SCREAM’s Jessy caught up with Artii Smith and Phil W. Simon AKA The Mansa Mojo Brothas to chat about their eerie directorial debut Lilin’s Brood. The film follows a news team who get more than they bargained for when they discover a brothel filled with terrifying – but very attractive – women. In the interview the guys talk about the intense preparation for creating the film which included watching over 100 found-footage films. Additionally, how they tried to bring something new to the tired sub-genre and reverse the gender roles by making men terrified, and their idea behind that risque and NSFW poster of theirs.
SCREAM: Firstly, how did you two meet?
Artii: Me and Phil met in Los Angeles 2 years ago and we both moved there to pursue a career in producing. He invited me over one day to talk about an idea and from then we started working together. We noticed that our vibe, passion and work ethic were similar. Like they say, it doesn’t take all day to recognise sunshine. We were just like, “woah!” So, we decided to team up and tackle this idea together.
SCREAM: What was it that drew you to horror specifically?
Phil: For us it was more of a business decision. I love horror just as much as the next person, but after doing some research about first-time filmmakers I noticed that a lot of their first projects were horror films, because they have a cheaper budget and a lot of the time you can get no-name talent. You can crank out a pretty decent product depending on how you go about it. Other than that, it was seeing a lot stories that we wanted to tell. We noticed a void and we wanted to fill it with our stories.
SCREAM: Do you think it’s a genre that you’ll stick to?
Phil: We will probably do another horror film, but to just pin us down as horror film directors…no. We’re directors with a lot of stories to tell.
SCREAM: How do you overcome any differences of opinion that you have?
Artii: We’re both passionate individuals. We don’t argue, but we do have disagreements just like any creative process, but that makes the process a lot better. If I see something one way and he sees it another way, we actually work amicably to merge them or work through those issues to figure out what’s the best alternative. I think we work well together, but then I hear from others that we bond and weave. It’s kinda like two-man weaving, if you know anything about basketball? We handle things different to each other, but then we come together as a team and as a unit. We tackle everything as a bomb squad, if you know what I mean? *laughs*
SCREAM: Having arguments is a good thing, it shows you’re confident to voice your opinion and make sure neither of you is left out in the dark.
Artii: We have an open environment for the both of us. If we hold back what we’re thinking we hold back the art that we’re putting out. With us, we always hear each other and build through it.
SCREAM: Could you tell us a bit about your debut feature Lilin’s Brood?
Artii: Lilin’s Brood is a thriller/horror about a new media news team that gets stranded in the middle of nowhere near a beleaguered brothel. The film is the recovered footage that will reveal the women have a terrifying secret. These women are creatures of a different kind. We don’t consider them creatures that have grown alongside human beings.
SCREAM: Who came up with this idea initially?
Phil: It was a concept that we both talked about together, but I had the original concept and it kind of morphed in to something new. We don’t see a lot of horror films or thriller films where women take the lead protagonist role, where the women are dishing out the horror or the pain, if you will. Usually, in a lot of American horror films that were done in the ’80s and ’90s, the atypical female was running through the woods or running from some kind of slasher. We wanted to turn it around and show men that are scared of women.
SCREAM: How was the film-making process; I hope it has made you want to make films even more?
Artii: For me, it has definitely made me want to make more! I feel like it was a learning process, so now we know what to do better next time. With all productions there is always something that happens, and even the way we pre-planned meticulously, things still happened. But now, I feel like I can handle these problems better. From development, to production and to post-production, marketing and distribution. This was a learning process for us and it makes me excited to do the next thing.
SCREAM: Did any films, books or TV shows inspire Lilin’s Brood or was it conjured from a dream?
Phil: No, no, no. I was definitely inspired by many things. I’m a child of the ’80s, so there are a lot of horror films that I saw – and even more recent ones – that inspired me. I think anybody that says they don’t borrow from elsewhere is not being totally honest. You can come up with original tweaks here and there, but you’re probably going to borrow from somewhere even if you don’t know it existed. You can probably go back in time and realise that a similar story existed before. Lilin’s Brood is based on Jewish mysticism with Lilith supposedly being Adam’s first wife, so we played on that. We tried to keep within the found footage realm; we didn’t want to creep outside of that, so if we did borrow, we tried to borrow from things that were already in the same sub genre.
SCREAM: Did you try to steer away from any found footage tropes or clichés?
Phil: Yeah, mainly with the whole reason of why someone has a camera in the midst of chaos. You see a lot of found footage where you know if that was really, really going on, the person would have lost, dropped or broken the camera by now or whoever was chasing them would have destroyed the camera and got rid of the footage. Just trying to make it make sense the best we can and try to stay true to found footage. We tried to improve on what we saw from other found footage films. We saw over 100 found footage films within the last 2 years and we tried to make a product that took the best out of every found footage film in terms of camera angles, style and shooting.
