Zoe Lister-Jones interview: reimagining The Craft

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Zoe Lister-Jones chats to us about stepping into the director’s chair for The Craft: Legacy, as well as penning the new film.

This Halloween, 1990s cult hit The Craft is brought up-to-date by Zoe Lister-Jones and Blumhouse Productions.


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Starring Cailee Spaeny, Gideon Adlon, Lovie Simone, Zoey Luna, Nicholas Galitzine, with Michelle Monaghan and David Duchovny, The Craft: Legacy brings a new coven onto the big screen, as a diverse group of four young witches come to terms with the growing strength of their powers.

Lister-Jones, already with a strong acting career behind her, both penned the script and directs the new movie. And she’s been telling us all about it…

For me, The Craft kicked off a trend of supernatural series in the late 1990s such as Buffy, Roswell and Charmed. What were your memories of the film?

I just remember feeling really emboldened by it at a time when I was feeling isolated – I was bullied a lot as a teenager and a pre-teen, I was an outsider and was often misgendered because I shaved my head when I was 12.

It was the first time that I felt like the weirdos were the heroes and that was so exciting to see, especially in young women protagonists. And that I was able to sit through a scary movie because up until that point, I refused but that one was like, ‘oh, I could get down with this kind of scary movie!’

Speaking of which, there are a lot of horror films nowadays that are reviving the classics such as Blumhouse’s take on The Invisible Man, the Halloween reboot and Fantasy Island. What, in your eyes, makes The Craft: Legacy different from other horror ‘reboots’?

I guess, for me, when I was envisioning it, I wanted to honour the first film because it is so beloved by so many people, myself included. I felt that the best way I could honour it was to actually create a film that could stand entirely on its own.

I wasn’t trying to recreate the story of the original; I was using the original as a springboard and then building a narrative that I drew on my own personal experiences as a young woman and thinking about the story I wanted to tell in today’s climate and landscape.

This is your second directorial feature after Band Aid (2017). What lessons did you incorporate from your debut experience?

It’s interesting – Band Aid was so much smaller in scope and also in terms of the resources we had to make it. But in every film, even as the resources grow, the scope generally grows so I think, filmmaking – in general – you have to be really ‘scrappy’. And so, I had learned from the microbudget world how to problem-solve with limited resources and that really came in handy on this film as well, because the scope of it was so large and what we were trying to achieve was grand.

Also, on Band Aid, I hired a crew made up entirely of women and I brought a number of those women with me as my department heads of The Craft: Legacy, so I had my own little ‘coven’ direct from Band Aid.

One of the key elements of your two films is the all-female crew. How did this boost the theme of sisterhood in the film?

When the storytellers are women, it does change the tenor of the filmmaking itself. I do fully believe that and it is evident in the film. I think, for me in particular, I was really interested in the female gaze as opposed to the male gaze. A lot of the times when you see a woman portrayed, there is a man at the helm and many men have done that successfully – I wanted to see what it would feel like if there were women lensing this film and telling this story behind the scenes, as well.

You previously mentioned the importance of inclusion and highlighting young female voices. What other focal points did you feel needed to be included in the story?

I was interested in inclusion and intersectionality – I think, first and foremost, I wanted to make sure that this was a story about women upholding and uplifting each other in community, rather than turning against each other. Along those same lines, women stepping into their powers and not ultimately being overwhelmed them to the point where they have to give them up. I wanted this film to be about how powerful women can be and a celebration of that power and how great that power is when women are in community.

I also wanted to look at the ways in which men are also suffering at the hands of this system that oppresses women. For me, as I’ve been trying to navigate the waters that we’ve now been in for many years, especially when it comes to the #MeToo movement, for example, which I do think this movie is born out of… I think what’s interesting about allyship is that it’s really hard to be an ally if you can’t see how those oppressive systems are also hurting you. You see yourself as an outsider and I think that’s the work that so many of us are doing in various social justice movements but I wanted to explore some of the pain that young men were in as well, and how they might overcome that and enter the community of women.

You have cast four relatively unknown actresses in the roles. Considering the original had come out when they were babies, how did they take to the roles?

They are all so brilliant and I feel so lucky to have been gifted with all of the nuance, depths and complexity that they brought to each of their characters.

When I watched Cailee Spaeny’s audition tape, I remember leaning in and being like, ‘who is that?’ – there was the ephemeral star quality that’s hard to quantify and just encapsulated everything that I had envisioned in the character of Lily.

In fact, all three girls outside of Cailee were already practising witchcraft in various forms before this film – when Lovie [Simone, who plays Tabby] and I first met, she was telling me about all her work that she was already doing in this world and had such a deep and inspiring spiritual practice. She’s also so funny and creates such levity out of spiritual moments.

When we were casting Zoey [Luna as Lourdes], we enlisted [LGBT organisation] GLAAD to help us with outreaching the trans community and we got around 200 submissions. Zoey came in and just was the character – not only was she so effervescent and charismatic, she was also an astrologer and immediately reading all of our charts. The casting was truly kismet.

The Craft: Legacy is very much a genre film. Do you see yourself directing in other genres?

Oh, sure! (laughs) I try not to limit myself in terms of my ambitions and I tend to be drawn to things that scare me – I think The Craft: Legacy was a perfect example of that. I had never made a genre film before, I haven’t worked with the special effects or stunts before and I was terrified! Especially as women, we are such perfectionists – because the barrier of entry is that much more difficult in an industry like film and television, we want everyone to believe that we really deserve to be there and we know everything [laughs]. I’m really excited by exploring realms that I don’t know a lot about and learning about those realms beforehand and as I go.

What do you hope audiences will take from The Craft: Legacy?

I hope that audiences will really understand that everything that makes you singular and singularly you is your power, and that that power is so much greater when you can harness it with other people. I think, now more than ever, the idea of community is so important and the power of community and that of rising up intersectionally between communities so I hope that that’s the message that resonates with viewers.

Zoe Lister-Jones, thank you very much!

The Craft: Legacy is in cinemas from October 28 (that’s the very day this interview is live on the site, cunningly enough….).

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