When a possessed pair of jeans begins to kill the staff of a trendy clothing store, it is up to Libby, an idealistic young sales clerk, to stop its bloody rampage.
Directed by Elza Kephart (Go in the Wilderness, Graveyard Alive) who co-wrote the film with Patricia Gomez Zlatar (Graveyard Alive), SLAXX stars Romane Denis (Slut in a Good Way), Brett Donahue (“Private Eyes,” “Bad Blood”), Sehar Bhojani (“The Handmaid's Tale,” “Seth and Ethnicity”), and Stephen Bogaert (American Psycho, It).
I had the great pleasure of speaking with SLAXX co-writer Patricia Gomez Zlatar about her new comedy-horror film, the unintentional spark for the idea and interweaving fast fashion, and her journey from being a scientist to embracing filmmaking as a career. Plus, Patricia shares invaluable advice for writers and directors on how to stand out to producers.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Sadie Dean: What was the seed for this story?
Patricia Gomez Zlatar: This began as a complete inside joke. I was on a road trip with Elza with another friend, and we were talking about words we hated, and slacks was one of them. And Elza I repeated it the whole road trip. We were like, "Slacks, slacks, slacks," and then that's how it became this thing. We looked at each other, we were like, “Oh my god that's a killer pair of pants.” So, that's how the initial idea started, it wasn't anything more elaborate than that. [laughs] And then through the years obviously there was more meat on the bones. We did our first draft was like the typical slasher in a high school, and let me just tell you, we wrote the script and we both were so unhappy with it, we put it aside for a while. And then I had worked at Gap for a while when I was younger, so we decided to move into a store, we started to put all these kinds of corporate elements - the evil of corporations - but it was still missing something. And so, we put it on the shelf again for a bit, and then Elza saw a documentary on fast fashion. And as soon as she saw that she called me, "This is what we need to make Slaxx work." She was right. As soon as we put the fast fashion element into the whole corporate element, it just clicked. And that script got written really fast. It was definitely a process to get from that initial kernel to the story that is actually about something.
Sadie: How many years was that process to getting to the final story that we have now?
Patricia: Oh my goodness, it's going to be embarrassing to say, Sadie, but I'll just say it - I think it took about 10 years. We would work on it for like six or eight months and then put it aside for years. And then we'd dust it off and say, “OK let's give it another try” and we do it and then we put it away for two to three years. It wasn't really a constant thing, but then as soon as we found the fast fashion element, we wrote a pretty strong draft in six months and it was almost ready to go after that.
Sadie: I wouldn't say it's embarrassing, it’s just part of that creative process. If you would have started this how you initially started out with the high school it would not be what you have today. Sometimes you can't rush the good stuff, you have to kind of let it simmer.
Patricia: I totally think you're right. I think we became more mature as well. We stopped being those obnoxious girls on car trips, repeating “slacks” twenty million times. [laughs] We're no longer those girls so I think that too, as you mature you start to think about the world in general, not just your little part of it and so I think that helped with the film as well and the script.
Sadie: Absolutely and knowing with Elza's background and her efforts with ecological issues and that definitely sings in this as well. What was your writing collaboration process like with Elza?
Patricia: We've been working a long time together, we're very good friends, and so it kind of goes with whoever has time, I know that kind of sounds crazy, but it's usually how we function. The first few drafts we would be writing together. And then, when she came up with the fast fashion element, we met, we did a storyboard, and she actually had more time than me. She actually went ahead and wrote it, and then we kind of workshopped it some more. It really depends on what we're each doing. If one is easier than the other than, the other one takes the lead and vice versa.
Sadie: Do you assign who’s going to tackle the horror elements or do you both kind of tackle that with each other?
Patricia: Well, we pretty much do it together, even though one of us might do the writing per se. We basically talk about the entire story, we figure out all the beats together, we certainly figure out all the best together - that's really like the most fun, right? We do everything together and definitely the horror element because I'm a huge horror fan, she's a huge horror fan, so it's definitely something we both want to be working on the script.
