Imagine two gender-swapped, teenage Patrick Batemans, imbued with the humour of a Veronica Sawyer, the resourcefulness of a Sidney Prescott, and the social savvy of a Regina George or Jennifer Check. Tyler McIntyre’s brilliant high school slasher film Tragedy Girls is a glorious mash-up that weaves together the threads of its iconic predecessors to create one of the freshest, funniest takes on the slasher genre in recent memory. I’ve talked about this film on the site a few times and on social media even more frequently, and with good reason — the film is truly a joy to watch and I am a genuine Tragedy Fangirl.
While we in Canada are still pining for a wide release date, Americans have been able to see Tragedy Girls in theatres since October 20th. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend you catch it on the big screen. It’s a film that ought to be enjoyed in a large room with an enthusiastic audience, sharing its visceral, gory thrills, sharp stabs of subversive humour, and genuine (if amoral) warmth.
I sat down with producer Tara Ansley to chat about her experiences in bringing the Tragedy Girls to life, her career journey, and what comes next for the Tragedy Girls.
Valeska: First off, I want to congratulate you on your impressive career thus far! You’ve accomplished so much since getting started in the industry in 2007. What kind of films are you most interested in making?
Tara: I grew up a fan of movies but always latched onto anything that was heavily designed or the unusual. In an odd way, the projects I want to produce are love letters to my high school girl gang and the drawers of VHS tapes my parents had. Anything that has creature FX, practical effects, designed elements, and heart. If John Hughes, Sid & Marty Krofft, Jim Henson, Ms. Frizzle, Rob Reiner, Stanley Kubrick, Robert Zemeckis, and Gale Anne Hurd had a love child, it would be what I’d eventually want my career to be. I have to put in the work.
Valeska: Tragedy Girls is such a deliciously subversive, smart, and hilarious film. When you first read the script, what was the moment when you decided that you absolutely HAD to make this film?
Tara: Honestly, I didn’t even finish it before I called my producing partners [and said] “We have to make this”. Once its established who the girls are, I was sold. These were two insanely strong (and maybe a bit insane as well) female characters who just go there … We did HAVE to make this. It needed to be made. Tyler and Chris wrote this crazy segue for women to get more into the genre and it’s simply brilliant. I LOVE when grown men fangirl over the Tragedy Girls as well.
Valeska: Totally! The male critics I’ve talked to about it loved it, too. It has something for everyone. Which brings me to my next question: I know that you pushed for diverse and inclusive casting in Tragedy Girls. As the only female voice on the production side of things, what else were you able to add to the film that may not otherwise have been added?
Tara: Tragedy Girls is a dark comedy and satire. It’s not this incredibly serious film, but I make all movies with all people in mind. Director/co-writer Tyler and writer Chris Lee Hill are just so kind with women. Tyler and I have always vibed well on the creative. Specifically, I pushed for the creative to read how I read the girls – strong, creative, witty, and inclusive.
Valeska: Speaking of diversity, one thing that I really loved about Tragedy Girls is the queer subtext — it’s pretty easy to read a certain level of attraction and tension between McKayla and Sadie, in a way that is a little reminiscent of the ambiguous relationship between Needy and Jennifer in Karyn Kusama’s woefully underrated Jennifer’s Body. That tension really adds some extra complexity and nuance to the dynamic between the Tragedy Girls. Was that something deliberately discussed during the production phase, or just a happy accident?
Tara: It’s so funny how this panned out. I see and hear rumbles of this on the internet. There wasn’t any deliberate queer subtext. My fellow producers and I really just let Tyler do his thing as a director. At the end of the day, it’s a movie about friendship. The girls truly are best friends. I personally didn’t get this until I saw the final poster with the girls holding hands and thought “I wonder if people are going to think the girls are together”. Which is cool and I laughed. I do love this. Who doesn’t want to live happily ever after with their best friend? The Babadook became a queer icon, so if the Tragedy Girls venture down that path I’d be thrilled.
