Monday, February 25, 2013

Inside The Mind and Films of Jeremiah Kipp

As you already know from my review of The ABC's Of Death, I am a huge fan of anthology films.  If you break that down further, you could say that I am a fan of the short film format.  There is something so satisfying about tales of horror served up as Hors d'oeuvres or single course in a meal.  Now creating a horror film in which you care about the characters inside of 90 minutes or so is hard enough, but to do the same in a fraction of the time is no small feat.

Enter Jeremiah Kipp.  Film maker, producer and freelance journalist for several genre mags including Fangoria and Shock Cinema.  With a very distinctive style, he is surely a force to be reckoned with.  After watching several of his short films (three of which will be reviewed in just a moment) I truly believe it's only a matter of time before he kicks open the Hollywood gates and shows them what's what.  Having already worked with the likes of Larry Fessenden, Tom Savini and Harry Manfredini, he's well on his way to becoming a major name in the genre.

First up, let's take a look at Contact.  An eleven minute journey into the dark and disturbing world of drug abuse.  Contact is beautifully shot in stark black and white, and features an unsettling industrial/acid jazz score, which complements the visuals perfectly.  Almost dialog free, the music really sets the mood.  The film  follows a couple who seek out buy and take an unknown drug.  The sequence in which they take the drug together starts in a disquieting place and ratchets up the fear as it goes into full blown hallucinogenic body horror.  I could not help but think of David Cronenberg when watching the sequence.  The use of light and shadow, courtesy of Cinematographer Dominick Savilli, is absolutely astonishing and recalls early German expressionistic films of the 1920's in it's opening and ending scenes.  A harrowing experience which would make anyone think twice before abusing recreational drugs. 

In his film, titled Crestfallen, we are witness to one woman's darkest hour.  The visuals are again beautiful, with haunting cinematography, again by, Dominick Sivilli and the soundtrack was created than none other than Harry Manfridini!!!!  This film is almost completely a solo performance by Deneen Melody and lasts but six minutes, but it is extremely powerful and I defy you to watch this short and not feel her sorrow and despair.  Technically impressive and emotionally draining, Crestfallen is a masterpiece of poetic cinema.

Lastly, I watched a four minute experimental film simply titled:  Drool.  A sexy, yet oddly disturbing slice of fever dream.  We're back in Black & White territory, which really helps to set the erotic and dangerous atmosphere.  Completely dialog free, Drool lets you interpret the film as you wish.  While there are the obvious connotations to sex, life, death and birth.....I took something sinister away from it as well.  Could it be something lurking deep in my psyche?  Perhaps.  That's what's so great about least to's like a moving Rorschach test.

I was fortunate enough to be able to take some time to speak with Jeremiah about his films.  Following is our conversation:

Midnight Cinephile:  What got you into film making?

Jeremiah Kipp:  When I was a kid, my grandparents owned a VHS camcorder.  I think they were planning to use it to shoot family picnics and weddings.  But once I got a hold of it, I was making backyard movies every day, calling up all my friends to play zombies or soldiers or cowboys.  At one point, we did an epic three hour long version of Stephen King's THE STAND.  The films are all pretty bad, but made with a lot of heart and gusto.  I was able to cut together a short reel of material to NYU film school and was tremendously happy when they accepted me. It was an exciting time to be in New York, during the independent film heyday, and all of my heroes were making films here at the time.

MC:  Some film makers are looking to break into mainstream Hollywood, while others prefer the independent community.  Which do you prefer?

JK:  I don't make much of a distinction.  Great films can get made through the studio system as well as worthless garbage, and the independent community has heroes and hacks.  I'm turned on by filmmakers who stand by their guns and make good movies, so I'm as much into Steven Spielberg as I am Abel Ferrara.  They're just different animals.  I'm open to making films, and if we only have a small budget I'll do the best with what we have.  If granted a larger, more sizable budget (with more compromises), I would make the decision based on the material, the people I'm working with, and where it sits with my soul.

MC:  Tell us about your work with Glass Eye Pix and Larry Fessenden?

JK:  Working with Larry Fessenden is more along the lines of the Roger Corman model.  Fessenden certainly knows how to stretch a buck.  But what inspires me about him is his support of emerging filmmakers, trusting their sensibility and supporting it into existence.  He's nurturing in a rough and tumble sort of way.  It's fantastic to have seen him give the opportunities to talented guys like James Felix McKenney, Glenn McQuaid, Ti West, Jim Mickle and Graham Reznick, all very diverse and talented directors.  On set, Larry is focused, intent and wants to get it done, while at the same time maintaining a crazy self-deprecating sense of humor.  I SELL THE DEAD, which I assistant directed, was a huge machine, with period locations and wardrobe, zombies, aliens, a working guillotine, numerous extras playing rapscallions and criminals, name actors and a tough indie film crew that was counting their meal penalties and overtime.  It was a baptism of fire for me, and what I learned on that job got applied to everything I've worked on since.  I remain forever grateful to Fessenden and McQuaid for bringing me on board.