SCREAM: What was it about found footage that interested you so much?
Artii: The original idea was to do a POV idea, like Enter The Void. But then found footage allowed us to tell it through multiple POVs, so we could still keep the audience in first-person point of view and immerse them in the action. If we only had one POV we’d have to stick with that person’s story which is unrealistically crazy. If you put it in four person’s hands, you get to experience a whole lot of different things. It immerses you in the action almost like a video game. The best video games at the moment are all first-person and we wanted to play off that sensibility as well.
SCREAM: What were some of the best and worst found-footage films that you watched in preparation for making Lilin’s Brood?
Phil: Art may have a different opinion, some of the best ones were V/H/S – the anthology one, Afflicted – some guys out of Canada made that one and it’s great. I also liked Cloverfield, even though that’s a really big budget found-footage film. I’m even loosely drawn to the premise of Paranormal Activity. The Marked Ones was my favourite. Not trying to step on anybody’s toes, but one of my least favourites was Devil’s Due. Another called As Above So Below and The Pyramid. I would have taken a different creative approach to those 3. They accomplished what they were trying to accomplish, but for me as a patron of found footage films, they were kind of lacking.
Artii: I agree with the ones that he liked, but I do like As Above So Below. That was one of the ones I do like, I can’t lie about that. I remember thinking that The Den was pretty intriguing. I feel that the ones that are in the bigfoot genre don’t really go deep enough, for me. I’m waiting to see a bigfoot found-footage film that shows a lot of bigfoot.
SCREAM: Exists by Eduardo Sanchez is a great found footage film about Bigfoot.
Artii: Cool, I will look out for that one.
SCREAM: Your poster for the film is very stand-out. How involved were you in its design?
Artii: Very! We kept thinking of something weird we can do. I assume you’re thinking of the r-rated version?
SCREAM: There’s an r-rated version!?
Phil: Yes, we have one where there’s an apple with a vagina in the middle and there’s a snake coming out of the vagina. We put that one out there for a while, but we knew that America is very strict on certain sensibilities, so we were told from Amazon and iTunes that they didn’t want that graphic art. We already knew that, so we had the one that you were referring to with just an apple with the snake coming out of it – minus the vagina – so we could put that on those platforms. When we were doing earlier interviews, we found out that the one with the vagina was the one that most people liked to see, especially those that were in the realm of the horror film and thrillers. No matter how much we tried to not put that poster out, they still would find that poster and post that on their web pages. We’re cool with it, because we like both of them! For obvious reasons in the United Stages we had to go with the PG-rated one.
SCREAM: OK, I’ve just seen it. It is striking!
Phil: *laughs* Yeah! In my opinion, if I was not a part of this project and I didn’t know anything about it and I was seeing it for the first time and saw the one with the vagina, it would strike me as interesting, the artwork alone. I’d be interested in seeing what this movie was about. I think it plays in to the mystical aspect of Adam and Eve, if you will. The apple is the fruit of knowledge from the tree and the snake is the evil serpent. To me, it symbolises everything as a whole.
SCREAM: I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it did end in a way that would suggest the story will continue. Is this something you’re interested in?
Phil: Yes, we already have several scripts written up for part 2. At the moment, we’re just waiting to see if there’s a place for us to do another one and see if it makes sense. We have a part 2 ready to go and trust me when I say this, it’s bigger, better, creepier and more thrilling than the first.
SCREAM: How has the film been received so far?
Phil: So far, OK. We’re not a major studio, so trying to get the word out and let the world know this film exists has been challenging. The good thing is, 9 out of 10 people who see this movie like it. Comparing it to other found-footage movies – not comparing it to Deadpool or any of the big studio movies – people are really drawn to it. Our challenge is just to let people know that our film exists.
SCREAM: How do you want people to feel when they watch Lilin’s Brood?
Phil: I just want them to be creeped out. Even though it’s a horror film, I was really trying to layer it with a lot of thrilling scenes where you feel chills. We were going for a creepiness factor, because I really believe that some of the scariest things are things that happen in real life. We talk about bigfoot and the supernatural, but for some people these are just so far out of their world. The every day carnage of murder, organ trading and human trafficking and things of that nature do exist. So, just trying to capture some of these every day scenarios and put it in to a world where people get creeped out. Specifically guys. I wanted guys to see females that are so attractive that we might be drawn to them, but it might lead to our detriment.
SCREAM: What are you guys working on next?
Artii: Right now we have part 2 for Lilin’s Brood ready to shoot and ready to go. We have a thriller that we’re developing. It’s like a survival thriller in a sense. We have other projects that we have been writing – dramas, comedies, historical biopics, action and science fiction – that we have been working on. We’re looking to get something in to pre-production or principal photography.
Lilin’s Brood is out now to rent and purchase on Amazon and iTunes. Check out the trailer below:
Words: Jessy Williams (@JessyCritical)