February is Women in Horror Month! As part of the Horror News Network spotlight on women this month we wanted to catch up with Beck Underwood to learn about her experiences in the horror industry. This busy lady is an animator, art director, writer, producer, and curator of The Creepy Christmas Film Festival. Read on to learn about her experience with Glass Eye Pix, her work with a girl’s club for a short horror film, and her thoughts on supporting women in horror.
Horror News Network: Have you always been a fan of horror?
Beck Underwood: Yes, I would say my preference as a child was towards the uncanny, the supernatural, and witchy. I am adopted and always had a sense of another, parallel universe, a sort of echo that ghostly stuff spoke to. I think as I got older, the complicated resonance of “the other” inherent in monster movies opened my heart to good old creature-feature love as well.
HNN: What inspired you to become a creator of horror?
Underwood: Becoming a creator specifically of movie horror came from working with my boyfriend, now husband, Larry Fessenden. Our courtship was steeped in horror, from spooky movies to more whimsical macabre works of say, Edward Gorey. There was a lot of gifting of Edward Gorey books and old horror comics and pulp collections. Finding collaborative soul-mates that share your creative interests is pretty magical. Coming up in the art department, I have made a lot of amazing lifelong friendships. Working on indie films and specifically my association with Glass Eye Pix has also empowered me to do my own thing – create my own short stop-motion films.
HNN: You are involved in horror in so many ways (animator, art director, writer, producer, and curator). Based on your experiences, do you feel there are any differences in how women are perceived in the various roles?
Underwood: Oh my GOD, YES. First off, I’m so excited to be learning of all the women working in horror through this month of Women in Horror.
I have a very long list of homework assignments to get working on. In many ways, I stepped out of feature films not because I had any bad experiences myself, in fact the opposite, working with Glenn McQuaid, Jim Mickle, Joe Maggio, and of course Larry was great, but man, those sets were definitely boys clubs.
That is changing and that is very exciting. The numbers still are ridiculous, as they are in politics even though it appears there are so many new women in office, we are still at [low] representation. I like to say because women are so amazing when you hire one, it seems like you are getting three times the force. But there is a long way to go. As to how women are perceived? I can only speak to my own opinion— as unstoppable and invaluable creative partners.
HNN: I know you were working with young women at the Lower East Side Girls Club for a horror short for Creepy Christmas Fest. Was their perception and interest in doing a horror short what you expected?
Underwood: Well, it was with a bit of trepidation that I approached Lyn Pentacost, the founder of the Girls Club with this idea. For the most part the projects they nurture are much more about social justice, empowerment, and activism. But rightly so, she pointed out that the end game is of course that these young women find employment and satisfaction in all walks of life and industries. Any practice they get at tackling an idea or an assignment and putting their fresh voices to it is welcome. We had fun brainstorming, talking about what defines scary and cooking up scares for the unsuspecting masses at the girls club. In the end, they managed to find their social activism core and created a cautionary tale about the repercussions of one’s actions.
HNN: What do you feel is the best way to encourage, expand, and promote women in horror right now?
Underwood: Hiring them. Women supporting and taking on mentor roles, even if you don’t think you’re far enough along in your career, everyone has something to share and learn. Many is the time that I shifted money around in the art department so that I could afford to hire assistant and paid interns because I knew in the long run more heads would be better than one. Exposure, exposure, exposure. One doesn’t know what working on a movie set is until they are on one. And talk about mistakes with your crew– I’m a big fan of post mortem – how can we do better [conversations].
HNN: Are there any horror projects you are planning and/or working on currently?
Underwood: I am percolating some ideas for my own pieces as well as thinking of some more collaborative, burning-man-style live events with a horror bent. And I need to chip away at the long list of films by new female horror auteurs. I’ve got a lot of watching to do!! I’m also interested in taking on more of a producer role for some of the younger filmmakers, especially ones that are creating animated, experimental work, because I’m now an empty nester and I need some more kids to mother.
HNN: Any advice you would like to give to women entering horror?
Underwood: Wow, that’s hard for me because I’m someone who came up in the art department crew, so I’m always going to start with the philosophy of working your way up on a set. However, I do know that having a strong viewpoint and aiming high is also a direction. In which case doing a project of your own is the way to go. There is no one right way. I would say whatever you do, stay true to your vision, don’t let unkindness on a set be contagious, be kind to yourself and to all the crazy, unformed ideas that you birth. Rome wasn’t built in a day. I guess that one still applies.
Oh, and you’re never too old.