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Jane Simpson

Jane: "I should say I was interested in the research on witches, not the Catholic girls’ school angle".

Conducted by Phil Davies Brown
September 6th, 2004

Whilst Jane Simpson may not be a name that horror fans will recognise instantly, I am sure that most of you will have seen, or will be aware of her 1996 cult horror hit 'Little Witches' which is famous for featuring Clea DuVall's debut and a lot of nudity amongst performances from some genre regulars.

Being that Jane is not a huge horror fan, she was reluctant to talk to me at first until I managed to inform her that the film has a small following that should be embraced.

When did you decide that you wanted to be a director and why?
I was bossy as a kid, so I suppose you could say I always wanted to direct. I grew up as a movie fan & noticed there were few women directors compared to men. That didn't really get in my way since I felt I knew as much or more than many guys did about the craft of filmmaking. What you have to understand is that many people do not actually know what a director does, other than the part that seems glamorous.

Did you go to film school?
Yes, UCLA.

How did you get started in the business?
My focus was first on animation, but I quickly moved into commercials and then music videos. My first video was for Chaka Khan, "I Feel for You." I did lots of R&B videos, rap and indie bands along with established acts. My last one was about 5 years ago for Enrique Iglesias... go figure.

Your first feature was Little Witches how did you become involved with the project?
I guess if you look at IMDB, you would find my actual first feature which was "Number One Fan," a very tongue-in-cheek erotic thriller with Chad McQueen (son of....), Charlie Matthau (son of...), Catherine Mary Stuart, Paul Bartel, Hoyt Axton, and Mary Woronov. 1995. I became involved with Little Witches through the same production company, Planet Pictures & producer Donald Borchers -- a B movie legend in his own right. I was mildly interested in the subject matter before the script was developed. Actually, I should say I was interested in the research on witches, not the Catholic girls’ school angle.

Would it be fair to assume that the idea behind it was to cash in on the success of The Craft?
Absolutely not. Little Witches was developed before the Craft. We found out about "the Craft" as we were heading into production. By then, I think the producers liked the idea of hitching a ride on the coattails and used the association in the advertising.

Did you have much time for prep?
It was a low-budget production, so you never have enough time. In this instance, we had some time and then we stalled, and then we moved very fast once the $$ was in place.

Is it true that you only had two weeks to shoot?
It was - 18 days, which is 3 6-day weeks.

Considering that production was rushed, do you feel that the shoot went well?
We had a great, fun, crew. Lots of laughs to diffuse the tension of shooting on a shoestring. The production design team was great at coming up with what we needed. The camera & lighting crew really worked hard to make it look good. The cast was good to work with, with the possible exception of the completely toasted Jack Nance (R.I.P.) who played the priest. A good character actor, famous for starring in "Eraserhead," Jack was a source of the funniest & most memorable moments on set, like when he forgot his lines and the other actor in the scene had to say all of his lines (with me nodding approval).

How hard was it to make the girls feel comfortable in the nude scene?
Well, it was not fun at all. Of course, I was hired because as a woman I might be able to get the girls to feel comfortable. Up to a point this thinking worked because the girls trusted me. Unfortunately, the producers wanted a bit more nudity than I ever wanted and I did have to go to the cast and conjure some creative reasons to get them to do what they had to do.

Did you have any problems trying to persuade anyone to disrobe?
Most of the girls had problems with it. Searching for reasons to convince actors that this is crucial to the movie is always a game. It's less of a game if the story is great, however.

The film is most famous for featuring Clea DuVall's debut, how did she get the part and what was she like to work with?
Clea stood out from the beginning as a very interesting actress. She had no mannerisms to rely on -- a common problem for young talent. She was intense yet natural. I think she thought I did not choose to cast her, but I did. And I really liked what she did with the role.

Did you have any idea that she would go on to become one of the most promising young actresses in Hollywood?
I thought she would be recognised as the fine talent she is, with her own unique look and style.

You also got to work with Jennifer Rubin who I am a huge fan of. What was she like to work with?
Very nice and very serious, actually.

Are you surprised that she hasn't had more high profile roles?
I am not sure why her career did not take off.

Were there any problems with distribution after the film was finished?
I believe there was a deal in place with a small distributor all along. Back in the 90's films like this usually sold well in certain foreign markets. I did not want to be involved with the picture after it was done.

How did audiences react to the film?
I have no idea.

Was it a financial success?
I have no idea. It was made as a direct-to-video release and foreign distribution. I guess it did well enough.

Was there ever any talk of a sequel?
Not that I know of. I don't think it has interesting enough characters or story to build on.

Would you like to make another horror movie?
I have actually written one -- a rock climbing + monster movie.

Are you a fan of the genre?
To me horror is a genre with a host of subdivisions. I am not fond of slasher pics. I prefer psychological horror, thrillers and terror. But then, the scariest thing I ever saw was the opening day of "Alien" in LA at the Egyptian Theatre. The film kept breaking down and the theatre would be plunged into pitch black darkness... scary. I should add that as part of our research for LW, we did view Suspiria and the Wicker Man. The latter has some nice thrills.

If so what are some of your favourite horror movies?
Kwaidan. I hear 28 Days Later is decent and, of course, Alien. Classic horror: Curse of the Demon. I am not a fan of Freddy, Hellraiser, etc.

What have you worked on since the film?
Since then I did more music videos, some TV and commercials. I have written some stuff/ Last 4 years I have been doing corporate projects and some docs.

What will you be working on next?
I hope to do a short film next year. I own a few nice cameras; it's time to put them to work on something a bit more personal, or perhaps funny.

"Thank you ever so much for taking part in this interview Jane.
And we wish you the very best of luck in the future."

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