You know her, you love her and the horror industry wouldn’t be the same without her — she is legendary scream queen Danielle Harris. This brunette bombshell has grown up right before our eyes on television and the silver screen, establishing herself as on of the most dynamic actors in the business. Never afraid to experiment or to follow her keen instincts when it comes to a role, Danielle continues to surprise her fans with each new project. Her latest endeavor is no exception to that rule, as she prepares to unleash the next exciting chapter of her career! In her directorial debut, Harris has enlisted some of her very talented friends. “Among Friends,” written by Alyssa Lobit and produced by Jennifer Blanc-Biehn and Athena Lobit, is a twisted tale of horror focusing on a dinner party gone wrong. Set against an 80s backdrop, the good time takes a dark turn when one in the group hijacks the evening in an attempt to help the others come clean about their secret betrayals against one another–and is willing to cut through the bone in order to expose the truth. Collectively this group of very talented women has decades of experience in the film industry and they are excited to be bringing fans and audiences everywhere a roller coaster ride of fun, intensity and, oh yes… blood. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Danielle Harris to discuss her passion for filmmaking, the challenges involved in creating her first feature film, her upcoming web series and much, much more!
Obviously, many of us watched you grow up on TV and in movies. You grew up in the industry. When did you first get the feeling you wanted to be behind the camera?
I think it was just over the last couple of years. I came to a point where I was on set and started thinking, “Why am I not doing this?” I wasn’t getting the scripts that I wanted as an actress. I was handed the opportunity to work with some friends of mine that I wanted to work with. I felt I had a list of people I wanted to work with and all of these fun things I wanted to do but I was just sitting back waiting for them to come my way when I could just go out and make it happen myself! That is really where it came from.
For those unfamiliar with the film you chose for your directorial debut, “Among Friends,” what can you tell us about it from a plot perspective?
I would describe it as “Heathers” meets “Very Bad Things” meets “Clue.” It is all of the things that I love about the horror genre but I have a sense of humor about what I do for a living. I really don’t take it too seriously, so I didn’t want to make another torture porn, slasher movie kinda thing. I just wanted it to be fun! The script that came my way was very different from what we ended up doing. I checked in with Alyssa [Lobit], the writer, after I signed on to it and said, “What do you want to do? What do you really want to do?” In this genre, I sorta have this get out of jail free card to do whatever it is I want to do and know I have the support of the fans. I feel like many first time directors may not want to take that risk because they feel they only have one shot to make it or break it. I didn’t feel like I had that because I already had a support team behind me. That made it a lot easier for me to take risks and do things that were a bit unconventional but still stay within the things that I know work and still do what I really wanted to do.
You didn’t have reservations about taking the leap into a directorial role but it took a while to find the perfect project. What can you tell us about that search?
It kinda found me. I have been reading scripts forever, probably about three years, just trying to find the one. There were a couple along the way which I thought would be cool and I turned them over to my managers and agents. They were cool and had potential but it was a situation where I thought, “This one is cool but it could use some work.” When the script for “Among Friends” came to me, it was more of who was involved with it. I really loved the fact that the antagonist and protagonist were females. All of the characters are a bit stereotypical but at the same time are so different from what the normal horror type characters are while still staying true to the genre. Kimberly McCullough has known Jennifer Blanc for a long time and I have known Alyssa Lobit for years. It got to the point where I said, “Hey! I am going to do this thing. Would you be interested in starting a production company and/or get something going with my girlfriends?” I don’t know if you know the statistics but it is something like only 18% of females are active in the entertainment industry both in front of and behind the camera, which is really devastating to me! There are even fewer female genre directors. That was even more shocking to me because all of the heroines in the horror genre. I think I just wanted to do this because I could take a different approach than a lot of the different men I had been directed by. I also pushed my girls to go a little bit further because they know that I am another girl and I would have their back as far as some sexually graphic stuff. Even though there is no nudity, as far as violent stuff, they could feel safe and protected knowing there is another female there to make sure everything is OK. But back to your original point, the script kinda came to me!
Was it difficult to balance the horror elements with the more humorous elements without going too far in either direction?
Actually, I kept wanting to push it! I found that sometimes, the people I was working with would say, “Uh, are you sure that is the way you want to go?” I remember working with Nick, the DP, saying, “Make it raw. Make it like an editorial. We really want it to be like this.” Nick said, “It doesn’t really look like a horror movie!” And I said, “Exactly!” [laughs] That was my point. I really wanted it to be stylized, different and to take on a different feel than what I had seen out there! While I wanted to stay true to what works, I also wanted to cross the line a little bit, have fun with it and break that boundary.
You are friends and have worked alongside with many of the players involved in this project, so you know their strengths as actors. What did you learn from that aspect of this project?
