BL: Even when I'm not working as an actress and producer, I'm doing press interviews, I'm in pitch meetings, at production companies to pitch projects, other directors are pitching me their projects to star in and see if they can attach me to their projects. It's just an interesting game. I was on a conference call till 1am last night and I started today at 7am. And that's sometimes the way it goes. You just go with the flow and sometimes, I feel like I'm Superwoman and I will work myself to the bone till I get physically sick.
WHH: You've got to know where to draw the line. Especially when it starts affecting your health.
BL: The old cliché of "Without your health, you have nothing" - it's totally true. I've experienced that over the years when stress has really gotten to me and it's important what you just said - you have to know where to draw the line. You have to make the choice and now I know that if I choose this, here's the consequence. I use that a lot in my Life Coaching. There are things that, as actors we have to think about more than the normal person. Or if you're behind the camera, you don't have to focus as much on looking good, or being in shape and watching what you eat and drink. I'm so blessed with what I do. I love it more than anything in the world and I've sacrificed everything for it, but it's not easy.
WHH: You mention that you started your career outside the horror genre - acting in comedies, Broadway shows and mobster movies. Now, you're synonymous with horror. How did you have to adapt from your previous experiences and moving into horror?
BL: That is a great question. Like I said, I never anticipated this. I saw myself as a comedy girl and the mobster movie girl with all the mafia movies and TV shows that I used to do in New York. I was a die-hard horror fan, which was so great. I never imagined that it would embrace me the way it did. There are several things that I love about horror and the horror community which I don't think people outside the genre realise or understand. One thing I talk about a lot and that I'm really grateful for- I think that because I'm not a tall, skinny blonde in Hollywood, I'm perceived differently. I think that the horror fans and horror films embrace women differently, in a much more positive light. Horror fans have addressed this with me when I've met them at conventions, and they'd say, "You have such a gorgeous, curvy body. I love that you're voluptuous and you're not a stick-skinny girl". I've always embraced that the horror fans - men and women - love the Betty Page look, or again, Elvira - she always had boobs and curves and the women that I watched growing up, they weren't that picture perfect. Some of my icons are Adrienne Barbeau and Jamie Lee Curtis, who was tall and skinny, but she is a big spokeswoman for being yourself, and you don't have to be perfect. I love that. I was a big fan of Karen Black and the Dario Argento movies, and you look at the women like Barbara Magnolfi who I love, and these women in horror are voluptuous and especially the Italian women who are curvy and beautiful - Sophia Loren-esque - and I think that really the horror genre embraces and wants normal-looking women, not Hollywood anorexics. So, I love that, because that's me! Number two; So many people talk about horror in a negative light - you know this from teaching Film. They feel that women are disempowered. That they're victimised and there's gratuity, and I'm no fan of that. I have to be honest - I speak about this openly - I'm not a fan of the "no purpose guts, gratuitous, let's show boobies and pour blood on them and make the movie". That's not my choice in horror films or in art in general. I happen to be a fan of the mystery films of Hitchcock, and Dario Argento movies. Now, I'm obsessed with the French horror films. Yes, we know there is a shock factor in horror movies, but for me - and I made very clear choices - I feel, especially as a producer - part of the reason why I became a producer - was that I wanted to play roles that did empower women, that had strong women behind them. Strong characters. If you look at Kinky Killers, I play a psychiatrist. I don't want to give away the ending, but if you see my character, you'll understand. In iMurders, I'm a detective. Dahmer vs. Gacy, it's comedic, but I'm playing a televangelist - this incredible, crazy character. In Slime City Massacre, Nicole is a prostitute and she's very vulnerable. However, it's a very layered role to me, and the big joke actually in our community is that I've never been killed! I've never done nudity. I don't judge whatsoever, but it's a choice I made and the characters that I play don't warrant it, and that's what I love about them. I know that I miss out on roles because of all that. I know that I get offered a lot less because of that, but they are the choices I've made and I'm very drawn to strong female roles. I feel that especially what I love is the thriller stuff, and that gives the opportunity for really great, smart female roles. The third thing is, as I said earlier, that the horror community is the most supportive, encouraging, forgiving audience that I've known. I just find that they are so supportive and I have fallen in love with the horror community.
