Sunday, December 30, 2012

Access free the short films of Jeremiah Kipp Be amazed -- and maybe turned on, too!

TrustMovies has mentioned previously on this blog how exciting (and sometimes not so) it is to receive an email out of the blue asking if he would be interested in viewing a completely unknown quantity by an equally unknown (to TM, at least) filmmaker. When time permits, he'll take a chance, and so it was with the work of a fellow named Jeremiah Kipp, shown above, who emailed TM a few months back, to whose work yours truly finally got around to viewing a week ago and has been letting roll around in his head since then. Kipp's movies are worth a look. And because some of them are available for readers to view free online, it seemed worth-while to spend time watching, thinking about & reporting back on his work--as well as doing a short Q&A with this budding filmmaker.

Kipp's films -- at least the three I've seen -- are also quite short (four minutes, six minutes and ten minutes) so it's not like the guy is asking you to invest three evenings of your time before you know whether enough talent is on view to make it worth your while. CONTACT, made in 2009, is the longest and also boasts the most "plot," such as it is. An old couple carefully sets the table for a meal and a guest, and then we cut to a younger woman and her "adventures" (in what appears to be the drugs-and-sex days of the 60s), and then, at last, the two generations get together.

There is not a lot of dialog in this work; it's almost all visuals -- some great ones, nonetheless -- and music. The fine black-and-white cinematography and editing is by Dominick Sivilli. There is plot and surprise, but what it all means is a bit up for grabs. Yet there is enough visual information to guide you toward intelligent possibilities. The acting is fine, too, even without dialog (and it's not the sort of over-acting upon which silent movies used to rely).

There are some nifty special effects, too -- again, with the meaning just obscure enough to remain out of one's grasp, though not far beyond one's reach. Contact certainly works just fine as a short, ten-minute film, but it has possibilities, I think, for the longer form, too. It's expandable, for sure.

My favorite of the three is definitely DROOL (shown above and below). I've never seen anything quite like this dazzle of movement (some might call it dance, or near), drizzle, stunning visuals in black-and-white (or maybe monochromatic sepia; rather than by Sivilli again, these images come via an Italian cinematographer known as Salinoch), lust, sex, excretions and the male and female forms in much, if not all, of their glory. It's gorgeous, extremely unsettling, and only four minutes long.

You can call this experimental film-making (Kipp himself does) but it is not at all difficult to watch or even to understand. It's what it is. And what it is is more than mere surface. One viewer has declared that it concerns the creative female and parasitic male, which makes sense, but then so will a number of other possibilities, I think, which is one of the beauties of art -- which this film most definitely is.

Being a sometimes too-literal fellow, I of course wondered what substance was used to produce the drool/excretion. The director is kind enough to tell us in the Q& A below, but you might want to watch this very short film first, before you find out. It'll be more fun that way. Whatever you imagine it is, I think you'll agree that this lubricant -- just like the film that sports it -- is lubricious and intoxicating.

The last of the three films seen -- CRESTFALLEN, shown above and below -- is shot in color (Mr. Sivilli again) and every frame is beautiful, though it's my least favorite of the three. (Interestingly, Kipp tells me that people who like this one usually hate Drool -- and vice versa.)

Crestfallen tells its five-minute story, which to me seemed like short-form soap opera, of a pretty blond young woman who finds love, family, and stability followed by hurt, betrayal and suicide. (Is this a spoiler? Can you even have a spoiler when your entire story takes but five minutes, including credits?) In any case, if I must see soap-opera (and it's not via Ross Hunter), I much prefer the short to the longer form.

It is interesting to see Kipp working in color, and the performers are especially attractive -- the filmmaker gives us great sex scenes in all three of his films; he clearly appreciates the human body, what it can do, how it can attract, and how its sexuality and grace can be further enhanced by the use of light and liquid.  Again there is no dialog, just those great visuals, along with music (this time by Harry Manfredini).

