Amanda Rebholz took some time out of her crazy busy schedule to answer some questions and let us know a little bit about her. Just to give you an idea of the amount of responsibility she carried on Sacrament, she is billed under Actress, Miscellaneous Crew, Camera & Electrical Department, Costume Department, Producer and Writer. What can’t Amanda do?
1.You were a published author at the age of fourteen; what kind of writing do you prefer to do? Short stories, articles, screenplays….
When I was a little kid I would churn out stories at a ridiculous pace… I filled notebooks with stories and poems and little one-page things. My grandma eventually bought me an electric typewriter and taught me how to type so that I could be more productive. It kind of progressed from short stories to articles for my middle-school newspaper, and by the time I was fourteen I was doing reviews of CDs and movies. The local newspaper had a contest to bring in young writers and I was chosen; what started as a few articles for them became a regular column. I wound up being the youngest writer on the syndicated New York Times news wire when I was a teenager, and I started writing for a few magazines and doing live concert reviews. Because of this, I met with a lot of musicians and celebrities who were coming through Dallas and Austin. My mom and grandma were so supportive and would drive me to these events out of town so that I could interview the people and write these pieces. In college I started writing slam poetry and spoken word pieces and performing them at open mic nights on campus… I won a few contests that way and had a couple of pieces published. These days I am writing screenplays, but I still keep a regular blog, write freelance articles for different newspapers and magazines, and write short stories and poetry whenever the mood strikes me. My biggest regret is that I’m not as prolific now as I was when I was a kid. Back then I’d write so much and never stop to go “Wait, there’s a plot hole there” or “this has been done before”, I was just focused on getting the word out on the page. Now I’m in my own head a lot and it inhibits my writing. If I’m doing a screenplay I have to think “What kind of budget would we need to pull that off?”, things like that, and it really changes the final product.
2.You have quite a few job titles on Sacrament; how did all of this responsibility land on you?
Shawn Ewert’s been one of my absolute best friends for years now, and he’s always been a writer and an artist. We’d talked about collaborating before and I actually shot stills and helped him on an unreleased short film he did called “The Sleepover”. Even when he was doing that project, he had the idea for “Sacrament” but he’d gotten stuck on the script. He showed me what he had and we started brainstorming. I was able to help him get through some of the roadblocks, but most of the leg work was his. After the script was written and polished up a little, I volunteered to put up some of the funding to make it happen. Shawn’s got a great work ethic and he’s someone I really believe in. He’s a very stubborn, driven guy and he’s very intelligent. I think because he’s quiet and he doesn’t go around shouting from the rooftops about his ambitions, people underestimate him, but Shawn knows what he wants when he’s working on something and he tries to put people around himself who will help him realize that goal. I’ve done a little bit of everything for different productions, so I was happy to lend my experience to him in any way that helped. I didn’t really mean to get the part of Lorri (which is named after my late mother, who Shawn was very close to as well), by the way. Another girl auditioned and I thought she was actually very good, and I knew how much behind-the-scenes responsibility I’d taken on with this project. It was going to take up the entire summer. Being in front of the camera and behind the camera at the same time was bizarre and stressful and crazy, and sometimes I think it made me a little too close to the project. At the end of the day everyone else got to go home and work on other things and I was still knee-deep in this movie. But that was also really awesome because I got to see it develop from embryo to toddler, so to speak, and I was a part of every side of it. Shawn was really great about listening to my input and so it was really fun for me to take on so many parts. I think that’s the whole spirit of indie film like this anyway. If you’re making a movie on this kind of budget everyone HAS to chip in and roll up their sleeves. No one’s entitled to anything, most of us haven’t even come close to paying our dues to have any sense of being ‘better’ than anyone else. If something needs done, people just have to pitch in and get it done at the end of the day. It was a huge communal effort to make “Sacrament” and I was honored to be a part of it in so many ways.
3.Would you be interested in having this many hats to wear on another project?
I think I would, but hindsight is 20/20. Of course when you put a film to bed you’re able to look back and see the things you might’ve done differently, the oversights you made, things like that. I’m very critical of myself and my mistakes and I always strive to be the best I can, so I always go “Ah! I should’ve known that would happen!” after something goes wrong. But you can’t play the ‘could’ve would’ve should’ve’ game, you just have to focus on making your next project even more awesome. I’m working on a film right now in LA and I started out as the director’s assistant but I wound up polishing script pages, rewriting some pretty crucial scenes, taking on-set stills, collaborating with the special effects artists, going to production meetings, getting to be involved with editing decisions and reshoots, and working on the publicity and marketing for the final product. If I’m really passionate about something, it’s really hard for me not to dive in with both feet and really devote myself to the project.
4.Do you have a favorite area of the horror genre?