WHH: You mention setting up Philly Chick Pictures, in 2002 and a lot of work involved, especially when you're producing. What are some of the biggest challenges you've faced running Philly Chick Pictures?
BL: After making a living acting for four years in New York right out of college, I started Philly Chick Pictures when I moved to Los Angeles. The purpose for that was that I started producing short films. I wanted to learn, I took some producing courses, and I got my feet wet by producing a couple of projects that I didn't act in, which broke my heart. I realised that I'm not a good producer in itself, but I also needed to be acting in it. I came to Hollywood, not knowing anyone other than the people I studied acting with in New York - actors and directors - not having any family here, not coming from a famous film or tv family, which makes it really challenging. So, I chose to start my production company. I thought, "You know what? I'm like a natural producer. I know a lot about business; I'm a great negotiator; I almost went to law school, so why not try my hand at production!?" It can give me a sort of leverage to create acting roles for myself, and I came into it thinking, "Ok. If I have this to offer and deliver, aside from just acting, there's a way better shot at me getting jobs and producing and creating stuff". That was the initial purpose, so I could bring more to the table so I could star in these films. And I did it. Back in the day when I started, it was way easier pre-economy crashing to go to investors and raise money for indie films and as an indie film producer, you actually could make money. You could barely support yourself, but you could. I was able to do that. Then the economy crashed, things went south and I was not able to make a living as a producer anymore. Then the digital era started and HD cameras evolved and the internet evolved and we shot Kinky Killers and iMurders on 35mm. That's what I knew. That was the film world that I came from. And now there's these young film school kids, popping up that are super über talented, who know a lot more technically than I do, and they are able to make feature films for no money on digital cameras, and sell them on the internet. So, you're competing with all of that. It really became challenging. So, without question, the biggest challenge as an indie film producer is raising money. I have done it. I've done it numerous times, I don't know how, and sometimes it took years. From inception to distribution, it took seven years sometimes - Five years just to make it and raise the proper money to hire the proper cast, the proper director. So you look at projects like that, and that was many years of my life. It's no easy task. I would say financing is the hardest part. You get to the level where you're really doing this professionally and in a bigger way, and I fancy myself to be doing that. I speak about this a lot on film panels, and a lot of younger filmmakers don't get it because times have changed so much. When you're dealing with actors and agents, and casting directors, and directors - you're dealing with their representatives. Just because an actor may love your product, it doesn't mean you're getting them. Then you've got to negotiate. That's a big challenge as a legitimate producer. You're negotiating with people's reps and you're negotiating with actors, and you're doing it on a level where it is not easy. All these younger filmmakers that think it's so easy to go out - It's funny, because as an actress, I get it now. I get people that email me and call me constantly, my production company Philly Chick Pictures, or BrookeLewis.com - which is my press outlet - everyday making offers, offers, offers. There's a protocol here. There's a professionalism here. I can't just say yes without my agent/manager coming on and going "We need to negotiate. What's the pay rate? What's the billing? What's the back end?" There are so many things involved that a lot of people don't understand, and especially as producers that you need to know about. When you're doing it at a level as producer with private investors, there is a lot that you need to know, but most don't. So, they are all challenges. I'm going to bottom line it - and the bottom line is, it's a business! And people don't always understand, especially artists - and I say that with respect because I am one - they don't understand the business part of this, and that's where I think a lot of the challenges of this come in. For me personally, Since I started producing, people started perceiving me more as a producer than an actress, and people would come to me with their projects and say, "Brooke, we have this project we want you to star in." I'd get so excited and they would say, "But you have to produce it too and raise the financing." It is years of your life, and now, if you're not paying me upfront, I'm not producing your project. I'll focus on my own stuff. But the sad part is, it's like I started producing so I could act and create a career for myself, and now a lot of times, people come to me and see me more as a producer than an actress, and that's great, but it's not for me. All I want to do in this world is act.