Before you read the Q&A below, I heartily suggest you stream the three films. Just click on the titular link above (or below, to make it even easier for you).
Watching all three of them will take you only 20 minutes. Then read on and find out about Mr. Kipp, from whom we'll certainly be seeing and hearing more, and in the full-length mode, soon. TM's questions/comments appear in boldface, while Kipp's answers -- the filmmaker is shown again, below -- are in standard typeface).


What are you heading toward with these short films? Longer versions of same? Or do you just prefer the short form?

I find the short and long form quite different. The short form is all building towards one peak moment. As we've learned from music videos, sometimes the short film is a charisma machine built around some central theme. That can be exciting, but burns out after five minutes. It's difficult to imagine CRESTFALLEN as a feature without some radical expansion; whereas I confess I do imagine possibilities for CONTACT beyond what we've seen in that 10 minutes. The characters have stayed with me. The short films are a means of expression within a limited budget. Having said that, I've made several shorts, commercials, music videos, and have only directed one feature film. I'm ready to move on to more features.

Would you rather shoot in color or b/w and why?

That depends on the material. DROOL (below) and CONTACT take place in dreamscapes, in a kind of poetic heightened reality. CRESTFALLEN is more about memories -- or a series of snapshots of a life, which to me are in full color. The movie tells you what it needs to be. That said, I wish black and white were more commonly accepted in feature filmmaking, as it is in the world of advertisements and music videos.

Amen to that wish! Your films, especially Drool, and also Contact, are wonderfully sensual and sexual (well, actually, now that I think of it, so is Crestfallen). You have a way with/knack for/interest in the beauty of the human body and how light plays on it, as well as how other elements like water and -- what was that substance used in Drool? -- work on and with the body. I hope this gift stays with you and that you expand on it in future films.

Yes, I would hope there's a kind of physicality in the work that's yet to come. Body horror is exciting because it renders us into poetry; it expands the possibilities. I call it Reality Plus. Even the water in CRESTFALLEN (below) was intended to be somewhat epic; we were thinking of BEOWULF when we shot the suicide scene. We didn't want it to feel naturalistic. Our emotions (love, fear, rage, desire) sometimes feel larger than ourselves. The body horror in these films uses our feelings as a leaping off point -- and if we want to rip ourselves away from another person, in a genre film that can be literal.

The liquid we used in DROOL was honey. Since the actors had to have it in their mouths, we thought it might be a bit more tolerable than liquid latex.

One tends to look for commonalities in a filmmaker’s work. Other than the above love of the human body, I am not coming up with a lot regarding your work. An absence of dialog, and maybe a certain interest in short form storytelling and last-minute surprise. But these are not as distinctive as is your take on the body. You called yourself, I believe, “experimental” in an earlier email. I would agree but I would also add “accessible,” as your films would be understandable to most audiences, I think. That’s also why I am wondering what you really want to do and where and how you want to take all this to the next step.

The short films did tend to move away from dialogue. In a sense, I wanted to pare away all the constitutive elements (character, exposition, dialogue, even color) and wondered if the result might be, in fact, "pure cinema." My first feature film was a work-for-hire slasher film called THE SADIST. Even though I was working with my regular cast and crew, it was difficult working with the producers (who were inexperienced, fresh out of college, and had never made a movie of this scale before). Even there, my interest was in the physicality of our monster (played by horror icon Tom Savini, who incidentally was playing a non-speaking role akin to his hero Lon Chaney). If you bring the "experimental" or "expressionistic" into a conventional narrative, you can steer the whole thing into bold new directions.

