This year, Fantasia Fest saw its share of movies that pushed the boundaries of reality. However, none of them did it quite like Lucky. Lucky tells the story of May, a bestselling author who is visited every night by a person who tries to kill her, an antagonist known only as The Man. As May‘s situation worsens, she struggles not just to stay alive, but to stay sane and to keep her life on track. Lucky was directed by Natasha Kermani and written by Brea Grant, whose feature 12 Hour Shift was also part of this year’s Fantasia lineup. NOFS caught up with Natasha and Brea to talk about what went into making Lucky, read on to see what they had to say. Be warned, though, some spoilers for the movie do come up.
Grant DeArmitt for Nightmare on Film Street: Can you talk about the origins of this movie?
Brea Grant: It was based on a real life experience I had. I was universalizing that experience in script form to create this really surreal world that you experience in the movie. I had taken it to a couple of different places, it had gone through a couple iterations and had various people attached. Then I took it to epic pictures, who had worked with Natasha on imitation girl and were looking to work with her again. So they came to me and asked if I could send it to Natasha. Actually, I think they had already sent it to you?
Natasha Kermani: I think so. I don’t know if you even knew I had read it when you emailed it to me. It’s very possible.
Grant: But we had known each other socially for a little bit, so I wasn’t unfamiliar with her or her work.
Kermani: I was basically looking for whatever my next new project was going to be. I was reading a lot of, frankly, mediocre horror scripts. Ones that lacked perspective or deeper meaning. But I picked up Lucky and I really responded to the world that Brea created. I thought it was very different and unique and I thought her voice was just crystal-clear throughout the whole thing. I was very drawn to the challenge of bringing this to life, of doing it in a way that’s practical, but also pays service to the deeper theme she’s plugging into.
It was fast, honestly, from that point forward. I think we were greenlit in January of 2019, we were filming by June of 2019, and we were supposed to premiere earlier this year. But then 2020 happened. So it was a really fast process, which I think means it’s it’s meant to be in a way. There’s a momentum to it and it felt like it came together gracefully.
Grant: That’s how you know a project is meant to be. Because the script have been elsewhere, but then things just kept falling apart. So when this felt so easy, we knew it was right.
NOFS: How long did filming take?
Kermani: We shot the movie in 15 days, which is real quick. So we were very conscious about how to use our schedule practically.When it comes to scheduling, it’s all about how you pool your resources. While we were putting the schedule together, there is a point in Brea’s script where the world scales up. The movie moves from being the singular perspective, a single story, and opens up and you realize there’s a whole broader context to the movie. That scene is something that I wanted to protect from the beginning. That was something everyone understood, the line producer, the cinematographer, they realized we can scale down our resources for stuff when she’s by herself. Then, we’re going to repurpose that and put it into this turn into the third act that needs to turn up. Identifying those things with your resources and your schedule (because to me, schedule and resources are the same thing) was interesting with such a small project.
NOFS: Brea, I wanted to talk about your character, May. First of all, did you write this character for yourself?
Grant: No. I didn’t intend on being in the movie necessarily. But I do think I tend to write characters that I could be. Whether or not I mean to, I think there’s a level of my voice in a lot of my characters. I tend to write women around my age because that’s just kind of my experience. But not necessarily.
NOFS: One of the things that interested me about the character is that she seems to want to break things? When she finds a piece of glass that is almost broken or cracked she pushes it until it breaks. What’s that about?
Kermani: A lot of that is stuff that I chose to emphasize. It was in the script, but we emphasized it in terms of how you’re photographing it. I think, if you see May as Alice in Alice in Wonderland, it is quite literally her breaking through various forms of reflection. Whether it’s in a mirror or a window or whatever it is, things are sort of cracking around her. Though she does have some autonomy as she’s going forward. May is trying to solve this mystery, she’s an active protagonist. It’s a very literal representation of the theme of “going through the looking-glass.”
Grant: It’s a fracturing of what’s happening in the world.
NOFS: There are a lot of interesting visual representations in this movie, things you notice as you’re trying to figure out the mystery of it. I wanted to ask about some of those. The first is when May is at a book signing. and there are cookies in front that are all made to look like frowny faces. Can you explain that?
Kermani: (laughs) I’m glad you noticed that. That was our production designer, LB Minnich. Everybody on this movie has a very cheeky sense of humor, so a lot of quirky stuff like would come up. [The cookies] were 100% LB’s idea. She baked the cookies as props, and she just said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if they were sad faces instead of smiley faces?” And we said, “Absolutely, yes.”
But the reason she was thinking in that way was that we wanted to plant props and elements of production design throughout the movie that indicate where you are in the journey. At the top of the film, it’s pretty straightforward, the props are what they should be. Clocks read correctly, the paintings are somewhat normal, there are some plants but they’re not overgrown. But by the end of the movie, we’ve taken all those props and twisted them and made them very strange. There are frowny face cookies instead of happy face cookies. There’s a motif of plants in her house, and by the end of the movie, the plants have really overtaken it; there are vines everywhere. So it’s all about taking normal, every day, very mundane elements and by the end of the movie, making them bizarre.
Grant: Natasha also did an amazing thing with the mirrors as well making them weird.
Kermani: Right, the mirrors don’t reflect what’s actually happening.
NOFS: The last one I want to ask about is when May is at Sarah‘s house. There’s a mask hanging on the wall that looks very similar to the one that The Man is wearing. Was that another production element that just kind of came into it?
