The word “lucky” is often chucked around willy-nilly in ways that seem benign but are often belittling, ways that miss the point, and sometimes even ways that are vicious. All of these are explored in Lucky, a film playing at the Fantasia Film Fest about a woman who finds herself in a twisted reality where the same man tries to kill her every night. Struggling with the police, therapists, her husband, her job, and being believed, May (Brea Grant) must dedicate her life to trying to kill the man who just keeps coming back.
Brea Grant wrote and stars in the film which was directed by Natasha Kermani. What they’ve created is a gutting tale about the daily horrors women face and how they nag at every aspect of our lives. I chatted with Natasha Kermani about directing the film, her inspirations from Britney Spears to Hannibal, and how her unique flavor as a director drove home the gut punch themes of the movie.
Lucky for you, the film was snatched up by AMC’s genre streaming service, Shudder, with more details on the release to come.
Talk to me about your movie. Tell me what it was like being the director where your lead actress is also the writer and how that all came together.
Natasha Kermani: Yeah, you know, I had some concerns at first because Brea and I had never worked together. We were friends and we knew each other socially, but we have never professionally collaborated before. And, you know, sometimes if someone is also a director in their own right, they could be territorial or whatever it was. Bria was just, she's a gem. I mean, she's just such a professional, really a consummate professional. We had very early discussions about where we were both comfortable with where that line was and, for both of us, the answer was, “Let’s discuss everything. Let's be as hands-on as we can possibly be.” I would talk to her about the filmmaking side, she would talk to me about the writing side, and we really just got all that bullshit out of the way, right at the top. It was great. I really have no complaints. You have very limited resources on a movie this size, so to have a lead actor come in who is obviously committed, but also her understanding of the project is obviously so, so deep, that is a real major, major step forward before you even started any of the process of going into production. So yeah, it was honestly a really great experience.
Expanding on that a bit. The movie definitely has themes about women needing to work together and helping each other out and how that sometimes happens and doesn't happen. Is that something that you felt really reflected in working on a movie that had a lot of women working on it?
Natasha Kermani: Obviously, the stakes were not as high for us [laughs]. It was great. I think we all could relate to the topic and the themes of the film, so there was a bit of a shorthand with the women on set and that was really helpful for us because, again, you're putting it together quickly. You have limited resources, and so to be able to have that shorthand I think was really great. I love working with women. I love working with men, too. But there is something special about having department heads and a lot of the major players on the movie being female was really—it does feel different and it was refreshing. I feel like I'm very happy that people are picking up on sort of the darker choices that the main character makes. I think that's a really important part of the conversation. When do we fail each other? When do we fail ourselves? What can we do to change the circumstance so that we can collaborate and be supportive? How do we change the paradigm in that way? Ironically, the behind-the-scenes of the movie was a perfect example of that kind of collaboration between women.
The themes of the movie definitely ramp up and by the final act, you're like, “Okay, I get it. I know what this is about.” But I think, specifically women, probably really picked up on it earlier in the film. Tell me a bit about burying the themes closer to the beginning of the film.
Natashia Kermani: I don't know if we buried it so much as the way we were having the conversation changes. The opening of the film, what was very interesting to me when I read the script was, “Okay, is there a way to bring this conversation through the door in a way that is more about satire, making space for the audience to smile or laugh a little bit at the awkwardness of what's happening?” Then by the end of the film, we're still talking about the same shit, it's just now it's real. Now we're grounded. Now we're really talking about the core of the issue and looking at it less as a satirical view of what's going on in this woman's life. I think it's less that the theme was buried and then revealed as much as the way we were handling it shifts throughout the film.
This film has a really great money shot of the woman protagonist with the blood all over her face. Tell me a bit about composing that and why it's such an important shot.
Natashia Kermani: Honestly, I just thought it was really hilarious. We knew at some point we were going to have to get bloody with Brea. She's a scream queen. So we’ve gotta give the people what they want. Joking aside, it's very important because at that point she has fully committed to the cycle. So at that point, she is fully through the looking glass. She's all the way in. And it's just a way to visually show how far she's come from the top of the film. At the top of the film, she's very put together. Hair is all right, the shirt is buttoned up all the way to the top. By the time we get to that point, it's a turning point in her story where now she's in it. Now she's going to defend herself. She's going to keep killing this man. You can call it the point of no return if that's an easy way of thinking about it. But I think it's more about how we visually perceive her and how that is a reflection of how she herself has been changed by this world twisting around her. She's now fully immersed in this nightmare universe.
Talk to me a bit about the composition of The Man. He really felt like a slasher villain to me. There are a few things that I guess you can probably expand upon that made him feel that way. Talk to me about creating that character.
