Fluster Magazine exclusive interview with Jeremiah Kipp

Meet movie director Jeremiah Kipp, considered by many to be a  Cult Filmmakers You Should Know , we definitely think he is a Cult Filmmakers You  MUST Not Miss!

Interviewed by Giulia Bertelli

Hi Jeremiah, when and how did you start to direct movies?

I was twelve years old, and my grandparents bought a camcorder to shoot family events and weddings.  That night, I started directing these unusual little films.

Did you always want to make horror movies?

My first films made in the backyard were genre films, where I’d assemble all of the children from the neighborhood and have them put on makeup and play zombies assaulting the house. My grandfather would don makeup and play either an alien or a mad scientist. One of our more ambitious efforts was a 3-hour adaptation of Stephen King’s THE STAND shot on our cheap VHS camcorder. So horror movies were always on the brain; I think of them even when I’m making comedies or dramas, because they remind me that you have to sustain the tension. Even comedies are often, ultimately, about the fear of embarrassment.

When has your love for this kind of movies started?

My cousin was often renting movies from the local store and luring me into DAWN OF THE DEAD and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.  These movies took me beyond the naturalistic; horror movies express an emotion that goes into something primal.  The way we feel on the inside can be shown in genre films. It taps into something. David Lynch manages to do this also; call it Reality Plus. I also love movies that take us into another world. BLADE RUNNER expanded the possibilities of genre filmmaking, which is why all those MTV music videos in the 1980s copied it relentlessly. But it just means the work was pervasive.

Do you only make movies or do you have other works?

I’ve pursued this one art form, which seems to combine all of my interests.  As a child, I enjoyed drawing, writing stories and acting, but movies seem to combine all of those elements.  Lately, I’ve been keen on the fine art photography of Brooke Shaden and Lissy Elle, where they capture some magical or spectral moment in time. I’m also fascinated by the idea of art installations, where you walk into a space and an entire mood, pictorial landscape and soundscape has been created and the spectator is immersed in it.

CRESTFALLEN: did you come up with any special ideas?

When we were riding the plane into Bloomington, Indiana, where we shot CRESTFALLEN, the director of photography Dominick Sivilli asked me, “What’s this movie about? What can we do with it?” He hadn’t read the script. He never reads the script. In this way, he’s a little like the mad genius Christopher Doyle who shoots for Wong Kar-Wei and seems to rely wholly on his artistic intuitions and feelings. Any creative ideas we may have come up with were in response to the actors, the locations and the script by our producer Russ Penning, who was writing from his own experience about a near-suicidal act. His script dictated the tone of our visuals and our editing. Dominick found himself talking about poetry, and while we were shooting the outer form of a rickety barn, he said, “Let’s use this as the opening image; it’s death…”  The closing image was a baby’s hand wrapping itself around its mother’s finger. When we shot that, we knew we’d captured a meaningful moment in time. That wasn’t a special idea on our part; it was our ability to be there to discover it.  The movie reveals itself as we do our work.

(You can see CRESTFALLEN here)

What was your very first short?

I made short movies at NYU as part of their film program, and several really bad ones with an art collective right after I graduated college. They’re all kind of embarrassing, really.  I don’t feel I hit my stride until 2002, where I made an absurd comedy called SNAPSHOT, followed by a more ambitious project in 2003 called THE CHRISTMAS PARTY about a child who finds himself at a holiday party, the kind run by Christians who want everyone else in the world to share their beliefs. It’s a movie filled with unspoken menace, and audiences around the world were taken in by that. In France they considered it a satire on America, in San Francisco they called it a horror film, in New England they labeled it social realism. All of these responses were validating. Once I had festival and critical success with that project, I felt for the first time as if I could call myself a filmmaker. I haven’t looked back.

Do you think this kind of short films can have more impact compared to movies?

It’s a different approach.  A feature film or a short film can have impact; a short film merely gets to one peak moment faster.  It’s one of the things I’ve loved about reading Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne or H.P. Lovecraft; the building towards one climactic image or incident. Poe and Lovecraft couldn’t sustain it in a long form narrative, but Hawthorne inspired with his fever dream prose in THE SCARLET LETTER and HOUSE OF SEVEN GABLES. With movies, Mark Romanek achieved profound feeling in his music videos for Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” and Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” but hasn’t yet been able to translate that impact into his feature films, whereas I think David Fincher’s narrative features are stronger and more complex than his (admittedly stylish) music video and commercial work.  We’re comparing dissimilar animals.

