With her upcoming film Just Murdered, San Antonian Raina James — veteran screenwriter, shooter, and film editor — became a first-time feature director. Filmed in SA and starring several local actors, including Dawn Brooks and Rita Verreos of Survivor fame, Just Murdered is a horror-comedy that takes on the wedding industry, the conventions of horror films, and all things wickedly girly. James grew up in Denver, where she spent nights on the couch watching the Elvira show (“I still love her!” she chuckles), and says that scary movies are, categorically, cinema’s best high. The Current spoke to the indie filmmaker recently, and here’s what else she had to say for herself.
Are you doing postproduction now?
We are … it’s a feature film, so we’ve got about 80 hours of footage. You record the video and sound separate, now, so we have to go in and decide on a codex how we’re gonna ingest all that footage. The first job is to sync everything, all those boring technical aspects. `laughs`
Are you gonna edit it?
Yeah, I started out as an editor.
Seems like there are a lot of women editors. Why do you suppose that is?
Well, one reason is that for people who make a film, the footage is like your baby. … And I think in some cases, a man doesn’t want to feel competitive with another man `as an editor`. Another amazing thing about having a male director and a female editor, is that `the film` has a nice male-female balance. It’s something I try to keep in mind as a director, too; a good male-female balance on set, and in the finished product. ... And, you know, though directors are the now superstars of the industry, the reality is it’s always been a team effort, and women have always been involved throughout the process of making a film, but usually without the “rock star” titles.
How was it, getting out of the editing bay and tackling the film as a director? How was the role different? Did anything surprise you?
Well, I started as an editor, but I’ve been shooting, producing, writing, too, shortly thereafter, for a long time, just for gigs I’ve been hired to do, so those aspects weren’t necessarily new to me, you know? …And filmmakers can become filmmakers in a number of different ways; I mean, some people just really love film and they study films, and go on to make great films, come at it that way — Quentin Tarantino, to name a famous example. Me, every day for my day job, I was learning how to do all the different aspects. I learned a lot! Everyone has a different pattern.
What did you learn from filming in San Antonio in particular?
The biggest thing is, I was really blown away by the people in San Antonio, ’cause I’m relatively new here. It blew me away, just how awesome the people here are to work with. I know for a fact that this film couldn’t’ve been done in the way it was done in any other city.
How’d San Antonio even come to be, for this film, for you?
Well ... a knock came into my heart and into my head `knocks on the table`. I realized I’d been in Austin for 10 years to the day… I was ready to put my tunnel vision on and work on some type of project. I knew I needed to get away from what I was doing, I needed a fresh start, and my brother lives in San Antonio, so I came down. And I realized, one, how beautiful a city San Antonio is, just so amazing. And also how many really, really amazing locations there are here. It’s such a beautiful city. Number two, how much San Antonio, as large as it is, is a small town — you meet one person, and then you meet all the people they know. And so as a whole, it was relatively easy to meet a lot of people. And then, time and time again, people just thought making a film would be fun!
We do put a high quotient on fun.
Yeah, but even when they found out that making a movie isn’t as much fun as they thought, they still showed up!
Where did the actual idea `for Just Murdered` come from?
Originally I wrote this as a short film. See, I was out in the middle of the woods with my friend … originally the film was called 3 Bottles of Wine, and we’d definitely had at least one bottle that night. `laughs` So we were out in the woods, and my brother had built this huge bonfire, but then my cousin was sort of leading us `out of the woods` and it was a new moon, totally black outside, we couldn’t see or hear anything. Then I look up, and I see the tiny little dot of my cousin’s cell phone like a hundred miles away, and `my friend and I` look at each other, and we think what the hell are we gonna do? Drunk, in the pitch black dark, lost in the middle of the woods. And of course, all we could do was crack up laughing. It was scary, but it was so ridiculous. And I thought, hey, that’s a good idea. So, yeah, in the original story, two of my main characters are just these drunk bridesmaids in the middle of the woods. That’s where it started.
So even the first inkling of an idea had a wedding attached to it?
Why is that?
Well, the idea of a wedding is something that causes so much anxiety, and so much fear and freaking out. It’s one of those rites of passage that a lot of fear comes from.
Are you married?
No. `laughs` But, see, the whole wedding ritual as a completely commercialized thing strikes me as both really funny and totally scary. … The `wedding industry` seems to say, “If ‘your day’ isn’t the most perfect, normal, elaborate, coordinated, socially acceptable ceremony and reception imaginable, that fits in perfectly with all those TV shows and magazines that get thrown in your face all the time, well, then, you aren’t really in love.” And I think that leads to that whole Bridezilla phenomenon.
Which seems perfect for a horror/comedy idea.
Well, think about the qualities of a Bridezilla: beautiful, very girly-girl, willing to put her needs and desires above absolutely everything and everyone else … now, doesn’t that also sound like an awesome horror villain? I don’t wanna go into the plot details too much and spoil anything, but our Bridezilla is definitely someone you’ll love to hate. And, in a way, she gets what’s comin’ to her … `laughs`. I think the film, overall, is ridiculously nerve-wracking!
So do you have a tentative release date?
No, `because` while the editing won’t take too-too long, I’m working with some composers and musicians. The music is really, really important. I want the kind of `arrangements and` instruments traditionally used at a wedding.
To kind of further subvert the whole wedding thing?
Exactly. But then, when the film is ready to come out, we’ll definitely do a big premiere in San Antonio. … And then I definitely wanna do my next film here! •
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