The ones that really disturb me aren’t the gory ones, although they’re certainly cringe-worthy. The thing I absolutely cannot handle in a movie is when someone has a really messed-up leg injury, like if there’s bone showing or they get their tendon or hamstring cut or something else horrific like that. I will squeal and cover my face or leave the room or something if that happens, it literally nauseates me. But that’s not a ‘scare’ moment. My favorite horror movie ever is ‘Jaws’ and people always argue that that isn’t a horror film. It’s not traditionally horror, it’s more drama than anything I guess, but it always freaked me out and I think it was never about the shark for me, it was about the relationship between the three main men and the sea and the unknown and this primeval beast that they’re up against. I love psychological horror like ‘The Strangers’ and ‘You’re Next’, too. Home invasion stuff really bugs me when it’s done well because your home is supposed to be the safest place in the world, it’s the first place you want to go when shit hits the fan. So if your home becomes the danger zone then where do you go? Plus I live alone in a studio apartment and I’m usually coming home very late at night to an empty, dark place… so I’m always pretty convinced that someone in a scary mask is probably hiding behind my shower curtain. I usually search my apartment right after I go in to make sure that isn’t the case.
5.How did you get into acting and working on films?
I just happened to make a lot of friends who do this for a living. I’ve been a horror fan since I was a very little kid; I remember watching horror movies on my grandpa’s lap when I was a toddler. There are pictures of me dressed like witches and goblins and demons from the time I was like two years old. My mom was a big horror fan and we’d rent all of the classic slasher movies on VHS on Saturday nights and watch them in our apartment. We weren’t too far apart in age, she was only 21 when she had me, so we had an insanely tight relationship and she would expose me to a lot of things I probably shouldn’t have known about. Like buying me a Chucky toy when I was four. But because of that, when I was older I heard about this convention in Dallas called Texas Frightmare Weekend, which is absolutely huge now but back then it was really small and intimate and homey. My first year going was in 2008 and I met a lot of amazing people who were not only into horror films but were actually making them. I fell in with those heathens— Shawn and his husband Jeff were among the first people I met. Two of my closest friends, Brandy and Burt, were producing a horror movie called “Possum Walk” and they needed someone to do some ADR and line dubbing for one of the actresses. I don’t even know how they thought of me but they did, and surprise surprise, I was actually pretty good at voice acting. I came in and did the ADR for that part and after that, I stayed involved. I wrote a short film called “Closure” which we shot, but it’s never come out because it’s kind of been stuck in post-production limbo for more than three years now. Still, it was my first exercise in writing and producing something myself, and I made a lot of great contacts. At Texas Frightmare Weekend I had met this amazing director and FX artist out of LA named Robert Hall, he’d done this great indie film called ‘Lightning Bug’ and had just finished this badass horror film, ‘Laid to Rest’. We became friends and stayed in touch, and I visited him when I was out in California, stuff like that. In October 2013 he called me to ask if I wanted to come work for him on this upcoming feature film, ‘Fear Clinic’, which is starring Robert Englund and Fiona Dourif and all of these other amazing talents. Of course I did, I dropped everything and moved out here. I got to participate in all of the pre-production stuff and went to set in Ohio for a month while we shot the movie, and I’ve been working closely with Rob every step of post-production. I also became very close friends with one of the actors, Thomas, who is also a director and writer. I’ve been really lucky in that all of my friends are creative and they encourage me to pursue my own aspirations. I’m friends with a terrific pack of artistic weirdos and it’s the best possible scenario because they don’t know the meaning of the word ‘impossible’.
6.What was your favorite moment or experience working on Sacrament?
I got really tight with some of the cast, and honestly those are the best moments. You really do become a family on a set, you guys are all in the trenches together, sometimes in weird or uncomfortable situations, working long days without a lot of luxuries, things like that. You either fight like cats and dogs or you become really good friends. Luckily I really loved the cast and crew that Shawn put together. We had so many inside jokes and stupid fun adventures. One of my favorite things was with my co-star Brittany, we were in a car with Troy and Avery and we had to drive past the crew for a shot. We decided to go really slow with all of the windows down, blaring rap music and thugging out on them like gangsters. It was hilarious. Or the time that Troy tried to teach me to twerk.. or when we were filming in this huge bed and breakfast and they gave us permission to have a pool party after hours. We wrapped and then everybody went and got in the pool and it turned into such a ridiculous evening. We were a really tight-knit group and it was so much fun.
7.Are you interested in branching out into any other genres (i.e.) comedy or drama?
I am always interested in branching out. I love horror movies to the core of my being, but most of my favorite movies are dramas, character studies, things with a lot of dialogue and development. Most of what I write is only horror on a very basic level, it’s more about unusual situations and how people react to them. I’d love to do some drama. Comedy is hard, much harder than horror. If a horror movie sucks but has good gore, people will still love it and support it, it’ll find an audience. If comedy isn’t funny, there’s no saving it.
8.Did you have any particularly difficult or grueling experiences working on Sacrament?