Exclusive Interview: Brooke Lewis
By Andreas Charalambous - September 2013
Brooke Lewis has made a big impact in the horror genre as both an actress and a producer. Starting her professional acting career working in comedies and mobster movies, Brooke eventually headed out west to Hollywood, where she created her own production company, Philly Chick Pictures. She soon found her inspiration in horror.
The versatile Brooke Lewis had since become synonymous with the horror genre, starring in and producing her own horror-themed films and web series', as well as other achievements and awards - including being an official Scream Queen and certified life coach.
We caught up with Brooke Lewis to talk about her passion for the horror genre, and the state the industry finds itself in today.
WeHeartHorror.com: You've established yourself as being multi-talented - you've done acting, writing, producing, Scream Queen and life coach. That's quite a busy schedule. How do you balance it all out?
Brooke Lewis: That's a really great question. I haven't mastered it yet. My friends ask "How do you do it? You do so many things, you've so many careers, you're very social", and the truth is that I struggle. Till this day, after all the years being in the business, I struggle with balance. I do aspire to have balance in my life and career, and I think that as I've gotten older and been in the business longer, it's really about making choices. It's about prioritising - and this is what I do in life coaching now. It's very interesting, and I'm very spiritual now. It's interesting to see in one career, you don't expect all these things. I always say the joke "God laughs when you're making plans", and it's true. I think we try to control our lives and careers, and you think you've got it all figured out - I was young, I went to school for theatre, then I was going to go to law school. This is my dream - I've always wanted to be an actress since I was a little girl so I'm just going to do that, make it big and that's it. Then, life happens! You're dealt cards, obstacles and challenges and then what you've got to do is make choices in how you deal with them. So, I kind of look at my career and go "Wow. I never thought that was going to happen. I didn't see that coming". Everything for me personally is based around my truest love, passion and inspiration - and that's my acting. So, everything that I've done thus far in my career, like producing - I don't love it, but I'm good at it. So, I've acknowledged that, and I have used that platform to create a career for myself. Starting out in musical theatre as a kid and then theatre in New York, then mobster movies and comedies and sitcoms, I never imagined that I would become a Scream Queen. Talking about that part of my career - I've always been a crazy, fanatical horror fan since I was a little girl, and obsessed with vampires and wanting to be bitten by Dracula! I grew up with the '80s horror movies. They were my favourites. So, I've always really loved horror, but I never imagined myself ever being a Scream Queen. Twists and turns happened and I got inspired by the very first Saw movie at Sundance Film Festival 2004, and I worked with producers in New York to make a movie. I said I'll surround myself with named actors and we'll make a psychological thriller. It just took off from there, and the title of that film was called Polycarp. Then, Universal distributed it and it became known as Kinky Killers, and then Showtime picked it up. It was a really interesting twist. The minute that the film hit Showtime, I was getting fan mail crazily pouring in and everyone's calling me the new "Scream Queen" and it just kind of took off from there. I then executive produced and starred in iMurders opposite the iconic Candyman, Tony Todd and William Forsythe, Gabrielle Anwar and Billy Dee Williams. Just an incredible cast - the list goes on and on. So, it kind of just grew. After doing Broadway and network sitcoms and mobster movies and pretty much no-one knowing who I was as an actress, this horror thing happened. I'm a Scream Queen and it just took off and I embraced it and I love the horror community so very much - the most supportive community of any genre - and here I am. It's amazing how life takes you on these twists and turns - from vampire modelling shoots, Ms. Vampy was created. They wanted me to be this vampire goddess, but I was like, "No, no, no. This doesn't inspire me. You can have any younger,
hotter girls show their boobs and do what they need to do. That's not my thing." I always liked Mona Lisa Vito from My Cousin Vinny - Marissa Tomei's role - and loved Elvira when I was a little girl and they sort of combined and I created Ms. Vampy. It was really interesting because that's how I started to become a screen writer as well - which is not a passion of mine - but again, it's very creative, so we ended up writing Vamp It Out with my partner and a couple of other screenplays, and the writing thing took off and then years later I wrote Ms. Vampy's Tween Tawk, Teen Tawk & In Between Tawk in 2011 as the talk show TV pilot for teen girls. At this point, the economy had crashed, people were not writing cheques as much for my production company - Philly Chick Pictures - or for any productions or indie films. You couldn't make a living anymore as a producer, so I was faced with, "Ok. Well, what do I do?" It was so amazing because I was given this incredible opportunity where I got to do this pilot for teen girls and helping them, mentoring and guiding them through everything that I've been through when I was younger till now, and fell in love with it. I was really moved and inspired, and went back to school in 2011 to the Life Purpose Institute, to become a board-certified life coach. And another twist when I became a Life Coach, my publicist said to me that they are asking for you to write for different magazines and online sites and I wrote for She Knows’ magazine, The Huffington Post brought me in last year, and I have my "Ask the Drama Queen" column that I write for The Huffington Post now. So, I know that was a huge long answer, but that's how the twists and turns happened. It was like when you least expect it. I've always thought that I love my
acting so much, and everything that I do is to support that and to pay bills. You know, I'm not able to get full-time acting work all the time, so it's interesting how those twists and turns came and presented themselves to me. Life works in mysterious ways.