 What is the most important thing in short movies: music, photography, good actors or what?

The most important thing is that relationship between the movie and the audience.  It’s not even necessarily that you’re telling them a story; it’s that you’ve communicated something to them or involved them in some way.  All other aspects of the film, from the script to the cinematography to the music to the performances, are all in service of that moment between the film and the spectator. What do they take from the film? And while making the film, I don’t separate those different departments into a hierarchy. You can’t make a good script without a strong compelling idea; you can’t make a film without a camera (you’d be making a play!)  Actors and editors and composers and the other creatives breathe this project to life. When you’re the director of a short film, you have to look at everyone as being a key and crucial part of the mosaic. But I constantly remind myself of the audience, and what we are communicating (or withholding) from them as the movie unfolds.

CONTACT, what do you want to tell me about it?

CONTACT was inspired by a picture. Edvard Munch’s THE KISS shows two lovers whose faces seem to be fusing together in their passion. This became the starting point for the narrative, and I built backwards from there. It is also a remake of sorts of a previous, more narrative-driven film I’d made called THE POD, with a lovely and moving script by Carl Kelsch. CONTACT is a more pared down version, where we eliminate plot, character, dialogue, even color. By removing all the constitutive elements, we wanted to reduce the movie down to pure cinema. With the help of cinematographer Dominick Sivilli and the eerie soundscape by Tom Burns, I remain very proud of our accomplishment. I’m also deeply grateful to Zoë Daelman Chlanda and Robb Leigh Davis, who gave you a sense of history and meaning with this couple. I liked these characters, and somehow they still manage to haunt me. I still imagine him out there searching for his lost love; perhaps someday he will find her.  It’s one of those projects where I can imagine the story continuing, as long as someone wants to provide the financing.

(You can see CONTACT here)

You said that DROLL is a strange experimental film; I can’t find any other words to describe it. Why did you make a movie like this?

Some actors I know have access to a performance space called Mandragoras in Long Island City, and they were looking to make a non-narrative project using themes from the Theater of Cruelty.  While I do describe it as a strange experimental film, which is indeed what it is, I’d also argue it’s a project about the push-pull of a relationship; and the strange drool ectoplasm can stand in for whatever the viewer wants: addiction, birth, seduction… If viewed as a very simple story of “girl meets boy” one can detect a pattern in DROOL.  I find the ending weirdly optimistic after all the woman has been through…

(You can see DROLL here)

What things inspire you when you direct?

Sometimes I enjoy listening to music.  Krzysztof Penderecki was on the brain when I was making an experimental short film recently.  Other times, it’s paintings and photographs. I’d rather look at fine art photography for images these days than going to the movies. That said, I truly enjoyed revisiting Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO, which is quite revolutionary in the way it shifts from one protagonist to the next at rapid and unnerving speed.

Any future project?

We’re finishing up post-production on a new short film entitled THE DAYS GOD SLEPT, which is set in a mysterious gentleman’s club where not everything is as it seems.  It was written by New York playwright Joe Fiorillo, I had the opportunity to work once again with my frequent collaborators Lauren Rayner (producer), Kimberly Matela (production designer) and Dominick Sivilli (director of photography), as well as FRIDAY THE 13th composer Harry Manfredini. We had a wonderful collaboration on the short film CRESTFALLEN, and have been having a lively creative exchange about this new fever dream movie, which is both beautiful and macabre.  The trailer for THE DAYS GOD SLEPT can be viewed here: http://www.laurenrayner.com/thedaysgodslept/trailer.html

Do you have any dream movie you want to direct when you will have the chance?

There’s a feature length script for a monster movie that I’m very excited about, set in the remote backwoods of New England.  Also, even though I’m not involved in car culture, I’ve always been fascinated by movies that engage us in terror on the road, such as MAD MAX and DUEL. But what I love about the film business is you can never tell what’s right around the corner. I’m curious to see what the next project will be. Let the future come.

Jeremiah’s work on IMDb here

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