Mothers of Monsters: Interview with Writer and Director Tucia Lyman

Mothers of Monsters
“M.O.M. (Mothers of Monsters)” is a new film that focuses on a troubled single mother named Abbey who fears that her teenage son, Jacob, is a psychopath.

“M.O.M. (Mothers of Monsters)” is a new film by Indie Rights that focuses on a troubled single mother named Abbey who fears that her teenage son, Jacob, is a psychopath who is plotting a school shooting. Desperate to know if her son is capable of murder, she begins recording him at home on a network of spy cameras that subsequently confirm her worst fears.

Torn between a mother’s unconditional love and acute intuition, Abbey shares her videos online with other mothers who have similar fears about their children. Yet everything backfires when Jacob uses a dark family secret against her which launches both mother and son on a terrifying, and ultimately deadly, game of cat and mouse.

Recently writer and director Tucia Lyman discussed the film via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you decide to enter the film industry and which genres most appeal to you?

Tucia Lyman (TL): I’ve been directing unscripted television shows for many years and I’ve always wanted to make the transition into film where there is more time to refine the craft of storytelling. I’m also a bit of a horror nut and have always been intrigued by real-life horror films that use the dysfunctions of society as a vessel to explore the truth. So, I started writing my first screenplay, HALFBREED, in between my TV shows, and when it placed as one of the winners in the horror category of the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards, I thought huh, maybe I can really do this! Producers started calling me but they all had their own veteran directors in mind so I decided to write another screenplay that could be made on a much lower budget and raise the money myself. I wrote M.O.M. (MOTHERS OF MONSTERS), took a swig of Jameson and started making phone calls.

MM: How did you get involved with M.O.M. and what about it most appealed to you?

TL: What appeals to me most about the concept of M.O.M. is that it explores the real-life horror of a single mother who thinks her son is plotting a school shooting. This is a very socially relevant topic and it also gave me the unique opportunity to make a psychological thriller that might inspire reflective commentary around the stigma of mental health and the divisive nature of gun violence that’s rocking the consciousness of this country right now.

MM: How long did it take to film and how did you manage to secure the cast and locations?

TL: You have to be very resourceful to make a good low budget indie and that starts with having the courage and conviction to ask people to believe in you. Some of the best screenplays in the world would never have been made without someone asking someone else for some kind of favor. Of course, it helps if you’ve done favors for others along the way, and it never hurts to have a killer script with a fantastic hook.

The hero house we filmed in belonged to one of the producer’s uncles, and our genius art director gutted and redesigned it all on 3D software so we could simply move the graphic elements around before spending our limited budget on actual renovations.

In my opinion, casting a film is more important than anything else, and the time it takes to find the right actors is worth its weight in gold. We watched video auditions for over 400 kids, held callbacks over a period of several months, and recorded weeks of chemistry callbacks before we found the right actor (Bailey Edwards) to play Jacob.

Many new filmmakers don’t realize the importance of rehearsals, which allows the actors to play with the material, to discover nuances that even I as the writer didn’t know existed, and to make creative choices that elevate the integrity of their performance on every level. The filming itself took 20 days spanning over a 2-month period, but the fact that we were in pre-production for 4 months before then, kept the entire project on schedule, on budget, and ultimately allowed the cast and crew to have a lot of fun on set.

MM: How did you find a production company to work with?

Mothers of Monsters
“Mothers of Monsters” is a thriller.

TL: Instead of finding a production company to work with, we opened an LLC for the film, and created our own. I hired TV producers and crew members who I enjoyed working with in the past and offered most of them a lower weekly salary in exchange for points that gave them ownership in the film itself. This gave them an added incentive to invest themselves wholeheartedly into the success of the final product and created a very collaborative working environment on set.

MM: What’s your favorite part of the movie and why?

TL: My favorite part of the movie happens to be the scene we struggled with the most during rehearsals. The actress playing the mother (Melinda Page Hamilton) had to deliver an intense four-and-a-half-minute monologue to a nanny cam without a single cut. I won’t give away any spoilers, but let’s just say the circumstances of this scene were very claustrophobic and the duality of playing a mother who both loves and fears her own son created the perfect storm of conflicting motivations for everyone involved. Plus, not only was there a lot of dialogue, but there weren’t any other cameras we could cut-away to, which required Melinda to truly embody the essence of this character without a single hint of mendacity. Of course, Melinda is so brilliant, she delivered the monologue differently every time, making it both mesmerizing and excruciating to direct. By the 26th take, she nailed it so powerfully that every person in video village was weeping into their coffee cups and I could barely manage to squeak out “cut!”

MM: What’s the most memorable behind-the-scenes story you have?

TL: Besides a prank I played on Ed Asner and some snafus involving escape-artist rats, I had the honor of working with two lead actors who not only have incredible voices, but who also happen to know every lyric to every musical in the history of Broadway. So, every time we cut cameras to reset a scene, the two of them would simultaneously burst into a very lively song and dance number. Now given the deeply disturbing subject matter of this film, and the fact that they were wearing make-up so as to appear utterly exhausted and malnourished, the set would instantly transform into some kind of harmonious zombie apocalypse duet, which often gave me pause as to whether I should switch gears and make an entirely different film.

MM: What other films have you directed and what are they about?

TL: M.O.M. is my first feature debut but I’ve directed a lot of unscripted television series for networks including Discovery, National Geographic, and A&E. My lifelong fascination with all-things-horror also led me to direct a number of TV shows about supernatural phenomenon on Syfy, Destination America, and Travel Channel. FACT OR FAKED and GHOSTS OF SHEPHERDSTOWN are two of my personal favorites.

MM: What are your ultimate career goals?

TL: I enjoy working in television but ultimately, I’d like to continue making experimental films that provoke critical thought and provide access to one’s unimaginable imagination.

MM: What projects are coming up for you soon and is there anything else that you would like to talk about?

TL: I’m currently working on a series for A&E – but now that I’ve directed my first feature, I’d like to revisit my original screenplay HALFBREED, which despite winning awards, is still shrieking at me from the bookshelf where it is busy collecting dust. I suppose one last thing I’d like to mention is that the only thing more terrifying than the thought of doing something you’ve never done before without any money or credentials – is actually doing it. And if I could offer any advice, it would be to first surround yourself with people you trust, listen to everything they have to say no matter how confronting it may be, give yourself 3X as much time in pre-production and post than you think, and eat a superhero’s breakfast every single morning before climbing into your not-so-superhero-feeling cape.