Interviews · Movies

‘Tragedy Girls’ Director Tyler MacIntyre Knows All Queens Slay

We chat with writer and director Tyler MacIntyre about high school chemistry, exploding heads, and why a female-driven high school slasher is so important.
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By  · Published on November 14th, 2017

We chat with writer and director Tyler MacIntyre about high school chemistry, exploding heads, and why a female-driven high school slasher is so important.

The Shallow Pocket Project is our way of getting to know the filmmakers behind the independent flicks that we dig! Check our last chat with Chris Peckover (director of ‘Better Watch Out’). Special thanks to my fellow Dorks at In The Mouth of Dorkness, especially Lisa Gullickson and Darren Smith.

Tyler MacIntyre has created a totally immersive world that lives and breathes social media addiction fostered by millennial narcissism as the newest generation’s gateway to psychopathy. McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) and Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) – AKA the #TragedyGirls – know they need to get their slasher game on fleek. What would you do for a RT? They are murderous AF about those RTs. Everybody needs an OTP and MacIntyre’s flick perfectly captures the feeling of these two young women finding that in each other. At the start, the girls are totally stanning over Lowell (Kevin Durand), your classic American horror-film slasher/freak. Real Jason meets Buffalo Bill type shit. They kidnap him in the hopes he’ll be the serial killer Obi-Wan they’re looking for. After that doesn’t work out, they venture out on their own. And, oh boy, do they learn some lessons.

“I’m down. I’ve got the 411. And you are not going out and getting jiggy with some boy, I don’t care how dope his ride is. My momma didn’t raise no fool.” – Walter Stratford, ‘10 Things I Hate About You’

We’re big fans of Tragedy Girls around these parts. Shipp and Hildebrand utterly destroy their roles as the film exudes their perfect chemistry every bloody latte step of the way. Does it call back to other films? Yep. In our chat, MacIntyre shared he absolutely set out to make a gateway horror film. There are so many nuggets from great movies that it’s easy to imagine discovering a film like this early in high school and following every one of those rabbit holes to learn more about the genre. I remember seeing real movie posters in the backgrounds of horror movies and deliberately following those up. In the age of the Wikipedia and the ever-present hivemind of Twitter, I suppose it isn’t as necessary. Even still, I totally dig that sort of yeoman’s work on behalf of the genre.

His love for horror is something that came out in every aspect of our conversation. MacIntyre’s quick draw answer for Favorite Horror Film, Evil Dead II (38 on our list of Best Horror Movies Ever), reflects his interest as an indie filmmaker looking to blend horror and comedy. His first film, Patchwork, which toured the festival circuit and then made its way to streaming services earlier this year, is a low budget romp through blood and guts as a Re-Animator throw-back if it was done by an early-years Peter Jackson. A mad-scientist sews the bodies of three murdered women together and re-animates them…for SCIENCE! Perhaps also money.

Patchwork showcases his creative approach to problem-solving. Because, oh yeah, it’s Re-Animator, by Peter Jackson, mashed up with All of Me. When the reanimated Frankenstein’s monster awakens, all three women are conscious of their now shared body. How do you showcase that in a visual medium?

Rather than sticking with reflection shots for different personalities, a la All of Me, MacIntyre created a world for them to occupy. We see the “Monster” or Stitch. She lurches around and struggles with her motor skills, doing different things as different minds control the body. He intersperses cuts to versions of the scene where all three women are present and interacting. The transitioning is done with an editor’s flawless eye and an outstanding physical performance by Tory Stolper, who plays both Jennifer – one of the women – and the Stitch monster.

“You really need to pick perfomers that will step up to the plate.” – Tyler MacIntyre

Patchwork and Tragedy Girls both feature dynamic, aggressively charismatic performances. We spent a large portion of our chat discussing how to foster an environment where that sort of chemistry can shine. Tent-pole blockbusters generally look slick. They ooze money from every shot. Custom, cutting-edge CGI work. Master level cinematographers using the best equipment money can buy. Big name, star talent to fill the screen. You should feel that in every aspect of a tent-pole film. What if you don’t have a hundred and eighty million dollars lying around? For one, your characters need to be whole and burn with the light of the sun.