Natasha Kermani: I think Brea’s script is very funny. She really knows the genre very, very well. So she was really playing with those tropes. It’s almost a satire of a slasher movie and she is this sort of bizarro final girl. I was kind of thinking about her, it's not that she's a final girl, it’s like she's a “final cynical 20th century woman.” She's fully grown. She's an adult. There's no final girl. She’s an adult. So he’s a lot of fun. He was originally written to be a little bit more Michael Myers-y. But, the biggest thing is that Brea is a very small person. She's small in stature. So we had put a man against her who she could believably fight off. We were looking at these big MMA dudes that are totally built and it's just like, no way. She would be completely obliterated by this person. So we started thinking alternatively in that way, and the team, the producers, Brea, and the production designer, and all of us got together and we were thinking a lot about Mads Mikkelsen in Hannibal, the TV show. That started coming into our reference images, then the costume designer got really inspired by that. We knew that his color was red. The costume designer started finding these really beautiful coats. He's got really beautiful sort of peacoats with a lot of shape and a collar and she found one in this deep maroon, which I thought was brilliant, because it looks black at first, but then as you see more and more of it, you realize, “Oh no, this is actually a dark red. This is a really dark red color.” I don't know how she found it. Brianna Quick is a genius. She managed to find this really unique color. Once we started thinking about him, maybe he's a little bit more refined, maybe he matches May. Each of the men are meant to be a reflection of the woman that they are stalking. So he's a little more put together, his hair is a little bit better.
Then the other conversation that we were having a lot was about rather than just a straight mask, to have something that almost looked like he wasn't wearing anything, but something was wrong. So you know, it's a little bit less like, “Oh, crazy Scream mask” and more like you're walking down the street at night, there's a crazy light on some guy's face and he looks really creepy. There’s some sort of stark look on his face that doesn't look completely human. That's really what we were trying to think about. And those images started coming into our references. I found a lot of paintings that were really interesting to me, where the painter was distorting the subject’s face using either some sort of plastic, and we saw some sculptures that were also playing with that. All of those things morph together. Then I teamed up with Jeff Farley, who's a really awesome special effects artist. He did some work for me on my first film Imitation Girl. He came in and with limited resources, he was just able to build something really beautiful that accomplished everything that we wanted. It was really a journey. It was very much a journey to find The Man.
I also really picked up on the use of keys. I feel like keys have been such a quick whistle to women. It was touched upon in the new Black Christmas movie with grabbing the keys. Talk to me about that and adding keys into the movie.
Natasha Kermani: It's interesting that you picked up on that. Number one, there's two big keys, right? The first thing is, she drops her keys. She drops her keys and she has to lean down and find them. And she started dropping all of these things and she keeps having to put herself into these vulnerable situations because she's dropping her case, she's dropping her books, there's just things that are falling out of place. And that is exactly what's happening in her life; she's starting to lose control. She's starting to lose all these things that should be mundane. It's your car keys. But when you drop them, suddenly the entire context of where you are and the level of vulnerability that you are exposing yourself to changes. It's such a little moment in in the script, but I think she [Brea] did a really interesting thing to bring it back at the end of the movie. One of the detectives points it out as one of the turning points when the world starts to distort. I think he says, “You know, you were in the parking lot, you dropped the books and you dropped your keys.” I think that that really for us was when it all starts. The trigger point. Things start to move and distort around her.
The second big key thing is that The Man has a bunch of keys. That is simply to show that he has unfettered access to her life. So anywhere she goes, he will have access to it, and he has all the keys to all the places that she will ever be in her life. That's the ring of keys that he keeps with him. Of course, each of the men would have different sets of keys for the different women that they are following.
Talk to me about how you used phones and technology in the movie. One thing I really liked, such a subtle thing, is that when May sent her first text message to Ted, there were old messages there. I liked that a lot. But then also, even though she's buying the security system, she's never trying to capture images of The Man or anything like that. Talk about how you made those decisions and made it work.
Natasha Kermani: I think it's always tricky with a modern movie because technology is such a part of our life, especially now. We wanted it to not overtake the story. That's all it was. We didn't want to go down a path of getting into the intricacies of technology and how she could potentially do this better. The other thing, it really is meant to be almost like a Twilight Zone version of our reality. We didn't want to get bogged down with that. Because really, at the end of the day, it's Mays story and it's her journey. So what, she gets video of the guy? It doesn't matter. He's a supernatural changeling. So what the fuck is she going to do? So it’s there as a flavor, but we didn't want to get too deep into the mechanisms of what she's doing, because at the end of the day, it's really going to come down to a knife or pushing him off the stairs, or whatever it is. It's a very visceral experience that May is going through.
I was chatting with Brea this morning and we were talking about how often we talk about how victims are lucky and that's obviously a huge theme of the film. But there's also that really quick moment where May’s agent tells her that she's really lucky to get a second book deal. That explosive moment. Talk to me about that and talk to me about you, if someone told you that you were so lucky to have a film premiering at Fantasia.
