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Jan 11

Interview with Jeremiah Kipp

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(se here for my review of three of his short films)

Jeremiah Kipp is a filmmaker who has put in a lot of work during the last ten years, paying his dues by being involved in countless of projects as an assistant director, producer and more. He has written for such magazines as Fangoria and Shock Cinema and his first full feature length film The Sadist, starring Tom Savini is slated for an early release this year.

In the three short films that I have seen from him he has shown that he can get good performances out of his actors, he has a very high attention to the smallest details and he has a good visual sense.

I’m very happy that he took the time to answer all my questions  over email and I would recommend to anyone that reads this and the review I did to check out his films.

 

Can you give a quick backstory on where you grew up and how cinema played a part in your youth?

I was born and raised in Rhode Island, and had a pretty active creative life. When my folks bought a VHS camcorder to record weddings and family events, I immediately saw the possibility of combining all my interests — the visual aspect of drawing pictures, the narrative storytelling of writing and the element performance — in one medium. From age 12 to 17, I was making backyard movies with my friends, ranging from zombies in the backyard to historical costume dramas to a three-hour adaptation of Stephen King’s THE STAND. The films were amateur, but I was able to cut together a modest reel and send it with my application to NYU film school. With some help from various grants and scholarships, I moved to the Big Apple in 1992 and have lived here, working in the film industry, ever since.

Any directors or movies that had a big influence on you in your younger days?

The movies that took me into the realm of the fantastic are the ones that stuck with me. Science fiction films like BLADE RUNNER, THE ROAD WARRIOR and E.T. create entire worlds or fantasias. Naturalistic films like David Lean’s LAWRENCE OF ARABIA can do this as well, brilliantly, but when I was a kid it was more about discovering something other than reality. Call it reality plus. Horror films also grabbed me; I was blown away by DAWN OF THE DEAD, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, THE THING, THE BROOD…I know some believe that children shouldn’t watch such films, but I was catching an alluring glimpse at something Other. Those movies felt far more accessible than, say, TERMS OF ENDEARMENT. They still do. Even at a young age, I understood that these movies were a metaphor, and therefore heightened and poetic.

You started to write for magazines such as Fangoria and Shock Cinema in the early 2000’s. How did you start writing for them and has that experience helped you in your own career?

I was making a little extra money writing articles and interviews for Web sites, mostly just for fun and to see movies for free. On a whim, I sent in my articles to Fangoria and Shock Cinema, and they hired me to interview various directors and actors. These two publications were fantastic to write for. I had been reading Fangoria ever since I was a child, and to suddenly be in a position where I’m interviewing John Carpenter or Rutger Hauer was exciting. I did learn a lot, as if it were an extension of film school. But I also met people who I ended up working with, such as film producer Larry Fessenden and director James Felix McKenney who hired me as assistant director on the feature films I SELL THE DEAD, AUTOMATONS and co-producer on SATAN HATES YOU. The transition from journalist to filmmaker was an easy and friendly one, and I remain grateful to the publications that opened so many industry doors for me.

In the last few years, you have been involved in a big bunch of films, are there any that you think stands out and you are very proud of to have been involved with?

There are so many. I’ve loved so many of these filmmaking experiences. Some jobs are horrific and you leave them behind, others are wonderful. It was a great time working on Glenn McQuaid’s I SELL THE DEAD. It was his first feature, and boy did he make the most of it! 35mm, ghouls, aliens, vampires, grave robbery, a Hammer horror period film setting, knife throwing, movie stars (Dominic Monaghan, Ron Perlman) and genre heroes (Angus Scrimm from PHANTASM). Throughout it all, there was Glenn, who seemed so joyous and in his element. He comes from an Irish tradition of tall tales and spinning yarns, and this movie led the audience down that same path. I also loved working with director Michael Di Jiacomo and actor John Turturro on the drama SOMEWHERE TONIGHT, a Dutch-American co-production. It was a privilege to see how Turturro worked, with great sensitivity and passion. Being an assistant director on movies like these, you grow not only as a filmmaker, but as a person. You learn a lot about who you are when involved in high pressure creative work.

You were involved with the Spanish short Doll House, how did that happen and was it fun to film in Europe?

I’ve made two movies in Europe (DELUSION, which I directed, and DOLL HOUSE where I assistant directed for filmmaker Guillermo Barreira). It’s a very different experience than filming in the United States. In Spain, the crew would happily work for 18 hours or more without complaint, but it was nearly impossible for them to show up at the appointed call time. Our director, Guillermo, is my friend and business partner at Codebreaker Productions, a production company based in New York which offers an excellent deal on lighting packages, locations, production and post resources, a loyal crew, and the RED Epic, which we often rent out to the filmmaking community. Guillermo is an artist, very philosophical, very deep. On DOLL HOUSE, I felt like he was straddling the provocative art world and slick, dazzling commercial work. In that way, his movie is both sleek and profane, ethereal and gritty at the same time.