Tragedy Girls lives or dies on your love for McKayla and Sadie. They are teenage slashers in a fun horror comedy, but they feel real to me. By the end of the movie, I’m rooting for them. They are the central characters of the film, and I am so hypnotized by their love for each other and the totally earnest ways they express it that I can’t help but root for these Queens to burn it all down. That’s pure charisma.

MacIntyre shared that Shipp and Hildebrand lived together during shooting. It didn’t hurt that they had quality chemistry from the outset, but you can see their bond. I don’t think he meant for it to go exactly like this, but I got the impression that any time Shipp and Hildebrand would team up against him to make a point, he’d defer to their instincts. On the other hand, my man has majored in film studies and psychology.

While he was developing Patchwork, he worked early and extensively with Stolper, who he knew would be taking on the most challenging role. They were able to work together to flesh out her character and the various types of physicality she could bring to the role to help the viewer more easily distinguish who was at the helm. As they integrated the two remaining actors, Tracey Fairaway and Maria Blasucci, it was a completed push and pull amongst the trio to bring it all together.

In both cases, MacIntyre shares that he saw himself as the least useful person by the time they got to shooting the script. Mind you, that isn’t a dig at what he brings to the set. It’s his approach to leadership, designed to foster a space for that to happen. Some directors have a vision, and the actors shall adhere to it. Which is a perfectly effective approach, with its own set of challenges. Here, he creates a space for the actors to own their choices and influence the final product. With that type of investment, it’s easy to see their chemistry come together on screen. Whether they’re rallying against his lines or creating their own blocking for a scene, they’re working together. It allows them to shine in the best way they can as a group, while still accomplishing established objectives in scenes.

In other words, that’s the subtle Machiavellian direction I can really go in for.

“There’s not enough female driven movies set in high school.” – Tyler MacIntyre

While we were chatting, representation in film came up. What was the last great film featuring women in high school? Mean Girls? That flick is amazing and also thirteen years old. Before that? Clueless. Twenty-two years old. Before that? Heathers, which turns thirty next year. I’m a big believer in more diversity on our movie screens. Not just for diversity’s sake, mind you. Movies are how we tell our stories and explore who we are and where we’re going. That fundamentally can’t happen if it’s mostly a bunch of white dudes chasing girls on screen.

Our conversation with MacIntyre called to mind some of the things that came up in our conversation with Karyn Kusama. There’s this idea that we need ‘strong’ female characters on our screens. While that’s true, the strength is one of depth and authenticity rather simple physical strength. Although, that’s important, too. When Wonder Woman started regulating those fools in World War I, oh my. Those bullets, that shield, and being a boss warrior. Amazing for me to see. Deeply moving for women. But, we need more than Wonder Woman on screen. We need petty women, weak women, decisive women, brilliant women, and yes murderous women. A single story about a single type of person is not representation.

Yet, Tyler MacIntyre is a white dude. The success of his female-driven films comes precisely from his ability to hand over the wheel to his actors during production. The ownership fosters more than charisma. It allows these brilliant actors the space they need to do what they do. Stolper’s physical performance in Patchwork is gleefully bombastic and totally amazing. Shipp and Hildebrand in Tragedy Girls prove to me that in two or three years they’re going to be in everything.

Tragedy Girls is currently in a limited theatrical release. If it’s playing anywhere near you, I promise you that your commute to the theater will be worth it. Support this movie. Be on the lookout for its VOD release. In the meantime, Patchwork is streaming on Netflix. If you dug Braindead, or Re-Animator, you won’t be disappointed.

Now check out the whole conversation. What’s it like working with Roger Corman? Being buds with Peter Bogdanovich? How is it possible for a re-animated owl-cat to move you to tears? How did it feel to literally explode the brain of one of America’s funniest comedic actors? Yeah. You definitely want the whole enchilada. Catch the chat on Podbean or check it out on iTunes.

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Writer for Film School Rejects. He currently lives in Virginia, where he is very proud of his three kids, wife, and projector. Co-Dork on the In The Mouth of Dorkness podcast.