Victor is looking for true love. But every time he finds a nice girl to go out with, he kills them. This is the premise for Emmanuil Morari’s terrific black comedy She Lies Beautiful. Created with minimal crew and next-to-no resources, Morari’s take on the serial killer film is a delightful frenzy of anecdotal moments that sees Victor, our murderous protagonist, wrestle with his romantic and psychopathic desires. Arriving online today, DN is proud to present the premiere of She Lies Beautiful alongside a dive into Morari’s motivations for conceiving this darkly comedic tale.
What inspired you to create a story of a man who just can’t quite seem to fully satisfy his murderous impulses?
After writing 15 short films, I started an initiative in Milwaukee dubbed Banzai Films. I was inspired to craft these films, but simply lacked the time to make them all. I realised I had this fantastic community of filmmakers in the city that all had this desire to craft narrative work. I reached out to everyone and proposed a challenge: make a short film by the end of the year. The one thing everyone felt was absent and stuck by was story, so I eliminated that obstacle and offered the scripts up and let everyone know that now there were no excuses left to not get their film made, after all there were 15 to choose from. Everyone ended up choosing a film and there was excitement initially, but slowly that faded and nothing happened.
The concept really took hold when a single line came to me in the writing process.
Out of frustration, I reached out to two friends and told them this idea I had, let’s make a secret short film, not letting our community know about it, to illustrate how simple and effective a short could be. In a way, it was a challenge to ourselves; little to no budget, three crew members (one of which was the main actor), so that meant no sound operator, only locations we had on hand and free extras that were available.
Did the lack of resources encourage you to opt for a certain story or character?
From the start, there was an idea of a serial killer concept that existed from a while back. Steven, our main actor who plays Victor in the short, always had this strange look to him when wearing these particular set of glasses. I always joked that I would put him in a movie as a serial killer and he always wanted to so we looped back to this to explore.
The concept really took hold when a single line came to me in the writing process, which is the first line of the film “This was the seventh time I killed Yara Lane.” The line held so much potential in it, I could see so many things sprawling out of it and I couldn’t resist the temptation to go into a strange universe with it. Out of that one line the rest of the short just wrote itself one afternoon after a rainy drive. A story about Victor, who kills the women he falls in love with, but what happens when one of them just won’t die? I thought there was this innate sense of comedy in that concept that just really lent itself to the genre and style that emerged.
And with having less crew to organise were you able to shoot as and when you wanted to?
We began filming in short segments after work, on weekends, and essentially whenever we had the free time. Working as a tiny crew, we were able to move fast and cover the diverse amount of shots that we had to get. Because of our structure, there was a lot of opportunity for exploration. We would start a night with shooting large chunks of the script and then ending it at the airport, capturing shots of Steven watching planes land because we saw a plane earlier. As Steven became more comfortable with the role, various opportunities for these little vignettes emerged, many that didn’t end up in the final film, but shaped the narrative in a lot of ways.
Working as a tiny crew, we were able to move fast and cover the diverse amount of shots that we had to get.
In the killing scenes, the women involved were girlfriends of fellow filmmakers. Yara was played by Amanda, who is Steven’s girlfriend. They were all great sports for volunteering. I would like to say thank you to all girlfriends of filmmakers because they always get pulled into the weirdest things to help us get something made.
What grabbed my eye so much when I first watched She Lies Beautiful was the distinctive cinematography. It reminded me of It Follows with those slow creeping zooms, but with a comedic edge that I wasn’t expecting. Did you set out to shoot something with a pulpy sensibility?
From the get-go I had this look I narrowed in on that I discussed with our DP, Kyle Kadow who was a wizard on the fly during the entire production. We decided that a majority of the film was to be filmed locked down with no movement, with these slow 4k zooms, giving us this kind of pulpy, older feel. We shot on the Black Magic Ursa Pro with Rokinon Xeen Primes and augmenting light whenever we could, while still maintaining that look that we were aiming for. We pulled various references throughout filming, funny enough a lot of colour and lighting came from stills of the Lord of the Rings films. I really enjoyed that aesthetic and thought it lent itself well to this story.
Given the sporadic and impulsively creative production period how did that impact the edit? Were you freer in a sense or were you inundated with footage?
I was editing the film throughout the entire time we were filming, so after each shoot I would have dailies and something cut together for the team to review. That helped us see how the narrative was coming together and give us the motivation to keep going or change something halfway through, or even reshoot something that just wasn’t working. It took two months to complete all the major filming and then another couple to capture various pick ups. We had a VO session close to picture lock that was vital to get right as it was the driver of the narrative. In the end, the edit was the thing that took an enormous amount of time to really dial in.
Now you’re in the aftermath of making this film, do you think you’ve achieved your goal of illustrating how simple and effective creating a short could be?
It was an encouraging experience to be able to put something like this together with such a small team, it was a credit to the technology that exists today and to a group of dedicated individuals. In addition, Banzai films began production halfway through this process and several films were created. Did it motivate other filmmakers to create their own movies? I’m not sure, but it did make for a fantastic story and a lot of really fun adventures over the weekends.