Patricia Gomez Zlatar watches her daughter squeeze ketchup onto the meal she has prepared for her. The bright red liquid flows causing Patricia’s mind to wander instantly to thoughts of blood and gore.
While this bit of macabre revelry might seem surprising at first, it’s perfectly normal considering that in between the daily routine of raising children and managing a household, the 45-year-old mother of two is a writer and producer of horror films.
Patricia’s love of film—horror and fantasy in particular—started from an early age. A self-proclaimed child of the eighties, Patricia grew up watching the movies from the late 70s and 80s—a monumental period for horror films.
Browsing the aisles of her local BlockBuster, it was the covers of these horror films that grabbed Patricia’s attention. She says she must have rented every single one.
Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead (1981) in particular is her favourite and has endured as her go-to movie of choice. Evil Dead she explains, “really impressed what you could do creatively with little money. I Loved that it could be both scary and ridiculously funny at the same time.”
It was in high school when Patricia started to take notice of films and directors. There just wasn’t anyone to encourage her.
It would be years later, near the end of Patricia’s undergrad studies when a chance encounter with film student Elza Kephart provided her with the encouragement she needed.
The pair got to talking and would go on to collaborate on their first feature film, Graveyard Alive (2003). The low-budget film which Patricia describes as “Night of the Living Dead meets soap opera,” provided her with her first real producing and writing experience. She loved it!
But while her first film experience was a positive one, Patricia was resigned to the academic path set before her. Studying the sciences felt like the obvious direction to take. “My father was a scientist so I automatically went with that,” she says. Also, being the middle child to a strict Latino father, “I wasn’t the type to make a fuss,” she explains.
So having been accepted to the University of Florida, she made the decision to leave for grad school.
Patricia earned a Master’s in Wildlife Ecology and would go on to accept a position as a scientist at the University of Florida.
But early into her job, Patricia didn’t feel right. Stepping into her office each morning she immediately felt bored. Her mind wandered constantly to film and the thought of making another movie.
“I didn’t like the feeling,” she says. “I just had to find something where I’m not feeling like I’m chained. I needed to feel into what I was doing. I kept thinking, What am I going to feel like in 10 years?”
Patricia slowly worked up the courage to leave her job. At the age of 30, she packed her things and along with her husband Alex, moved to Montreal to make it as a filmmaker and follow her passion.
WOMEN IN THE WILDERNESS
To break into the industry, Patricia found a job as an accounting clerk for films. While it may not have been the traditional path, it provided her with the stability and time to work on projects in between jobs.
Forming Head on the Door Productions as a vehicle to write and produce films, she set to work applying for grants.
Reconnecting with Elza, the two collaborated on their second feature together, Go In the Wilderness (2013), a retelling of the myth of Lilith, Adam's rebellious first wife.
Shooting on location on the rugged North Coast of Quebec, Patricia brought her then one-year-old daughter with her and experienced firsthand the difficulty of being both mother and producer.
She marvels now that she somehow managed it.
Looking back on the time and the industry, she reflects there just weren't any women making movies in the fantasy and horror genres. The genre itself she adds was perceived by many as a less serious form of filmmaking.
“Horror was the worst kind of movie you could make. The men were nice, but we were seen as a cute anomaly, not to be taken seriously,” she says.
As someone without a traditional film background, doubt is something that Patricia also struggled with. As she puts it, she’s felt at times, “more like a mother who moonlights.”
It’s as though despite the successful films under her belt, she still had a need to prove—to her parents and to herself—that this wasn’t some temporary flight of fancy before falling back to being a scientist.
But giving up and returning to a life in science was not an option.By the time Go In the Wilderness wrapped her detractors started to take notice. Other productions followed and with each new project her confidence and experience grew.
THE BIRTH OF SLAXX
The idea for Slaxx—Patricia’s third feature film and collaboration with Elza—started innocently enough on a long road trip. Patricia, Elza and a friend teasing each other with words they hate, thought “slacks” sounded just like a killer pair of pants.
In writing it, Patricia drew on her experiences working in retail to create the scene of a possessed pair of designer jeans on a bloody rampage in a locked-down retail store. Underlying the copious amounts of blood splatter and dark humour, it’s a film with a message that hints at the dangers of consumerism and fast fashion.
In film, there’s always a message Patricia says. “But at the end of the day, it needs to be entertaining. The idea comes first and the message comes naturally through the writing,” she explains.
It’s writing she says that pushes her and puts her in a state of flow. “It’s the hardest thing I can do. That’s why I like it. It’s so challenging. I feel I’m always learning and that I can always be a better writer.”
Since its release, Slaxx is getting excellent reviews and Patricia is collaborating with Elza once more on a vampire series for television. Meanwhile, she’s also working on another short.
Her achievements come at a time when there’s a movement to get more women in film. Today there are a ton of women filmmakers and the horror and fantasy genre is immensely popular. Gone are the days when Patricia would walk the film festivals with Elza, two oddities in a male-dominated industry.
But Patricia takes none of it for granted. It’s not easy to find time to write in the midst of the daily chores and responsibilities that come with raising two children, but she tries to find the right balance.
“I always want to go faster. I always want to be writing more. But I just can’t. As a parent, you struggle. You have your days when you’re an amazing filmmaker but that invariably means you are the worst parent ever. Or vice versa. It’s always a choice and sometimes I try to do both and then I’m never satisfied with either.”
It is this quandary that makes choosing which projects to work on far more important. “My time is precious. As soon as you become a parent you are far more productive,” Patricia says.
It’s hard work and she’d be the first to tell you that she hasn’t got it all figured out.
But the best way to learn, she'd tell you, is to just go out and do it.
Patricia Gomez Zlatar's credits include the features Graveyard Alive - A Zombie Nurse in Love, Go in the Wilderness, and SLAXX, as well as the shorts The Chosen Ones and Never Tear Us Apart, which was included in the horror anthologies Minutes Past Midnight and Blood Clots. She is currently producing the shorts Maiden Mother Crone, and They’re Here.
Patricia is also creating a vampire television series titled Sweet Blood, which was selected to the Torino SeriesLab, and pitched at the Series Mania Co-Production Forum in Paris.