Jug Face: An Interview with Chad Crawford Kinkle and Lauren Ashley Carter
Jug Face marks an important development in the subgenre of American ‘folk horror’. Since 9/11 there have been a plethora of Wrong Turns, Chainsaw reboots and other hillbilly horrors that seek to demonize cultural difference by turning backwoods types into savage aggressors. Jug Face eschews the usual ‘urbanoia’ tropes: instead we are given a sympathetic portrait of a community ruled by misplaced faith and superstition. In the film Ada (played by Lauren Ashley Carter) is chosen by the face jug potter (Sean Bridgers) as a ritual sacrifice to the unseen creature that lives in the community’s ‘pit’; pregnant by her own brother, she tries to escape her fate, both helped and hindered by her parents (played by Sean Young and Larry Fessenden), who themselves are torn by their love for their daughter and their sense of duty to the community.
Jug Face is written and directed by 37 year old Chad Crawford Kinkle, who drew on his own observations of rural life in Savannah in making the film. Kinkle is a self-confessed horror fan; both Jug Face and the interview that follows reveal his deep understanding of the genre. Jug Face has an impeccable pedigree, as well as Bridgers and Fessenden, key personnel on the film included Lucky McKee as executive producer, and as producer, Andrew Van Houten (both of whom gave us 2011’s The Woman, starring Bridgers.) Jug Face stars Lauren Ashley Carter, whom appeared in The Woman.
I met up with Chad and Lauren on a rainy Sunday morning at Celluloid Screams. Although all of us were a little bleary-eyed after staying up late for the festival’s all-night screening of Frankenhooker (1990), Return of the Living Dead (1985), The Beyond (1981) and Braindead (1992), over coffee, we discussed Jug Face.
Chad, festival organiser Robert Nevitt, Frank Henenlotter, Mike (festival delegate) and Lauren
Offscreen: You’re coming to the end of Jug Face’s festival run. How long have you been on the road with it now?
Chad Crawford Kinkle: It first premiered in January in Utah at Slamdance. We haven’t really had a super long festival run because the movie came out so quickly on iTunes and digital in the States and that happened in July. So that cut off everything in the States and Canada too. Once that happens then you’re done so now we’re out on Blu-ray and DVD it’s all kind of winding down.
OFFSCREEN: At the Q&A yesterday you talked about becoming a writer and wanting to tell stories that grew out of your own experiences of Savannah. How did you get started as a screenwriter?
CCK: Growing up I was not a writer at all; I was terrible at writing, actually. I loved literature and stories but I was no good at writing. I couldn’t spell to save my life, even failed ninth grade English. I never studied until I went to high school. Even though I’m very bitter about that because I had to go back to summer school and it was very humiliating, it made me study, and I ended up in the best class for English. But I totally hid from writing for forever. I went to art school because I was just an art kid. I hid and wasn’t interested in other things. Even though I liked literature I wasn’t about to write anything. Then, at art school, I ended up discovering that they had a film program and once that happened I had my first scriptwriting class; it was like a one page assignment, write a one page story or scene, basically. And I literally wrote a story and felt like I fell into the world that I write in immediately. I thought, is this what writing a movie is? Just writing the movie in my head? I realized I had this voice. I wasn’t even that well-read. And then when I got into my Masters I was writing things and two different professors said, do you read southern gothic literature because you write like that? I was like, not really- maybe I should. I read some and I realized that it was really in the same vein of how I see the world. So, anyway, it became pretty clear that my focus was going to be these southern gothic horror stories, and that’s where I look for my inspiration.
OFFSCREEN: Did you watch a lot of films as a kid?
CCK: I loved movies, but my town was so small and this was before the internet. So I had no idea where movies were made or that people had careers, even though we were making movies with my parents’ camcorder on the weekends at high school – bad vampire things, a guy dressed up as kind of a Jason character in a generic Freddy Kruger mask. Every Halloween I’d collect Halloween masks. I was really into horror movies. I would make masks out of Lego.
