The Skinny on Emma Westwood
Emma Westwood is a writer, journalist, film historian, storyteller and dedicated aesthete of extreme cinema from Melbourne, Australia.
As a media correspondent, her writing has appeared in numerous magazines, websites and newspapers including Empire (Australia), Screen Education (Australia), Fangoria (USA), Filmink (Australia), Screem (USA), Senses of Cinema (Australia), ReviewAsia (Hong Kong), Diabolique (UK) and Metro (Australia). She has also dabbled in travel journalism for the likes of FRV (Bali) and Essentials (Australia).
Emma was arts editor for Melbourne weekly street press, The Music (formerly Inpress), for four years from 2000; penned a weekly performing arts column for The Age called ‘Curtain Call’ for two years; and enjoyed a stint as a researcher on the one-and-only season of ABC’s arts panel television show, Vulture.
As an arts professional, she has written and edited program guides, synopses and press releases for the likes of the Melbourne International Film Festival, Greek Film Festival, Melbourne International Jazz Festival, Palace Cinemas, Melbourne International Comedy Festival and Alliance Francaise French Film Festival, to name a few.
Her first clandestine viewing of The Exorcist at age 11 kicked off a love affair with the horror genre, which saw her write her first book, Monster Movies, in 2008. Her second non-fiction book on David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986) was released in 2018; and her third non-fiction book, co-written with Jez Conolly, on John Frankenheimer’s Seconds (1966) was released in 2021. She is currently editing a book of essays from some very talented writers about James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935).
For more than three years, Emma talked about film live every Monday (and in podcast form) with her esteemed colleagues on Triple R’s Plato’s Cave but now makes the occasional appearance under the show’s new guise, Primal Screen. She can also be heard on numerous DVD audio commentaries for the likes of Umbrella (Australia), Kino Lorber (USA), Eureka (UK), Arrow (UK), Second Sight (UK) and Indicator (UK), of which her work with Lee Gambin on William Castle’s Strait-Jacket was nominated for a Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award for Best DVD Commentary. She also writes essays for booklets in limited edition DVD releases.
Emma is also proud to be Queen and Worker Bee of her own content creation and storytelling enterprise, Bakewood – http://www.bakewood.com.au.
In her spare time, she likes to sleep.
Tweet tweet @emmajwestwood
The Phat on Emma Westwood
Emma Westwood is a writer, author, journalist, film historian, screenwriter, broadcaster, media commentator and dedicated aesthete of cinema – with a special interest in extreme and horror cinema. She hails from Melbourne, Australia, although you’ll often find her going troppo/finding sanity in her second home of Bali.
Emma’s first love was music, and she harboured fantasies of becoming a funk bass player and audio engineer, before she fell down a cinematic rabbit-hole and never came out. Her weekends as a child were filled with reading, short story writing and marathon VHS-viewing sessions – of films far too sophisticated for her age – facilitated by her uncle’s shared love of movies and her parent’s ignorance as to what she was really doing.
Emma’s first clandestine viewing of The Exorcist at age 11 (twice in one sitting) kicked off a love affair with the horror genre, which saw her write her first book, Monster Movies, in 2008. Her second non-fiction book on David Cronenberg’s The Fly was released in 2018; and her third non-fiction book, co-written with Jez Conolly, on John Frankenheimer’s Seconds (1966) was released in 2021. She is currently editing a book of essays from some very talented writers about James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935).
However, before Emma started commentating on cinema, she harboured another fantasy – that of becoming a film director. Upon completing her Year 12 studies, she applied for the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Film & Television) at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA). Much to the surprise of everyone, she was granted an interview as part of the competitive selection process, aged only 17 at the time, but she hadn’t yet made a film.
Emma, instead, commenced a Bachelor of Arts (Politics and Visual Arts) at Monash University in Melbourne and, possibly more importantly, she joined the Monash Filmmaking Society (MFS) where she starting writing and directing her own short projects. She also volunteered as a crew member for the now-defunct SKA (St Kilda Access) TV and as a Production Manager on student productions at VCA, and worked part-time at a video rental store where she undertook her own schooling in cinema.
Similarly, in order to grow her knowledge of the technical side of filmmaking, Emma was accepted into an intensive summer course in Cinematography at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 1998 where she learned the ins & outs of shooting film (lighting, filters, colour grading, assisting, loading, etc.) while being granted the utmost privilege of running 16mm film through the camera every day.
After discovering a film projector in a scout hall, she co-founded a film society with fellow MFS member Rui de Lemos. Fitzroy Film Society (FFS) enjoyed a healthy life for a few years with monthly screenings and Portuguese beers above Rui’s family restaurant in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy. Along with screening double features, FFS would invite speakers to attend, including a very memorable event where Australian filmmaker John Hughes shared his experiences of the film Dalmas (1973).
It was through her on-set experiences in New York and production managing VCA student productions that Emma discovered her innate people-pleasing nature was not suited to filmmaking or, at least, not directing. To be brutally honest, she took no pleasure from being on-set. But her sense of rhythm, fostered by a childhood of bass-playing, and her natural abilities with the written word, developed in her an interest in more solo filmmaking pursuits – editing and screenwriting.
Around the time of undertaking tertiary studies at Monash University, Emma approached Michael Helms, Founder and Managing Editor of Melbourne cult cinema magazine FatalVisions, and, with this connection, took her first tentative steps into print. She began freelancing for different publications but, most notably, contributed to the weekly street mag, Inpress (now known as The Music), of which she would eventually join as Arts Editor from 2001 to 2005.