and the sequel Starship: The Coming Darkness - one's coming out the end of this year and the other is coming out next year. Neil and I are in talks for a couple other Sci-fi pictures that I'm going to star in next year. There's a lot of great stuff right now. I've taken a ton of meetings and a lot of stuff is in the works and then as far as projects coming out. As I've said, both Starships, The Mourning, which is a beautiful drama with a paranormal twist with a great, great cast. Then, I've got Lazarus, for all the horror fans, which is directed by Thomas Churchill. Lazarus is a Hitchcockian throwback which I am so proud to have been a part of. I've got an action film coming out -Double Tap - which is great. You need stuff to be coming out to stay relevant, and speaking of relevant, that's why we shall segway over to my alter ego, and one of my biggest passions in the world, which is Ms. Vampy! She's a mobster vampire from Brooklyn and is full of love, and is 110 years old and has a heart of gold. After shooting our original web series when I created her, everyone started calling her the new horror icon. She's such an amazing gift and I'm so blessed. It's been two years, and everybody's been asking "Where's Ms. Vampy, where's Ms. Vampy. We love her. Bring her back!" So I kind of came up with a new idea, which again, back to your first original question, "How do you balance? How do you do everything? How do you kind of intertwine?". That's what's happening right now. My life and career have become intertwined and Ms. Vampy's back and she's back for adults. She's back for everyone. She's still PG-13, and back to her original sass and attitude, covering more adult topics because she gets so much fan mail and email questions from all ages. I don't want to just pigeon hole her into the teen genre. So, she's back now, let all your readers know. She went back to school - imagine that - to be a life coach! And she's now a life coach in her villa in Hollywood, to the stars. She's life coaching celebrities. It's quite cute! So, I came up with the idea to keep it simple and just to get her back out there in the world and see how everybody would respond. We've now created a show called Ms. Vampy's Bites. We just shot with my wonderful director and dear friend Staci Layne Wilson. We shot five webisodes. They're coming out actually next week, but you have the privilege to see them first! It's interactive, which is now the hot new thing. I want to really connect with my fans, so now fans are able to email in advice questions to Ms. Vampy at email@example.com - msvampy.net being the website for the show - and she will respond. She chooses questions; five a month and she will respond in her sassy way. She's very wise remember at 110 years old, and she will give you her honest opinion about your question and shout out your name and where you're from. So, I hope all you wonderful lovely UK fans and friends are writing questions. I can't wait to come to the UK and hang with you guys. I can't really say too much but Staci and I are now collaborating with Matt Raub who is a wonderful young producer here in Hollywood and he's going to be producing our next round of shows, which is incredible. The show will have a new subject and title, Ms. Vampy’s Love Bites, so we are back in the studio right now and having it fully produced for us. I'm really excited that Ms. Vampy's back in a big way and wiser than ever with some great advice for you guys.
WHH: Are there any projects you're working on at the moment that we can talk about?