MC:  The legendary Tom Savini starred in your film The Sadist.  What was it like working with him?

JK:  When I asked people who knew him from the convention circuit, some described him as aloof and difficult.  But I also contacted directors who had him in their films, and they all said he was positive, energetic, loved playing villains and would go above and beyond the call of duty.  That was the Tom I met on set.  When he arrived on set, he had no idea what to expect. He had his guard up, and if we let him down he would have walked all over us.  Thankfully, my cinematographer Dominick Sivilli and I had assembled some footage from the movie to show him. After watching it, Tom was on board and committed himself 150%.  He even did his own stunts, jumping atop a moving truck during one of the action sequences.  He was loyal and protective of the crew, having been a crew guy himself, and was supportive of me and Dom. But you didn't wonder if Tom liked you or not.  He doesn't just act tough; he is tough.

MC:  You also do quite a bit of freelance writing for various magazines, including Fangoria and Shock Cinema.  Tell us a bit about how you started freelancing for these mags.

JK:  For a few years I dropped out of filmmaking and was a freelance journalist, so I landed those jobs by sending in clips of my writing.  I quickly found myself interviewing wonderful character actors such as Rutger Hauer, M. Emmet Walsh, Tom Noonan, James Remar...and great filmmakers like John Carpenter, Hal Hartley, Michael Almereyda, Bruno Dumont...the list goes on. It felt like an extension of my film school, and I learned a great deal from talking to those seasoned veterans.

MC:  Let's talk about some of your short films.  Contact absolutely blew me away.  It's incredibly dark and powerful.  What was the genesis of the film?

JK:  A few years earlier I had directed a short film called THE POD written by Carl Kelsch, and always wanted to return to that subject matter of drugs, relationships, hallucinations, the fear of being connected to someone else.  There was an image inspired by a painting of Edvard Munch of people kissing, whose faces had fused together, that never made its way into THE POD, and that was going to be the peak moment of CONTACT.  I built backwards from that moment and the story emerged of a young couple experimenting with a drug, bookended by images of the parents waiting for their child to come home.  It was one of my most satisfying filmmaking experiences, making that movie, and it began a series of collaborations with my frequent director of photography Dominick Sivilli, who is a great friend and artist.

MC:  There are elements of the film that are quite Cronenberg-ian (i.e., the mouth flesh tube)......were his films an influence?

JK:  If you're making a film with body horror, you can't escape the legacy of David Cronenberg.  We're drinking from the same surrealistic pool.  The flesh tube was created by a FX artist that I met through Glass Eye Pix named Daniel J. Mazikowski.  This was to be his last job in New York City before departing for the Midwest, where he's been able to continue honing his gory craft. It only goes to show that the independent moviemaking world is not just on the east and west coast.  Maz can work anywhere.

MC:  The soundtrack was quite impressive as well...I enjoyed the industrial meets acid jazz kind of feel. What really kinda surprised me was what appeared to be sound effects from an Atari 2600!  It was surprising, but it completely worked and added an extra trippy layer to the drug scene.  Did you have any input into that, or was that all Tom Burns from Really Horrible Music?

JK:  Working with Tom was a fantastic experience.  It's always good to work with someone where you don't have to explain too much about what you want.  If you have to bend over backwards trying to explain, chances are this isn't the right person to collaborate with.  I knew Tom's work through his sound designs on Alan Rowe Kelly's films, which are quite different than CONTACT. This was an acid jazz 1980s feel with a tough of ERASERHEAD, and from the first discussion Tom and I were finishing each other's sentences.  My time in Tom's studio was pretty magical, and our communication was more through him sharing improvisations with me one after the other, and me saying, "Yeah, good, keep going in that direction!" or "No, that's too much!"  All of the soundscape comes from Tom's remarkable ability and talent.  He's also a perfectionist, and won't quit until he feels like the sound is there.  That's the kind of man you want working with you creatively.

MC:  What equipment did you shoot with?

JK:  That was back in 2009, so we were using the Panasonic HPX.  We've since moved on to using DSLR cameras on the cheaper movies and the RED Epic on the more expensive movies.  Dominick and I are part of a production company with Spanish filmmaker Guillermo Barreira called Codebreaker Productions (, where we produce indie films with high production value and incorporate our RED camera rentals.  We also rent out the RED camera to filmmakers.  One of the recent directors we've had the chance to work with is Adam Barnick, a super-talented east coast guy who made a cool film called MAINSTREAM a few years back and is now hitting the scene again with some bold new music videos for The Rivulets. One of them is set during the Civil War and is Dreyer-esque. I call it "the slow dread that kills..."