I’ll tell you who the unsung heroes are on a film set, and it’s the special FX artists. Especially on an indie film with a very low budget, where the artists are working in really grueling conditions under crazy time constraints, trying to make magic happen. There was one night when we were shooting out in the woods and our head makeup artist Matt Ash was using the bed of a pickup truck as a workstation. People were holding up their cell phones for light as he tried to apply a tubing rig and use an air compressor and everything else… the generator was overheating, we hadn’t tested the gag yet in daylight because there hadn’t been time… one of our actors ended up completely naked in the field trying to hose himself off from sticky fake blood using an old t-shirt and bottled water because we were a little unprepared for the way the gag was going to go off. Scenes like that require very precise pre-planning and you don’t have that luxury when you’re working on a tight budget and deadlines. It’s really inspiring watching people just dive in and grit their teeth and figure out how to fix something in a situation like that. You can either stand there and complain or you can solve the problem and make it work, and every single time Matt did the latter. The hardest part for me about that was having to stand by not knowing how to help because I don’t know anything about effects. My own personal hardest moment was probably a tie between a scene I had to film in a barn and a dialogue scene with Brittany. The scene in the barn was incredibly hot, it was the middle of summer in an abandoned barn in Texas, and I was soaked in sweat. Hay and dust were sticking to me, I was in a wig and full makeup, and I had to lay down in the straw. The barn was full of wasps and we were all afraid of snakes and everyone had guns and sticks and were trying to make sure the area was clear. It was a long, harrowing day, not terribly fun but it looks awesome on film. And the dialogue scene was just a particularly long, tricky speech that Lorri is giving to Jennifer [Brittany’s character] and I just couldn’t nail it. I kept flubbing lines, walking out of frame, missing my marks… if I could do something to fuck it up, I seemed determined to do it. I felt so bad for Brittany having to put up with me that day.
9.What do you hope people’s takeaway will be after seeing the film?
Shawn had such a specific idea when he wrote the film; as a gay male who’s been out his whole adult life and who is very open about his marriage and his feelings on equality in a conservative state like Texas, Shawn has faced a lot of prejudice and hatred in his life. A lot of us who worked on the film, including me, identify as bisexual or gay or some other variation from heterosexuality, and even the straight people on set consider themselves allies for GLBT equality. Living in a pretty straight-laced state the way we do, we see a lot of people who may not be as extreme as the citizens of Middle Spring but that doesn’t mean much. It’s a lot more likely to face discrimination than to be welcomed somewhere with open arms. And I know Shawn has a conflicted history with organized religion and coming to terms with where that stands when it comes to his personal life, as do I. It’s the reason I left the Christian church, I didn’t like the way they made me feel about who I chose to love or get involved with. ‘Sacrament’ is not just a horror film and it’s not exploitive, it isn’t a ‘gay’ film. It’s a movie about people who take an ideal too far, who live on the far extreme end of a conviction. They don’t believe that they’re villains or that they’re doing anything wrong; they actually think they’re doing the characters a favor by saving them from a life of sin. And while most of the religious nutjobs in the world like the Phelps family may not go quite this far, it isn’t that outlandish. You hear stories all over the world about ‘pray the gay away’ camps and organizations that boycott GLBT-friendly establishments and do everything in their power to prevent marriage equality from becoming a reality, and sadly a lot of them ARE affiliated with the churches. It’s a rough place to be if you’re actually an open-minded, loving, modern Christian because your whole group is getting a bad rap because of these people. But the truth is, it is happening all over the place and I think Shawn had a very strong conviction that this was a story he needed to tell and wanted to get out there. I think writing it was liberating for him. And everyone loved the idea of a film where the main couple are a strong, committed gay couple instead of the typical ‘final girl and love interest’ scenario. You don’t see enough strong gay characters in film right now, especially horror or indie films.
10.What other projects do you have lined up?
I’m living in Hollywood right now, working on the post-production of ‘Fear Clinic’. We’re going to be coming to Texas Frightmare Weekend in a few weeks to promote that, show some clips and do a panel. I’m coming out with my boss Rob as well as Thomas Dekker and Corey Taylor, so this is a huge deal for me to be among such talent— but besides that, they’re just sweet guys who I love working with. After TFW, I’m coming back to Texas for the big ‘Sacrament’ premiere and then I will be back to LA to work on another feature with Rob. We have a few things lined up once we put ‘Fear Clinic’ to bed, and I’m writing a new screenplay that I’m insanely excited about. I’ve also been focusing on my other artistic endeavors more. I’ve been a photographer since I was 12 and I’m really starting to get more confident in my skills there. I’ve been very lucky to work with some of my talented friends lately, putting together these really bizarre and beautiful photo shoots, and I want to try to put out a book or something similar.
11.What is one thing that you would like to accomplish this year?
I’m working really hard to better myself in every possible way. I know this sounds really cliché but it’s true. When we started casting ‘Sacrament’ I was about 350 pounds and I was reeling from the death of my mother. I’ve taken care of her since I was nineteen so it’s been very new to me to live on my own and only be responsible for myself, and moving out to LA and making new friends has really opened up my horizons and helped me kind of find myself. I am really exploring who I am and experimenting; I’m having so many great new experiences. I’ve met some incredible people and I can’t wait to keep traveling down all of these wonderfully-weird, windy paths to see where they lead. I think 2014 is going to have some big things in store for me, and if the last year is anything to gauge it by, I can’t even begin to imagine where I’ll end up.