BL: A couple of things that are on the down-low. I'm in talks right now with Lawrence Silverstein (The Cell 2, Freerunner) for a horror film called Hot Blooded. Again, it's all about getting the rest of the financing. I would be starring in that film, that he would be directing and producing. I am signed on with my dear friend and co-worker, Robbie Bryan for his anime dramedy-anime. It's such a beautiful script. It's called Black Hat. That stars Jodelle Furland and a couple other names that I can't say out loud right now, but it's a pretty incredible project. Robbie will be shooting that next year. I'm in talks right now for a couple of sci-fi projects - another thing I'm very excited about. In the last couple of years - and thanks to the horror genre - I've crossed over into a lot of sci-fi stuff. I've got two pictures coming out with director Neil Johnson who is very well-known in the UK as a wonderful indie sci-fi director. He is incredible. He is a dear friend, and I starred in his films Starship: Rising
remember once I was a guest as Ms. Vampy. They hired me to come out for Horror Hound Magazine in 2010, so they flew me out to Indianapolis and I did the convention, but as Ms. Vampy. And I remember really kind of testing it out, pushing the envelope, and being playful and fun and having some guy that came up and kind of grabbed me, and was being all flirty and was like, "Oh, you know, Ms. Vampy. You look good", and I was like, "Yeah, I know but you didn't do your freaking hair today! What did you do to your hair? Did you like use the whole bottle of hair gel?" She can get away with saying things that I would never have the nerve to say, or ever want to. She would point out wise things, and as you'll see in Ms. Vampy's Bites, she does a whole little shtick about VampireMatch.com which was a big thing I did with her and everyone loved it in the first web series in 2008-09. I had her on VampireMatch.com and I as a single woman who over the years had done match.com and other dating sites, so I used funny things that I would never say or talk about in public as Brooke, but as Ms. Vampy, she can totally get away with it. Like in the first of Ms. Vampy's Bites, it's about texting etiquette, that someone wrote in about. And I tell the whole story - She's tells the whole story about, "Oh, I was on a vampirematch.com date and was at a steak restaurant last week, and my hot date took out his phone and started texting. Every freaking 20 minutes, he just kept texting. He ain't coming home and getting into Ms. Vampy's coffin later tonight!" It's funny, and she can say that. Whereas Brooke, would never say, "Oh, you didn't come home and get into my bed". So, I have so much fun with her, because I can express myself in a way that's so zany and so out there and so no boundaries, but not be hurtful. That's one thing I would never do, so she's just fun. She's like the fun side. She's the side that doesn't censor herself, says what she wants to and gets away with it.
WHH: Some quick fire questions for you. Our site launches just in time for Halloween. What will you and Ms. Vampy be doing on Halloween?
BL: Well, Ms. Vampy will probably be at some huge celebrity bash partying with all her celebrity friends that she life coaches, and she'll be eating Godiva chocolates and sipping red champagne. That's her thing. And I will hopefully - again, I'm very grateful, that usually for the last several years, I get hired and paid quite well to host some horror event or judge some horror contest, or who knows what. I haven't locked anything in yet. I'm in talks for an event in Las Vegas, so we'll see. The last several years, I've been lucky and I'll get paid well to make an appearance at some party.
WHH: What is your favourite horror film?
BL: I have lots of favourite horror films. It's always hard for me to choose just one, and again, going back to my story earlier - I'm a big fan of 80s horror films, because that's what I knew when I was a little girl - like the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre from the late 70s. I love that film. It is just a perfectly well done, amazing Tobe Hooper film. I wish we could have films that were more like that now. I was a big fan of the original Friday the 13th and Halloween. I loved Prom Night for whatever reason. All the originals. I can't stand the remakes, but I really loved Prom Night. I loved the twist. I loved the story. For me, I love films that have a story, and have depth of characters. And I think The Shining was brilliant. When I was young and rented movies on VHS, I was such a fan. Oh, Brian De Palma! Oh my gosh, I'm a huge fan. Blow Out, Carrie - such a fan. And I loved the Amityville Horrors. That generation of films, I just don't think they make them like that anymore. More recently, like I mentioned earlier, I'm a big fan of the French horror films. I think you watch Inside, and Martyrs, and as horrible and gut-wrenching as they are - I look at Inside and I look at the direction and cinematography, art direction of films like that, and I'm like "Wow, the French really have it down". They really do.
