Among Friends is a new movie about a group of friends who get together for a dinner party which turns into a violent, horrific and ultimately hilarious ordeal. Bernadette (Alyssa Lobit) organises a 1980’s themed murder mystery for her BFFs, who unsuspectingly arrive in anticipation of nothing more than a playful evening of cocktails, drugs and the possibility of hopping into bed together. What they don’t realise is that Bernadette has a bone to pick with each one of them, and before long the party becomes a trial, with their deliciously manic host serving as judge, jury and executioner.
Featuring cameos from the likes of Kane Hodder and Michael Biehn, in addition to being the directorial debut of Danielle Harris (Rob Zombie’s Halloween, Hatchet I-III), Among Friends certainly comes with a genre pedigree. The writing, construction and shoot of the film was overseen by an almost entirely female crew. Elements of The Perfect Host (2010) and The Last Supper (1995) are combined with a unique and energetic method of delivery. Harris’ direction is sharp, frenetic and delightfully sinister and the performances from Lobit, Brianne Davis, Jennifer Blanc-Biehn and AJ Bowen are particularly noteworthy.
A Day-Glo descent into Hell, Among Friends is a brilliantly funny, acerbic examination of friendships, lies and betrayal. Gory, gleeful and gorgeous, it manages to consistently digress from stereotype, creating a very unique feature in the process. It’s as if the Breakfast Club had a get together twenty years later at the Firefly homestead from House of 1000 Corpses. Incredibly enjoyable, this movie has a lot of heart, and a lot of blood to go with it.
The film had its Irish premiere last week at the Irish Film Institute as part of the annual Horrorthon event. SCREAM’s Colin McCracken sat down with Danielle Harris, Alyssa Lobit, Jennifer Blanc-Biehn, and Athena Lobit to find out about this, and several of their other projects.
Scream: Among Friends is playing tonight here at the IFI and I’m here with the cast and crew, so for the benefit of our readers, can you please give us a brief introduction and your role in the creation and the presentation of the film?
Athena: My name’s Athena Lobit and I’m the producer of the film, I’m also Alyssa’s sister. I was involved in the very early stages of script development, but I was living abroad at that time. She took up from where we left off with these other lovely ladies, and then I became involved again when it all started to come together.
Jennifer: Hi, I’m Jennifer Blanc-Biehn and I’ve been friends with Danielle for a very long time and we’ve worked on many other projects together. I’ve also been friends with Alyssa for a very long time, longer actually. Alyssa and I have also worked on each other’s projects. It’s been kind of a thing were we’ve been supporting each other through our craft and our careers all the way from the very beginning and I met Alyssa through a friend of ours Dana (Daurey), who plays a role in Among Friends, and I then introduced Alyssa to Danielle, so it’s a little confusing (laughs). Alyssa and I spoke about doing a project early on which could be done quickly and that we could get going straight away and so that’s when we called Danielle.
Danielle: I’m Danielle Harris, I directed the movie and I also have a cameo.
Scream: With such a closely knit group, things seem to be quite collaborative so can you tell me if there was anything in particular which sparked off the idea for Among Friends, or was it ……
Alyssa: It’s based on true events.
Scream: Fantastic, that’s what we like to hear.
Alyssa: No, now everyone’s going to be really scared of me. It’s just my autobiography. So don’t fuck with me. Actually, it’s about a group of friends who get together for a dinner party and it goes wrong when one of the friends decides to hijack the night and expose everyone for their betrayals of one another and put them to trial. Obviously I’ve had friends in my past that have behaved in ways that I wouldn’t and taking that as an inspiration. The idea of human interaction and, particularly, the darker side of it, the worst parts of it and what you would do if you could just take out vengeance against people who betrayed you. That’s all worked in there but, obviously, there’s a little bit of fiction in there.
Jennifer: It’s a huge version of ‘How to get an apology’ basically, or how harshly you can judge somebody.
Alyssa: (Laughs) Yeah.
