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Natasha Kermani Discusses LUCKY With Barbarella

Hey, friends!  Barbarella here to share a conversation I had with director Natasha Kermani (IMITATION GIRL, SHATTERED) about her latest film LUCKY, coming to VOD, Digital HD, and DVD on August 3, 2021.  

LUCKY box art

The film takes an absurd look at the aftermath of trauma.  In LUCKY, self-help author May’s life gets upended when a mysterious man repeatedly tries to kill her, and those to whom she turns for help seem to offer little more than condescension, appeasement, or hollow support.  Far from a typical horror film, LUCKY shines a light on the psychology of human interaction for those who have experienced trauma and are struggling to connect with others and make sense of what they’ve endured.  

I had a nice chat with Natasha about the movie.  Check it out.

How did you get a hold of this project, and what appealed to you the most about it?

“The script was actually sent to me by a producer who was interested in seeing if I responded to it.  I knew Brea socially at the time, but I hadn't read any of her work, so I was excited to dive into her brain.  Basically, I just read the script, and I really responded to it, and I thought it would be a really interesting challenge, a real blend of themes in this big expressionistic abstract world with these really grounded metaphors and storytelling.  It was just ambitious and interesting and different from anything I had done, so after reading the script, I basically gave Brea a call, and we had a really, really great initial conversation.  Just felt like, "Okay, we're on the same page here.  We feel like we can move forward and make this movie a reality."  So, it was reading the script and then connecting with Brea and feeling like, “Yes, I understand what she's saying.”  She's interested in what I can bring to the project.  From that initial conversation, everything else came out.”

Still from LUCKY, starring Brea Grant as May

Cool.  This film maneuvers through horror, absurdism, drama, comedy.  How did you approach finding a workable way to balance the tone?

“I think that's a really interesting space to live in as a filmmaker.  I think with everything that I do, I am interested in a blend of genres and cross-pollinating, combining horror with satire, and in the case of this movie, it was a really interesting challenge.  I think really the way to make it all work is to make sure that you're always grounding it with the story, not to get too carried away with the tropes or too carried away with the showier aspects of it, but always making sure that it always comes back to this character's journey and where she is over the course of the film.  In terms of tonal stuff, it was a lot of early conversations with the heads of department.

“Talking to the cinematographer and really nailing down how the look would reflect the ethos of what we were trying to do and that blend of things.  It has this poppy look, but we also have a grittiness to it, so figuring out the blend of things, one more dose of this, a little bit less of that, and finding the perfect recipe, and then doing that with all of the departments, production design, costume.  And then once the lieutenants have their marching orders, they can go off and execute because they're very good at what they do.  There’s a lot of that early communication.  And I think also [we use] keywords, like satire.  It’s a great keyword.

“We also talked a lot about THE TWILIGHT ZONE as a great reference for the film, and I think that works for a lot of people.  They're like, "Okay, I get it."  It's not fully ridiculous, but it is; we are playing with absurdity and a lot of fun, big ideas like that.  So, yeah, communication and patience and just really plugging away at the details.”

Still from LUCKY, written by Brea Grant

I'm going to assume that men and women are reacting differently to this film.  Has that been your experience, and how have those reactions varied between the sexes? 

“Yeah.  I mean, I will say, of course, the number one thing is hearing from women who watched the movie and want to talk about how interesting it was, and fulfilling it was, in a lot of ways, to have conversations come out of the movie that would not necessarily come out of maybe a more traditional horror movie that's not playing with the same things that we are.  Seeing there is a real universality to the experience that we're talking about in this movie, appreciation for seeing that reflected on screen, I think, is the number one response that we've gotten.  That's been really great.  What's even greater is hearing, "I watched this movie with my partner, who's a man, and then we had a conversation about it afterwards, and it was a really fulfilling conversation for both of us."

“That is the best thing you can hear out of this movie.  And I know for Brea, that's why she wrote the script.  That's why she started the whole thing.  For me, I also love, as a filmmaker, hearing people respond to the filmmaking itself.  It’s like, "Oh, this was not at all what I was expecting."  So, it's that combination one-two punch of, "I saw my experience, but the experience of seeing it was different from what I expected."  That's been great.

“I've had a lot of really beautiful nuanced conversations with men.  There were a lot of men who were part of the making of this film, and there were a lot of really wonderful conversations and communication that was happening.  I've had a lot of conversations outside of the film that also reflect that nuance and openness to talk about these thorny topics.

Still from LUCKY, written by Brea Grant

“I have to say a lot of the viewership of SHUDDER, I think, is looking for something a little bit different.  So, yeah, it's been a lot of interesting conversations, which is the most that you can ask for.  Even the negative feedback, the resistance and all that stuff, is in and of itself very interesting as well, like, “Why are you resistant to having this conversation or to acknowledging this experience that does exist?”   So, I think it's all welcome, and it's all interesting and important.”

Yeah.  I just find it so fascinating how it really does capture that absurd way that people respond to a woman, or to anybody, after they've been victimized and they're trying to tell their story and deal with it. How people react to them, I mean, it is actually absurd.  And I feel like you really do feel like you're May in this movie, and you're just going through this, and looking at those around you and wondering, “How are you acting this way when all this is happening?”  So, I think it's pretty amazing that it captures that.


