Producer Emma Cooke and Director Morgan Saelens bring their talents together in the Canadian film “There are Bees in the House, ” an intense psychological thriller that tackles heavy subjects like trauma and mental health.
Both Cooke and Saelens were committed to create something that would resonate with a larger audience and touch on a topic that’s sometimes ignored. “We chose to focus our story on women and the intergenerational trauma between them because this is an area that is often overshadowed, and we felt it was incredibly important to put these particular, relevant struggles under a spotlight,” Cooke says.
Written by Erin Wood, the film is packed with a small but talented cast. It’s a film that makes us question those we trust the most. “I think that is the scariest part I think for me and for Asa’s character – knowing that you’re unsafe in your own home and that the one person meant to protect and care for you is helping to perpetrate the harm,” Saelens says.
Cooke and Saelens elaborate on the experience of making the film and the motivation behind creating the project.
“There are Bees in the House ” is a great psychological thriller, the symbolism of trauma and mental health is prevalent, what inspired you to focus on this theme?
Emma (Producer): These themes are very important to us as a crew, and we wanted to create something that really resonated with a larger audience. The discussion and openness around mental health has become more accepted in the past few years, and we felt this would be a good time to create a project that ties so closely into those themes. We chose to focus our story on women and the intergenerational trauma between them because this is an area that is often overshadowed, and we felt it was incredibly important to put these particular, relevant struggles under a spotlight. We wanted to take a slightly different angle to the story, so by packaging it up in a psychological thriller we thought it would be intriguing and exciting for audiences to watch.
With such a heavy subject matter, what was the atmosphere on set like?
Emma (Producer): Our cast and crew worked very closely together, and I think that comfort between everyone helped in moments where it might have been a little heavier on set. It’s important to create that safe space so everyone is respectful towards the cast when we’re filming tough scenes. Rather than attempting to lighten the mood immediately, I believe it helped tremendously by having a very supportive and close team, because we were able to push through, focus on the film and the next step, while also acknowledging the subject matter. It was also just a really great group of people to work with, so it felt very natural to go “back to normal”, laughing and working, without taking away from the themes of the film.
How did you and Erin Wood come up with this concept, were there any improvisations or changes to make this concept come to life on screen?
Emma (Producer): The original concept had come from a very visual space. Right from early drafts of the project it was very easy to visualize the bee motif, along with the buzzing sounds we really wanted to focus on. The changes came forward as we were working more on the subject matter, and figuring out away to weave the themes into the story without being distracting or disjointed.
Morgan (Director): Our brilliant writer, Erin, initially pitched the concept to us around this idea of a mother/daughter relationship strained by a sinister secret the mother keeps in the house. We work shopped the material quite a bit to decide how far we were going to lean into either a horror or thriller genre and whether it would be supernatural, paranormal etc. The more and more we talked about whatever the antagonistic force would be, the more we realized it should be rooted in something terrifyingly human. At the time, I was thinking a lot about the women in my life who are eldest or only daughters and how so often just by occupying that identity that you become the vessel or keeper for inherited family trauma. While the bee infestation in the film is incredibly unsettling, their survival and occupation is contingent on these women allowing it to continue. I think that is the scariest part I think for me and for Asa’s character – knowing that you’re unsafe in your own home and that the one person meant to protect and care for you is helping to perpetrate the harm.
What are your thoughts on the film festival circuit and is there any advice to emerging filmmakers trying to get exposure?
Emma (Producer): My approach to the film festival circuit has been all about balance. We are lucky in the sense that we have resources available to us to continue the festival circuit for as long as we have, and that’s a huge advantage. I think having a balanced approach is the best way to start, especially because it can be overwhelming with all the options out there. There’s a festival somewhere for everybody-particular themes, genres, crew specifics, etc- so really honing in on the specific festivals is great, while also not being afraid to throw your hat into the ring for some bigger festivals. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to take risks, but I’ve tried to keep things balanced and I tried to spread out the resources we had across a wide spectrum of festivals, and really capitalize on all the options out there.
Is there a difference in the film scene in Canada than in the U.S, creatively and the business side of it as well?
Emma (Producer): I don’t have as much experience with the American side of the business stuff, but I would say that they are very similar, and we all operate for the most part the same way. The only difference I’ve really noticed or potentially been affected by is that sometimes folks don’t seem to realize that the business is so huge in Canada- a lot of people assume that the States are the only major player in the industry. That being said, I’ve had a really lovely time in LA for work and have met some really awesome people who are very receptive to the work we’re doing up North, so I don’t have much to complain about.
Are there any emerging filmmakers, (writers, actors) that are established or emerging that inspire or you feel the need for them to have more recognition?
Emma (Producer): I’ve recently been reading more about Emma Seligman, who is a young director and screenwriter from Canada, and her recent film Bottoms has been really blowing up right now. I thought it was such a spectacular, hilariously absurd film perfect for right now, so I’d love to follow her more and see more of what she gets up to in the future. And then selfishly, I know a ton of super cool, talented people here in Vancouver that I love to work with, but there is genuinely too many people to name, so I would say to just keep an eye out on indie short film productions in Vancouver and I’m sure some of these names will come up!
What was the casting process like and how did you manage to cast such great talent?
Emma (Producer): We actually had a really positive experience with casting, everything just fell perfectly into place like a puzzle. We lucked out with a smaller cast, but when we first saw Leuna Sherif, who plays our lead in the film, my director and I instantly knew that we wanted her to play Asa. And then after that we had really solid tapes for the other roles, and great talent that also wanted to work with us, so it all came together quickly. I attribute all that to Erin’s script though because it was so strong that we got passionate people involved who wanted to help us tell the story.
Morgan (Director): We got so very lucky with our casting and I can’t express my appreciation enough.
Working with a student budget and schedule is no easy feat and I am always amazed by the talented actors that are out here and are willing to work on student films. We definitely had our work cut out for us having to cast 3 generations of related women as well as our lead’s younger self. We knew that we were going to have to find our Asa before anyone else and Leuna was one of our last self tapes and she really blew me away and was just so heartbreakingly believable in the role. Then began the harder part which was reaching out across casting platforms to find her family. When we finally saw Mona Hassanien’s self tape as Ramona I almost didn’t consider it because Mona was just so lovely and seemed too young to be Asa’s mom.
But her acting in the self-tape was so chilling that both my producer and I nearly crawled out of our chairs. She just nailed it and we knew we would just have to work with hair and makeup to age her up. We were also working during Covid restrictions and so all of our casting had to be done remotely. After we cast Henri and Davinder in their roles we just had to hope at the first table read that it would all come together and that scene partners would have enough chemistry, which thankfully they did. Mela as younger Asa was the most nerve wracking for me because we didn’t find her until just a few days before filming and so I didn’t get to work with her at all during pre-production. She really deserves her flowers because she was just an absolute little rockstar and nailed her lines and blocking every single take!
Are there any projects you have you are currently working on or have lined up for the future we should anticipate?
Emma (Producer): I feel that, especially with indie short films, which is predominantly my focus right now, there’s always a lot going on. Ideas being thrown around, scripts being workshopped, all sorts of different productions looking for crew- there’s always lots happening, which is great! A big focus of mine right now is a short horror called “Devil By My Side” that I’m line producing with some really good friends. This story also focuses on women and the struggles we go through, and it centers on another mother-daughter relationship that really gets dissected. We’re currently in pre-production, so all the exciting stuff is still to come! It’ll be awesome to see it flourish and grow, and hopefully garner a big following of people who want to see it!