Valeska: Even if it’s unintended, it’s a nice gift to be given the space to read those sorts of representations into such a fantastic film. Okay, next question! The darker side of technology, and especially social media, is increasingly being explored in horror with films like Unfriended, Don’t Hang Up, #Horror, and now Tragedy Girls. With so much of our lives being infiltrated by these technologies, it’s incredibly fertile ground. Is this a subject you think you’ll want return to in the future?
Tara: No. I find cell phones in movies super distracting. This was deliberate, but I think I’m good on future social media endeavors outside of Tragedy Girls. Movies are my getaway and happy place from the distractions of the world.
Valeska: Fair enough! Tragedy Girls stars an amazing cast of young (but seasoned) actors who already have some pretty iconic performances under their belts. What was it like working with such an incredibly talented cast?
Tara: Our cast is incredible, aren’t they? We shot in rural Kentucky, so we spent a lot of time with the cast and crew hanging out. This was a huge group effort type of film. Everyone brought it. Even our supporting cast just blew me away. I’m particularly fond of Katie Stottlemire, who played Bookish Girl. I’m telling you – she’s going to be a star! Alex and Brianna are down to earth and real. They have great teams, amazing families, and I have a lot of respect for them both as women.
Valeska: Bookish Girl steals every scene she is in, in my opinion. I especially love her drunk dance scene. What’s your favourite behind-the-scenes story from the making of Tragedy Girls?
Tara: Seeing the girls with the SPFX makeup team was a joy. They loved being around it and I know they’re fans of them as well. It’s not everyday that you get to play with body parts, blood guns, and “other Craigs”. As far as off set, I saw a “ghost” at an old general store during filming and the guys had a weird run-in at a rental house as well with a spooky spirit.
Valeska: What do you think comes next for Sadie and McKayla? What’s your dream sequel?
Tara: The dream sequel would be for them to go to university and get respectable jobs. They’re smart young women.
I hope we get to shoot somewhere fun, like New Orleans for their Voodoo, MTSU body farm, or maybe we’ll just have to film them harvesting organs during spring break to pay their student debt. We’ll see …. I’ll be leaving this up to Tyler and Chris.
Valeska: Okay, the big question: if it really came down to it, who do you think would win in a serial killer battle of wits? McKayla or Sadie?
Tara: Having to decide between the two is so insanely hard. Probably McKayla because you just never know with her. Sadie is more calculated but McKayla has a whole lot of crazy going on.
Valeska: If you were to pair Tragedy Girls with another film for a perfect double-bill, which other film would you choose?
Tara: Everyone says Heathers but I’d say Jawbreaker.
Valeska: Who are your current influences and idols in the industry? Which women do you think are kicking ass in filmmaking right now?
Tara: Ellen DeGeneres, Megan Ellison, Tina Fey, Gale Anne Hurd, Mara Brock Akil, Kathleen Kennedy, Jenji Kohan, Jill Soloway, and my old boss Carol Ann Thomas who’s currently production coordinating Stranger Things.
Valeska: Great list. Let’s turn back to you for a minute. You currently have three projects in pre-production. Do you want to give us a little sneak peek of what to expect?
Tara: I’d rather the work speak for itself. At the heart and soul of what I do, you’ll see a pattern with working on “creature FX” themed films and always practical effects. It’s just what I love.
Valeska: Do you have any words of wisdom for other women interested in filmmaking? What would be your biggest piece of advice?
Tara: Don’t waste time waiting for a greenlight and do not ask for permission to go out and do the damn thing. Grab a brilliant script, a loyal crew, and love them with everything you’ve got. Lead by example and help others. Don’t settle and don’t be afraid of the big asks … Sometimes, you’ll get the yes from people who you never thought were possible for your projects! Hire more women!
Valeska: Awesome! Thanks so much, Tara! Best of luck with your upcoming projects!
Tragedy Girls is now playing in the United States. Canadian release date pending.