SXSW 2017: Interview with “The Honor Farm” Director Karen Skloss and Olivia Applegate

“The Honor Farm” follows Lucy (Olivia Applegate) who is coming to terms with the next stage of her life after high school and making the passage from girl to woman. When Lucy’s prom night falls apart, she finds herself jumping into a hearse headed for a psychedelic party in the woods.  From writer/director and Austinite, Karen Skloss we’re taken on a journey that flips stereotypes and convention. We had the chance to interview Olivia and Karen at SXSW.
(Left to right) Olivia Applegate, Karen Skloss / Photo credit: Catherine Gutierrez
What inspired this story and how did you balance the elements of teenage coming-of-age story, supernatural, dream sequences, etc. within the film?
(left to right) Olivia Grace Applegate, Will Brittain, Samuel Davis, Katie Folger/Photo Credit: Matthias Grunsky

Karen: The biggest inspiration was wanting to be able to capture the way that your life can change when you’re teenager in crazy set of circumstances. This is one night where you can start to look at yourself and the world in a different way. All the other elements that kind of came were brought in to serve that purpose. I knew I wanted to make a movie that was a love letter to some of the crazy experiences that I had growing up.

I had a bunch of friends in high school that were seekers and deep thinkers in Austin and we did Austin things dot dot dot. I wanted to make something that encapsulated some of that and tell a story of a girl that’s figuring out that she’s a woman and how to feel that she’s now a grown up. That’s how you feel when you’re getting out of high school, you’re like okay I’m going out into the real world, am I strong and ready and brave to handle all of this. Sex is a big part of that and that’s going to be scary–

Olivia: –and just bad. I loved what Karen did in this movie because she captured the clumsiness of sex. It felt like authentic teenage virginity stuff. Sometimes you see movies and it’s so pretty, beautiful, and perfect. 

What attracted you to the story and how did you approach your character?

(left to right) Louis Hunter, Katie Folger, Liam Aiken, Olivia Grace Applegate /Photo Credit: Matthias Grunsky

Olivia: When I was at UT studying theater and dance, I decided ‘never mind acting is impractical, I’m not going to do it, I’m going to become a lawyer.’ My friend sent me the open casting call for Karen’s film was like this is too perfect, the character description is you, you have to go in. I was like fine I’ll go and I didn’t even have a head shot. I met Karen and Vicky Boone, the casting director and fell in love with them. I was cast and something that’s been so special to me about this movie is that we shot it over an extended period of time. I don’t think I could’ve played Lucy at the end of the movie when I was originally cast. I think it ended up working out really nicely because it was the first movie I was ever cast in and I got to grow up with this character. I think you feel that in the movie, especially between the characters Annie, Lucy and Laila there’s sort of a feeling of deep bonding.

Karen: Good thing it took us a while to raise the money.

How do you stay focused over the whole process of the making the film over a span of years?

Dora Madison (left) and Christina Parrish (right) / Photo Credit: Matthias Grunsky

Karen: When you choose a subject you have to be sure it’s something you really want to do because most movies take a long time to pull together the financing unless you get really lucky or someone approaches you with a project. I wanted to touch on something in regards to the first question about the scary elements in the film and how they came about. They are more of a subversion of the horror genre and playing with the horror tropes is a way into a coming-of-age story instead of being a typical fun horror experience. 

Olivia: I love what Karen is saying about the subversion element because you meet these sort of indie kids and you think they’re the bad news, but then you realize that my first boyfriend is sort of the horror at the beginning. It flips these paradigms on their head and I think that’s what makes these so special and yes, subversive.

Karen: It’s kind of a movie for outsiders by an outsider about outsiders in a way. It’s not the popular crowd, it’s the crazy crowd. The last thing we wanted to do is have the typical tropes where the kids do drugs, have sex and they die.

Was there a scene in the film that was challenging to shoot?

Olivia Grace Applegate (left) Louis Hunter (center) and Liam Aiken (right) / Photo Credit: Matthias Grunsky

Olivia: The whole shoot was pretty intense, it was one of the more difficult shoots I’ve done by virtue of it being night shoots and being outside in the wilderness of Texas during the rainiest summer in a decade. We got rained out a lot of days so that was difficult. I don’t think there was one particular scene because it was such a bonding experience and became our own family because of our inverted sleep schedule. I was awake from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and asleep from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. so we just had each other for the whole process. It was pretty intense to be shooting outside in the wilderness and in a prom dress. It was kind of sweaty.

Karen: The prom dress had a very distinct smell by the end of the shoot.

Olivia: I know exactly how it smells.

Karen: The most difficult scene was probably the wacky basement seance stuff because I kind of felt like they were doing a sex magic ritual and if you look really closely it has the same card that Laila has. I feel like that’s the guy from the bookstore who gave her the card and think there’s some actual real magic that’s happening. It’s not all just the drugs, there is some supernatural stuff going on in a Miyazaki way, like spirits of the forest and sex, spirits and some dark forces. But maybe they are little more kind than they are in normal horror movies, actual teachers instead of evil malevolent forces.

I really wanted it to be like “Rosemary’s Baby” where the Satanists are your next door neighbor’s kind of feeling. The scenes where you have lots of actors and you’re trying to block and get everything to flow that was the day on the set where we were trying to okay how many set-ups and how much time do we have left?

What are you both working on next?

Olivia: I’ve started writing and directing, Karen is such an inspiration. I’ve worked on a couple of projects like that and I’m up for a couple of indies that would shoot next year. I shot a couple things last year that will come out later this year, so just a bunch of stuff.

Karen: I’ve got a TV series idea, I’m definitely interested in serials because it feels like the new independent film. I also have a couple of indie ideas, one of them which is to take place in a basement with two people. That way we can control the weather and everything (laughs).

Olivia: I wanted to say that this film is not only the first film I ever did, but also the only film I’ve ever done with a female director. It was such a pleasure and especially doing something so genre. I’ve done a lot of genre films but they’ve all been male-directed and it’s such a different feeling. I think that’s what makes the movie subversive. It’s part of why we took these tropes and flipped them on their heads because we’re coming from a different angle which I really loved. Having Karen also helped me feel super safe with all of the things we’re playing with because I was like oh, Karen like really gets it. Karen actually understands how vulnerable this story is for a girl, for women, for the female body and all of that stuff and it was also such a great pleasure to be involved in such a strong female ensemble.

I think that’s another thing that’s special because you don’t see that in Midnighter movies. We’re the only female-directed film in the Midnighter section of SXSW this year and I just think it’s cool and it’s just another thing about this movie that’s a little bit subversive. I’m super happy about it.

Karen: When I was editing the film at a certain point I really had to work on fleshing out and forwarding her male counterpart. The opposite problem you see, like ‘oh darn he’s just a pretty face I got really work on pulling out that performance.’ (laughs)

Exclusive Clip – The Honor Farm from Karen Skloss on Vimeo.

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