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The first out of the three short films that you have put online is Contact. What made you want to release it on the internet and what do you think of the response it has had?

We made the film as part of a Halloween film festival in NYC curated by downtown personality Bryan Enk called “Sinister Six”, where the only qualifications were that we include gore and nudity. The screening was enjoyable, and I liked the effect the movie had on the audience. Since we wanted the film to be seen by as many people as possible, we thought the internet might be the most public venue. I’m pleased that the blog-o-sphere caught on to the movie, and that the response has been largely positive and enthusiastic. I must credit a lot of that to the wonderful actors Zoe Daelman Chlanda and Robb Leigh Davis, who bring warmth and humanity to this unnerving little fever dream.

What I liked the most about Contact is the attention to detail, there is a lot of story being told just in facial expressions, especially with the female characters family. How did you come up with the story?

There’s a painting by Edvard Munch called “The Kiss” that shows a couple melting into each other. It’s a picture that has haunted me, so I built the entire narrative around that. The narrative is similar to a film I made a few years ago called THE POD, written by a remarkable screenwriter named Carl Kelsch, but CONTACT veers in a few new directions. We stripped away all the constitutive elements: the plot, the characters, dialogue, even color, trying to pare everything down until it became what we hope is pure cinema. We wanted to tell the story visually, and in doing so I found it to be suggestive and expressionistic, where silence feels like an ambush.

The kissing scene reminded me of Brian Yuzna’s Society, just more disturbing. Who did the effects for that shot?

The special effects were by Daniel J. Mazikowski. I met him working on Jim McKenney’s horror films at Glass Eye Pix. He did special FX for THE POD, and CONTACT was our second collaboration. I was fortunate to have him, because he was about to leave New York City for Alabama. Creating this body horror fusion effect was sentimental for him. Imagine it as his kiss goodbye to the east coast, only the kiss turns into tendrils of seared flesh and gouged arteries. Maz also worked on my first feature THE SADIST, where he got the chance to meet his hero Tom Savini (who played the title character). That movie is a “killer in the woods” flick with some nasty death scenes, and we let Maz off his leash.

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The next short is my favorite of the three, Crestfallen. It must have been challenging to tell such a big story in only five minutes?

It’s neither more or less challenging than any other narrative; it’s compressed storytelling and you’re catching evocative glimpses from a human life. The main character is attempting suicide, so we knew the images had to be loaded and meaningful. What grounds the project is that it’s based on actual experiences of our writer-producer Russ Penning, who went through a dark and turbulent period in his life and came out on the other side. It’s what attracted me to the piece, the idea of flashing on moments in time that resonated with him.

How long did it take to film this project?

We shot for two days in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana with a fantastic Midwestern cast and crew. Our cinematographer Dominick Sivilli and I flew in from New York, shot the project, and then flew back home to edit. We did one day of pickup shots with a toddler and infant, because during post-production we realized how important it was to show images of these beautiful children. CRESTFALLEN is an affirmation of life, and the final image of a baby wrapping its hands around a mother’s finger speak to what the entire movie is about.

Fans of the horror genre will also recognize the name of Harry Manfredini who did the music for it. How did he get involved in this project and how did you two work together to create the score? It seems to fit the film perfectly in my opinion.

We were looking for a composer, and another talented film director I know named Patrick Rea referred me to Harry. When he saw the film, he immediately responded. Harry is a true collaborator, and the way he likes to work is to talk through the entire film, sometimes even asking about the meaning behind a particular shot or a cut, so he can really tap into the soul of the movie. And he also liked our temp track, which gave him a strong sense of mood. He filtered all of that through his imagination and came up with a beautiful and eerie piece of music. Harry told me if I hired another composer for my next feature, he’d track me down and break my legs. I believe him, too — he’s from Chicago!

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The third one, Drool is the most experimental and strange one. How did this project come together?

My friends at Mandragoras Art Space in Long Island City were interested in making an experimental film, so I pitched the idea for DROOL. Laura Lona and Brian Uhrich, the two actors, were intrigued and plunged into this weirdness. It felt like we were dredging something primal out of the subconscious, you know?

What was used for the drool/fluid in this one?

The drool was actually honey, since the actors had to have it in their mouths. Liquid latex wouldn’t have been safe, and we only had a budget of sixty dollars.

I like how all of these shorts seem to strip their characters down to their bare emotions, it must have required a lot of work together with the actors to make this work?

