‘Trim Season’ Director Ariel Vada Brings Bud and Witchcraft Together

Trim Season is a horror film with a setup out of a dream. Making a few extra buckets working a beautiful cannabis farm sounds like a sweet deal. For the ensemble in director Ariel Vida’s film, well, that dream becomes a nightmare once they learn their employer is a witch and interested in more than their trimming services. 

That’s all anyone should know about Trim Season before experiencing its horrific and lovely sights. 

The movie is quite a vision, often burning with green in the frame. There’s the beauty of the bud and the farm that gels well with the low-key blood and guts in the atmospheric horror picture. After a successful run at film festivals, Vida and her cast and crew have made a critical darling that’s perfect for those who enjoy bud and horror. 

Recently, Vida spoke with High Times about making her second film, visiting cannabis farms and speaking with trimmers, and going with a do-it-yourself approach. 

[Note: This interview has been condensed for clarity and length] 

I see you have a poster for Tarsem Singh’s The Fall (which all readers should watch). Was that at all an inspiration for Trim Season?

Definitely. It is one of my favorites. Actually, I saw Tarsem had done an interview and he said that he went bankrupt shooting The Fall, and that he would do it all again in a heartbeat. As I’m trying to get my next projects off the ground, I was happy reading that. For him to say he’d do it again, I was sending it to all my friends, and I was like, “When I bankrupt myself for my next film, I’m just doing what my heroes did.” 

[Laughs] Did any other movies influence you for the Trim Season

You have these unconscious throughlines and themes and symbols that you will sometimes realize in the moment, but a lot of times it’s not until the hindsight. All of a sudden it clicks where you’re like, “This was totally from a shot in Lord of the Rings.” If you watch something over a hundred times as a child, it’s just going to be baked into you. 

Trim Season is a beautifully shot horror movie, kind of a mix of arthouse and do-it-yourself filmmaking. I imagine the budget and time was limited, so how’d you and the team pull this vision off?

Thank you. That means so much because it was obviously just like any independent film, you’re setting out and there’s the known factors. I’ve designed hundreds of over 200 or something narrative things, usually genre and at night. I would never throw anyone else’s approach under the bus, and it’s always with the best intentions, but I’ve been on sets where it’s like, “Okay, we’ll try to have this one really elaborate VFX gag or something.” Just seeing how many times I’ll tell people like, “Oh no… I’m an optimistic pessimist, but I just thought of the 18 things that could go wrong.” 

We went with a much more DIY approach. [Cinematographer] Luka Bazeli is getting in there with the camera himself and being like, “Okay, it’s raining and there’s a moose we have to shut down, so we can’t use this rig.” We’re going to be really getting in there and pivoting in the moment and embracing these unexpected elements. 

The Sam Raimi-Evil Dead influence is there. Especially how you show people move under a spell. Those handmade elements are charming. 

So Sam Raimi started the MSC film club that I was part of. When I had my screenwriting class, the teacher Bill Vincent would point up and say, “There’s still blood on the ceiling still from one of Sam Raimi’s early films.” 

When the trimmers are moving under a spell, that’s especially very Raimi. 

Our trimmers being manipulated [by magic], that’s practical. 

When did you start talking to trimmers about their experiences? 

For the script, Sean E. DeMott, one of our producers, was working with some of his friends, Cullen [Poythress] and Megan [Sutherland], who had trimmed themselves. And so, the story concept had started with them. Then they had David Blair, an amazing screenwriter, do the first versions of the script. So when they came to me, I already had that amazing well of resources through Megan and Cullen.

Megan actually took myself and our production designer and one of my best friends, Kati [Simon], and walked us through every step to make sure we were accurate. Then Kati and I went up the coast and visited multiple farms. Also, even knowing that we’d be splicing elements from principal photography in Utah, I wanted to make sure the characters when they’re in the van will be seeing the B-roll in Humboldt County. 

What else did you visit? There’s definitely an inherent surrealness to some of these environments. 

That was going back to trying to use these surrealist elements in films like The Fall and Lord Rings. How do you lean into that beauty? Because we were visiting farms. You would stuff, like Netflix’s Murder Mountain, where the opening footage would be these dark, foggy, scary shots. But Kati and I rolled in, and it’s just the most beautiful place. People showed us around – and there were puppies and chickens around – and took us to the coast and showed us whales and lighthouses. I was like, okay, this is what I want to make sure we’re viewing as much as possible. 

