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Daphne Zelle’s premiere short film, Your Face, is a horror that follows a young man as he confronts eerie, faceless creatures around New York City. Mixed Asian Media spoke with the writer, director, actress, and model about Your Face, and the entrancing power of the horror genre.
Jalen Jones: What inspired you to create Your Face?
Daphne Zelle: So Your Face is actually the first film that I've written and directed. For a long time, I wanted to make something, but I wasn't sure why. Then one day, while watching this scene in the Studio Ghibli film Pom Poko where there are these raccoon creatures from Japanese mythology. Legend goes that raccoons can shapeshift, and so they'll often take on the appearance of humans, but just to be a little mischievous, just to kind of fuck with them. You might see a human, and then they'll turn around and that human has no face. I saw the animated version of that in a kid's film, and I was like, “What a terrifying concept!” And so I was curious about playing around with making a live-action version of that set in New York.
On a deeper level, I thought [the film] was a good metaphor for identity. You know, the main character is a guy in his early 20s, and I feel like—at least for me—that was such an age of figuring out who you are as a person. I come from a classical ballet background. I was a dancer from ages 3-20, and then got injured. I stopped and I was just finding my feet, not really knowing who I was once that aspect of my identity had been taken away. I feel like a lot of people find themselves hanging out with people, only to realize later that you don't actually like them—you're laughing at jokes that you don't think are funny, you're pretending to understand references that you don't get. [The main character in the film] succumbing to these faceless creatures is where my head was at, metaphorically.
JJ: Were there any of your own personal identity factors at play in this film, besides the inspiration from the Ghibli film and that Japanese legend?
DZ: When you're mixed, that only makes the question of your identity all the more confusing. The older you get, the more aware you become of all these nuances that are at play, as an actor, or as anyone in the industry. People start wanting to categorize you and put you in certain boxes. That's already difficult to deal with by default, because you just want to be a human being. But you know, when you're mixed, that's like one step further. Identity is a fascinating topic, especially with regard to being mixed.
JJ: I actually see a refusal to be put into one single box even when looking at your career! You're a writer, actor, director, model—all these different things. Between writing, acting, and directing, what would you say was the most rewarding part of creating this horror short film?
DZ: I will say being able to have agency and create something that was entirely my own. As a dancer, as an actor, as a model, I'm so used to being an instrument for someone else. And I love it as part of creative collaboration—but it's also pretty amazing to be able to make something you have total control over, and look back at it as this thing that you are responsible for.
JJ: What is it specifically about the horror genre that interests you?
DZ: Oh my god, I have always loved horror! Halloween is my favorite holiday, and I always go full out. I've gone as Lydia from Beetlejuice before, and this year I already have my costume planned, obviously; I'm going as Gollum from Lord of the Rings.
I mean with horror, I think it's just got this fun aspect, and this transformative aspect. Even just as an audience member I've always loved horror, because I feel like in this day and age, it's so easy to get distracted while you're watching something. I'll put on a Netflix show, and even if I really like it, my hand will be creeping toward my phone, and then all of a sudden, I have to rewind 40 seconds because I don't have any idea what anyone said [in that scene]. But with a good horror, you get so wrapped up in what's happening, because you're scared. It forces you to be fully present, and there's just so much room to play.
JJ: I’ve never thought about that! I, too, have been getting really frustrated with feeling so split up by my phone. Horror does really force you to be here, and in the now. Maybe because you're scared for your life, but hey—at least you're paying attention.
Besides scaring us, is there anything else that you hope viewers can get out of watching Your Face?
DZ: I think about how I made this with such a small budget. I mean, I just self-financed it and used my tax refund for the year, and got a bunch of friends together. I felt very lucky to have talented friends who are willing to put their time in, but you know, the fun thing with shorts is that you can just make them—nobody's stopping you. Especially in the early stages, everyone (or at least I) dream about having a big budget or doing a studio film, but when you're financing it, everything is up to you. [I hope viewers know] that freedom is kind of amazing.
JJ: Where can viewers expect to see Your Face, and where do you see the film going in the future?
DZ: It’s going to Cinequest Film Festival in August, and then Popcorn Frights in Miami shortly afterward. My dream is to get it in a horror anthology, whether that's on say, something like Hulu's Bite Size Halloween, [or other similar specials].
As Your Face continues its festival run, Zelle will be recurring as an actress in the upcoming season of And Just Like That…, streaming on Max. She is also finishing up the script of her next project, which will be a horror feature, of course.
Published on July 10, 2023
Words by Jalen Jones
Jalen Jones is a Black and Filipino writer, poet, director, and all around creative who came of age in Eagle Rock and the greater Los Angeles county. Over the years, he has hosted a children’s workout DVD series, directed an Emmy Award-winning public service announcement, and produced the NAACP Image Award nominated short film, The Power of Hope. Passionate about portraying the real, the unpinpointable, and the almost-unsayable, Jalen has published a wide array of poetry and creative work that lands on these very discoveries. More than anything, he hopes to build a house out of words that can make anyone and everyone feel like they belong. Find him on Instagram @jalen_g_jones and online at jalen-jones.com.