Kermani: Yeah, LB just had that mask in her house, which is kind of terrifying. She pitched it as the idea that the man is following May. I like putting it there because you wonder: is it really there or is May just seeing it? It’s a kind of subliminal thing. Again, that’s later in the film, so we wouldn’t have put a mask on the wall in the beginning at the movie. But because we’re moving into the third act at that point, we’re getting pretty crazy with the items that are surrounding May.
NOFS: Speaking of that scene and that character, I was fascinated by Sarah in this movie. She was a mystery to me. Brea, did you write her as believing May the whole time?
Grant: The intention with that character was to show that a lot of the women in the world were going through the same thing, or had been going through it for a long time. And it’s become so normalized that it’s not talked about, which obviously is a metaphor for real life and not talking or not being able to talk about this kind of stuff. The intention was that Sarah had believed May, but also that she had bought into the world so much she had been normalizing at all. So much so that she was unable to communicate about it in a normal way. That’s why she speaks in cliches. She’s just bought into the normalizing that this is the way the world is. Every night, someone is going to come and try to kill you. She says things like, “You’re being so brave,” but she says it with a nonchalant attitude.
Kermani: Sarah is very different from May, so part of why she is buying into it is kind of a commentary on how every woman’s life is unique, and so are the challenges that they’re dealing with. Sarah is a single mother, you definitely get the sense that she is overworked, she’s trying to raise her kid. She has a lot going on. So while May is a working woman, she’s also financially stable and has no children. We’re following May as she is diving head-first into this movie’s problem, whereas Sarah maybe doesn’t have the time or the privilege to do that. I think that also ties into the tragedy of this movie, which is that these women are ultimately not able to connect and not able to help each other. Because maybe if they were able to connect, maybe there is a way to overcome this supernatural villain. It’s all very intentional and part of the message with the women in the movie. Each of the women you see that May interacts with is designed very intentionally to be very unique and to have unique challenges.
NOFS: Was there anything that changed from the original script and the the final product?
Kermani: There are a few elements. We removed the character from the first draft that I read. Honestly no, I don’t think we changed it that much. Because I loved the draft that I read. It was really just a logistical path. Most of the comments that I brought to Brea after reading it, most of them were very production minded.
Grant: Yeah, we changed locations. Originally, May‘s house was an apartment. We changed that for shooting. But, overall, yes. The character did change from my earlier drafts until the one Natasha read. Actually, a scene that was added after I had sent it out to a few people was the parking garage scene. And after I added it I was like, “Oh, here’s the movie. I found the movie.” I’m a real vomit draft person. I will write a full draft and ask people what it feels like. And they’ll say, “it sucks,” and I say “cool,” and I go back and revisit it.
I just felt like the parking garage is the thing. When you’re a woman, that’s the story. You don’t want to be alone in this parking garage because you’re scared what will happened to you when you’re walking to your car. So it felt like that was the metaphor expanded.
NOFS: Could we talk about the music in this movie? What was it like creating it with Jeremy Zuckerman? I love the sort of weird vocal quality it has to it. How did you originally picture the music?
Kermani: Jeremy is amazing. We got very fortunate with him. One of our producers sent me his music from the Scream TV show. It was very melodic and I liked it. But then, I looked into his portfolio and found his solo stuff. He has a sound art background, which just means he has a slightly more avant-garde approach to composition. It’s not the traditional, melodically motivated music. I really fell in love with that. Not that I don’t love and amazing melodic score, but that wasn’t right for this movie. We’re not going to hire out a sixty-piece orchestra. I thought that we had a quirky movie, so I wanted to lean into it. Like Brea has said in the past, you go to an independent film to see something different. This was our opportunity.
So I started having conversations with [Jeremy] and he was excited by some of the directions that I had for him musically. We identified a few motifs. What I wanted for May was something called extended vocals. I knew I wanted to female vocalists, so we’d record a bunch of vocalizations for her and Jeremy would build the score out of a bunch of sound samples. Basically, a vocalist goes in and records an hour’s worth of material. [Jeremy] kind of trudges through it to find the pieces that he likes and builds it up from there. I knew I wanted a female vocalization that wasn’t necessarily pretty. It is sort of a glottal sound that she’s making that feels very primordial to me, this primal sound. This female Primal sound. That would be associated with May.
Then, we would have this complex, dark sound is coming from The Man. The Man‘s sound is like a cello, which is a lower registered string instrument that can be very choppy and violent. The score has this banging on the cello, getting sharp sounds out of it. It’s similar to what Jeremy did with vocalization; he would pull his sample from the cello and build something out of that. Then, you know, you find really cool stuff along the way. [Jeremy] found this really cool thing that was like a submarine ping, because I asked him for an almost electronic sound at one point to come in with The Man. I wasn’t sure how to marry it with the other sounds, but he found this really creepy electronic sound that is very bassy and big. So we identified a bunch of motifs, but the overall direction is that the sounds would marry.
The Man is, in many ways, born out of May. The men in this movie reflect their women. They are an extension of what the woman is afraid of. Every woman’s fear is personalized. So thematically and musically, The Man and May‘s sounds are actually one, because they’re all coming from May. Because it’s all an expression of May’s fear. It comes from her and it moves outward.
NOFS: Without spoiling too much, this movie ends in a sort of half cliffhanger. So I wanted to ask, is May’s situation over by the end? Or is she going to continue about it the same way she has through the movie?
Kermani: Oh yeah. She’s stuck in the loop.
Lucky will be on Shudder sometime early next year. I highly recommend checking it out, especially if you’re into movies that don’t stay in one reality. For more interviews with horror creators, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And for all best horror discussion online, keep lurking at Nightmare on Film Street.