Fantasia Interview: Amelia Moses on her film ‘Bleed With Me’

Bleed With Me is the first feature from Canadian director Amelia Moses. This slow-burn psychological horror film is rife with tension and atmosphere. As I said in my review earlier this week, this film is the type that should land Moses firmly on your radar for whatever she does next.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Moses via Zoom to speak about her movie, the process of getting it made, and about making a movie looking at a darker type of female relationship.

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Note: This interview does contain spoilers for ‘Bleed With Me’.

Matthew: So let’s just dive right in. Why don’t you just give me a brief introduction to Amelia Moses?

Amelia Moses: Yes. So I’m originally from Vancouver. I’ve lived in Montreal for eight years now. I did the film program at Concordia University here and graduated in 2016. My first project outside of school was a short film body horror film called Undress Me. And that did pretty well on the festival circuit and got some good reception from horror and genre fans. So that was a pretty cool experience.

I knew pretty quickly after I finished school that I wanted to make a first feature, and I knew I wasn’t going to be given a ton of money to do it. So I was trying to think of something I could do pretty simply, and I knew that the telefilm talent to watch grant was available, so I really aimed to get that. My producer and I applied in 2017 and didn’t get it and then reapplied in 2018 and did.

In a lot of ways, I’m really glad that we didn’t get it the first time because, for some reason, they didn’t require a script, but you still have to finish the film in a year. And they changed that, luckily, because it’s just kind of like, why would you not have a script ready to go?

In a lot of ways, the project just wasn’t ready, so I’m so glad that we didn’t get it in 2017 because I wouldn’t have been ready, and the script would have been rushed. The film wouldn’t have been as good. I’m glad that I was able to have that time to develop the project more, and then we shot in early 2019. I don’t exactly know how long the post-production was; it was very on-and-off because it’s hard when you have no money to do anything. It slows stuff down.

M: I can relate! Your short film is actually available on your Vimeo page, so I watched it. It’s also quite good that played Fantasia as well, didn’t it?

A: It did. Yeah, it played the Born of Woman screening, which Mitch Davies programs, which was very much a goal of mine.

I was really excited when it played as part of that because it seems like a good way to kind of look at some new female voices. So that was really exciting. Undress Me also got picked up with Alter, which is a YouTube channel for horror films. So it’s also on that platform as well which has been a really cool opportunity as well to get the film out there.

M: Did you find that the short film like opened the doors to your feature in a meaningful way?

A: It had definitely helped with the Telefilm Canada grant. We wouldn’t have gotten it if I hadn’t had that short because it’s kind of a calling card sort of thing, so it definitely helped a lot.

I don’t think it really opened any doors to people asking, “Hey, what are you doing next?” Because sometimes, with shorts, that doesn’t always happen. But it definitely helps to kind of say, “okay, obviously, I can do something”, and help establish my style and how I want to go about things.

M: Let’s dive into the movie, which for the record, I liked.

A: Thank you.

M: Where did the sort of original germ of the idea for the story come from?

A: As I was saying before, like, part of it kind of was financial, because it was like, “Okay, what’s something we can do on a smaller scale?

I knew pretty early on I wanted to focus on a couple and a single person. And there was kind of lots of variations like really, really early on before any scriptwriting. It was like, oh, maybe there’s a cult thing going on, or they’re taking her there with ulterior motives or whatever. Then it kind of progressed from there to really look at those relationships between the two women specifically, and have the kind of boyfriend character just to be there as a foil for them rather than kind of a driving force of the plot, and it expanded from there.

I knew I wanted to have the film from a single perspective and be very limited to that perspective. Because I think that it’s kind of interesting when you have an unreliable narrator telling the story, and you don’t really know that you can trust her, and since the film is about the way we project narratives onto other people, both good and bad, it kind of lent itself to that format. Then the bloodletting stuff was kind of something that came slightly later on; I knew I had to have kind of some sort of core conflict.

I thought about kind of making Emily a more overt vampire figure, but it just seemed a bit like I wasn’t really bring anything new to the table. Vampire stuff is done a lot, so I thought this could be a more interesting, subdued way to look at that, like take a little bit from that myth but taking it a different direction.

M: Yeah, Lauren’s character Emily seems a little damaged by her accident and the loss of her sister when she was a child. Was there any specific inspiration or backstory for the bloodletting?

A: It’s supposed to be pretty open for interpretation, so I don’t think it’s 100% confirmed, but she is doing it. I think it’s how ever you want to see the film.

I remember Lauren Beatty, who plays Emily asked me what was really going on, and because I wanted to stay in Rowan’s perspective, I told her to make a choice on her own and not tell me, and I think, in the end, the choice she made was almost a mix of things. I think that the horror over the top stuff is more so in Rowan’s head but that Emily is doing something.

We talked a little bit about Munchausen by proxy and the way you can need people to need you, which is I think, something that a lot of people feel, but obviously a more extreme version of that. So that was kind of the main thing from her character that I was trying to explore. I’m not a big fan of, like, a lot of backstory or this thing of like, “Oh, well this person is this way because of this” because I just feel like that’s not really how we live our lives. Like it’s a lot messier than that and a lot more confusing.

Obviously, movies do that because it’s easy to digest, but I sometimes like when things are a bit more open-ended. So I think Lauren did a lot to make some choices for her character but left it up to her because I was less interested in that.

M: I really enjoyed how it wasn’t, at least for most of them, always 100% clear which of Rowan’s like visions were visions and which weren’t. That seemed quite purposeful. Can you speak to that sort of along the same lines for Rowan’s character? she has some obvious damage in her backstory. Is that inspired by anyone or anything?

A: Yeah. I mean, I guess some things that I like a more kind of concrete, tangible things that I’ve felt even for myself or that I’ve observed and other people. That way, we can kind of feel insecure in our relationships and friendships sometimes and kind of question like “oh, does this person really like me? Or like, are they just friends with me for whatever reason?” obviously, it’s a much more extreme, you know, setting but those kind of things are I think things a lot of people feel, so t was kind of coming from that place.

I think she’s pretty desperate for social connection. And she’s obviously a bit awkward and doesn’t quite know how to go about that. I think social anxiety is something that I was trying to explore in my short film as well. I think that’s kind of a continuous theme, the pressure to have a natural kind of social interactions, but that for some people can be really difficult. So I think Rowan is one of those characters.

But inevitably, the idea that she was stalking Emily kind of places her a little bit in an antagonistic place as well. I think when we were doing editing and getting feedback from test screenings, people were saying how they liked that you weren’t sure who was the victim and who was the perpetrator a little bit sometimes.

So I like that Rowan has maybe an extra layer, that she hasn’t been perfect either. She’s maybe done some problematic stuff as well in her past, so kind of balancing those two things.

M: I enjoyed that it seemed like they both had some damage and the climax of the film is really sort of a perfect storm of their damage coming together.

A: Yeah.

Lee Marshall in Bleed With Me
Lee Marshall in Bleed With Me

M: Lee Marshall, who plays Rowan. She was in your short film as well. How did you connect originally?

A: It was just a regular casting call for the short film. She really stood out in the auditions, and she was very clearly the front runner for Undress Me. She was great to work with, and we really bonded on that shoot and realized that we want to keep working together.

That was also a tough shoot because there was so much special effects stuff. Because it’s a body horror film, in the end, you see that she’s covered head to toe. And she had to be in that for seven hours. She just really committed to the role.

I was really impressed with her work ethic, but also just seemed very invested in what I was trying to explore. I think a lot of actors would really struggle with that level of … it’s not really physicality, but there’s a certain element of it when you’re dealing with a bunch of prosthetics or like extra things on top of your body. And so I wrote bleed with me with her in mind because I just felt like she would be really good as the main character, and I really wanted a chance to work with her again.

Then again, on the feature, it was kind of more of an extension of building that trust together is like director and performer, and I think it worked really well.

M: And she’s a producer as well?

A: Yeah! She came on board as a producer more in the post-production phase of things. So she wasn’t doing that on set because I think it would have been a lot for her to balance those two things. She has done that before on short films, but I think it’s pretty tough to exist in both those worlds.

So we were kind of struggling with the amount of work we had to get done in post and how to get the film out there. Lee had a little bit of producing experience, and she wanted more, and so it kind of started it’s just like a general like, “Hey, how can I help out?” and then it became a more concrete role because she was giving a lot to the project.

She’s really, really helped get the film out there and worked really hard. That final push can be so difficult because it’s like a marathon. You’re so exhausted at that point. So I really needed someone else to jump in and help.

M: Same question, but Lauren Beatty, did you meet by a casting call or do were you acquainted with her?

A: I also kind of knew her a little bit in advance. I had met her in 2017, probably when we were working on a mutual friend’s short film. She’s based in Toronto, but she had moved briefly to Montreal, and I knew she was an actor. I had to do a bit of a little teaser for the first time we applied for the Telefilm grant. It was just a scene from the film, and I said, “Hey, do you want to be in this?” because we just met, and she seemed like a cool person.

She was really good in the scene and seemed like a good fit for the role. So when I was writing it, I did have her in the back of my mind as I developed the script. Once we got the funding, I sent her the script again. We met up in Toronto, and I said, “Hey, do you want to be in this movie?” And she was like, “for sure.

She also got along really well with Lee, which was great. They both had to be quite vulnerable with each other. So I’m glad that they were able to build the trust as performers as well. Brendan was the only character that we actually did a casting call for for the film. It was cool to already have the two female leads already solidified because it kind of helped me build the characters a bit more with them in mind. They’re both amazing to work with, and I’m really glad I got to work with them.

Lauren Beatty in Bleed With Me
Lauren Beatty in Bleed With Me

M: Yeah, Lauren seems to have a very interesting intensity about her. You somewhat answered this before saying she made some character choices on her own, but like, how much of that intensity on purpose? How much direction did you require to bring that to the performance?

A: I don’t know if it’s because we did a lot of rehearsals, but all the actors came to set and really delivered straight off the bat. It was kind of more like a finessing process on the day, which I was really lucky to have because our schedule was super tight, and we were just go, go, go.

There wasn’t really time to get the performance of performances out of people that kind of already had to be there, and they were both really good at that, and so was Aris, who played Brendan.

Lauren has an intensity to her, which I think is really interesting. She has really big eyes, and sometimes it can just look very odd on camera, and I mean, that in the best possible way. She’s very striking, and yet, I think she just kind of really inhabited the role.

She also stars in my next film, and when I presented her to the producers as a possibility for casting, one of the producers was like, “Oh, I think she’s too intense, like, as a person, I don’t think she’s right for this other role” because they’ve seen her Bleed With Me And I was like, “you do realize she’s acting right?

That’s not who she is as a person; that’s her putting on a role. I think because she just embodied it so well with and her hair and her wardrobe, she has this very composed appearance, which I think all kind of helped bring the character to life.

M: Emily, the character, seems to be a character that needs to be in control of every moment of her existence.

A: Yes, for sure. For sure. I definitely know people like that

M: I think we all know at least one, yeah. Shifting gears again, just slightly. Where did you find the cottage? Because I really enjoyed the cottage.

A: Yeah, again, we really lucked out. We searched all over Quebec for probably three months, and I was pretty worried at a certain point because not only did the cabin have to be perfect, because we were there the whole time. I think also for a low budget film; it needed to add some production value. If you found a place that really was quite stunning on camera, it was really going to help the film feel that much more accomplished.

We couldn’t afford to bring much in, furniture and decor-wise. So we needed somewhere that was already quite filled with stuff. We looked and, we looked, and we looked and then finally we found that place when we went for the scout with the production designer, and she had this big smile on her face. She was like, “oh, finally, there’s so much to work with here“.

And it’s a very atmospheric place, it was definitely in the middle of nowhere surrounded by forests and trees and very quiet, so it’s quite creepy at night. Um, so that kind of got the cast and crew into the mood of the film. Logistically It was definitely a bit of a challenge because we shot kind of near the end of winter, there was so much snow and ice build-up, and the cabin was like on top of a small hill, which normally wouldn’t be that bad. But because of the ice, it was pretty difficult to climb.

To bring the gear up, we had a winch with like a sled and to pull everything up. Lauren actually had gotten into a motorcycle accident a couple of months prior, which is why she has a limp in the movie, so she had to be pulled up in the sled every day because she couldn’t climb that hill because it was way too dangerous for her.

So it was definitely logistically a bit of a nightmare at times. We got there the first day, and the well had frozen, and so we had no running water for three weeks. It was just power outages, snowstorms, all the great Canadian stuff. In the end, it was so worth it because I think it brings a lot in terms of atmosphere and production value but also kind of claustrophobia as well. Like it’s a small space.