Natasha Kermani: A lot of women and a lot of the actresses, a lot of the women actors who read it really loved that line. I think it really pings for creative women who work in creative fields because we bust ass. We really bust ass to get every victory that we have, everything that we accomplish, every project that we do, we are hustling. I think to minimize, to have, especially a man, minimize our hard work with a word like “luck” is insulting. I think that is really hard for us, even when it's meant in a positive way or in a light way. These things are not light to us because we work so hard for them. In that moment, I think that is really about May’s career and it's about her life. She's worked hard to have that house. She's worked hard to try and save her marriage, even though that's not really working out. It's all hard work. I think a lot of a lot of creative women who have seen and read the script and watched the movie, that moment feels really real for them. Also, the book agent doesn't know what the hell is going on. And that's part two of it. We see on Instagram or we see a Deadline article “so and so got this,” and we say, “Oh my gosh, she's so lucky.” We have no idea what's going on. Britney Spears said it best. We have no idea what's going on.
The great philosopher of our time.
It was a really layered thing. I also like that the word “lucky” is dotted throughout the film and each time we hear it, it takes different meaning.
Talk to me about the broken glass. It’s used a lot immediately from that very first cut on her finger, which is just such an early, stressful moment.
Natasha Kermani: It's just a really visual… it's literally that I wanted to give the audience a sense of going through the looking glass. It's literally just a reference to mirrors and mirrors as portals and really any reflection because it's also a window. She's got that giant window in the back of her house which is horrifying, so it's really the idea of windows, glass, and reflections as portals to different places, different versions of our reality. As the mirror, as the glass is shattered, so is her universe as we go deeper and deeper into this twisted—it's a nightmare version of her world.
Talk about composing that climax in the parking garage with so many different things happening at the same time. I feel like May goes on a huge journey in that moment. Talk a bit about putting that whole thing together.
Natashia Kermani: That's the scene that I put the script down and emailed Brea. Whenever I read it, I was like, “Okay, I'm going to do this movie.” I had never seen it or read it before. The way that she was able to expand the world out in that sequence. We've been on this journey from this singular perspective for the first two acts and then as we move into our third act, she just really elegantly opens it up in a beautiful way. That's why the movie works. Because if we're just watching our protagonists deal with this, that's a movie we've seen before. But to take that leap, and again, it goes into the sort of science fiction version of a horror movie. That's when I was really sold.
To talk logistically for a second, because films are a logistical undertaking, we immediately, from day one, I knew that we had to take resources from other things, other elements, to put into that sequence because that sequence was always going to be hard. We shot this movie in 15 days, which is insane. I initially wanted three days for that parking garage sequence. We got two, which is still a miracle. It was really protecting those days and it was protecting those resources. It was also at the end of our shoot. So as things start to go, it’s, “No, don't touch it. Do not touch that, don't touch my two days, don't touch my resources, don't touch my extra crew, we need to preserve this because this sequence is the sequence.” The rest of it’s in a house, in a car. It was really about protecting that. Protecting the integrity and the resources for that sequence.
Then, finding the location. Once we had the location, we were able to start building out. We scouted a bunch of times. I think we did like some little iPhone videos of it. And then the camera team, lighting team, while they were prepping, we did a fair amount of Steadicam, rehearsals and all that. We only had a Steadicam for I think two days of the entire shoot. We knew that we had to be on Steadi for that sequence. So yeah, does that answer your question? I can talk all day about that sequence, because it was very complicated.
I figured it's probably a sequence we could talk about all day.
Natasha Kermani: I’m like, where do we start? Initially it was actually written as levels. Initially, I had wanted to find a garage like that, that has all the levels, so as the cameras are coming down, you see all the different women. That turned out to be really hard to find in L.A. I guess that’s an East Coast thing, I didn't know. You know in the way that you can look out and see bap bup bup bup bup bup [stacking hands]. So, we ended up finding, I think, an even better option and a more doable option with the resources that we have, which is actually the parking garage of a studio. So we are in a film studio, but we were shooting in the garage. Finding the right corner where we could see, so instead of lowering down on the camera, it became a turn. It becomes this sort of 360. Because of our resources, we had limited stunt people and actors, so the sequence, it's got some hidden cuts and stuff, because we're reusing people. We would shoot half, go into her back, reset, get them into a new costume or whatever it is, and reshoot, pick it back up, so we ended up shooting close-ups. Initially, it was one smooth thing, but I think we also got close-ups when we were there, which I think really helped sell it in the end because we could see the women up front. I think, ultimately, I was grateful for that because it humanizes them rather than just seeing them from a wide shot. It's just getting crafty with the resources that you have. If you have a sequence that is the pivotal sequence of your movie, that is the payoff. Protect it as much as you can. Sacrifice other stuff, so that you can protect that sequence.
What's next for you? What are you working on next?
Natasha Kermani: I have a few things brewing. It looks like hopefully I will be back on set, either later this year or early next year, which would be great. And all in the genre space.
Nice and cryptic. What's your favorite scary movie?
Natasha Kermani: Ah, that's a great question. Um, favorite scary movie. Could it be a TV show, because I'm a diehard X-Files fan. There's an episode that they were never allowed to air because it's so fucking gnarly called “Home.” I don't know if you remember that episode. It's really fucked up and very, very scary and it's humans as the monsters. There's no aliens or monsters or anything. It's just some crazy people doing crazy, fucked-up stuff. So yeah, I would say that I really do love that show and that episode particularly.
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[Photo Credit: Above photo by Briana Lane.]