WHH: The next question, I think you've kind of answered it, but what's the best thing about working in the horror genre?
BL: If I had to pick one, it would be the fan base. No doubt. The community of fan base and filmmakers. But yeah you got that answer from earlier, for sure.
WHH: The next question following that one is, what is the worst thing about working in the horror genre?
BL: The Pay! (laughs). I mean it's pretty amazing how you work on big movies, and television and the pay is amazing, but for whatever reason, and I say that respectfully, it just seems like, I guess some of our films are made on a lower budget. A lot of times, unfortunately, from my experience, the pay is lower and sometimes the professionalism is lower. I hate to say that, but I'm being very honest. Another thing I really dislike which I mentioned earlier and I try to stay away from, and I'm all for and supportive of any art and creativity, but what I can't stand, and I find this harder than anything else -and I know you will agree as a film lecturer - is that they all just assume "Oh, let's just make a horror movie. It's easy". They take the easy way and they have just no budget, no crew, no script, no nothing, and they just say, "We'll get hot chicks, pour blood on their boobs, have them run around naked and be gratuitous and make a horror movie". And that to me, is not a horror movie. That is not what the greats were like. Hitchcock, Brian De Palma and Stephen King and now in the newer era, I'm a big fan of James Wan. I mean, look at James Wan's films. He has always kept it with class and at a level. And again, the French horror filmmakers. It's just a different thing. If any of the readers or fans out there look at Adam Green's Frozen, he's brilliant. He brilliantly directs that film and there's no gratuity, so I think that there's so much out there, and opportunities to make good stuff. I don't know why a lot of people choose to make horror movies that are crap. That's what bothers me the most.
WHH: I totally agree with you on that.
BL: Yeah, I know you do! I know you do, from our conversations and I love that. So, I feel that if you and I can teach the young 'uns and be a vessel for keeping it at a level. Listen, there's no shame in my game. I've been involved in some really shitty films. I know that! You look at certain scenes in Kinky Killers and I want to throw up in my mouth, but it is what it is. You just embrace it and you go with it. I watch some of my movies, and I cringe. And then I look at other stuff, like even a simple short film that's a thriller - a psychological thriller that Roger Scheck directed me in, called Sprinkles. A lot of people have not had the opportunity to even see it. I won best actress at three film festivals for that project. It's just a tiny little film, but it's so well-written and so well directed, so well acted, so beautifully shot and I'm so proud of my work in it.
WHH: Ok, final question. If you weren't working in horror or as an actress, what do you think you would you be doing now?
BL: I honestly don't even think about it. I'm asked that question a lot. I don't think about it, because there's nothing in this world that would make me as happy as acting. It's bottom line. I mean all genres, anything; film, television, I love acting. It's so ingrained into my soul. I wish it wasn't sometimes. But there's nothing in the world like it. There are parts of me that enjoy producing. There are parts of me that absolutely love life coaching others and supporting others and giving advice. I know that's part of my heart and soul too, although it's a later career I've discovered, but nothing fills my soul like acting.
WHH: You mention Ms. Vampy is now a certified Life Coach who moved from New York and now lives in Los Angeles. How much of Brooke Lewis is in Ms. Vampy?
BL: That's the best question you could ask - a lot!! (Laughs). You know, I've always joked that she's my alter ego. It's 50-50, is the honest answer. Years ago I had a life coach who used to say to me, "Channel Ms. Vampy. When you get scared, when you don't know what to do as Brooke, or you don't feel you can speak up, channel Ms. Vampy", and it's so true. That's where her catchphrase, "When faced with fear, dig deep inside, find your inner vamp and vamp it out" came from. She's the honesty and courage that sometimes a normal person like me walking down the street would not have. She can get away with it, because she's a caricature. She can get away with saying things that I would never say. But she says it with love, and that's who I am too. Speaking the truth, having a voice, you know, being honest about your feelings, but doing it with respect and love, and that's what I've always made sure of. I keep her with that level of dignity and respect. But she... (laughs) I
Check out an episode of Ms. Vampy's Bites below.
Ms. Vampy's Bites - Episode 5: Having the "Right" Success