It’s doubt, guilt, regret, and insecurities that get murderers caught, but it’s also what stops filmmakers from achieving their path.Gillian Wallace Horvat
Do you think you could be a murderer? Is that something you ask yourself or what other people have said to you? Well, in the case of writer/director/actor Gillian Wallace Horvat, her friends said she would be a good murderer because of her traits as a filmmaker. This idea propelled her to make a short documentary on the subject that led to her debut narrative feature. Gillian says a good murderer is like a good filmmaker, especially a female filmmaker in this climate when you’re not getting the support financially from the industry. Gillian stars in “I Blame Society,” which examines what would happen if a filmmaker who struggles in her professional and personal life becomes a murderer to have satisfaction in both. It’s a brilliant premise and it plays out beautifully (in the most unsettling sense).
I had the opportunity to speak to the 2022 Indie Spirit Award nominee about her feature debut, streaming now on Shudder. We discussed why a great filmmaker can make a great murderer. We also talked about how the industry still needs to change by giving more money to the underrepresented rather than “the beards”. It was a thrill and a joy speaking with Gillian, just like it was watching her film. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
How did you come to this film?
It started from a real-life incident where a couple friends said that I would make a good murderer, and it’s the same people that you see in the film. It was interesting because when we unpacked what it is that makes a good murderer, we found that those good qualities make a good filmmaker, which includes being able to have a vision of what you want to do and knowing how to break that down to the steps you need to accomplish it. For example, being able to make a lot with little resources, persevering, having a belief in yourself, disregarding criticism, and most importantly, being able to overcome doubt. Because it’s doubt, guilt, regret, and insecurities that get murderers caught, but it’s also what stops filmmakers from achieving their path.
I made a short documentary about that and I wasn’t thrilled with the results. To me, it was just a little too cutesy. But some of it was really intriguing. A few years later, I was working with a couple producers on another project, and I happened to mention to them that I had made a doc a while ago about “the murderer”. I don’t know why, just as a joke, I guess. But they were really intrigued. They asked, “Can we see it?” I showed them some of the footage and I was like, “it’s not the best thing.” They really saw a lot of potential in the idea through the character and the disguise. Together we talked about how we could build out from the documentary footage and into a feature film.
The documentary is about me exploring why people say I would make a good murderer, and then the narrative feature version of it is that she actually does it because she is facing so many obstacles in her professional and personal life. Murdering is the one thing that she can really accomplish.
Was this a cathartic experience for you in the wake of our current climate?
Well it was definitely a dream come true because I always wanted to make a feature and I was really grateful to have that happen. The thing that made it difficult though was the lack of resources. I think a lot of women come in on their first film at a much much lower budget level than men. So it’s not surprising. Financiers look at women and they don’t have trust in them. They don’t want to give them the resources because they don’t feel comfortable taking that risk. And that’s because the symptoms are historical. There aren’t as many major female filmmakers to point to. It’s a lot easier when the person that is going to be the next “X” also has a beard, also looks like that. And it’s just harder to look at any promising young female filmmaker and say she’s going to be the next Scorsese because she doesn’t look anything like him. The reason why the people with wallets have all that money is because they make risk-free decisions, one-to-one decisions. So just taking that extra step is risky.
It was hard for me to make the film because it was a 12-day shoot and I was acting in it, and I’m not an actor. But we had decided to have me play myself in order to continue using that documentary footage. It was also a financial decision to be able to hold onto it. Originally that footage was supposed to be a bigger part of the film. It was a bit of a shock to get into the editing room, and the editor was like, “We don’t really need it, we just need it for one scene.” But at the end, I think that my presence playing a character like myself was really useful on a meta narrative level. It did pull through and it did help the film in some ways. I would really like on my next one to just have one job. That would be really great.
What do you hope people see in your film?
Primarily I hope they are entertained. My first priority as a filmmaker is to give the audience pleasure while they are watching this film, narrative pleasure and generic pleasure from the genre of the film. As they are taking it in, it’s possible that they are processing it on multiple levels. They are also absorbing some of the reality behind it and taking that in. It’s resonating with them. But also, if they are just a straight-up horror fan, that’s also perfectly acceptable. The film scenes that are talking about those themes might slip in more subconsciously, and that might inform their experiences looking forward. If they’re a guy seeing the women around them struggling professionally, being caught in a Catch 22 of bureaucracy, hypocrisy, and lip service, maybe they’ll be like, “this seems really familiar, this reminds me of a scene in ‘I Blame Society’.” Maybe that won’t happen until two or three years later, and that’s totally OK if they just want to enjoy the film as a film today. It’ll probably sink in as they start hanging out with more women, and seeing what it’s like for them at work.
In terms of the recent movements, particularly #MeToo and #TimesUp, do you feel things have changed?
That’s definitely one of the talking points of the film is that the #MeToo movement was effectively co-opted by anybody who had the opportunity to really effect change. Instead of doing that, they pivoted to a more public facing and performative position where it was about saying the right thing and doing the right tweet and posting the right instagram infographic, and condemning the right people rather then doing anything, rather then making changes inside of their house, rather then making changes on their film slates.
If there was going to be room for women, it was going to be carefully surveilled. Women who were brought in would have to be babysat on the projects that they were doing. The producing teams, the EPs and the studio execs would be full of men, if not the writers were all men. IP was created by men. Really what the situation was, and I feel it’s still very much in effect today, is women are being invited in to continue telling stories that have been built by men, and telling stories of strong female leads that were created by men. There’s something disingenuous about saying, “She is going to put her spin on it. She’s going to make it appropriate for 21st century audiences.” They tell you that the director has a lot of latitude, but they don’t, and they certainly don’t have that much when they are coming in scripting characters that are already set. They can create tone and atmosphere and mood depending on pacing and movement, but if it’s in the script, it’s in the script. They are not magicians. They can’t just make it appropriate and have it resonate with women and other underrepresented groups just by being there. That’s making somebody “a beard.”
What’s coming up for you?
I’ve got a couple things that are cooking. It’ll be exciting to see what happens next. I’ve got a couple baseball-related projects. I’m excited to see if and when they get going. I’ve had a TV show that’s been in development which I’m really excited about. We’ve just been on the verge of getting the show out like three times, and then the pandemic shoots up and people freeze buying shows. It’s been very stop and go. Hopefully I will have something exciting to announce soon.