Horror Schlock! An Interview with Director Sarah Stephenson (Attack of the Cat People)

An Interview with Director Sarah Stephenson, Attack of the Cat People

Taking inspiration from 1940/50s creature features, Attack of the Cat People is an entertaining tribute to black and white horror schlock; a 45-minute labour of love following a scientific expedition to an unusual meteorite with mysterious inhabitants: anthropomorphic cat-like creatures!

Director Sarah Stephenson has been kind enough to answer a few questions for Attack from Planet B regarding Attack of the Cat People, Black Cat Film Productions, and future projects!

Ken Wynne: Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions Sarah. It really is appreciated.

Sarah Stephenson: Not at all Ken. I really love Attack from Planet B.

Ken: Attack of the Cat People is clearly inspired by the Universal monster movies of the 1940/50s, like Creature from the Black Lagoon! Was it your intention, from the film’s inception, to create a homage to these original creature features?

Sarah: Yes, it was my intention to make Attack of the Cat People as a tribute film to those old movies. I have always been a big fan of these films, the filming style, and the music that accompanies them.

An Interview with Director Sarah Stephenson, Attack of the Cat People

Ken: Just like RKO Radio Pictures’ Cat People (1942), Attack of the Cat People focuses on off-screen terror as opposed to in-your-face horror; the titular cat people not appearing in their entirety until the final act. Was this intentional?

Sarah: Yes, I wanted to keep to the similar film style that excited audiences and had them begging for more. Whenever I watch an old classic monster movie, I always have that same feeling.

Ken: Did you have any ideas that were included in the original script, but didn’t make it into the final cut due to budget or time constraints?

Sarah: One of my ideas that couldn’t be used in the film was a scene having my heroes sliding down a hillside to escape the cat people. I had difficulty finding a steep slope that was safe enough for our actors to slide down. Most of the hills had small trees and sharp branches, and I didn’t want any of my actors getting hurt while sliding down. That is why I cut that scene from the script.

Also, while writing the first draft of the script, I wanted to add a love triangle between Captain John Baker (Peter O’Hanlon), Diana Lawrence (Jessica Ham), and Janet Reeds (Emma Critchell) but I couldn’t fit it in the story. So I focused on what worked for the script.

An Interview with Director Sarah Stephenson, Attack of the Cat People

Ken: What other challenges did you face during production? I imagine the COVID-19 pandemic must have had some impact? An roughly how long did it take to complete Attack of the Cat People; from conception to its Australian premiere?

Sarah: We didn’t have many problems during filming. We were, however, at the mercy of the weather. Rain almost stopped our filming on our first-weekend shoot. In total it took about 3 years. Filming was completed in 2019 but there were significant delays during post-production due to the COVID-19 pandemic hampering audio and music arrangements. The pandemic did slow down the post-edit schedule quite a bit. I finally got it all together in 2021 and was able to premiere Attack of the Cat People in November 2021.

Ken: Attack of the Cat People is your second horror project for Black Cat Film Productions, after Mia Morris’ Diary; a modern adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Is Attack of the Cat People a reflection of everything you had learnt during that experience?

Sarah: Every project brings its own learning experience. I do value and learn a lot from watching films made by other independent filmmakers, such as Joshua Kennedy and Christopher Miller. They also make tribute movies and sometimes film in black and white to retain that old feeling. Watching older films certainly inspires me as I enjoy that old filming style.

An Interview with Director Sarah Stephenson, Attack of the Cat People

Ken: Could we see a sequel to Attack of the Cat People in the future? You definitely have the momentum!

Sarah: Not at present but maybe sometime in the future I’ll revisit the cat people… I have some other projects to work on first, including a sequel to The Lockdown, called The Lockdown: Aftermath.

The Lockdown was a documentary about filmmakers and actors coping during the COVID-19 pandemic. This was completed in April 2021, so I thought I’d develop a sequel to the documentary about how the filmmakers and actors are doing in the aftermath.

Ken: And you are also working on the recently announced web-series Prom Queen. What can we expect from Black Cat Film Productions’ latest project?

Sarah: Unlike my previous web series, Mia Morris’ Diary, where it focused on one framing filming style, Prom Queen will more of a contemporizing cinematography style. I also intend to use vibrant colors and lighting to enhance the feeling and atmosphere of scenes. Similar to the color styles used by Dario Argento in Suspiria (1977)! Lately, I’ve seen other movies and TV series using this type of color style and I feel it would be great to have a go at it as well.

An Interview with Director Sarah Stephenson, Attack of the Cat People

My influences for Prom Queen come from the old slashers such as Halloween, Friday the 13th, Prom Night, Black Christmas, Scream, and I Know What You Did Last Summer. I’m also influenced by Alfred Hitchcock’s filming style, by keeping the story suspenseful and keeping the audience guessing.

Ken: What other classic horror and sci-fi movies have had the most influence on you as a filmmaker?

Sarah: I have a huge collection of old movies. They have all had an influence on me, but the ones that stand out are King Dinosaur (1955), The Deadly Mantis (1957) and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).

I love their simple storylines that can stir the imagination. The basic filming and acting style draw you in and, in some cases, make you believe that the stories are true.

Ken: Thanks again Sarah! I look forward to your next project: Prom Queen!

Sarah: Thank you for taking the time to interview me. I hope you like my new mini web-series.

Ken Wynne

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