Sadie: That sounds like such a great collaboration. And taking a step back, I noticed that started out as an accountant on some very notable films. What was your road to becoming a screenwriter yourself?
Patricia: Oh man it's, it was a long, long journey. I'm going to be honest, in my 20s, I was a scientist before I thought of really going into film and I think I was always interested in film, but it was just never a serious profession in my mind, certainly not my parents so I never really pursued it as anything I could do. And then I met Elza in my early 20s and we made a low-budget film together, and I had so much fun. We co-wrote it, I produced it, she directed it. It was so much fun but it just always felt like a hobby I couldn't allow myself to actually think this could be a career so I continued to grad school, became a scientist, and then at some point I was just always thinking about writing, and that's when I said well maybe I need to do a career change and that's kind of how it started, but it wasn't something I always knew I wanted to do since I was young.
And then I made that career change of leaving science and kind of embracing filmmaking. I'm in accounting because I am good with numbers because I do have a science background [laughs] so when I need money, I know this is going to sound very unglamorous but when I need money, I jumped on the larger Hollywood film contracts, make some money and that allows me to take time off to write and to produce my indie stuff that might not be the kind of stuff that you make a lot of money from. That's kind of how I balance everything, but yeah it took me a while to finally admit to myself that I wanted to do films for a living. [laughs]
Sadie: That is definitely a journey. Because of your background as an accountant, not many writers have that opportunity to actually see line-item costs and see what a day of shooting really costs, with that said, when you're writing your scripts do you ever put budgetary constraints on yourself, or do you just focus on the story?
Patricia: When I'm in the writing process, I just think of everything as a writer, because honestly if I would have thought about how much it would cost to animate pants [laughs] I would've just told Elza, let's not do this because it sounds crazy. I try to keep the accounting and the producing part at bay until there's a really solid draft. And then that's when I put the producing accounting cap on, and then I start trying to find solutions because to be a producer, you find solutions right, to make something like this work. If I would have actually thought, how much it would cost to animate pants, it would have been very daunting, and we might have stopped before we even started. I think it's a good thing that I leave that hat off when I write.
Sadie: I'm curious, what horror films do you watch on repeat that inspired you to make horror films?
Patricia: I'm a total child of the 80s, I'm going to date myself but [laughs] I love Evil Dead, it's one of the things I can watch all the time. I can be folding laundry and re-watching Evil Dead, it makes me feel warm and fuzzy. [laughs] That was a movie that really inspired me in the sense of like here's what you can do with not a lot of money but with a lot of imagination, a fun story and it's a horror-comedy. I also like John Carpenter's The Thing, which just made such an impression on me when I was younger and I still love that movie, it's still one of the best films that I've seen. And then of course The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is also one of my favorites. Those three are the ones that are on heavy rotation at my house, I feel like I've been watching them for decades now.
Sadie: They're definitely timeless. What kind of stories are you driven to tell or do you tend to chase horror?
Patricia: I think I'm always chasing the horror. That's what I like to watch, it's what I like to consume whether it's in books or films or even kind of creepy music I like to listen to. I like the horror elements of anything really and I mean for me when I write I always try to think about what I want to say and how I can say it in a horror kind of way because to me that's always going to be the more interesting way than let's hit drama or comedy. It's just a natural thing that I have, that's just how I see the world. Horror is always going to be a part of something that I do.
Sadie: What's your writing process like knowing that you are able to take that time off between productions?
Patricia: It's great because I love the idea that I can write and I don't have to be stressed about, ‘oh my god, how am I going to pay the rent?’ or ‘how am I going to get food.' It’s nice to allow your mind not have to think about those things because you're like ‘OK, I'm good for six months I can really just dive deep for six months and not have to worry about the things and just kind of focus on stories and what I want to talk about.' The flip side is when I do work, it’s very hectic and I don't have a lot of time, so I try to make the most of my time off.
