We chat with actress/producer/writer/director Kristi Ray about her new film The Waka, her production company, and what’s next for the rising star.
Kristi Ray may be a professionally trained method actress, but she is by all means a free spirit, confidently in tune with her inner voice and vision. Kristi has been acting and making films since 2010, but it was 2014’s award winning Pieces of Talent that really got her noticed in the horror community. Her wrenching and heartfelt performance as Charlotte in that film made her an actress to watch and her career has been blossoming ever since.
From co-founding Honey Head Films with partner Erika Edwards, starting production on a new feature film called The WAKA, and starring opposite horror favorite Felissa Rose in the upcoming A Nun’s Curse, Kristi is embracing her unique and sincere creativity. And as film lovers and horror fans, it’ll be exciting to watch all of these projects unfold.
With so much going on, Morbidly Beautiful took the opportunity to talk to Kristi about everything she is involved with, and she graciously shared all the details with us.
INTERVIEW WITH KRISTI RAY
You’ve announced recently that you are soon starting pre-production on a new film called The WAKA. What can you tell us about the story?
Yes! This is a story I am deeply connected to on a personal level. It’s a mysterious cosmic suspense drama set in the 70s. The film follows a group of free-spirited academics as they retreat to the Appalachian Wilderness to heal after the bloodshed on their college campus during the 1972 anti-war protests at Dinkytown. The WAKA — which means “spirit” in Cherokee — weaves together historical fiction and Native American lore with an age-old, mysterious phenomenon haunting the valley beneath them.
I conceptualized and co-wrote the screenplay with my partner Erika Edwards who will direct the film. I’m thrilled to bring to life the role of Giga, one of the two female leads. She has a lot of my personal thoughts about the world woven into her dialogue, much like the way Pieces of Talent subtly jabbed at the corruption in the film industry. We are thrilled to use this platform to share a visual story that is suspenseful, yet beautiful at the same time.
The tagline on the teaser poster reads, “Where does your spirit wander?” That’s intriguing to say the least. How did the idea for the film come to you?
I’ve spent a lot of time in the Appalachian Mountains. It’s a magical place full of ancient history, spirits and mystery. The film started as a visual montage in my head with bits of plot points I pulled from real life experiences.
I have been so blessed by the support of the horror community throughout my career; when we began producing our own films as Honey Head and developing autonomy over these stories and characters, I wanted to expand into and from that genre in a way that stretched the archetypes and plot lines but still gave back to the dedicated horror fans that have been unconditionally encouraging.
We actually applied for a huge grant last Spring to get the film funded. Turns out our plot wasn’t gory enough, which ended up being a blessing in disguise. I think Erika and I were trying to fit the generic mold of a “horror film” and in turn weren’t listening to our true voice. Once we dropped the standards of the industry and decided to make the movie we felt in our bones, the dialogue melted out of our mouth and the emotion bled onto the page in the most honest way.
I am here to encourage filmmakers and creatives to stay true to themselves. No one ever did anything exciting by trying to fit in.
Tell us about the mission of Honey Head Films and how you became involved with that.
It’s kind of a whirlwind to say the least, and not something I ever necessarily envisioned for my life or career. But it has been one of the most exciting and engaging surprises to date. Honey Head Films was “established” in December of 2016. I met my co-producer through a Craigslist casting call — — and saying this to you makes me realize how much I owe my success to that website! I must be the luckiest actress in the world to have found both David Long and Erika Edwards up there. Life changing stuff, for sure.
Erika is a multifaceted filmmaker with an incredible eye and gift for writing. She also happens to be 5’3 and blonde with a big smile and entrepreneurial attitude. We teamed up with another fiercely optimistic, fair-haired woman and wrote, directed, produced and edited a movie. Then another. Then another. I kept acting in them, and Erika kept shooting them, and the work kept coming pretty effortlessly. We decided we needed a name, and Honey Head seemed fitting. It stuck, and so did our counter-culture attitude of inclusion, positivity, collaboration in a time where the independent film industry in North Carolina needed it most.
Over the past year and a half we have managed to create 9 incredible short films with hundreds of talented folks, a feature length documentary, several music videos and now…The WAKA. We are excited to have the support of the community around us and are equally passionate about giving back to that cause.
In your opinion as a writer, what makes for a good story? What writers, storytellers, and/or filmmakers have influenced you the most?
There are so many factors that go into this! Let’s start with my opinion as an actress. I think I have an upper hand here spending so many years reading scripts and finding truth in the words of other writers. For me, naturalistic dialogue and clever exposition are game changers. They are what get me initially enthusiastic about acting in a film, or make me want to continue watching.