Chad and Lauren with festival organiser Robert Nevitt
OFFSCREEN: After Savannah College of Art and Design you went to film school in New York? Is that where you did your masters?
CCK: For my masters I went to the New School in New York. I went there because I was in Budapest backpacking and I told someone I want to study horror theory and I want to make horror movies, and this guy says, you should go to the New School: there’s this professor there and he teaches classes on horror movies and he’s a horror writer. I was, like, I’m going there. So I came back to the States, applied and got in, and I became really good friends with that professor. That was really good because in the art schools there was not much theory, just technical things like how to direct and things like that. So then I got to the New School where it was theory intense, not just of horror movies, but all kinds of media theory. They were cool enough, all the teachers, to let me twist whatever class I was in towards my leaning towards horror theory.
OFFSCREEN: How did the idea for Jug Face come about? At the Q&A you said it was based on actual face jugs that you had seen.
CCK: My wife’s family is from Georgia, and her aunt and uncle live in the north Georgia mountains. We went for one trip and they said, there’s this new art museum that’s been erected. It cost a couple of million dollars to make and it’s out in the middle of nowhere, and it has pottery and folk art. I was just, like, this is going to be boring as hell! (laughs)
OFFSCREEN: Little did you know…
CCK: I studied a lot of pottery in school and it’s really mind-numbing, you know, and from all the art history classes! So I was like, God! But when I walk in, I immediately see the face jugs, and they’re so grotesque and so disturbing. I thought, I have to have one of these things in my office, because I have a lot of objects in my office…
Lauren Ashley Carter: His office is so cool… (laughs)
CCK: But there is something about it because I will look at it and it will spark my imagination. It just gives me a weird feeling, so I like those types of objects. And the face jugs immediately did that to me. So I was walking around the exhibit, just so excited about these face jugs. And they also had a lot of snake imagery on the pottery as well, from the Christian idea. There were big snakes around jugs or snakes on pottery roosters, all these themes going on. I get to this video, it was grainy, like it was shot on VHS, the guy’s wearing overalls and you can barely understand him. It just felt weird. I thought, it’s like he’s talking about some backwoods black magic. I saw in my head a possessed potter and he was getting the clay out of the pit and it was speaking to him, he can hear it. He goes back and he’s crafting the jug and it’s like a girl’s face. I thought, okay, that pit wants her to be sacrificed. I wrote it down and then just left it alone for years. In the meantime, I’d written this graphic novel about these serial killers that terrorized the South after the revolutionary war. A friend of mine had met someone who said they wanted to make movies in Nashville. They wanted to make a horror movie. And he told him about me. He asked me if I had any ideas that we could make for a low budget. I had these three ideas – one was Jug Face. He said, that sounds cool, I can see that. There were no deals or anything. So I said ‘okay’ and I just dove into the story based just on what I had written down. They didn’t have any money – they’d spent over $100k on an option for a local author’s bestselling book. One guy had written a screenplay that was terrible, so they had to hire another writer and all their money was gone, basically. It was good I didn’t give it to them because they didn’t know what they were doing at all. It would have gone terribly. But once I’d finished it I thought it was pretty good. I’d written a lot of other screenplays, so I knew what caliber of screenplay I needed to win a competition because I’d won another one with a short script. I thought “this is probably going to be a finalist, I’m not sure it’s going to win anything but I thought it might get enough attention so that I could get a local investor to give me money”. So as soon as I’d finished it I submitted it to film festivals, and I said to myself, well, I need a short to complement it, and to show that I can direct as well. So I wrote this short [The Organ Grinder, ed.] and it was doing pre-production and I was going to be shooting when I would start hearing from these festivals. I ended up winning Slamdance’s writing competition, and that was the thing that changed my life! I was thrilled just to make the top forty of the horror screenplays of that year.
LAC: There were subgenres and then the big overall prize which you won.
