For Toby Poser, filmmaking is a family affair. Poser, her partner John Adams, and their two daughters Lula and Zelda Adams have been making films together for a decade. They are their own production company, writing, directing, and starring in their films, as well as operating cameras and composing music. Poser’s family embodies the spirit of DIY filmmaking as they tell emotional stories with low budgets and a lot of heart.
This can all be seen in their latest film, The Deeper You Dig, which was screened as part of the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival. I was able to chat with Poser over email and learn more about what it takes to create films with your family and their first foray into the horror genre.
“I’m sure anyone catching our brainstorming sessions in a restaurant thinks we are lunatics, all that lovely talk about decapitations, dead stuff, and how much blood to buy.”
Mary Beth McAndrews for Nightmare on Film Street: It’s so impressive that this film was almost entirely created by you, your partner, and your daughter! I know that your entire family makes films together. What was it like navigating being a family and also creative partners particularly while making The Deeper You Dig?
Toby Poser: Thanks! Our closeness is our strength, I’d say. Our girls were 6 and 11 when we made our first film (they’re 16 and 21 now), so after 5 features we’ve learned to be supportive of each other. It’s like a dance that, with lots of practice, you start to feel in your bones; how to talk to one another, when to lead and when to follow, and when to just try things three different ways and duke it out in the editing. And we have fun. We are hungry students of the art form. There’s a lot of spaghetti flying everywhere — you know, throwing crazy ideas against the wall to see what sticks!
Once an idea snags us, it’s a thrill from beginning to end. It’s a constant train in motion and we are all along for the long ride. Making The Deeper You Dig was especially fun because the supernatural/horror genre is still new for us, and it is so addictive. I’m sure anyone catching our brainstorming sessions in a restaurant thinks we are lunatics, all that lovely talk about decapitations, dead stuff, and how much blood to buy. I think our plastic-wrapped corpse is still buried behind our house. That’ll be a fun find one day.
NOFS: What was it like playing a character that had lost her daughter? That must have been a difficult headspace to occupy.
TP: Something big happened to me right after we began shooting. I was diagnosed with reproductive cancer and had a few surgeries during production. While difficult and painful physically, there was profound symbolism between what I lost and what my character Ivy loses. I’m strangely grateful for how this deepened my writing and colored my tackle acting-wise. But yeah, certain scenes (particularly what happens in a bathtub) were hard for me as co-director. I had a rough time separating myself as a mother. It became vital to make sure that whatever terrified me (and perhaps all women) would lay the stones on a path towards Hell.
MB: You and your family have made a wide range of movies that all seem centered on the idea of family. What was the inspiration for The Deeper You Dig? Have you always wanted to make a horror movie?
TP: John always wanted to make a horror film. I love watching horror and had thought more about writing horror or supernatural fiction. But John is a nightmare factory. He constantly has nightmares, and they are always about killing someone and burying them alive. He’s so bizarre. And so he had the seed of an idea that grew into the full collaborative narrative of the film. In all our films we love exploring the angles of a messed up (but loving) family. We like anti-heroes and cracked facades. For The Deeper You Dig, we thought it would be fun to turn the missing girl trope on its head and play around with the idea of victimhood. We wanted to consider how far a family might go to maintain its earthly bond. I like to think we came up with a nice twisted answer.
“Women have stories and we want to hear them. As far as horror goes, bleeding is in our DNA. How cool is that?”
MB: You’ve worn a lot of hats in the world of film production. What has been your favorite role to play on set?
TP: I got my BFA in Theater Arts and have always loved acting. Having been directed on various stages and sets for a few decades, I really love turning around what I’ve learned and directing others now. Finding the honesty in a performance or suggesting a different take on a line; pulling various colors out of a scene. Each film helps me find my directing language, and I owe a lot to those who taught and directed me over the years.
MB: In involving your daughter in the film you’ve empowered her creativity, which I love. What words of advice would you give other young women out in the world who want to pursue filmmaking?
TP: I say don’t think too much— just get cracking. Learn as you go. Women have stories and we want to hear them. As far as horror goes, bleeding is in our DNA. How cool is that?