I’m a programmer for the Cucalorus Film Festival held in Wilmington, NC, and I watch a lot of independent movies that both fall short of these things and some that really succeed. You can have an amazing plot and A-list cast, but if your characters are generic and two-dimensional I won’t believe a single word, and I’ll probably feel sorry for your actors. It’s really difficult to bring to life a flat character believably.
I love stories that let you live with the very interesting characters. If you can make me loath or love someone within the first few moment, you have something special.
There’s a soft place in my heart for oral history. I romanticize tiny memories and anecdotes that grandparents or friendly strangers share. I’m always taking mental notes about the way memory works, the way the words spill out of our brains and the speech patterns of people who are actually recalling a story. Bringing that to life in film is such a fun challenge.
I have to say I’ve been influenced and inspired the most by Brit Marling (Another Earth, Sound of my Voice, The OA). She began as a young blonde actress in Hollywood but quickly realized she “wanted to be able to cast herself in roles that wouldn’t require her to play the typical parts offered to young actresses, the perfunctory girlfriend or a crime victim.” This woman is a kindred spirit to me. She rose to prominence after producing several films that premiered at Sundance, which she also co-wrote and starred in.
Watching the evolution of her career gives me hope for the kind of daring career choices we are making with Honey Head, breaking the industry mold and striving for originality.
As a creator, does your work help make sense of the world for you? If so, what project or creative moment had the most impact on you as a person so far and why?
Such a great question. I’ve been really fortunate as a creative person, specifically an actress to have had cathartic experiences in pretty much every film I’ve acted in. The WAKA especially does this for me. Like I said before, this film has some heavy personal feelings about humanity, war, nature and death woven into the conversations of our characters. It’s also set in the 1970s, a time I feel nostalgic for even if I was born in the 90s.
I think there is a lot to learn from our past, and being able to explore that through creative storytelling is such a fulfilling career. I always say as artists we’re the luckiest people in the world, we get to make stuff up for our job. And those made up things — a painting, a chord progression, a chapter in a book, a character — they change the way people think and feel.
Name a few movies you think everyone should see.
Another Earth starring Brit Marling is my favorite film. It’s a beautiful think piece that flirts with the sci-fi genre. Captain Fantastic is, well…fantastic. Incredible cast, gorgeous cinematography, just an all around phenomenal plot. Automatic at Sea is an experimental film I can’t get over. I saw it last year and haven’t stopped thinking about it since. I believe it’s available on Amazon now. The short film Mouse by Celine Held for the pure absurdity of it and it’s incredible acting. This movie pulls you in and spits you out in 8 or 9 short minutes.
Horror fans: The Invitation! I saw this female directed thriller at a film festival a few years ago and met the actress who played the antagonist at an after party….I was too scared to look her in the eye. Lindsay Burdge is that good. Seek this out.
Lastly, what are some of your other projects, completed or upcoming, that you’d like to share?
I have some exciting news I haven’t announced yet! Writer/director Tommy Faircloth (Dollface, Family Posessions) has recently cast both of the Honey Heads as leading ladies in his new horror feature A Nun’s Curse, which stars Felissa Rose as the antagonist as well as Damien Maffei whom I had the honor of sharing the screen with in the 2016 werewolf flick from Bonfire Films, White Drift.
Tommy approached Erika Edwards and myself about playing sisters in his new movie after watching us perform in our 2017 short Lorelei, a gritty southern drama where our characters navigate their estranged familial ties. We are so excited to be acting together in this Horse Creek Production that shoots in October!
I’m also wrapping up another horror feature called Epiphany Road in July. It’s an incredibly involved picture that honestly is still a mystery to me. There are three plot lines woven into one screenplay, and the writer/director Kevin Richmond only released the scenes each actor was working on.
It has fascinated me in the way that real life does, where we are all living in our own universes and experiencing our own existences until we collide with each other — in this film the collision happens on Epiphany Road. I play a young stubborn bounty hunter with true grit named Gracie who works with her hard-ass mother in the hills of Catawba County, NC chasing rednecks around the woods. The first two pages of the script had me hooked. These characters are compelling to say the least.
Other than that, folks can keep their eyes peeled in the festival circuit for a handful of Honey Head short films this year (Lorelei, Somnium, Interitum) which I’m honored to be acting in as well as producing.
We thank Kristi Ray for taking the time to do this interview! Keep in touch with Kristi and Honey Head Films at the following links: