Jill “Sixx” Gevargizian started in the film world by running a horror screening series in Kansas. She enjoyed making films, for fun, as a youngster but “didn’t do anything seriously until way later.”
It was only after she started Slaughter Movie House that she realised “that real people made movies. And I saw that with short films, there is a way to make something very high quality with little resources.”
Making Her First Shorts
Although she didn’t have a lot of experience in making films, she took it in her stride. “It’s kind of my situation. I always tend to work with people that intimidate me, that are way more experienced, because I learn so much from everybody that I work with.”
Jill says that “learning how to collaborate is a process. You need to learn how to trust people. And everyone has their key position for a reason.”
“It’s important to have your vision locked in, or if you don’t everyone will create it for you. But you really want all those people to give you their ideas, because what’s the point of working with them if you’re just going to tell them what to do and not hear their ideas?”
Inspiration Behind The Stylist
“Being a hairstylist and thinking in the whole ‘Robert Rodriguez’ teaching: what do you have access to make your film have a higher production value? Location, location, location – the cooler the location you have, makes your film look 10 million times cooler.”
While working in the salon, she wondered why there wasn’t a hairstylist killer movie, other than Sweeney Todd. She figured that maybe it was because “there were not as many women making movies. I don’t know that this idea would come from a man, it’s just a very feminine world.”
Film Styles that Inspire Jill’s Filmmaking
She loved Candyman and horror films growing up but says that she is now attracted to “tragic stories. Movies that make me cry. Stuff that really affects me emotionally, whether I’m crying because it’s something super inspiring, hopeful, or horrible.”
She also focusses a lot on character “especially complicated characters – the ideas are confrontational to you as a viewer. It’s not something you can just watch and sit back and relax.”
“I’ve always been really interested in characters that you could look at from many different perspectives, especially the typical antihero story where you actually get to know them. They’re not just the one dimension of the bad thing they’ve done, or they’re not just a monster.”
She hoped that by telling these character stories, “people realise that there isn’t just one answer. We so easily call people (in real-life) monsters and just throw them away and we never get to the root of any of those problems. We just keep banishing everybody and that doesn’t fix anything.”
“On a deeper level, that’s the stuff I’m thinking about. I’ve always been really attracted to movies about people. It’s almost more the people that I’m more interested in than the storyline and what they go through is the story.”
From Short to Feature
The Stylist was always intended to be developed into a feature film. “I had wished so much, especially at that time, that we had the script ready when the short came out because people could sense it. I had people asking to see the feature, or if there was a feature, and we were like, there is a feature, it’s not ready to be seen yet.”
“We all knew we wanted it to be a feature before we made the short. We put so much into it because we knew this was just like the first step of what we wanted to do.”
Getting it Made
Although there was a producer attached, they weren’t able to attach financiers or a budget. So eventually Jill decided to take matters into her own hands.
“My mom went through a health scare and I lost my father 10 years ago. That is what got me into the horror filmmaking world, losing my dad. You literally don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. And so I reached out to the core people” and asked whether they would support a Kickstarter to get the film made.
They had some money set aside and collectively decided that none of the core people – including her DP and production designer – would pay themselves until they were able to. “We’re the main three creative positions. So those are three big things off the budget.”
“That was the first time I actually started to break the script down like a producer – how many locations and characters and that stuff. And then I realised this is not a low budget horror film.”
She said that low budget horror films normally had just “one or two locations with a few acts. You write for the low budget. This was not written with those constraints in mind. There’s like 15 locations, we needed a lot of extras in a dance club. We needed a wedding scene, a coffee shop. That’s not a low budget thing to do.”
Even though she realised that this was a big-budget film, on a small budget, and after she was advised to make the film later in her career, Jill was more adamant than ever that she wanted to make it now. The film meant so much to her and she was so passionate about getting it made.
Asking For Favours
They had “tons of locations, I feel like our whole budget could have gone to locations.” They had to call in humungous favours and were very lucky to pay “tiny rental fees for places. We are crazy fortunate and grateful to the community in Kansas City for giving us these locations for next to nothing, or nothing.”
But the team wanted to make sure that the ‘payback’ was fair. “We’re not trying to take advantage of people. We told people where we are honestly, and what we can afford.” When “certain people offered us locations for nothing” they team would counterbalance their generosity by hiring them for catering on those shoot days. They’d also put their names and their companies in the credits.
Jill says that she is “the kind of person that’s like ‘go after what you want’ but be very serious about it and make a plan. It’s really just about breaking it down.”
Her mum also used to say to her when she was younger that it “never hurts to ask. You need to have some common sense. We don’t ask for the world. I had to ask for huge favours, but I always try to be very graceful and say that it’s not something I’m expecting and I know it’s a huge favour. Maybe it will surprise people how generous people are and how much they want to be a part of something that they think is cool. They see this huge team of people. And everyone’s so inspired and positive. It’s addictive – the connection.”
Jill’s last words of advice: “Prepare the whole project from the start. Write your feature and your short altogether, so that once your short comes out, you have this package ready to present to people. I feel like that’s your moment to really jump on it, that’s a way to really bring it all together and see this whole thing was a plan from the start.”
Listen to the rest of our podcast episode with the brilliant Jill “Sixx” Gevargizian, here.