Pumpkin Eater

A woman has sex with her married coworker and invokes an unexpected consequence.

Can you tell us what inspired you to bring this story to life?

Initially, I made Pumpkin Eater as a directing sample for Ryan Murphy’s directing program The Half Initiative. I chose the horror genre for two reasons. It is excellent at demonstrating technical proficiency with stunning visuals, heightened sound design and dramatic coloring. Horror is also wonderful for examining a societal taboo, in this case infidelity. The horror trope, “if you have sex you’re going to die”, lent itself to exploration around a provocative and antiquated theme. I wanted to bring sex positive viewpoint to the horror genre and show someone surviving after getting it on. I also wanted to explore the idea that a monster could change it’s point of view—like what if this monster held the patriarchal idea that women are homewreckers and our protagonist was able to change the monsters mind right before the kill. I wanted to challenge the idea that if a single woman has sex with someone who is in a relationship they are equally at fault, as cheaters, when I believe the responsibility falls solely on the person in a relationship. Horror is such a fun genre to tackle social issues and I had a blast working within that structure.

What were the challenges of shooting in such a tight environment?

Pumpkin Eater was shot in two blocking extremes: the confines of the backseat of a car and a giant warehouse. My DP, Sean McDaniel and the actors, Keri Blunt and Tyler Wolfe and I worked together to get the shots we needed during the sex scene in the car. It required a lot of careful blocking. We needed a three row vehicle with headroom so Sean could shoot in the trunk. The day before the shoot, I was picking up a rental car, running between different agencies and texting Sean to find the right vehicle. The folks at the counter definitely thought I was crazy! For the warehouse, we wanted to create the feeling of dread and isolation. Sean has an incredible eye and was amazing at giving the shots depth and perspective. We wanted Amy to feel trapped within a huge, cavernous space so both she and the audience wouldn’t know where the danger was coming from.

What do you hope people will take away from watching Pumpkin Eater?

I love taking viewers on a journey with a twist they don’t see coming. Ultimately, I want to share stories about women coming to terms with who they are, and in Pumpkin Eater, the female protagonist Amy owns her own sexual choice and refuses to be shamed for her actions. As such, she changes the point of view of the monster and saves her own life. I hope people walk away open to this different point of view of infidelity, ultimately, I hope they enjoy the ride.

Shooting intimate scenes is always a challenge, how did you handle that particular aspect

I come from an acting background. I know how crucial it is to create a safe and secure set for actors during intimate scenes. I’ve been interested in intimacy coordinating for years and, when I wrote Pumpkin Eater, I knew I wanted to try working with the actors in this way. In addition to our regular rehearsal, Keri, Tyler and I met for a separate intimacy rehearsal. We talked through what areas were okay to touch and what areas were off limits. From this place of understanding, we created safe, repeatable blocking they could perform over and over. On the shoot day, we had a closed set. It was just me on monitor and Sean on camera. During the scene, I remember seeing the actors preparing, with total trust between the two of them, and I knew we’d create something special from that place. It was really empowering to be able to give that safe space to Keri and Tyler. What we captured feels authentic and true. I’m really proud of it.