Artist and filmmaker Erica Scoggins joins us on Close-up Culture for an insightful chat about her latest short film, The Boogeywoman.
Q: The Boogeywoman’ follows a similar path to Julia Ducournau’s ‘Raw’ and Chelsea Lupkin’s ‘Lucy’s Tale’ in its coming-of-age exploration of the horrors and wonders of becoming a woman. Can you tell us about coming up with the idea for this short and what you wanted to bring to this subject?
A: Raw brilliantly fuses desire and repulsion, resistance and inevitability in the protagonist’s evolution. These dichotomies are key in The Boogeywoman as well.
The mythology of the femme fatale, the great mother, and Eve the temptress all played a role in formulating The Boogeywoman as a concept. I had grown up hearing about the “Boogeyman” and decided there should be a “Boogeywoman.” So what would she be? A woman who does not play by society’s rules, is not ashamed by her body, and seeks pleasure freely seems to be a real threat to many people.
Then I backtracked further to the idea that when a young woman begins this battle with herself and the world at her first period, she must make choices that determine her fate. She is now fair prey for The Boogeywoman. Elements of the horror genre are used to point to the absurdity of this natural, healthy bodily process as something fearful and worthy of shame.
Q: I believe your own experiences with epilepsy helped inform and inspire your previous short, ‘The Sacred Disease’. How much of your own youth is in ‘The Boogeywoman’?
A: The skating rink as an arena for romance was a big part of my childhood. Parents would drop their kids and teenagers off at this big dark room with disco lights in the middle of the day and pick them up later. It was like entering a different world for a few hours.
Thematically, The Boogeywoman speaks to this constant struggle between what a girl or woman desires verses what she should or shouldn’t do. For myself and many girls I knew at this age, there was a sense of being wrong no matter what. A girl was either a slut or a prude, and people even managed to label those of us who tried desperately to avoid either title. Yes, let’s just call these careful ones “tease” why don’t we? This perpetual judgment is perpetrated by boys and girls alike.
Q: There is a line in the film that says ‘The Boogeywoman’ is a creation of sexism. How much do you feel the feelings of fear, embarrassment and even disgust around menstruation comes from male attitudes/behaviours?
A: I wholeheartedly believe that sexism does not come from any one sex or gender alone. Every individual is born into a culture that has a legacy of convictions that originated in a past we would not recognize today. It is our duty to unlearn the narratives that were written out of misunderstanding and fear of the unknown.
This is a blatant and simplified example, but growing up in a Christian community, I always heard the story of original sin, that Eve, who somehow represents all women everywhere for all time was a conniving and deceitful person who caused the fall of man. This story is a seed that has grown roots unseen as well as blatant blooms all around us. Unfortunately, one of those blooms is young men and women’s reactions to menstruation.
In the film, one of the girls begins laying out the rules for Sam now that she has begun this “unclean” stage of her life while the boys outright fear her and objectify her. The Boogeywoman is one step in rewriting the narrative. I always say there are good men and good women, bad men and bad women, and everything in between. It’s the system that needs an overhaul. I now proudly carry my tampon to the bathroom instead of shoving it up my shirtsleeve in shame.
Q: Amélie Hoeferle is a star in the making. Can you tell us about casting Amélie and working with her?
A: Amélie is a dream! I had been working on the script all morning in a coffee shop in my hometown of Cleveland, TN when I looked up to see this enchanting girl on the verge of womanhood. I struck up a conversation with her and her mother and knew immediately I had found a creative and inspired family.
Amélie had never acted before so I auditioned her, gave her some materials and things to work on, and then called her back for another session. The leaps and bounds she had made in that short time and the way she took direction and carried herself told me she had to be the one. At fifteen years old, she proved to be one of the most professional and hardworking actors I’ve ever directed.
Q: Keenan Rashad Carter, one of the stars of ‘The Boogeywoman’, tragically passed away recently. Can you share a few words about Keenan and your time spent with him?
A: I could talk about Keenan for days and never stop smiling. Keenan was an incredibly talented actor, but in the end I cast him because I wanted to know him. I wanted to be around his infectious charisma and genuine warmth. Keenan became a mentor for the young, first-time actors away from home. I have a hard time accurately expressing the bond that this cast had after just two weeks together.