MC:  Crestfallen, much like Contact, makes terrific use of light and shadow.  Can you talk a bit about your decisions to use black & white and color, respectively, for each?

JK:  CONTACT was intended to be pared down to the essential.  We stripped away all constitutive elements of the film: plot, dialogue, character, even color, in an attempt to find our way back to a purely sensory cinematic experience.  Black and white takes us out of our everyday reality, into something Other.  It's also aesthetically beautiful and mysterious.  Some people claim to dream in black and white, though I never have.  But color was essential for CRESTFALLEN, since it is a series of snapshot memories from a life, a flood of thoughts washing over a suicide victim whose life is slipping away.  Dominick Sivilli paints with light, and we were going for something that was non-naturalistic.  Our emotions are huge: love, hate, fear, and the canvas of movies can be as large as those feelings.  We wanted to go for operatic visual choices instead of realism.  And the movie is intended as an affirmation of life, even as this woman is moving towards death; and life for me exists in full color.

MC:  Crestfallen features an incredible score by Harry "Friday the 13th" Manfredini!  How did you get him on board for this short?  What was it like working with him?

JK:  A fellow film director named Patrick Rea had been working with Harry on his short films.  Patrick and I have been emerging on the scene at the same time and follow each other's work. He was kind enough to reach out to Harry on our behalf, and you could tell immediately that this was going to be a good experience for both of us.  Harry was enthusiastic about CRESTFALLEN and felt inspired by the visual storytelling.  We talked on the phone for a long time about the movie, but also about VERTIGO, FROST/NIXON, Mayor Daley from Chicago, a wide variety of subjects.  I think Harry was trying to figure out where our tastes and interests converged.  He understood the film and wrote the score relatively quickly, and we both walked away feeling really good about the work.  We've just started our second collaboration on a new movie called THE DAYS GOD SLEPT, which has a more intricate score and has involved a longer and more detailed working relationship, which makes me happy because we have a good time.  I'm into his work and he's into mine, and he's also wildly enthusiastic about Dominick's cinematography.  Harry calls us The Three Musketeers, and has sworn that if I don't hire him on my next feature he'll track me down and break my legs.

MC:  Deneen Melody was outstanding in this film.  How did she become involved?

JK:  Our writer-producer Russ Penning and I were really excited about Deneen's work in the films of Anthony G. Sumner (LEWIS and 3 SLICES OF LIFE).  We reached out to her, and she responded to the material and was interested in the role.  As it turns out, she based the performance on a friend of hers who committed suicide, so she's coming at it from a very deep and resonant place.  I usually rehearse a lot with the actors before we set foot on set, but this was impossible with Deneen since she's based in Chicago and I'm in New York. He had to suffice with a few long phone conversations and then, whenever there was down time during the shoot, to continue developing her character and her relationship with the actors playing her husband and daughter (Michael Partipilo and Taylor Metzger).  Thankfully, they all knew each other from LEWIS and were friends, and that made all our jobs easier.  I completely agree with you that Deneen is truly wonderful in CRESTFALLEN, and her performance is daring and sincere.  I hope to work with her again someday.

MC:  What was the genesis of this film?

JK:  Russ Penning lived this film.  He went through the experiences that the main character has to endure, and he's writing about the darkest hour of his life.  We changed the gender of the main character as a way of creating some distance, which Russ was open to.  The script was like poetry, it was all about these singular moments in time.  We pared the script down together, honing it into a precise visual assault.  But ultimately the film is an affirmation of life.  It's about the value of our humanity.  That all came from Russ.  He was supportive of us, and generous with allowing us to bring his story to life.  He has a longer version of the script, and I'd love to see him direct it someday.   He has an interest in returning to narrative filmmaking, and I'd welcome the chance to see him tell a bigger version of what is, ultimately, his own story.

MC:  Drool is a strange little film, but I really dug it.  Much like Contact, I felt that it had very strong Croneneberg-ian  tones to it.  Again, was he an influence here?

JK:  We didn't have Cronenberg on the brain when making DROOL, since the roots of this film were more in the world of performance art. To get the actors into character, I had one of them lead the other around the space blindfolded, which helped him connect with the idea of being completely dependent on the woman. I genuinely loved working with Laura Lona and Brian Uhrich, who were unafraid of the material and gave very sensitive, haunting performances. I see what you mean about DROOL being not too far removed from Cronenberg, though, because once again we're making a movie about body horror and addiction, need and desire.