I love working with actors, and owe everything to them and their talent. For this kind of work, it’s essential to have performers who are brave, daring and sincere, who are totally committed to doing the work, who bring the rawest parts of themselves to these roles. And it doesn’t feel dangerous or scary for them. The actors have to go deep, but ultimately they are smiling and relaxed afterwards, having been through a powerful and cathartic experience. It’s actually quite healthy, which is perhaps why actors tend to live so much longer than the rest of us. They are able to express themselves fully, to play, to explore sides of themselves we don’t always find in so-called real life.

After putting in so much work over the years, how did it feel to finally get the job for The Sadist and direct a full length film?

THE SADIST was a work-for-hire. The producers were from Connecticut and were on the lookout for a director. After watching CONTACT, they hired me for the job. It felt great to finally have the opportunity to direct a feature, although to be perfectly candid I had a difficult relationship with the guys who hired me. They had never done a feature on this scale before, and I don’t think they were used to the unrelenting tension of a movie set. It got pretty heated at times between them and the crew (including me), and it didn’t improve during post-production. My editor, Dominick Sivilli, and I handed in a rough assembly and our suggestions for reshoots. Anyone who has worked on a feature knows that the rough assembly is the weakest and most vulnerable version of a film, but they didn’t know that so thinking our cut of the movie was worthless garbage they promptly fired Dominick and hired an inexperienced editor. Since I had a contractual right to final cut, we had a legal dispute. I ultimately had to leave the project citing anticipated breach of my agreement, and they terminated my contract. It was a painful lesson. The producers have since finished the film, and are screening it in January, but it won’t be my cut of the film. It’s too bad, because Harry Manfredini might have done a beautiful job on the score, and if we had the chance to complete it Dom and I would have been able to present a taut, fast-moving and intense B-movie. I have no idea what the finished film will be like. And having said that, I’m sure if you asked the producers of THE SADIST they’d say I was an arrogant, power-grabbing son-of-a-bitch. There are two sides to every story. I happen to believe my side is right

I’m guessing you have been asked this a lot, but how was it to work with Tom Savini on this film?

Working with Tom was a complete joy. I didn’t know him before making THE SADIST, so I called up several filmmakers who had met him. Folks who knew him from the convention circuit described him as being slightly aloof, while filmmakers who made movies with him said he was enthusiastic, full of ideas, collaborative, and loved playing villains. And that’s the Tom Savini that I met. When he showed up on set, we got the feeling that if we didn’t impress him right away, he’d walk all over us. Dominick and I cut together five minutes of footage from principal photography, since Tom showed up during our final week of shooting. We showed him our work and he said, “All right, I’m glad you showed this to me, let’s get to work.” From then on, he was totally gung ho, even doing his own stunts. I absolutely loved working with him, and was honored when he invited me to visit the set of a movie he was directing called WET DREAMS, as part of the horror anthology THEATER BIZARRE. But Tom doesn’t just act tough, he is tough. He’s a powerful force of nature.

Dominick Sivilli serves as the cinematographer on this film, like he also did on Crestfallen and Contact. How important was it for you to have people in the crew that you know and can trust when you take on a project like this?

Dom was an essential; he and I are like brothers. I knew THE SADIST was going to be a struggle, and needed someone in the foxhole with me who could create powerful images on a very low budget. It’s about mutual trust. He knows what to expect from me, I know what to expect from him, and there’s a mutual respect there. He lets me get on with my job, and I let him get on with his, and it feels like we’re both making the same movie. If we disagree, in the past we’ve shot two versions, one his way and one mine, and then in the editing room we decide. At the end of the day, a good idea is a good idea, no matter who it belongs to.

How long did it take to shoot The Sadist?

We shot for two weeks in Connecticut, and the producers went on to film a handful of second unit days.

Have you seen the final film yet? If so, are you happy with it?

My own personal happiness with the film is less important than the audience response. They will be the final judge of THE SADIST.

So what upcoming projects do you have lined up?

We’re just about to hand off the final cut of a short film called THE DAYS GOD SLEPT, written by a New York playwright named Joe Fiorillo and produced by Lauren Rayner, who I’ve worked with a couple of times now. After a successful IndieGoGo campaign, the movie was shot earlier this year with several of my regular collaborators (including cinematographer Dominick Sivilli) and soon will be sent over to Harry Manfredini. We’ve already been talking about the score. This film is set in a mysterious gentleman’s club where not everything is as it seems. It’s a “boy meets girl” story where the woman has secrets, and when she tells him her story he has to ask himself how much he really wants to know. Keep your eyes peeled for updates in 2013. Fiorillo and I have been talking about further collaborations, and there’s also a feature length monster movie I’m ready to sink my teeth into. We’ll see what the new year has in store. In the meantime, readers can find out more about me on my Web site, which can be viewed here: http://kippfilms.com/

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I would like again to thank Jeremiah Kipp for doing this interview and I’m sure we’ll hear more about his work in the future.

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