Complexions is a contemporary perspective of the psychological thriller genre starring Lauryn Holmquist. In the noir-inspired short, a young woman comes face-to-face with an unlikely pursuer resulting in a deadly series of events.
We talked with sisters and producer duo Kimberly and Wendy Willming of Duplicity Studios, and Complexions photographer Jill Beth Hannes about the film, their inspiration and working in Hollywood.
Tell us a bit about the origins of Complexions.
Kimberly: Complexions is sort of my own interpretation of a psychological film noir that was largely inspired by a classic Twilight Zone episode entitled “Mirror Image”. I kept going back to this black and white still frame from the episode of the main character, Millicent Barnes, who sees another version of herself (her “parallel double”) in a mirror at a bus stop. I just couldn’t get it out of my head. When I was writing this piece, I kept wondering what would happen if those two women met. To me, it would be the survival of the fittest – good literally versus evil. I wanted to see a hunt of a normal woman confronting an alternate variant of herself.
What about the inspiration behind the film’s visual style?
Kimberly: Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train and Clouzot’s Diabolique lended heavily to the style of this film. It was also pretty intense in prepping all the shots because we had to make sure the camera never moved so we could seamlessly have both characters in one frame. So every time the two women are in the same shot, we had to line up Lauryn (our model/actress) on one side of the frame so we could overlap the two shots into one. Basically, I had Lauryn do a lot of work jumping into two different characters for each camera set up.
Jill: My style is can be quite dark but very dreamy and I feel like it fit perfectly with the style of the film we wanted to create. Timeless with a horror twist. I’m very attached to the idea of photographing the feeling of anxiety and I think that it worked very well in this piece.
Any underlying ideas or experiences that inspired the film?
Kimberly: Strangely, Lauryn has had a recurring dream since she was 13 that is creepily similar to the script, so she was able to really connect to the piece. I had been wanting to shoot something tonally like this for a while, so it was amazing to work with someone who really understood what we were trying to do without a ton of context. Lauryn really grasped the idea and nailed the separate perceptions of each character.
How did you connect with Jill?
Kimberly: I actually reached out to Jill on Instagram a few years ago, and we’ve been working together ever since. I fell in love with her style, especially the fact that she is as big on shooting film as I am. Once we met, myself, Wendy and Jill were instantly creative companions and have now completed almost four projects with each other.
How did you work together to create this film?
Kimberly: We planned quite a bit and worked out a rhythm between the three of us to make sure we captured exactly what we needed. It was an intense shoot, but we have a good system down where Jill sets up while I shoot a scene of the film, then once I’m satisfied she sets up and shoots her still images. We would flip flop like this until we had everything we needed, while Wendy monitored each element of both moving and still imagery to make sure we made our schedule and got all that was required for story.
How did Duplicity Studios come to be?
Kimberly: Wendy and I have been working in the Film/Television industry in Los Angeles for almost six years now. Ever since we were 11-years-old, we knew we wanted to be a director/producer duo.
What is your perspective as women working, and running your own production company in Hollywood?
Wendy: In all honesty, for us there was always such a drive to be filmmakers and running our own production company that we never felt stunted by being women. It was never a question in our minds that we wouldn’t find a way to succeed in this industry but being out here and seeing so many of the problems with gender roles in Hollywood, it only gives us that much more fuel to become established as creators. I’ve fortunately been very lucky to work with extremely strong and intelligent women here– showrunners, directors, producers, executives, etc. – that it’s been such a positive and strong force of female empowerment. We just hope to continue the push in the right direction for women in film.
Kimberly: There are definitely certain privileges women do not have this industry that men are practically handed sometimes. Between me and Wendy, we’ve seen a lot of very biased situations – from A-list actresses allowing themselves to be shoved around by men, down to our own personal battles working behind the camera. However, we believe that what will ultimately bridge the gender gap is successful women in this industry who dedicate the time to mentor and influence other capable women. And that is happening.
Do you have any favorite places to draw inspiration from?
Jill: David Lynch is a huge influence for me. As far as photographers I’m drawn to the work of Mary Ellen Mark, Sally Mann, and Jeff Wall.
Wendy: We grew up with classic film such as It Happened One Night and noirs like Kiss Me Deadly and The Big Sleep. We both have such a beloved nostalgia for the history of moviemaking, which in itself, is such a big player in our inspiration.
Kimberly: I read a ton of books, especially crime, science fiction and fantasy novels. A lot of my inspiration is drawn from Patricia Highsmith, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Neil Gaiman and Alfred Bester. I have a very specific love for these genres and really gravitate towards stories that deal with grounded issues of humanity in a very elevated way. Between reading and scouring classic films, I really always have something to draw inspiration from.