Scream: So it’s almost a slightly emphasised examination of friendships and social interaction and things like that?
Jennifer: I hope it’s emphasised in my world anyway. My world doesn’t reflect that.
Excellent. Is this the first time that the film has played in Ireland?
Scream: That’s great; you guys have been here all weekend and will be for the duration of the festival. I know that you’re involved in a couple of other movies which are playing. Before we get to those, however, can you tell me about where Among Friends is going from here? Will people be able to get their hands on a tangible copy anytime soon?
Jennifer: We have one announcement which we’ll be making public in the next week or so and keep your eyes on the site for that! We have some exciting things going on, but we can’t announce them just yet.
Scream: When was the decision made for one of you to produce, for one of you to write and for you, Danielle, to direct? How was that divided up? Did you know from the beginning who would be doing what?
Alyssa: It kind of happened organically, because Jennifer had just come off The Victim, which was her last film which she produced and starred in. She wanted to start something new as soon as possible, because she works fast that way. Banging things out. She asked me if I had a script ready to go, which I didn’t, I just had an idea. I didn’t want to write it though, as it was too dark. I wrote a few pages of it and then had to put it away, because I didn’t want to focus anymore on the ugliness that was coming out. So I said, kind of begrudgingly, that I had this one idea that takes place mostly in one location and she said ‘I love it. Write that script, we’ll make that movie and I’ll produce it.’
Generally when I get involved in a project as a writer and an actress then my ‘go to’ person is my sister Athena, who’s my producing partner. She reads everything before it goes out to anyone because she’s very honest (Athena laughs in a manner that can only be described as devilish) She’s got a great critical eye for storytelling too, so she was involved, like she said, from the beginning with the development of the script. I wrote it pretty quickly, in about two weeks and, in the meantime, Jennifer had got in touch with Danielle, who was looking for her first directorial feature project. It was perfect for her, based on her history, and so we all got together.
The first draft was more of a slow burning psychological thriller, and she and I sat down and said ‘How can we make this both fun to make and also infuse a bit of fun into the script?’
Danielle: Absolutely, so we had about a month and a half and she and I sent stuff back and forward over this time, during which we had a bunch of terrible ideas (everyone laughs) and a couple of good ones.
Alyssa: We went down many different paths…
Danielle: The skeleton of the story remained the same but all of the clothing and the look changed because we added her sensibility. The fun stuff like the 80’s backdrop materialised, because we both love the 80’s. I think we all do.
Athena: I think we all do, but these two in particular.
Scream: It has that wonderful neon aesthetic in the promotional images and in the posters as well.
Jennifer: Then you bring actors into the mix as well and they create a whole new personality to it. It does morph into something.
Alyssa: I always liken it to having a child. I mean, I don’t have any, but you start with this tiny little thing which doesn’t really mean anything and then, all of a sudden, it’s its own being and you don’t know what it’s gonna look like. You hope it’s gonna come out pretty. You eat healthy, you don’t drink too much, you do all that stuff and you hope that it doesn’t come out a monster.
Danielle: We didn’t have very much time either. We had about five days, once we got the money in the bank, to start production. It was very, very fast. Once we got the green light it was full speed ahead and we just went for it. Alyssa and I knew the style of the movie and what we wanted to do with it, but there was no time to actually write all that on paper. So the cast and the crew didn’t know what it was going to be. I could only tell them so much and if it’s not there, it’s kind of hard to comprehend. It was really up to all of us at this table and the DP to go to everyone else ‘Look, OK guys, this is not here for you to see, but let me just show you what I’m thinking.’ I really just wanted to spend the limited time we had shooting, rather than just talking about it. Then I think people saw what we meant and they were like ‘Oh shit. I didn’t realise that’s actually what we were making.’ Sometimes it was difficult to explain to people that we weren’t being completely serious. It was supposed to be kind of funny.
Alyssa: That happens a lot though. It was like ‘Scream’, but if you read it and don’t know that you’re thinking it’s serious and you’re like ‘Whoa, what is this?’