MC:  What was that drool made from?  

JK:  The drool was made from honey, which is safe, non-toxic, and easily washes off.  It looks like something we'd see on an alien or an insect, don't you think?

MC:  Though the film has an odd tone to it, I imagine that it might have been kinda fun to film.  Did the actors have fun in the drool?

JK:  The incredibly brave actors got a little bruised up making the film, but I recall them both laughing about the experience when we wrapped, saying it made them feel like they were very young.  Grown-ups aren't afforded the opportunity to do this.  Neither do civilized people.  It felt great for them to get in touch with something so primal.  In these movies, the characters often go to dark subterranean places, but the actors usually feel exhilarated afterward, as if they've won a marathon and are running high on endorphins.  You want the filmmaking experience to be positive for them, because the material is strange and they're being asked to commit all of themselves.

MC:  In these three shorts, nudity plays an important part.  I don't think that the drug scene would have been nearly as effective if both actors were hanging out in jeans and t-shirts....and likewise, in Crestfallen, her nudity is not there for titillation, but instead shows her absolute vulnerability.  Is that a theme that runs through a lot of your work?

JK:  I don't think of it as a theme, it's more something that's there in the films.  It felt important for CONTACT, CRESTFALLEN and DROOL to not shy away from what is primal, or vulnerable.  I'm glad you used the word, because it's an important distinction.

MC:  The thing I love about experimental films, is that it is truly up to the viewer to decide for themselves what they have just seen.  As interesting as it is to hear viewers interpretations, it's always fascinated me to learn what the piece means to the does drool mean to you?

JK:  We did have something very specific in mind when we shot the film.  Actors cannot play an abstract idea; they have to have concrete intentions and actions.  I've heard it said that filmmakers make the same movie over and over again, just in disguise.  So in that sense, the meaning of CONTACT and CRESTFALLEN is probably not dissimilar to DROOL.  They all feature a female protagonist, they're all in some sense about pushing one's self to the limit, and they are all hallucinations.

MC:  As you may or may not know, I like to throw out a random bonus round of questions that are more or less just for fun and to help us to get to know you as an everyday here we go!
What is your favorite horror film?

JK:  John Carpenter's THE THING is a genre classic.  I also love THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, DAWN OF THE DEAD and THE FLY.  It depends on the day you ask me.  Today, I vote for Carpenter...

MC:  What is your favorite movie snack?

JK:  I don't have a sweet tooth; I'd rather have a drink.

MC:  What scared you as a kid and what scares you now?

JK:  As a child, I was terrified of nuclear war.  I grew up during the final throes of the cold war, and movies like THE DAY AFTER and THREADS imprinted themselves on my mind.  Nowadays, I have no personal fear of death; but I fear losing the ones I love who are closest to me.

MC:  What's your guilty pleasure?

JK:  I absolutely love car movies like VANISHING POINT, DUEL and MAD MAX, which are not guilty pleasures at all.  However, I do have a guilty love for the original FAST AND THE FURIOUS.  Not the sequels, just the first film.  It's a B-movie on an A-budget, and it ends at exactly the right point.  They finish the race, and then the movie is over without any of the additional bullshit they pad movies out with nowadays.

MC:  If you had unlimited funds and access to unlimited talent (actors, composers, directors, writers, etc...) and had the freedom to use any IP's you wanted,what would your ultimate dream project be?

JK:  Like I said, I'd love to make a car movie that runs on high octane adrenaline.  I feel like it could be a very aggressive movie, but then again the world is a very aggressive place.

MC:  Is there anything else you'd like to tell the readers of Midnight Cinephile?

JK:  I like to keep busy.  I've recently completed a few episodes of Scott W. Perry's Web series IN FEAR OF, and I'm very excited about wrapping up my new short film THE DAYS GOD SLEPT, starring Lauren Fox from Darren Aronofsky's PI.  It's set in an otherworldly strip club and is a "boy meets girl" story where she tells him a story and the whole world of the movie starts to unravel.  The tagline of the movie is, "How much do you really want to know?"  It's a beautifully written script by Joe Fiorillo, and someone said it reminded them of songs by The Smiths.  I'm looking forward to sharing the film with audiences, but in the meantime they can watch the trailer here.  

As for whatever the next project is, we'll see what emerges.  Let the future come.

A huge thank you to Mr. Kipp for taking some time with me here at Midnight Cinephile.  I'm looking forward to The Days God Slept and his future projects......I'm sure it's only a a matter of time before I see his name on the big screen at a multiplex dishing out some cerebral horrors and breathing some fresh life into our beloved genre.

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