It sounds easy, sometimes it's harder than it sounds, and sometimes I'm on really long Hollywood contracts and they can eat at your soul sometimes, right? Sometimes it takes me a month just to get back to who I am, because it's just insanity in Hollywood, but at the end of the day, it's great to have a chunk of time. It’s a real luxury, so I never take it for granted, I always understand that it's a limited amount of time I have and try to make the most of it.
Sadie: With COVID, I assume that you had a slowdown in production on your end, did you find that you had more time to write or be creative?
Patricia: To be honest, I was very busy during COVID, because I was on a Hollywood project, and they got stopped, but I kept going because accounting kind of keeps going. Someone always has to be paying the bills. [laughs] Everyone can be off in LA relaxing and I'm still here in Montreal paying the bills, so I never really had time off. And then when I did have time off, I have two kids, so they're off too, and sometimes I have to homeschool with them because their schools are closed, so it's been a bit of a challenge with COVID. I kind of want things to go back to normal because that allows me more time because I feel like I've been busier than ever with COVID, but not with writing sadly. I had to really find the time to write, sometimes I'll write Friday night at 10 pm [laughs] Sometimes you just have to do it that way because your schedule doesn't allow for anything else.
Sadie: I'm glad to hear that you were able to stay busy at least workwise during these crazy times. Last question, general advice for writers who want to write horror - knowing that you're a producer as well - what are maybe elements to avoid for production costs, or does it matter?
Patricia: Well, I think, when I read scripts as a producer, meaning when I'm choosing projects just to produce where I'm not actually involved as a writer, to me, honestly the only thing I'm really looking at and it's not even like how much experience someone has, or this is their first feature, it's just, if I can feel the heart of that script, whether it's gory, whether it's more mysterious to me it's really about the vision and the drive of the director. And if that comes down in the script where I see kind of a clear vision, and I feel the heartbeat, to me it always has to be sincere. I don't like reading scripts where I can tell it's not coming from a place that's their own, that it's just kind of contrived and I think a lot of producers can kind of feel that when they read these spec scripts.
To me, it's just about really being honest with your story and putting yourself in it because a producer will read you from that script, and they will know if you are the right person to work with. As a producer it's a long-term relationship - you want to like a director, you want to have a sense of who this person is, so your script is really kind of like the first one. And so, it's really about making sure that you come out to your script, it's your story, make it a unique perspective, whether and again to me, it's not like, oh, there's too much blood here or there's not enough here, because at the end of the day that's all things that you talk about in production, there are always solutions to that. But the heart of your script has to be there and if it's not, then there's no point in producing that movie.
The only advice I can give is just put yourself in that script, have a unique perspective, show us why it's unique, show us why it's cool. And I think if you can get that across, that's what excites producers. In my humble opinion. [laughs]
Sadie: I love that advice. I've been speaking with novice writers and they always want to know, how do I stand out on the page? It always comes down to tapping into your unique voice.
Patricia: One hundred percent. Everyone has a unique voice and that's what you have to embrace. I think you're so right.
Sadie: I really love this movie, and I hope that you two are working on more projects together in the future?
Patricia: Yeah, we're always working on stuff like Slaxx and stuff that's been on the shelf for a while and we've dusted off, and then it goes back on the shelf. I think that's just our process, but yeah Elza and I, we're always up to at least three or four projects somewhere on that shelf and we're always kind of pushing towards finishing one of those scripts that are there. We just have to keep up with them.
Sadie: Hopefully it's not another 10 years. Well, Patricia, it was such a pleasure speaking with you. I look forward to more of your work and I hope that you find more time to get some writing in and it’s not on a Friday night at 10 pm.
Patricia: [laughs] Thank you so much, Sadie. It's been a real pleasure.
SLAXX will be available on VOD, Digital HD, and DVD on September 7.