There were lots of surprises! [laughs] As awesome as it can be to work with friends, it can be difficult too because you do already have a relationship. You are dealing with a lot of different personalities and sticking them in a room where it is hot and there is a lot going on, it’s stressful. We shot the whole film in 10 days, so it was very challenging. You know your friends have your back and at other times it is easy for them to tell you when you are pissing them off, as opposed to a hired actor. A hired actor doesn’t have that comfort zone with you, where my friends do have it. As amazing as it can be to work with your friends, it definitely adds a unique challenge.
You also have another balancing act to handle as you make an appearance in the film. What was that experience like for you being an actress and director at the same time?
I do have a very, very, very small part in the movie and I also brought Michael Biehn (Terminator, The Victim) to do a small cameo. We are both in the scene together. Kane Hodder (Jason X, Hatchet) is also in the film and he has a much bigger part than I do. I actually came to set that day and realized, “Oh my God! I am working today!” [laughs] My mind was just not there. I am not sure if I am an actor who can be in front of and behind the camera at the same time. I am not sure yet! Actually, I am creating a web series with Alyssa Lobit. We just started a production company with Alyssa and Athena Lobit and are in the middle of creating a killer web series, which seemed only natural because we had been working so much together. I am going to take a crack at directing myself because I am going to be in it as well. I am going to start small and see how it goes! [laughs] But for my first directorial feature, I didn’t want to put myself in front of the camera for very long, so I was only in a couple of scenes. I did decide to do something but I can’t tell you because it would be a total spoiler! Let’s just say when I screened the movie in Los Angeles a couple of months ago, when I came on screen everyone started cheering, laughing and clapping! I got a really big reaction! I definitely did something in my movie that I wouldn’t have done in anybody else’s! That’s for sure! [laughs]
Do you view working with a smaller budget, as you did on “Among Friends,” as a blessing or a curse?
It is a little bit of both, I think. Part of my feels like, “Wow! It can only get easier from here!” A small budget can be a big challenge because when things fall apart, you don’t have money to fix it. You have to find other ways to do it and you don’t have any time to do it in, which can be really frustrating! At the same time, being able to pull off what we did with the limited budget is a testament to the friendships I have created along the way in my career. There are people ready and willing to step up and know that doing so will come back to them tenfold when my next movie has a bigger budget. I don’t think that I could ever shoot a film like that on limited funds again. It was hard. We had to go on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo to try and raise money for things like our deliverables for post because we just didn’t have it. It was things like that, having to raise $5,000 or we weren’t going to be able to finish the movie. A lot of movies don’t get made because of situations like that. However, I am lucky to have awesome fans who are willing to step up and help make sure the project happened! That shows me that I have the support from people who want to see me continue to direct and I am going to continue to pursue it!
When should we look for “Among Friends?” I know you have been in the process of seeking distribution.
Yeah! We have some distribution and we are pretty close to closing North America. We have a couple of other countries where our deals are almost done, which is pretty amazing because we really only finished the film before Cannes. Right now, we definitely have one country and two others with deals on the table. Hopefully, North America will close soon too! I think we are really, really close. I just want to put it out and see where the chips fall!
What’s next for you, Danielle? As an actress and as a filmmaker still looking for that next perfect script?
I just wrapped “Hatchet III” about a week and a half ago. I spent almost a month out in the swamps with Victor Crowley and the rest of the gang, getting the shit beat out of me for the lack of better words! [laughs] I am a little beat up and trying to recover from that fast and furious shoot. Right now, I am basically just doing the circuit and trying to do as many film festivals as I can. “Among Friends” is making the rounds as well as a movie that I did with John Jarratt and Casper Van Dien called “Shiver,” which is in quite a few international festivals as well as festivals in the States. “The Victim,” directed by Michael Biehn, is also doing quite a bit! Towards the end of the year, I will start doing the promotional tour for “Hatchet III.” I am trying to focus on all of that right now and I am going to take a little bit of time for vacation and recharge before returning to the web series, which is tentatively called “Pussy Posse.” It has been really fun creating that with Alyssa and creating our own thing. It has really let me find my own style and lets me do what I found out I love to do, which is direct. I actually prefer directing to acting! I think I will be moving more in that direction. I will always be an actor though, I can’t imagine not doing it, ya know?
Seeing you see the film industry from a different perspective than most people, meaning you grew up in it, you continue to act and now you direct, what is your take on the current state of the film industry?
