Somber Studios aims to stop Hollywood from bleeding the horror genre dry

Jessica WillIts fascination with cosplay began over a decade ago. “I would say 2010 was my first time cosplaying. It was just on Instagram and it kind of bled over to YouTube and since then it’s kind of become a thing,” she recalls. Jessica (known as @jbunzie Online) like building different characters from scratch. “It’s funny, I’ve never been a fan of makeup. I’m the least beauty guru-ish person you’ll find in the beauty community, as my love of expensive makeovers stems from my love of film and filmmaking. And when I can transform myself, I can create a character that I basically use for my videos, which is what you do for filmmaking. My YouTube channel was opened to express my love for films and creating characters and bringing them to life. As her YouTube subscriber count has grown to over 1.5 million, she has inadvertently documented a very formative part of her life. “It’s been fun. It’s been hard. It’s been weird. I was 18 when I started and I’m 27 now. At that point in your life, you’re also transforming as a person. And sometimes it can be hard when everyone is looking at you. It’s watching doing that. That’s why I’ve always tried to be pretty private online. I wanted to allow myself to mature personally without making my mistakes for the world to see. So I’ve always put my art forward and myself in the background. That’s helped me a lot. A lot of producers don’t do that and I think a lot of them regret it because of that. I’m glad I did it, but it’s definitely a lot when a lot of people are watching,” he laughs.

While the decision to keep his personal life close to the vest may have been a wise one, it also had the consequence of keeping him shrouded in mystery even to his own followers. “In a way, my privacy also became an issue because I became a stranger to my own audience. A lot of people will say, ‘I don’t know what you look like naturally. I don’t know who you are, I know where you come from. I don’t know what your faith is or anything.’ It may have burned me out a bit in the long run because I didn’t have that personal connection with people. I was just a circus performer. The clown makeup is on and no one else can see who is performing underneath. It affects you too. But I’d say I prefer that to knowing too much about myself.” Jumping between such a variety of personalities gives her clarity about her true self. Having a cornucopia of characters at your disposal means you can create a mosaic of your own identity! “I One of the most common comments is, ‘Do you have your own personality?’ And actually, I think that taking on so many people’s personalities just helps you find a better version of yourself because you get to see what all these people are like, and you can look at it and go, ‘That’s not me,’ and ‘That’s not me.’ I’m not.’ You learn a lot more about yourself when you play all these other characters and people.”

Jessica’s latest effort, Somber Studio, is the culmination of a long held dream. YouTube had been preparing him for this moment for years. “Somber Studio I had a vision when I first opened my YouTube channel. When I created my channel I knew I could do it for so long. It wasn’t hard to keep my content incredibly realistic because I was always aiming to make my videos better and better and higher quality (where it could be mistaken as a real movie), but I knew that makeup wasn’t my thing and that I was my movie. It was only a practice run when it was created. I learn how to create characters, I know how to do makeup and I also learn how to film. Many of my roles have also had cinematic value. 2020 is when I realized it was time to change. I felt that I didn’t have much left to learn from the experience of being a YouTuber. So I opened Somber Studios and I have written eight feature films and thirteen short films so far. The studio aims to rescue the horror genre from the bloody clutches of corporate Hollywood. “We’re aiming to bring back quality to horror and the horror genre, which I love. I am an absolute lover of all things Halloween. I think horror has lost its way in the corporate world. It’s a business decision before it’s a creative one. I want to raise horrors from the dead.”

His strong love for fear was a peculiarity that was his own. “I never grew up around the horror genre. My mom is a Christmas freak. He likes holidays. So I sure will hear Christmas in July. There is no one in my family who contributes to it. I think it was something I just grew on myself from watching Halloween movies, like cheat And enjoy the magical whimsy of Halloween. I always enjoyed trick-or-treating more than opening Christmas presents. It was something I decided to be completely obsessed with. In middle school I started expressing this with my fashion. Everyone calls me real life Wednesday Addams, because I always wear braids and wear all black. I kind of lost it in high school and of course on YouTube because I became this pastel unicorn mermaid that’s another part of my aesthetic, but it always comes back to Halloween for some weird reason. I don’t even know where it comes from. I just love how whimsical it is. A lot of people think of the horror genre or the Halloween holiday as a negative experience, but it’s always been magical for me.” But I love Tim Burton equally. That’s just how he’s always done his movies. Edward Scissorhands Would probably represent my style the best. It’s a pastel film, but it’s horror. I think people should feel more comfortable expressing multiple sides of themselves, whether they are complete opposites or not. I’m like my own twin.”

Through Somber Studios, he plans to bring back the teeth of horror. “Quite frankly, I think I’ve seen thousands of movies as a horror fan. And when you do that, you desensitize yourself to scary things. Godzilla It was considered the scariest movie ever when it came out, and now it’s something to make a parody of. Hollywood continues an old formula and we need a new formula for those who have grown out of the old formula. You have to come to terms with them. The further we go into our timeline of the world, the more sensitive we become to everything. The formulas will no longer work.” First on the agenda is rethinking who has the power to stay. “I’ve noticed that in the horror genre, you don’t really see many leading ladies – we call them ultimate girls. It’s the girls who make it to the finals. Like Jamie Lee Curtis Halloween. Each final girl has a very specific look – you know, skinny blonde with nice boobs and short shorts. It would be really nice to see different versions of ultimate girls and maybe ultimate men who represent humanity a little more clearly. Hollywood is certainly on its way to doing that, along with other genres, but I think horror could use a little more of it.” The goal is to plant new roots in realism — and with them, the seeds of fear of possibility. “It’s great to see The Final Girl as a better representation of the average person. Because the thing about scary movies is that if you can’t relate to it or think it could happen to you, it’s not scary. For example, when you try to make an animation out of horror, it’s hard because an animation knows our brain. Granted it’s not real, it’s a cartoon. And I think that also applies to situations, clichés, tropes, and final girls. When they’re not related, no matter how awesome the monster looks at the end of the show, it’s just not as scary as we think it is. Don’t let it happen to us.”

Keep an eye out for Somber Studios to release the film next year. The characters are a blank canvas by design and Jessica likes to emphasize that anyone is welcome to join their team. “We are now casting for those who want to join. We are an equal opportunity studio. This means that the characters in our script are not actually written with a description. They can be black, white, Hispanic, Asian, able-bodied, disabled, female, male. We make it very simple because at the end of the day we are looking for talent and uniqueness. So we don’t like to write characters with a predetermined image unless it’s culturally necessary in the story. We are looking for people with all or no experience. When I was trying to be an actress before, I went to these schools and I ran all over LA and I realized how unfair casting can be sometimes. They often prefer to cast someone who is perhaps more famous, who is more relevant, whose resume is as thick as a book. I understand from a business side, but I think it leaves a lot of hidden gems around that I want to pick up with my studio. We don’t really look for experience and your resume doesn’t hold the most value. This is more so if you nailed your audition that day. We’re also looking for crew – who might want to learn film and eventually work at Somber Studios. We’re really trying to push a lot of new people and pump them through the system, because I think we’re seeing a lot of the same things.” Gatekeeping in the industry can feel like an impossibly heavy door to open, but if Jessica tries to unlock it Anyone who is willing should be equally enthusiastic to help him open it!

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Somber Studios aims to stop Hollywood from bleeding the horror genre dry. Photo credit: Courtesy of Jessica Vail.