A quick side note about Savini. I've worked with name actors before as a producer and assistant director. Savini has a long history in the genre, working as a special effects artist on FRIDAY THE 13th and CREEPSHOW, and of course as an actor in DAWN OF THE DEAD and FROM DUSK TIL DAWN, and so on. When he arrived on set, I don't think he knew what to expect. The script was pure trash (again, it was a work-for-hire written by someone else, and we took as many liberties with the screenplay as we dared). The only reason he took the role was our common interest in Lon Chaney and Universal monsters such as Frankenstein; it certainly wasn't for the paycheck, which was pathetically low by his standards. He arrived on set dripping with contempt. Thankfully, my cinematographer and frequent collaborator Dominick Sivilli and I had a feeling we'd need to earn his trust immediately. If we didn't, he would have walked all over us. We showed him a five minute clip of material we had shot for the film (he was coming in towards the end of principal photography), and after viewing it, Tom said, "Thank you for showing me that; it was very good. I'm going to get into character now."

From then on, Tom (shown above, cavorting with Kipp) was fantastic with us. If he trusted you, he'd go above and beyond the call of duty. He volunteered to do his own stunts, contributed ideas about the murder scenes and in general was supportive. He was a former crew guy himself, and I appreciate that he looked out for the crew when speaking with the producers. He was a joy to work with, and yet it's a reminder that when you're working with any kind of name actor, you have to get them on your side, on the same page, immediately. If Tom didn't like you, you didn't wonder about it. I saw him treat some folks on the set with acidic dislike.

You have not written nearly as much as you have directed, so I am guessing you’d call yourself more of a director than writer/director? (This is not pejorative, by the way. Not to me, at least.)

I have written feature length scripts, and certainly am open to the role of writer-director. A film I made back in 2003 called THE CHRISTMAS PARTY was written in a white heat, and became a festival favorite for several years. It landed me several opportunities to work with Canon directing promos and commercials. But you're right, I prefer directing. Writing is a lonely business, alone at your computer or with your spiral notebook, and for me it's a bit like taking medicine. I prefer the communal aspect of film-making, where you're working with a team of professionals.

I love working with screenwriters, and lately have had a run of work with writer-producers. Russ Penning wrote and produced CRESTFALLEN and I got the job because of CONTACT. Joe Fiorillo wrote and co-produced a new movie I'm quite proud of, coming in 2013, called THE DAYS GOD SLEPT (shown below). Russ and Joe were wonderful collaborators, and Joe's film has some quite wonderful dialogue. It's a shift away from the "silent films" I've been making lately. It's a step closer to conventional narrative storytelling, while at the same time retaining the fever- dream vibe of the work that came before. After fighting regularly with the writers of THE SADIST, I decided only to work with writers whose work I thought was strong on the page. I made THE SADIST because I love horror movies and wanted to make a feature, even though I distrusted my collaborators. It's a mistake I've been very careful not to repeat in the work since, whether the client is a music video artist or a watch company seeking a commercial or an actor seeking a vehicle for themselves, all of which I've done since wrapping my feature.

Is horror what you want to do, or is that genre just more easily sold to producers and distributors?

I love the horror genre and would be very happy to continue making genre films for the rest of my career. I made THE SADIST in 2010, but my editor (who cut CONTACT and CRESTFALLEN and other films of ours) and I both got fired after handing in our rough assembly. As you are probably aware (Editor's note: I wasn't, but now I am), the rough assembly is the most vulnerable and traditionally the weakest version of the film. The producers, as I said, were very young and didn't know. They fired us and did reshoots without us, working with an editor and composer who also had never worked on a feature length film before. It was painful. THE SADIST (a still is shown below) is premiering in Connecticut in January of 2013, so we'll see how it all turns out. The experience did not sour me on work-for-hire jobs or horror movies, but taught me to be a more careful judge of whose company I'd like to keep. Making movies is a difficult uphill battle. It's good to have trusted collaborators who are making the same film you are.

Amen to that, too. I used to work in legit theater as a playwright -- where in general, the writer trumps the director, rather than in films where it's the other way around -- and there were a few times when I realized too late that my director was working on his own, and not very true, version of my play. 

I'll also add that horror movies enable you to make work that will be seen by distributors without necessarily having a huge budget or movie stars. It's a quick way to get notorious. But also, the genre is a good fit for me because with horror you can tap into the surreal, the absurd, the dreamlike, the mad -- and that excites me.