Danielle: It was after our first table reading that we all went outside and all the actors were inside taking it all way too seriously and I said ‘Oh my God this is going to be a clusterfuck.’
Alyssa: Because it was Danielle’s first feature and a lot of times a first time director will try and make a very meaningful and poignant thing. This actually really reflects your personality (Danielle) and what’s awesome about you. You’re like ‘Let’s do it. Let’s have a fucking party’. It’s a rollercoaster, but it’s great!
Danielle: People are always afraid to try things as well. Especially newer actors that aren’t so well versed in the genre. I really was just trying to let people have the freedom to be themselves. I feel like there were moments that they couldn’t really play were the moments that I was able to capture and put on film and then make them characters. Even though, written on the page, they’re very stereotypical, in performance it kind of goes against that. All the elements are there, but it’s not your typical jock or….lesbian, they’re all there in theory. They’re just more contemporary. It’s not so ‘connect the dots’.
Jennifer: Also, it’s not all college students. Those people are in their 30’s.
Danielle: You don’t usually see that.
Scream: That’s really refreshing as well, because a lot of people who have grown up with the genre for the last 20 or 30 years…..
Danielle: Well there’s no movies for them. It’s a bunch of CGI stuff, or it’s really violent, sexually graphic material. Or else it’s teenybopper shit, so there’s nothing really for my friends. So this is the movie which was made by us and for us.
Scream: That’s great, and you’ve obviously had a very, very long history with horror. With this being your directorial debut, do you feel that there’s anyone in particular that you’ve learned any tricks of the trade from. You’ve done a lot of work with Adam Green, Rob Zombie and all these great people.
Danielle: I’ve learned a little bit from everybody, but I’ve learned more from the shitty directors than I have from the great directors.
Scream: So you’ve picked up what not to do, in other words?
Danielle: Yeah. That was why I wanted to get into directing, because I was working on these projects where the director didn’t really know what to do. I didn’t know how they were able to make a movie and hire genre actors, people who I wanted to work with. I was on the other side of that. I mean, they were coming to me asking me how to do things and I just thought ‘Shit, why aren’t I just doing this?’ I think it’s just until you’re able. Even the night before we began shooting I was thinking ‘I don’t know if I know what I’m doing’ then you get there and you realise that you do. I know I’ve a lot to learn about, but I’m getting more and more comfortable in that seat.
Scream: Do you think that for your next feature you’d like to work as a group again? Or is it a case of ‘Once was enough?’
Alyssa: Ha! Way to put us all on the spot there. (Everyone laughs)
Danielle: It just depends on the project, whether it’ll fit or not. We’re always crossing over one way or another.
Jennifer: We’ll overlap for sure, but there’s nothing set.
Scream: So you’re not exactly going to take on the same duties and roles for the next feature, but you’re not going to break away from each other either?
Alyssa: I think Athena, as she produces and isn’t an ‘in front of the camera’ type of person. I write, act and produce Danielle and Jen, they act in addition to the other roles that they play so we all mix around.
Scream: That’s great, thanks so much. In terms of Among Friends, if people want to find out more about it, where can they go? I assume there’s a site and a Facebook and all of that.
Alyssa: Sure, it’s http://amongfriendsmovie.com and we’re on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/AmongFriendsMovie ) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/Among_Friends ). You can get us on any of our Twitters. I’m @alobit
Danielle: Mine is @halloweengal, my website will be debuting in January and it’s called horrorgal.com.
Jennifer: I do a lot of Facebook, you can subscribe to that or I’m on Twitter as well @jenniferblancb. I answer everyone.
Scream: Thank you all for talking to me and SCREAM magazine.
Alyssa: You’re welcome.
Danielle: Thank you guys!
Jennifer: Thank you, no problem.
Our Colin McCracken can be followed on twitter at: @zombiehamster and check out his personal website at: www.zombiehamster.com