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Crank: When did you start making films?

Jovanka Vuckovic: After many years as a horror magazine editor, it became impossible to ignore the representation problem in the genre. I got tired of asking male filmmaker friends to make movies that depict women as people and eventually decided to quit my job and do it myself. I hadn’t gone to film school so I had to learn in public, by making short films. The Captured Bird was my first attempt at any type of visual poetry. I kept making them and learning as I went. I’m still learning with every feature and tv show I get the opportunity to direct. Directors are lifelong learners.

Where did you get the idea for this film? 

My twin brother used to suffer from sleep paralysis when we were kids and described these horrible entities that terrorized him during those fits. I’ve never forgotten the way he described them and decades later they made their way into the short.

How did you find your collaborators for this film? 

My closest friend, Jason Lapeyre is a filmmaker and one of the few people I knew at the time who really encouraged me to make the leap to filmmaking. He offered to help by producing it for me. I also reached out to Guillermo, who graciously agreed to EP the project and we raised the funds through crowd-funding back when Kickstarter was in its infancy. I could never have accomplished this ambitious goal were it not for the help of Jason and Guillermo.

How long – from start to finish – did this film take to make?

Months of prep for crowd-funding, a week of prep, 3 days of shooting, and lots and lots of post for detailed VFX shots. I am picky about that stuff as I used to be a digital compositor. I will send a shot back over and over again until it is perfect and no one can tell it is a VFX shot. To this day, people ask me “where did you find that location” in regard to the house. That makes me very happy because matte painter, Deak Ferrand did those shots. He’s one of the best in the business, and it shows.

What is your filmmaking process like and how does it possibly differ from others?

I am an obsessive preparer. I shot list and storyboard everything. Then, I show up completely willing to throw it all out the window if I have to and collaborate with the team if their ideas are better than mine. And that makes the experience so much more fun. You have to be prepared, but flexible.

What’s something unique about your film? 

Let it be known the creatures are animatronic puppets, NOT CG! A lot of people think they are 3D, but they are good, old-fashioned animatronic creatures that took 4 people to operate.

When speaking to first time filmmakers, what advice would you give?

Don’t believe the illusion that filmmaking is for a special select few. Anyone can do this. The difficult part is never giving up. It’s a tough business filled with demoralizing lows, endless rejection and occasional high points. You just have to keep going. And as Jodorowsky says, choose your “spiritual warriors” wisely.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a filmmaker?

KEEP GOING. Good things don’t happen if you give up.

You completed Riot Girls last year. What’s next?

I’m out to cast on a thriller I wrote called All My Heroes Are Dead about a woman with terminal brain cancer who has to kill five people to save her own skin. I’m balancing several features and television projects. All are in some stage of development — which one goes next is up to the financing gods. It’s never the one you think will go next!

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About the Filmmaker

Jovanka Vuckovic is an award-winning writer and filmmaker. She got her start in broadcasting as a visual effects artist, winning a Gemini Award (Canadian Emmy) for Best Visual Effects, then went on to edit the horror publication Rue Morgue Magazine for six and a half years. Her presence at the helm opened up the doors for more women to become involved in the horror genre and she has been twice-named one of the most influential women in horror, alongside Kathryn Bigelow, Debra Hill, and Mary Shelley.

Vuckovic now writes and directs her own films. The first of which, the award-winning short The Captured Bird was executive produced by genre film legend Guillermo del Toro. She has been an outspoken voice for gender equality in film and in 2016, she executive produced and directed a segment for XX, the first ever all-female horror anthology from XYZ Films/Magnet Releasing, which had its world premiere at Sundance Film Festival in 2017. Cranked Up Films distributed her feature film, Riot Girls in 2019. She is a proud member of The Directors Guild of America as well as The Directors Guild of Canada. She is also the author of Zombies! An Illustrated History of the Undead, from St. Martin’s Press (with an introduction by zombie godfather, George Romero).