During this intense period of arts and film immersion at Inpress, Emma would pen the weekly ‘Cultural Cringe’ arts scuttlebutt column, as well as conducting numerous interviews – from Eddie Izzard to Geoffrey Rush to John Waters to Bruce Campbell to Pupi Avati to Sharon Jones (from Dap-Kings fame) – and attended the ‘opening of an envelope’ in terms of the number of cultural events she covered. She enjoyed something of a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget.
Amongst these Inpress shenanigans, she discovered a love for live comedy – particularly standup – of which she reviewed for The Age daily newspaper. She was also a Barry Award (Best Show) judge for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival for four years running, which required attendance at approximately 40 shows across the three weeks of each festival, and a weekly RAW Comedy (talent show) judge for seven years.
This intensive period of arts coverage saw Emma appointed as a weekly columnist with The Age. In her column, ‘Curtain Call’, she reported on stage and theatre news across Melbourne. Combined with ‘Cultural Cringe’, this two-year period of writing ‘Curtain Call’ (2002-2004) for The Age positioned her as one of the most prolific theatre journalists in Melbourne at that time, which was an unexpected turn in her writing trajectory.
After almost four years as Arts Editor at Inpress – and having overhauled the design and content of the arts section – Emma left the magazine to pursue other freelance opportunities. She attended a Paul Capsis performance and, through such fortuitous circumstances, became a researcher for a new ABC-TV arts panel/satirical program called Vulture, produced by Paul Horan and Guy Rundle, and written by Fiona Scott-Norman, which afforded Emma valuable insight into the machinations of live television.
She then started working for the many arts institutions, cultural events and festivals about which she had previously written. She wrote program notes for The Australian Ballet; press releases for Ten Days on the Island Festival (Tasmania), Melbourne International Jazz Festival (MIJF) and artists of many different persuasions; both edited and wrote program guides for Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF) and Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), and wrote content for programs and guidebooks for City of Melbourne, Melbourne International Jazz Festival (MIJF), Greek Film Festival, Alliance Francaise French Film Festival and Palace Films.
Emma also continued to foster her interest in film and cinema, and, over the years, has developed a roll-call of publications to which she has contributed. Some of these publications, both online and print, include Diabolique (UK), Empire (Australia), Fangoria (USA), Filmink (Australia), Screem (USA), Senses of Cinema (Australia), ReviewAsia (Hong Kong), Metro (Australia) and Screen (Australia). She has also dabbled in the occasional spot of travel journalism for the likes of FRV (Bali) and Essentials (Australia).
For Emma, the fruits of her writing efforts ripened when she was lucky to be offered a publication deal with Oldcastle Books, UK, to write a compendium book on monster movies. Emma had become a fan of Oldcastle’s Pocket Essentials imprint through her editing role at Inpress. Subsequently, her talks with the publisher led to her being asked to pitch for the book, which she gratefully accepted, with Monster Movies published in 2008. As well as covering 75-plus films, the book enabled her to interview filmmaking legends such as John Carpenter, Roger Corman and Larry Cohen.
Following the critical success of Monster Movies, Emma concentrated on building her own content creation and storytelling enterprise with her partner Steve Baker, Bakewood – www.bakewood.com.au – but constantly found herself pulled back into film and cinema. In particular, meeting Lee Gambin and his team at Cinemaniacs opened a veritable tidal wave of film opportunities, one which she is continuing to happily ride.
As a friend of Cinemaniacs, Emma regularly presents at the film society’s many cultural events. For instance, she has introduced monthly screenings – such as John Frankenheimer’s Prophecy and Stuart Gordon’s Dolls – appeared as a speaker and panellist at Cinemaniacs’ first film festival, ‘You’re a Vile, Sorry Little Bitch! A Celebration of Hagsploitation!’ and their second film festival, ‘My Family’s Always Been in Meat: A Tobe Hooper Retrospective’, and represented Cinemaniacs at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival panel for ‘All of them Witches: The Devil in ’60s and ’70s Cinema’.
Most notably, her introduction to the Cinemaniacs’ screening of David Cronenberg’s The Fly in 2014 led to her being introduced to Auteur Publishing by guardian angel and fellow extreme cinema champion, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas.
Emma continues her activity in cinema commentary, both as a historian and as a correspondent for contemporary releases. She appears in DVD commentaries for the likes of Umbrella (Australia), Kino Lorber (USA), Arrow (UK), Second Sight (UK) and Indicator (UK), of which her work with Lee Gambin on William Castle’s Strait-Jacket was nominated for a Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award in 2019 for Best DVD Commentary. She’s also appeared in DVD extras – such as Umbrella Entertainment’s releases of Long Weekend, Razorback and Dark Age; and Monster Pictures’ release of Julia Ducournau’s Raw. And she writes essays for booklets in special edition DVD releases including Raw (Second Sight), The Stylist (Arrow) and Nightmare (Indicator).
Emma presents at live events and filmmaker Q&A sessions – such as ACMI’s Psychology of Fear, as part of their conversation series – and contributes to discussions and debates on film culture. For more than three years, she talked about film live every Monday (and in podcast form) with her esteemed colleagues on Triple R’s Plato’s Cave but now appears as an occasional guest under the show’s new guise, Primal Screen.
Next step for Emma is to pursue her ambitions in screenwriting, which has already seen her pen a treatment for a prequel to the Australian horror ‘classic’, Houseboat Horror.
In her spare time, she likes to sleep.
Tweet tweet @emmajwestwood