Still from LUCKY, directed by Natasha Kermani

How much of that do you think comes directly from the writing, and how much of that comes from just the performance and the production of it?

“I think it all has to come from the writing.  I think the writing has to have it there in the first place, the building blocks of everything.  But then, the actors also need to understand the line within the line, the message within the message, the subtext, all of that stuff.  So, I would say it starts with the script, but then how they're interpreting the script, and the scene work that comes out of it is equally important.”

Brea Grant wrote this, of course, and she also plays May.  Would you talk about the collaboration that y’all had on this project?

“Yeah. We had a really wonderful collaboration.  Brea, I think, is just a very funny person who is genuinely curious about other people's creativity.  So, I think she was interested to see what somebody else would do with her material.  She was very interested in having me come on and bring my own sensibilities and my own interpretations to things.  If she hadn't had that initial openness, I think that would have been the end of the collaboration.  I think because we were friends already, there's an intimacy and a casualness to the process that was really important, and setting your ego aside and not really trying to be territorial about it or anything like that.  It was really just always like, "Well, what are we going to do to tell this movie in the best possible way that we can and make the most successful film that we can?"  And that was really our attitude from day one.  So, yeah, honestly, it was just a pleasure, a total pleasure working with Brea.”

Brea Grant as May in LUCKY

This was supposed to screen at SXSW 2020.  What were you doing when you got the news that SXSW was canceled, and how did you deal with that disappointment?

“Speaking of fun collaboration with Brea, we were together, actually, when we found out.  And we went to a bar, and we got really drunk, and that's what we did.”

And you wrote the next movie, right?

“Then we wrote the next movie.  (Laughing) No, I think we were really bummed.  It was a real bummer, and we didn't really know what was going on.  And so, there was a lot of confusion, and obviously things became a little bit clearer as time went on.  I think it's funny that we were together when we found out.  It’s actually been really nice to have a partner in crime during this whole process, because it was so tumultuous, and really, nobody knew what was going to happen.  Is the movie dead?  And then, of course, everything worked out.  But yeah, it was good to have her to be able to be together on that crazy ride as it all unfolded.”

Yeah.  Do you have a favorite scene or moment that didn't make the final cut of the film?

“Oh, interesting.  You know what?  Almost everything we shot ended up in the film.  There’s one additional scene with her husband, Ted, at the beginning of the movie that just wasn't doing anything, so we did get rid of it.  But otherwise, really everything was in the movie, for the most part.”

Still from LUCKY

If you were in May's position, how would you handle the situation?

“Oh, man.  Well, I really think part of the tragedy of her character is that she's not able to connect with the other women around her.  And I would like to be somebody who would reach out and connect and be an ally and have allies and be able to connect with the people around me.  But I don't know, I guess you never know until you're in a TWILIGHT ZONE version of your world, being hunted by a mass killer.”

That is true.  What was the trickiest scene or effect for you to capture, and what made it complicated?

“There were a lot of complicated tricks that we did.  The parking garage, we had to switch out all of the lights in the parking garage, and a lot of just technical stuff.  I would say maybe one of the biggest challenges was actually just shooting around the house, because you're in this house for the majority of the movie.  We were really concerned with finding ways to make the house not boring, and make the movie not feel too small or overly contained or anything like that.  We really wanted it to have a feel of things are changing, and interesting, and moving.

Still from LUCKY, written by Brea Grant

“And so, I think that just finding ways to make the house more interesting was really important to us.  It ended up coming through with a lot of really creative ideas from all the different departments, and I think it actually ends up being very interesting.  If people go back and watch the movie again, they'll see even more and more details that we put throughout the movie.”

You've worked sound, camera, electrical, music, editing.  As a director, how in the weeds did you go with this project?  I mean, were you hands-on, or did you just leave it up to the heads of the different departments?

“I'm very hands-on, so they have to tell me to back up.  (Laughing) No, that's not true.  I think I like to be available to the heads of department.  Because I have a lot of experience in different departments, I'm able to have a shorthand way to communicate with them, so I'm very grateful for that, and that's been something that's been very important to me with everything that I do.  But yes, I like to be very involved.  I think honestly, as long as you're not getting in their way, and you're still giving them the artistic freedom and authorship of their departments, I think people like having a director that is there to have those conversations and really get into the nitty gritty.  I'm also just genuinely interested.  I love all those different aspects of filmmaking, so it's just a pleasure for me to talk to people who are really good at what they do.”

If you could go back in time and change one thing about LUCKY, what would you change and why?

“Ooh, great question.  We had a few inefficiencies of location and time and that kind of stuff.  I think on a movie like this, time really is your number one resource, so going back and finding ways to be more efficient with our time.  But even with that said, we were pretty good, all things considered.  I don't know, maybe more blood.  I think the movie could have more blood in it.  Maybe that's my answer.”

What the movie lacks in blood, it makes up for with thought-provoking ideas.  Starring Brea Grant as May, LUCKY comes out Tuesday on VOD, Digital HD, and DVD.  Check out the trailer.

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