How old are you, by the way? I am guessing in your 30s.

I am in my 30s. I started freelancing in the film business full time in 2005, as an assistant director. I'd directed short films on the side before then, but wanted to involve myself in long form narratives and shoots that lasted for several weeks. I wanted to feel that endurance test. I also produced some films, where I'd throw myself behind a director I wanted to support. By taking a film from conception to theatrical release, you got to learn all aspects of the process. It wasn't exactly a "continued film school," but it did give me more experience on which to base my opinions and beliefs. I loved working with some of those directors, and am grateful to the good ones (and the heinous ones) because you learn by doing, not by talking about it.

Are you based on the east coast rather than the west?

I am based on the east coast mainly because I love New York City in all its whirlwind complexity and diversity. I don't hate Los Angeles, and have worked there before as an assistant director. It's a great town. But I've found it to be a nice place when you're working, and a dead zone when you're not working. New York is teeming with life and energy all the time.

From the IMDB, I see that you worked on one of my favorite films of last year, God’s Land, and also on another one I enjoyed from 2010, I Sell the DeadPreston Miller and Glenn McQuaid are certainly very different filmmakers. How was the experience on both films?

I'm so happy to hear you enjoyed GOD'S LAND. If you do a Google search, you'll see I kept a diary during the making of that film which can be found on the blog The House Next Door, originated by film critic Matt Zoller Seitz and carried on by Slant Magazine and Time Out New York writer Keith Uhlich. That was directed by Preston Miller, a delightful man and a winning combination of Appalachian good ol' boy and art house intellectual. And I SELL THE DEAD was, at the time, the biggest film I had assistant directed. The executive producer of that is Larry Fessenden, a wonderful filmmaker himself, who is my hero. He's like the mayor of independent horror movies in New York.

I SELL THE DEAD was like a huge machine with a gigantic crew, period film settings, special effects, trucks full of gear, a team that would carefully monitor their union regulations. It was a massive task, and I don't think I'd have made it through without the terrific support of my team of second assistant directors and the solid core strength of the producers. I'll always be grateful to Glenn McQuaid for hiring me, and though we had our differences on set I'll say he was a strong general and knew the story he wanted to tell. He was making his first feature on 35mm with a substantial budget, name talent, maybe a hundred extras in some scenes, and he carried himself as if he had been doing this for years. He was the governor, and I would have followed him into the very pit of hell. I remember the shoot with great joy -- new monsters every week! And it made me a stronger assistant director. I left the job knowing far more than I had going in. I applied it to all future feature gigs.

GOD'S LAND, on the other hand, was a labor of love made by a small and loyal crew. We felt more like a gang of thieves than like a film unit. Preston creates an environment on set where it's not about acting, or narrative even -- it's about capturing little moments of reality. Since the scale of his project was small in comparison to I SELL THE DEAD, there was an intimacy that soaked into the actors, who knew they had freedom to express and explore. On I SELL THE DEAD we were running against a gauntlet; on GOD'S LAND -- well, it was so different. It would be about finding the truth in a moment. And we could work in this way because it wasn't a big machine. No giant trucks, a tiny crew, and it felt more like what you'd expect from a documentary.

My own films are somewhere in-between I SELL THE DEAD and GOD'S LAND. The crew for THE DAYS GOD SLEPT was pretty big, but it was all built around moments that are small and precious, and you have to keep the distracting machine of filmmaking at arm's length to sustain the intimacy. I assistant directed a wonderful film called SOMEWHERE TONIGHT (directed by Michael Di Jiacomo, starring John Turturro) where we had a crew of 30-40 people. The director said he wanted it to always feel like we had a crew of 6 on set, and that's what we did. Kubrick, I think, did the same. You have the big machine, but send it away after the set is lit and you're capturing moments in intimate, quiet space. It was quite beautiful, and very inspiring.

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