_films to see updates and cross your fingers for my meetings with producers for my feature!

https://writers.coverfly.com/profile/writer-4c86b4d14-7620

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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 with Spooky House Press in the Spring of 2024

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

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