The loss hit us so hard, and we are still reeling from his fleeting presence in our lives. I’m just grateful we were able to know him.
Q: You’ve worked with cinematographer Albrecht Von Grünhagen to create brilliantly atmospheric work, particularly in your use of light, in ‘The Sacred Disease’ and ‘The Boogeywoman’. What is the nature of your collaboration and what visual style were you looking for in this short?
A: Albrecht and I work very organically and instinctually. I think I give him a lot of work to do with my poetic scriptwriting. Because I’m often trying to create something that lives outside ordinary consciousness, words are incredibly limiting. He naturally picks up on these moments that are reaching for the sublime or otherworldly. Often I have a few specific shots that I want in a scene and he will build the rest of the shot design around that moment.
In both The Sacred Disease and The Boogeywoman, there is a strange exultation of traumatic experiences. We wanted to create a sort of sickly nostalgic light that is both off-putting and a bit magical because there can be great beauty and clarity in these experiences that rip us from the everyday.
Q: I am a huge fan of the Barbie poster for ‘The Boogeywoman’ and Jordan Chism’s original song ‘Horoscopes’. How much do you enjoy adding these details to your project?
A: Thank you! My partner was a bit confused when I started ordering Barbie dolls on ebay and painting their panties red, but it was for a noble cause. I absolutely love creating artwork and posters in relation to my projects. I often draw or create comics to conceptualize characters or work out story beats.
I met Jordan and Suzie Chism when I lived in Nashville, and their talent has stuck with me all these years. Jordan’s track was made to order. I wanted romantic dream pop and I think they might as well put “Horoscopes” in the dictionary for the genre. She and her collaborators, Tony Smith and Brian Zeremba, really delivered on this one.
Q: You are an artist as well as a filmmaker. Can you tell us about your passion for art and how/if it helps you when working on films?
A: My love of symbolism and allusion in art and literature always finds its way into my film work. Archetype and iconography can universalize a specific story and invite the viewer to look outside the film to deepen their understanding of the work. For example, the events in the second half of The Sacred Disease are designed to symbolize the myriad symptoms of a temporal lobe seizure. The Boogeywoman’s title points to an archetypal mythology that translates to many cultures across the world.
I have an ongoing series of paper-based work that a college mentor lovingly deemed “evil women.” These freakish ladies have most certainly found their way into my narratives. You can see them at www.ericascoggins.com.
Q: I’ve been hearing fascinating things about a feature film, titled ‘Godmother’, that you have been planning. Can you reveal about it?
A: Gladly. Godmother is a psycho-sexual Southern Gothic mystery-thriller that examines the complexities of intimate violence and female rage.
The feature will be a pretty solid mix of The Sacred Disease and The Boogeywoman as it deals with trauma-induced disturbances in the main character’s perception. Through an augmentation of the theory of ancestral trauma, our heroine receives her mother’s disjointed memories and uses them to unearth a mystery. The Godmother, the supposed spiritual guide of a child, is re-imagined here as a Janus-faced truth-teller, forcing the girl to unburden her mother of her greatest secret and eradicate abuse from their lives.
Godmother is about the danger of leaving dangerous men and the fierce capacity for violence in the “gentler” sex.
We’re deep into script development and exploring potential partnerships now.
Q: Can you tell us your philosophy on filmmaking and what you hope to achieve in the coming years?
I’m interested in creating richly symbolic worlds where complicated human emotions and experiences are explored to the fullest. These extraordinary experiences, brought on by desire, disease, or trauma, exist on an altered plane of reality. Physiological changes shift our very perception. We can’t explain these moments with words or realism as they are deep inside, painfully resonant, and raw. They demand an exalted cinematic treatment through experimentation in form and an unflinching look at the most challenging corners of the human psyche.
I’m obsessed with searching for answers that do not exist. As we go deeper, reality expands. Human knowledge is a horizon that never stops receding. This unknowing is the sublime. I want to make films that reach for this horizon.