The Shark Lady: An Interview with Misty Talley

From Zombie Shark to Mississippi River Shark to Santa Jaws, local filmmaker Misty Talley has carved out a most specific niche in horror and camp storytelling. Her films, taking the ball from the works of The Asylum and adding a Southern touch, showcase her skill and love for craft through the teeth of the most vicious ocean dwellers imaginable.

Of course, there’s more to her love of movies than just what bites.

I chatted with Misty about her genre work, being a woman in an industry that is changing slowly, and what tales she has to share from production sets. If only she could make all the films we watch… :

Bill Arceneaux: So… why sharks?

Misty Talley: I’ve always loved monster movies. And fortunately, in the last 5 or 6 years, there has been a swell of interest in Sharksploitation films thanks to the success of the Sharknado movies. It’s a perfect genre for filmmakers to cut their teeth on. Shark films are notoriously hard to make as they combine action scenes, stunts, visual effects, mechanical effects, and shooting on the water. It’s a lot of intimidating elements for a director to juggle all in one movie, but I love a challenge. For all four films I’ve directed I’ve gone into the shoot feeling like it’s impossible, and when I wrap the shoot and I can’t believe I made it happen, it’s more rewarding than anything else.

BA: Being a regional filmmaker and editor, does the potential for political backlash from Hollywood regarding recent anti-abortion legislation in Louisiana worry you? If so, how do you plan on fighting it?

MT: I think there is a tendency for people working in film to jump on the ‘there goes our work’ bandwagon. The same sort of fear was whipped up when the cap was set on the state film incentives. It is true that as our legislators and governor were trying to decide how much if any, autonomy Louisiana women should have, they really missed an opportunity to scoop up the lost projects that other incentive states were in danger of losing by taking freedoms away from the women in their states. However, the industry has been here long enough at this point that there are now local filmmakers and production companies here who want to fight for their home and their liberties. I think both for Louisiana and Georgia it’s important not only to fight the anti-women legislation being pushed onto us but also to remind our film collaborators that being an alarmist is always counterproductive. 

BA: I once interviewed composer Holly Amber Church, who told me how she’s able to express herself freely within the horror genre. Do you feel a similar way? What is it about horror and suspense that’s attractive to you as a storyteller?

MT: I LOVE genre films, horror, exploitation and basically anything fun to watch. The audience for Sharksploitation films expects campy effects and a healthy balance of a formulaic story and kills they’ve never seen before. They are forgiving films to make because of those limited expectations, there is a lot of headroom there to play. My films tend to lean in the direction of Action Adventure sort of camp and focus a lot more on the characters than a lot of other made-for-tv shark films. With each of my features, I had a chance to play with story, express myself in a new way and make something genuinely fun to watch. I always throw a premiere screening for my films and I like to have them in places where people feel free to get rowdy, laugh and scream instead of just showing them in a theatre. My favorite screening was for my second film Ozark Sharks where we set up a giant inflatable screen on the shore of Bayou St. John and had people kayak in and picnic to watch it. And we had a remote-controlled shark fin in the water and everything. It was a blast! Having the opportunity to make fun films is my dream come true honestly. 

BA: Favorite non-shark related horror film of all time and why: Go! Favorite film production horror story: Go!

MT: I love the original Night of the Living Dead!

My personal horror story from set: It was the day before we were going to start shooting my third feature film Mississippi River Sharks and we were planning on shooting it all in this one marina. We went to set to do some planning for the next day and the entire Marina was empty. No water, only mud with boats sinking into it. Turns out there was some sort of weather phenomenon where the super moon and a recent storm hand emptied the bay. It was a once-every-hundred-year thing. So, we had to move some things around but it all worked out. But I’ll never forget the phone call I got from the Executive Producer who I texted pictures of the mud pit. He called immediately convinced I’d photoshopped them to mess with him because there was just no way.

BA: For you, what’s the difference between editing and directing? How often do the two bump heads? 

MT: There are 3 storytelling roles in film: the Writer, the Director and the Editor. They all overlap and roll into each other. The final edit of the film is the final version of the script. Starting my career as an Editor was truly essential to my abilities as a Director and the 2 roles inform each other. I was fortunate enough to have a short film accepted to the Cannes short films corner in 2015 and on my trip to France I found it so interesting that when I told foreign filmmakers that I was an Editor they all said something along the lines of “oh, so you actually make the film.” And it’s true, being an Editor you learn film language in a way that you just can’t learn working in other areas of film. On set, when I sit down at the monitor to watch a take, I always give a good ten seconds before saying ‘action’ so my brain has time to switch into editing mode and watch the shot and performances as I would in the editing room, because putting aside all the chaos and excitement of being on set, what really matters is what you capture for the edit. On the downside, it is very difficult to edit something that I direct. It’s having to remake decisions that I’ve already made on set and now have to undo or reimagine. I always warn Directors sitting down with me to edit not to watch the film and footage too much. The ability to have fresh eyes and be able to watch the movie as a viewer is the most valuable tool a director has.

BA: If you could pick one story to make into a movie, to be shot here in New Orleans, what would it be? Why?

MT: I wrote a treatment for a Werewolf film that takes place in 1920s New Orleans. I would LOVE to make that film. There just aren’t enough Werewolf movies and making a period piece would be amazing.

Bill Arceneaux has been an independent writer and film critic in the New Orleans area since 2011, working with outlets like Film Threat, DIG Baton Rouge, Crosstown Conversations, and Occupy. He is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association and is Rotten Tomatoes approved. His latest project is an independent film-centric publication focused solely on the New Orleans area. Follow him on Twitter: @billreviews

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