I have felt for a while like there is really no middle-class. The film industry has kinda been the same way. It seems you either have these awesome independent films people are making for $50,000 or you have these $1 million budget movies that star the same people over and over again. As far as the horror genre, it is unfortunate because most horror movies are made, the ones that come my way at least, between $150,000 and $600,000 because they know the films will have a huge audience and they are going to sell it and make a lot of money. They don’t need to make a genre movie for $15 million because it doesn’t really make money, unless it is some really big movie. A lot of the audiences that come into see films are going to see films with movie stars. I don’t think a lot of movie stars want to do a “SAW” movie that is going to make a lot of money. The whole business is a little bit tricky right now. The economy is still in the toilet right now, so a lot of people don’t have money to do things like go to the movies. When movies come my way and I see the budget is $100,000, I don’t really want to get involved with that as an actor knowing how hard it is going to be on set and to do what we are supposed to do with no money. It is really difficult and people are doing it all the time. You do it because you love to do it. I just think we haven’t found our place yet and the movies they are making for a lot of money, like the Michael Bay movies and things like that are big and actiony or sci-fi stuff using green screen and lots of CGI, are the result of studios sticking to what they know works because they want to be sure they make their money back. They aren’t willing to take a chance on a film that might not hit. I get it but I am kinda tired of seeing it! I mean, let’s think of something a little bit innovative and see what happens!
I think a lot of people still underestimate the power of social media. How has it impacted you as an actress, director and businesswoman?
It’s amazing! Honestly, it is fascinating to me when I go to a signing or something and I hear people talking about “Among Friends” just from me tweeting about stuff or me interacting with fans. That is one of the reasons I have always done signings because it was my only opportunity to have people get to know me as me. You never know how people will perceive you and that is why I have done so many. Now, with Facebook, which I am admittedly pretty bad about, and Twitter, which I am pretty aggressive about, it’s great. It is a way for people to get to know you and if they are on your side, they are going to support you. I think it is really important to be accessible, so it has absolutely helped me 100%! For example, we are talking about it and you haven’t seen the movie yet. If social media didn’t exist, people wouldn’t be able to be on board with a project like this.
What’s the best part of being Danielle Harris these days?
Oh God! Jason, you always end these interviews with some question that makes me say, “Oh God!” [laughs]
Yeah, I know! [laughs] But seriously, I ask because it seems like you are at a really great point in your career, which is giving you a lot of unique opportunities.
There is a lot going on and the best part about it right now is that I feel renewed. I feel like I became an actor because it was sort of chosen for me, even though it seems that is what I am destined to do. I have said this for years but I don’t want people with children to force them into the entertainment industry. I think that is a decision you need to make as an adult. As much as I don’t regret it, people always say to me, “You always say you wanted to do movies!” And I am like, “Dude, I was like seven when I started doing it. I also wanted to be a princess, a doctor, a ballerina and a model!” [laughs] I think that is the best part of being me these days — finally being given an opportunity to choose my own path. A lot of people don’t get to do that. I didn’t go to college, so I just did what I knew I was supposed to do but it wasn’t necessarily what I would have done if I had had a chance to start over. I just did what had already worked for me and there was already a sort of branding thing in place where everything aligned for me and now I can do what truly inspires me! And I have the support of everyone behind me!
That’s a great outlook! Where’s the best place for people to learn more about the film and to follow your adventures online?
They can check out the “Among Friends” Facebook page and on Twitter at twitter.com/Among_Friends. Of course, you can always follow me, @halloweengal, on Twitter. I tweet all kinds of stupid stuff, as you know because you follow me. It’s usually something crazy like pictures of my dog or something ridiculous! [laughs] Any of those three are the places to go for more information.
Thanks for your time, Danielle! We are looking forward to spreading the word!
Awesome! I really appreciate it, as always! Thank you so much!
ABOUT THE FILM: AMONG FRIENDS is a twisted horror about a dinner party gone wrong. Set against an 80s backdrop, the good time takes a dark turn when one in the group hijacks the evening in an attempt to help the others come clean about their secret betrayals against one another–and is willing to cut through the bone in order to expose the truth.
Executive Produced by Jay Lobit (Three Little Birds Productions) and William Allison (Hollywood Treasures, Inc.), AMONG FRIENDS was shot in August 2011 in Los Angeles and is currently in Post Production.
This film marks a collaboration of real-life friends, with most people in the cast and crew having known each other for years. Written by Alyssa Lobit and Produced by Jennifer Blanc-Biehn and Athena Lobit, AMONG FRIENDS is the feature directing debut of Scream Queen Danielle Harris. This group of women collectively has decades of experience in the film industry and they are excited to be bringing fans and audiences everywhere a roller coaster ride of fun, intensity and, oh yes… blood.
Among Friends. This dinner party’s gonna be KILLER.
Directed by Danielle Harris, “Among Friends” stars Christopher Backus, Jennifer Blanc, AJ Bowen, Dana Daurey, Brianne Davis, Kane Hodder, Kamala Jones, Alyssa Lobit and Chris Meyer.