CCK: I’d made it to the top three and was invited to the ceremony. So I get to the award ceremony and it doesn’t start for two hours, and I’m drinking like a fish because I’m so nervous. Different judges are coming up to me and saying, “I just want to tell you – I really like your screenplay”. I met the other two shortlisted writers, and their stories had a commercial angle, and I thought, either I’m going to win, or I’m a total freak, because mine was very different to those two scripts. Anyway, I was called up to the podium and told I’d one the grand prize, and I was, like, ‘holy shit’, because I’d forgotten about it. I assumed I’d never win that: I thought it’d be a drama or a teleplay that won. After that happened I was off to the races. I contacted Andrew (Van Houten, the producer), and based on the short and my script he decided to make the movie.
LAC: Things happened really quickly after that.
CCK: A month and a half later I had the deal. Five or six months later we were shooting.
OFFSCREEN: Let’s talk about the script before we go into the next stage of how it was produced and how Lauren became involved. We were joking earlier about how you didn’t want any banjo music in the film. One of the striking things about the script and the film is that, in so many of these hillbilly horror movies the hillbillies are set against the urban people, to contrast them, and they’re seen as the ‘other’, the thing that we’re all afraid of, but you don’t do that. Your film is very compassionate – there are no real villains. Even though they do awful things to each other, there’s empathy, which marks it as quite different to the usual portrayal of hillbillies in American cinema, from Deliverance onwards.
CCK: My graphic novel is similar in a way because I follow those two brothers who are these serial killers, and I’m in the mind of one, who’s telling the whole story. So it’s kind of in the same vein where I didn’t want to have outsiders coming in searching for these serial killers. I wanted to be in the minds of these interesting characters, the bad guys. So that just kind of carried over to Jug Face where I never follow a story about someone else because I thought: whose story would be the most compassionate, who would you really want to follow and understand, and what would be the most interesting storyline? It’s the girl who’s going to be killed. Actually I didn’t even know that I was going to do that. I just started brainstorming scenes, whatever I saw in my head, and one of the first scenes was Lauren’s character running through the woods with a boy, and I didn’t even know that they were brother and sister until – when I was thinking of the story, Lauren’s character already knew that she was possibly pregnant, that’s why she’s acting weird. And then I realized, as things are going on, that they were brother and sister and it was like, oh crap! Even the shunned boy, the ghost boy, that was a thing that kept popping up; I would kind of push it away, but then see it in my mind and say, no, I think there is a ghost in this story. A lot of things just happened like that.
OFFSCREEN: Did the script come quickly?
CCK: It did. We shot the second draft. I started in October and finished by January or February. Compared to now, where I’ve spent almost a year on my new script, even though I’ve been travelling and doing a bunch of stuff. It was a really intense time in my life, too. I almost used it to get away, to focus on that. I’d been writing with my daughter at home for a whole year. She was a baby, basically. And then after that it was like, she has to go somewhere. She’s not napping anymore. I cannot write. And so we had her in a Mommy’s Time Out, for just a couple of hours, three days a week, and that was my writing time. I would go to the coffee shop and drink coffee and write. Previously, I’d spent the last eight years writing. I’d moved from New York to Nashville to write. I made the big decision not to move to LA, just to move to Nashville. Even though it’s cost me a lot in a way, knowing people and exposure to things, I don’t know how I’d ever have got that time to develop if I had moved to LA. So I wrote for eight years. My wife had a good enough job that I didn’t have to get a normal job. I just wrote every day. Then we had a child and it complicated things. But after we put my daughter in school I think being alone lowered my immune system. During that time, I wasn’t well from October to February. I didn’t have a two week span of not being sick. I lost eighteen pounds writing that script. It was so weird and crazy. I was so sick, but still go and write.
OFFSCREEN: The script got to Andrew Van Houten and he passed it on to you, Lauren, because he wanted to get your opinion on it.
