Lola Blanc, a rising voice in the realm of horror filmmaking, has recently been garnering widespread acclaim for her captivating short film, Pruning. Following its highly successful premiere at the Palm Springs Shortfest, the film is now set to make its mark at Fantasia Fest.

Blanc's distinct directorial vision and storytelling prowess have captivated audiences, drawing attention to the themes of extremist horror that she explores. Pruning, which follows an alt-right TV commentator on the rise, might hit close to home for some viewers. After all, that kind of character is very real, and sometimes violent speech can inspire actual violence.

But Pruning explores what happens psychologically to the mind of that character, in scary and unexpected ways.

We jumped into Lola Blanc’s creepy world, speaking to the filmmaker via Zoom ahead of Fantasia.

Pruning screens on July 30 at 4 p.m. as part of the Born of Woman program.

Madeline Brewer in 'Pruning.'Madeline Brewer in 'Pruning.'Credit: Lola Blanc

Editor's Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

No Film School: I vibe with your work very much because I also love horror. So I want to just start by talking about what you like working in that genre.

Lola Blanc: For me, when I watch a film, I just really want to feel something. For some reason, one of the things that I like to feel the most seems to be fear. I don't know why, I don't know how this happened, but I'm really, really drawn to the darker side of life and a more heightened reality than the world we actually live in. Horror is the perfect medium to explore things I want to talk about, but do it in a way that's like a little bit surreal, a little bit not of this world.

NFS: That was going to lead to my next question. Knowing that your short is inspired by the extreme right, incels, can you talk a little bit more about horror being a vehicle for exploring things like current events?

Blanc: It really is, in my opinion, one of the best genres to explore social issues and political issues because there are so many things we are afraid of when we go about living in America in this day and age. Horror gives us a vehicle to explore some of those fears and explore some of those societal concerns and horrors without being on the nose, without having to do something that's literally just beating you over the head with a message. We're exploring questions, we're exploring ideas, but it gives us the medium to not have to do it in a literal way I guess

NFS: Shifting to a little bit more like the technical side, I'd love to know more about what the production looked like, and how long it took to get this made.

Blanc: We financed it through crowdfunding and shot for what was originally going to be three days, but we did not plan our days well so we added a fourth day. Lesson learned. The cinematographer was one of my best friends. We spent a long time really prepping what we wanted it to feel like and look like, and the tone that the world was going to achieve. What else can I tell you about the production?

NFS: How much did it cost?

Blanc: I think the final tally was $40,000, which I know is a lot for a short film. One of the biggest expenses was shooting night exteriors, which I had no idea cost as much as they do when you are somewhere that doesn't have street lights or any kind of ambient light to work with; literally just pure darkness in the woods. That was one of the biggest expenses of the entire film. So that was something to note for the future.

NFS: What were you using in terms of lighting, camera?

Blanc: We used an ALEXA Mini, and for the night exteriors we had to light the scene with a balloon light as well as supplemental lights on the ground. But the balloon light was something I had never worked with before. It was super cool. It looked like a moon was in the sky. My cinematographer, Sonja Tyspin, was playing with a lot of natural light in the interiors, but, obviously, we wanted to go for a very controlled look, so it was still very much controlled with her G&E team.

Madeline Brewer in 'Pruning.'\u200bMadeline Brewer in 'Pruning.'Lola Blanc

NFS: In terms of crowdfunding, do you have any advice there? Because it's very difficult.

Blanc: Oh my gosh, yes. I had been warned going in that I would just have to let go of all of the shame and embarrassment around it because I had a lot of that. I was so scared to just bother people. I made a spreadsheet of everyone I knew and went down the list of who I had reached out to individually as opposed to mass emails or just posting on social media, and treated it like a job, where, "Okay, I'm going to now reach out to the next person and swallow my shame." It worked. We met our goal. It helped to have friends with followings post about it, and a couple of generous people who were supporters. But I really think it's about just being persistent and kind of shameless. No one cares by the time it's over. No one holds that against you.

NFS: Absolutely. That's great advice. How did you land on the look of the project?

Blanc: The character of Sami is someone who is very much controlled. She's trying to suppress her feelings. She's trying to control everything around her. So it felt right that her environment would be very controlled in what she wears, what she eats, and what she watches. All of that is very much controlled.

And one of the film references we were looking at for that was Goodnight Mommy. We also looked at We Need to Talk About Kevin. I wanted it to feel like the world is kind of crumbling around [her], and she just has this little bubble of a world that she's trying to keep under her control. So that sterile, clean, all-white just really felt like the right world for her.

Lola Blanc standing in doorwayLola BlancCredit: Mikey Piliero

NFS: I did want to touch on the collective that you helped form, Fatale Collective.

Blanc: Back in 2019, I just had been having conversations with some of my women filmmaker friends about how much we loved horror, and we didn't feel that there was really enough of a community around that, around women in horror at that time. We talked about how we could combine forces and use our collective power to have more of a presence together collectively than we did individually, and kind of support each other and lift each other up in that way and make something collaboratively. So we did make a micro anthology, a horror short called Bleed, that really kind of changed everything for all of us, to be honest, because we got into a lot of major genre festivals, and then everyone suddenly knew who we were.

Now, I think a lot has changed in the past four years, which is amazing. There are so many more women in horror. There's so much more visibility for all kinds of marginalized groups in horror, but the work is not done. But I do think that banding together and collectively working toward a creative goal can be game-changing.

NFS: What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?

Blanc: Just find a way. Rightfully—because it's expensive to make films—but I used to get really caught up in the narrative that I couldn't do it, that I didn't have the money, that it was too hard. What I just keep learning is that you can figure it out if you get resourceful enough, if you keep hunting for that team that's going to want to work with you and grow together with you, even if it's just on your iPhone.

There are so many ways to make things now, and not waiting for someone to create the perfect circumstances and just figuring it out. That's what changed everything for me. Or, that's my philosophy anyway.

NFS: What are your feelings on the strikes?

Blanc: I'm a SAG-AFTRA member and I'm pre-WGA, so I very, very much support labor and support the strike, and hope that actors and writers can all get paid what we're worth and not have our jobs taken by robots. That would be great.

Lola Blanc's film is called Pruning, and it's screening next at Fantasia, then at HollyShorts, and will hopefully be online in the fall.