How’d you want to get the sound on the farm right?

So Megan was talking about the sounds they would hear at night, and they would be smoking all day and hearing these sounds. They would still be horrifying sounds of other people and needing to go to the bathroom but not wanting to leave your tent all night long. 

I felt like that was also a very crucial way to take a witch script, to take a horror script and have the setting of the cannabis farm not be just this arbitrary dartboard of locations. Like, how can this be a specific thing, these specific witchy powers that actually can lean into slight time dilation when you’re high and you lose a little bit of time, whether things are a little slower, a little faster?

If it’s going to be on a cannabis farm, I want everything to be this slightly hyper-stylized version of what all these trimmers were telling me, like, “Well, we would hear a mountain lion or we would hear this.” I was like, okay, we’re just cranking that slightly into witch land. 

It’s always refreshing to see a horror movie set in a beautiful place. How’d you and your cinematographer really want to capture the beauty up there, especially the rich greens of bud and nature? 

We knew we wanted to lean into these shots of the actual buds and the plants. When Kati and I came back from those farms, I wanted this to be the pure element. It was so apparent from all my calls with Luka ahead of time that we wanted to make sure we were highlighting the beauty. 

Anything that feels like a beautiful featured close-up of bud was separate from the principal photography with the talent. I also am not going to take away from Beth Million’s beautiful performance, like, “You’re doing beautifully, but you can’t have another take because I really want an insert of the bud here.” We had planned to really DIY in my living room. We just had to make sure to move the cat off of my living room table where we’re shooting the inserts of the bud, scales, making sure we had the exact right trimming tools. 

Like you said, you wanted to play with time like you’re high. How’d you want to create that sense of high paranoia? 

Like you were saying, some much of it was these practical Sam Raimi effects, too. 

It wouldn’t work nearly as well without Luca approaching it like you would with specific lenses. I love diopter tricks. The team we had with [our supervising sound editor] Spencer Hall, he had a foley artist go up to Humboldt County just to record. We wanted the birds and everything to be the right sounds. Then from Australia, we had [actress] Jane Badler do witchy chanting sounds and just whispering. It just adds up to that overall unnerving feeling.

Like I was saying earlier, what Megan would tell me about trimming and what you would hear, it’s like you would even hear that even stone cold sober. Obviously, when Kati and I were driving around, we were hearing weird things just behind the wheel. But if you were actually sitting there at night and hearing something that sounds like a mountain lion, Spencers and his [sound team] would go the extra mile of like, “Okay, but it might not just be a mountain lion…” 

Let’s end with the beginning. Do you see yourself, like Tarsem Singh, spending everything you got on a film and never regretting it?

Oh, I think it’s happening this year. 

Okay, good for you. 

I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m in a place where my only dependent is my cat. No one knows what the future holds. It’s a lot easier said than done to just say, “Oh, we’ll just self-fund something.” Really, people will usually say that when they come from a lot more money than I come from. So, to be in this situation where I was developing a two person, one location, but still ambitious and stylized movie… It’s two people on a surrealist dystopian sailboat. 

I already did buy the really rundown sailboat, and they say that nothing’s more expensive than a free boat. They weren’t wrong. Still, I am encouraged by that Tarsem article. I’m just going to go all out. I met so many of these amazing people during Trim Season that I want to work with again. As I try to figure it all out, some people are like, “Well, wait to see as the industry recovers.” Maybe this will be a cautionary article in a few years about a filmmaker who bankrupted herself and got lost at Sea…

What happened to Ariel Vida: The Documentary?

Where’d she go? You never know what things hold. A lot of my other ideas I couldn’t possibly do; they’re weird westerns with lots of stunts. With this one, it’s a couple of people, a very strange world, but mainly a character piece on this stylized sailboat. I’m just going to do it. And if I meet Tarson someday, I’m going to say, “I read that piece where you said that’s what you did for The Fall.” And he’ll be like, “I had a lot more money than you. You just put it on credit cards.” 

Trim Season is now playing in theaters. 

The post ‘Trim Season’ Director Ariel Vada Brings Bud and Witchcraft Together first appeared on High Times.


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