LAC: Well, at that time, Chad had already expressed interest in me, but Andrew didn’t tell me that. He just wanted me to read it and let him know what I thought of it without knowing that I was considered for it. He sends me a lot of scripts. So I read it and I loved it. I loved it because I actually wanted it to keep going after I read it. I wanted more of these characters. I read it with a friend. We were making dinner and I was reading it out loud. At one point I was reading it to myself but I said “wait, you’ve got to read this with me.” There is always this thing, like Sean Young says, of ‘I’m an actor, I don’t like reading scripts’. She never reads full scripts. It’s true because you start getting in your mind about your character. There’s always this thing, especially on soap operas, where there’s this – bullshit, bullshit, my line, bullshit, bullshit, my line! – and you start doing that as you go through. Not even knowing that you do, you start looking for your character and your part. So I like to sit down and hear it with another person, so I can really hear the whole thing. And I rarely do that unless I know I’m going to be in it or I really like it. Sometimes when you hear it spoken it changes everything.
CCK: Andrew had given me the DVD of The Woman, and I saw Lauren in it, I liked her look. And then I saw her with longer hair and I thought, “she would be perfect”.
OFFSCREEN: There are a lot of connections to The Woman: in terms of the personnel, the story and the themes. It’s no way derivative, but seems to arise from The Woman in some ways: a continuation and development of the theme of the family, and the oppression of the characters – your character, Lauren, in particular.
LAC: There are similarities, but I think there is a really big difference: Ada in Jug Face wasn’t abused. Actually, her family’s pretty loving, except her mom’s got a drinking problem. But her father’s a very good man, an empathetic man, and she has a lot more choices than my character, Peggy, had in The Woman. She was victim of abuse, very serious, horrible, sexual abuse and emotional abuse, and eventually physical abuse, which Ada was not under. Ada was uneducated, and that was the abuse that her family caused her, keeping her in that community and not allowing her freedoms. But she can go out, she can have friends, but she put herself in the situation with her brother; and you see her family’s reaction to it is that they’re horrified, they’re very taken aback and disgusted by it. So this isn’t something normal in this community. Incest is not condoned in this community.
OFFSCREEN: But still, there is that sense of systemic oppression. She has her life mapped out for her. Your character, Ada, is the pivotal character, the one who represents potential change.
LAC: That was the big difference between the characters: Ada does have the opportunity to decide her fate. She could have left and let everybody die. No-one would ever have found her. People would have just kept dying, whoever moved into that community; the monster would have just stayed there and kept taking over people. I don’t think Peggy in The Woman had any choice until the very end, but even then, after being abused for so long, it’s very difficult to reach out to anybody and to resume a normal life, and that’s why it makes sense that she went with the Woman at the end. I think it’s because she has a choice that Ada puts herself in a sticky situation. I was talking about it with someone last night, who said “it wasn’t explained: why her brother? Maybe there was a bonding moment, a reason that she became in love with him”. I said: “people do weird things. Crazy things happen for no reason, and we don’t know why.”
OFFSCREEN: It’s nice that you don’t spell these things out.
LAC: She says at the end that she loved him, and that’s all you need.
OFFSCREEN: And also, there’s that sense of transgression, that desire to break the rules of her confined society. But in the end she stays because she feels responsible and knows she has to sacrifice herself for the sake of the community.
LAC: She does a lot of terrible things, a lot of people die because of what she does, but she does these really good things on the surface, because she has a lot of guilt and she tries to do these small deeds. And then, at the end she knows what she has to do.
CCK: One of the things that led me to start thinking about the family… well, for one, I grew up in a place where there are these religious offshoot cults, like the snake handlers, and they have their own set of rules, so that’s why I thought about this community that would be isolated but have its own rules, that came from a Christian group. They evolved and started worshipping something else, but still had these Christian things that were hanging around. One of the things that led me down this path – it sounds weird – was the war with Iraq. I was thinking about how parents are sending their children over there, not necessarily blindly, but having this belief that what they’re doing is right, when maybe it’s not right and it’s completely horrible what’s going to happen to them. So this led me to the idea of, you’re asked to do these things by the culture in which you live, whether they’re right or wrong, and you could maybe believe that you should do them.