M: For a film like this, snowstorms and power outages and no running water all sound pretty on-point!

A: Oh, for sure. It definitely there’s lots of kind of parallels to what was going on in the film. In the scene where Rowan finally escaped the cabin in the snowstorm, we just happen to shoot that scene that day, and it really looks pretty amazing. You can’t buy that stuff. It’s just kind of is luck which is a joy of low budget filmmaking sometimes: you just get lucky.

M: As a person that lives in Vancouver, a city where you can’t help but witness films sets, let me just say it looks a lot nicer when it’s real snow.

A: Yeah, it’s a bitch to deal with, though! It was funny cuz, you know, growing up in Vancouver, I’m not used to the amount of snow that everywhere else in Canada gets. My producer had asked, “okay, so kind of how much snow do you want?” and I was like “lots of snow. I want so much snow I want it to be super, super snowy“.

And then, of course, it was like, “oh right, my concept of a lot of snow is different than the Quebec concept of a lot of snow” and they had gotten more snow, I think that year than they had in like 20 years or something. Something had answered my prayers but was kind of too far because I had never seen so much snow in my life. That snowstorm that we shot in it literally just snowed, and snowed, and snowed, and snowed, and it was unreal. It was pretty crazy.

M: Yeah, if you’re used to Vancouver winters where a lot of snow is 10 centimetres…

A: Completely! It means something completely different. And I’ve lived here for six or seven years when we shot, but I still hadn’t really grasped the concept of a lot of snow is different in Quebec versus BC.

M: What I really liked about the cabin Is that I feel like the movie did a really good job of making it feel both warm and inviting but also uncomfortable and unfamiliar. You already said he didn’t really have much stuff that you brought in, so it was already furnished, and the placement just all worked?

A: We definitely moved stuff around a lot. We reorganized the whole cabin. So like the area where there’s like the dining table where they play cards was completely different, for example. We definitely move stuff around, within reason, so the production designer took everything there and, like, refit it to kind of fit what she wanted.

The lighting had a lot to do with it too. We use the fire a lot to kind of create that tone. But even with the performances, when we were rehearsing, basically there was like warm scenes and cold scenes were kind of how I described it to the actors, so scenes that were supposed to feel very comforting and natural and real. And then cold scenes that were supposed to feel a bit more kind of distant or awkward.

So yeah, that was definitely an intentional back and forth there of this place can both feel really nice, And these people can feel really nice, but it can also feel very weird and off. It kind of creates an unsettling feeling, I think.

M: Yeah, it worked!

A: Thank you!

M: I know you’re working on another feature. So what’s next?

A: We’re in post-production on another project that I was lucky enough to be hired on to about six months ago. It’s all been very fast. I got hired last December, and we shot January, February of this year. So it was kind of crazy timing.

We shot in Edmonton, and when I got back to Montreal, it was like a week later, everything shut down. We’re really lucky that we got through our production before everything shut down.

I had gotten put in touch with the producer Mike Peterson for a different reason, And then he happened to be looking for a director for this film. I assumed it would be like, “Oh, they’re still in development. It’ll be two years from now”, but instead, they’re like, “okay, we shoot next month!” and I was like, okay, cool. Let’s go on this adventure.

We cast Lauren in the main role, and it’s about an indie singer who’s writing her second album. She goes off to a remote location in the woods and to work with this kind of elusive record producer and finds out some stuff about herself. It’s a werewolf movie, so I think you can kind of guess what direction it goes.

It was also my first time directing something I hadn’t written. That was an interesting process, to kind of come at it at a different place. I spent so long developing bleed with me, and by the time I got on set, I really knew the characters so well. This was a bit more of a challenge because I didn’t write it, and then also, there’s only a month of pre-production, so it was a much more rushed process. We’re still in post and finishing up, and I think it’ll hopefully be out to the world sometime soon.

M: Is that gonna hit festival circuits or just goes straight to somewhere?

A: Yes, but I cannot tell you where yet. But it is gonna play some festivals.

M: Well, I look forward to seeing it.

A: Thank you.

Bleed With Me is screening live one more time at Fantasia 2020 Digital Edition on September 1st at midday Pacific, 3 pm Eastern. You can watch it from anywhere in Canada right here.


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