Women in Horror Spotlight on Dayna Noffke: Interviews With the New Wave of Influential Female Filmmakers You Need to Know Now
I have known Dayna Noffke for several years. She is one of the hardest working female horror directors I know, putting out one short after another. She is one to watch, trust me.
Recently, she gave me a sneak peek at her new short “Teaser,” and I was blown away. It is very short, but it makes a huge impact. Dayna just started submitting the film to festivals, so it may be a while before audiences get to see it, but be on the lookout for it.
In honor of the Women in Horror Month, I had to talk to Dayna Noffke about “Teaser” and her impressive body of work.
INTERVIEW WITH FILMMAKER DAYNA NOFFKE
Lou Simon: Thanks so much for giving me a sneak peek at your new short “Teaser.” It was absolutely breathtaking and so clever! Tell us what it is about and what you were trying to accomplish with it.
Dayna Noffke: Teaser is quite different from anything I’ve done before, both aesthetically and in terms of what my goals were in making it. I’d had this idea of doing something with an intersection of burlesque and horror for quite some time but no framework for it.
Teaser is a lovely little slice of period horror. Deep beneath the city lies a burlesque club that caters to a very select audience, who pay dearly to see Ms. Monster’s dance. It may or may not be the last thing they see.
After making so many short films, I decided last year that it was time to commit to directing. My husband said, “If you want to be a director, then be a director.” So I cut way back on taking “day jobs” working as a TV/film set dec buyer.
I set directing goals for myself and the first one was to create a very unique, short, high-impact short film that I would be proud to have as my calling card. Something that was very weird and very… me. So… retro, lush, weird, loud, bloody! All the things!
I worked backwards from what and who I am inspired by in my daily life. I have amazing, creative friends. I immediately thought of our burlesque dancer, Lola, who is a superstar through and through. As the story grew around her, I realized that I could pull in my dear friends and sideshow performers, Captain and Maybelle and true renaissance man Jim Stacy as our emcee.
I had the most amazing crew – we had a wonderful time with this film.
LS: You have an impressive collection of shorts. Is it ten total? Is there something that they have in common? What inspired them?
DN: I made my first film in 2008 with the help of Andrew Shearer of Gonzoriffic. It was really on a whim. I thought… I will make one film and be so thrilled to have checked that off my bucket list. It was a great little low key fifties style safety film about keeping safe from communist zombies, called “Safety FIRST.” But once I directed, that was it. I wanted to be on set as often as I could.
For my next few films after that, it was just about running around with friends and doing something creative but before long I realized that I wanted to make this a lifelong thing and perhaps even a career. I’ve learned something from every film I’ve made and they all have a special place in my heart. I love that I spent so long showing off my friends in those first “little films” because they are all superstars.
My films are, in order:
- Safety FIRST
- The Living End (part of the Cemetery Tales anthology)
- Under the Bed
- Sanguino (Blood Drive PSA for Women in Horror Month, 2018)
- I am also in pre-production for the short film, Shark.
Interestingly, there isn’t a lot of aesthetic through-line in my films. I’m attracted to so many different styles of film that I think of each project as its own world and make stylistic choices that fit into it.
There is, however, a thematic cohesiveness in that my films tend to be about relationships – friendships, family dynamics, love, hate – it’s all there. Characters often pop into my mind before the story rather than the other way around. I love to make films that mix the absurd and the beautiful with the horrific. It’s just like life, really.
LS: At what age were you first drawn to horror and was there something specific you watched or read that inspired it?
DN: I was exposed to horror the good old fashioned way – by staying up late on our own (my brother Ryan and I) and watching movies on HBO. The first horror film I remember seeing was Silent Scream and, although it isn’t one of my favorites, something about it definitely stuck with me.
I can distinctly remember watching the trailer for the film Magic with Anthony Hopkins when I was maybe 7 or 8. I was allowed to stay up late to watch Saturday Night Live, which was a super big deal for me. That ad would come on with the ventriloquist dummy saying, “IT’S MAAAAAAGIC.” I would scream and run and jump behind the big console TV and then peek my head around to see it again. I just couldn’t turn away.
That’s the same feeling I get from haunted houses now and much more rarely, from films. I spent a lot of time at the video store as a teenager and young adult, running through the horror shelves. The attraction to horror, for me, is largely about watching people fight and survive. It’s such a subversive and inclusive genre and the hero is often someone who you wouldn’t see in these strong roles in other genres. I love final girls!
LS: The odds seem to be stacked against women filmmakers. You have an established career working in the art department in various films and television series. What drives you to try to defy the odds and continue making films, despite the additional stress that comes with that choice?
DN: This is a question that I ponder far too often. I started directing short films before I got into the film industry. I wasn’t thinking of directing as a career at that time but once I was into set dec for a while, it became apparent that although I was very happy for the opportunities and to get to be on set, I wouldn’t be satisfied with it in the long run. I needed to be directing.
I encountered very blatant sexism going into set decoration. I have had a lead man say directly to me, “I don’t hire girls.” When I was hustling for jobs all the time, other set dresser friends would tell me not to bother contacting so-and-so because he wouldn’t hire me/any other woman. I ended up routing into buying partly because people are open to women set dec buyers. Interestingly, it’s every bit as physical and challenging as being a set dresser, and you are almost always on your own doing it! Yet, buying is “closer” to decorating, which is perceived as being ok for either sex.
So it’s all about perception — and perceptions are slow to change.
At this point it’s just full steam ahead. I’ve come this far and five years ago, I’d have killed to be where I am now. I try hard to remember that when I’m frustrated. It’s a mountain and I just keep climbing, each day a little higher up than the day before. It heartens me to see so many successes among my female filmmaker friends and I do hope that we are turning a corner.
I can’t imagine doing anything else. There is no better feeling for me than being on set. Everything else goes away. I don’t think I could put myself through this if I didn’t love it so much.
LS: What do you think needs to happen for women to get the respect they deserve as filmmakers?
DN: I believe it’s happening. A lot of us have heard that Steve Martin quote that it’s not about connections, you just have to be so good that they can’t ignore you. I subscribe to the last half of that but not the first, because it’s about visibility! If they can’t see your work, they can’t fall in love with it. We are seeing more women’s work now, and people are actively seeking out female filmmakers and that is going to carry us part of the way.
But the thread runs through all parts of the indie and studio systems — from finding a mentor and access to funding, through getting on the radar for for-hire jobs, to distribution and on down the line. At each step of the process, there are people making decisions about your work, and things can get stalled.
Changing perceptions is what it is about. I wish I had the answer. I support indie and female filmmakers with my wallet and my voice. I keep creating quality content and banging on doors. If we all continue to do that, hopefully things will continue to move forward.
LS: What’s next for Dayna Noffke?
DN: I had a short film script optioned and have been hired to direct the project in April. I am super excited for this one! It’s called Shark: A Love Story and it’s got a very over-the-top fun comic vibe to it. Think Raimi and Creepshow. I can’t share too much about it but… there is a shark… and his name is Bruce.
I am in development for a feature film, Eidolon, that I am planning on shooting this year or early next. It’s a modern re-imagining of a Victorian short horror story, a really lovely taut psychological and supernatural piece. I am always working on new screenplays — who knows where they might end up?
LS: Where can the readers find you and your work?
DN: Thanks for asking! You can see the trailer for our short film, Teaser, along with some of our other content here. I am all over social media, and I love to talk movies. You can find me at:
I post all my screenings info and news at those sources.