LAC: And some people go off to war and they feel – my sister was in the Navy for six years – she went and became very serious about it. My mother’s a hardcore Democrat and she would be Bush-bashing, and my sister would get up from the table and say, “that’s my boss! Don’t talk about it, that’s my job!” And then I met other people who were in the marines, and when they came back the said “it isn’t what they told me it was going to be. This isn’t what I signed up for.” And it ruined their lives.
CCK: The structures that you’re born into – the relationships of family, of community, of government – all of those force you into paths, and to break from all of those is very difficult.
OFFSCREEN: Lucky McKee and Larry Fessenden were also involved in the film. Both of them seem to be interested in the political aspects of horror. Was it these qualities that we are talking about that they recognized in the script?
CCK: They never told me! (laughs) I had no conversations with Lucky about the content of the script. He was there for the first week of shooting. We had maybe one conversation about what we were shooting. He told me “let the camera run longer”. That was really it. It wasn’t until we were editing, that we hung out for a week. We were editing, and at night we would go and hang out in this house that didn’t have internet or cable television so we would either just watch movies on Blu-ray or talk about horror movies all night long. Larry was the same thing. We had no long meaningful conversations about the content of the script; they just probably picked up on whatever I was doing. That’s why I love horror movies and think they’re incredibly powerful. They are subversive and they can talk about issues in a way that people can digest, but it’s not in your face, it doesn’t sound like you’re being super-political. And when I watch horror movies, I get really disappointed when there’s no depth like that.
Larry Fessenden and Sean Young as the parents
OFFSCREEN: Does it feel like a kind of a family with Andrew and Lucky, like you are all part of a movement or a group?
LAC: It does. When I started working with Andrew, I was pretty much just out of college, and I realize just how much I’ve grown doing films with him, and with the crew, and how much I know now. The crews that he picks, the people, are really brilliant and inspiring. It’s a family, a complicated family. You get intense with each other, sometimes you’re screaming at each other. The next minute you’re apologizing and hugging. We’re always checking in with each other, and pushing one another, and we’re proud of one another.
OFFSCREEN: Lauren, can you tell us about the projects you have in development yourself as a producer?
LAC: Dosy is my big project right now. It’s written by Lukas Persson. He’s a writer who’s been doing shorts for a long time, lives in New York City. His father, Gene Persson, is a producer and was also in some classic horror movies back in the 50s. It’s a dark, comedic thriller in the rape-revenge genre. This girl is taken advantage of by these boys. They’re not evil bad guys, just college boys who screw up and make bad decisions, but I make them pay. It’s a masked crusader movie. There’s some animation, we’re making it a graphic novel to build up the fan base. It’s very difficult, even for celebrities, to get a movie to stay. David Lynch said recently that he doesn’t want to make a movie because it’s too difficult to get it to play anywhere. So it’s important to build interest on YouTube, things like that. A lot of the crew members on Dosy are going to be people from The Woman and from Jug Face.
OFFSCREEN: And, Chad, you have a new screenplay in the works?
CCK: It’s an urban horror story. It takes place in Savannah, Georgia, where I went to school. Savannah’s very beautiful but at its heart is a dark, disturbing place. You can feel it. It’s “off” in some weird way. I don’t know if it’s because of the wild history that the city’s had. It’s like some cities need to start over again. It was preserved in the Civil war as a gift to Lincoln. It has a long history of pirates, there’re tunnels underneath the city. You can’t dig anywhere without finding bones. There were outbreaks of yellow fever, and there are tombs under this massive park where they buried all these people. It’s just a very strange place. And now there’s major racial tensions that fills this beautiful city, so it’s a weird complex place. I started thinking about a horror movie that would take place there. I can’t give away the plot but it deals with race.