Friday, November 25, 2011

Jeremiah Kipp Interview: Crestfallen, Contact and The Sadist

Jeremiah Kipp is a journalist that works for Fangoria and Shock Cinema Magazine. He has directed seven short films, including "The Christmas Party," "The Pod," "Contact" and "Crestfallen." His first feature length film "The Sadist" starring Tom Savini is currently in post-production.

In my humble opinion, he is a fantastic director with a fine eye for detail that allows his works to conjure up strong, deep emotions in the viewer. Not very many directors are able to do that, especially when working with minimalist dialogue, or in the case of "Crestfallen," no dialogue at all.

Crestfallen (2011)

This silent short film the story is a beautiful tragedy told by actions; the brilliant music gives the main character her voice. The melancholic soundtrack is punctuated by a small musical idea of a loud strumming guitar accompanied by a snare drum. The way it breaks through the sad soft sound in the background mimics the deep thoughts that are rushing through the main character's head as she attempts to commit suicide. At the end, as her life's blood leaves her, the punctuating beat begins to sound like a rapid heartbeat that is slowly dying.

What I really loved about this short film is that the music tells the story and gives the character her voice as she attempts to take her life. There is no dialogue; it is like watching a silent movie, albeit in color instead of black and white. However the emotional impact is not lost, but enhanced by the silence, the same way that the soundtrack enhances the overall feeling of grief that the main character feels.

The movie shows us what flashes through the suicidal woman's head as she gets ready to take her life. She married, had a child, then caught her husband cheating on her with her best friend. After an ugly confrontation, he takes her child away from her. Devastated and heartbroken, she decides to take her life. At the very end, the thoughts of her child brings her to her senses and she doesn't wish to die any more.

"Crestfallen" is a serious look at what can drive a person to suicide, and treats the topic with maturity and respect. I absolutely loved this deep study of heartbreak and pain. It is a great example of how music can enhance a film and provide emotional impact.

You can read more about the making of "Crestfallen" here

Contact (2010)

Kipp knows how to draw emotion out of his actors, and how to create tension and feelings of dread by purposefully manipulating what is shown on screen, and what is not. His movie "Contact" is a black and white film full of tension and dread. It is about a young woman who breaks free of her parent's tight reign and in her rebellion takes a walk down a dangerous path of experimenting with drugs and sex. With the "Drone Zone"-like electronic ambiance permeating the score, and the imagery of the dark beaten up path she takes to the condemned drug house, the scene is set for a very intense ride.

The movie's minimalist dialogue creates suspense and mimics the main character's parent's need for control. The woman's parents demonstrates this clearly in the simplest of tasks; setting the dining table while waiting for their daughter to return home to them. The movie starts out with her parents, and makes you wonder just what is going on that could make them so nervous. The scene changes to the daughter, and you get to watch her slow descent into madness as she takes a powerful drug with her partner that makes her hallucinate.

I found the drug trip scene to be reminiscent of David Cronenberg's works and his themes of body horror. In Cronenberg's movies the most horrific things that can happen to you are the unpredictable things that can happen to your body. The same can be said of "Contact." Once the drugs really start to take effect, and she begins to kiss her boyfriend, their lips meld together. In a panic, she tries to pull back, and their flesh forms a tube between their heads. It's great imagery, and quite shocking to watch as they rip away their faces in an effort to break free.

"Contact" is about the horrors of a bad drug trip, and how even if you go home to the safety of your father's arms, you can't ever truly escape it. The terror will always find you.

You can watch "Contact" for free here

The following is my interview with Jeremiah Kipp.

Did you work closely with Harry Manfredini to develop the soundtrack, or did he compose it organically after watching it?
We were able to reach out to him through our mutual friend, the talented genre filmmaker Patrick Rea.  Harry saw CRESTFALLEN and immediately responded to it. Through a series of phone calls and emails, Harry started what I can only describe as an exploration of the film. He was like some kind of musical detective or anthropologist, asking about the characters, our intentions behind the pictures, connections he was making with individual cuts. In-between these talks about the tone, style and mood, we’d share our passion for Hitchcock’s VERTIGO and his memories of living in Chicago. Sometimes the things that seem way off-topic can be the most helpful, because he wanted a sense where our personal tastes converged. We had a great time, and he made my cinematographer/editor Dominick Sivilli and I promise we’d use him on our next feature—or else he’d come find us and break our legs!

How long did "Crestfallen" take to shoot?
We shot for two days in Bloomington, Indiana.  Dominick and I flew in from New York after several weeks of pre-production, and were excited about shooting in the Midwest, around great sweeping fields and abandoned farmhouses. Our associate producer Marv Blauvelt was instrumental in the casting process, scouting locations, really putting all of the pieces together; so when Dominick and I arrived we were able to hit the ground running.  We also did one day of filming in New York, mostly filming the children running around—and this led to some moving, serendipitous footage like the baby reaching out and gripping her mother’s hand. Moments like that remind you of the gift of children, the gift of life, which was the essential theme of our project.

"Crestfallen" is a deep movie. What inspired you to do a film about suicide?
The inspiration came from the script, written by our producer Russ Penning. He saw my previous film CONTACT and felt confident I’d be able to tap into his personal demons. This material was based on experiences that happened to him, and what struck me most was how a flood of images pour over the woman (played by Deneen Melody) as she attempts taking her own life. Personal despair can feel like a spiral, and we’d film sequences and scenes that we knew would be more like pieces of a mosaic; fragments of thoughts that bombard Deneen’s character.

Was it difficult to get the actors so emotionally involved in the scenes that they could emote with their body language so clearly what was being said and happening to them emotionally without being able to use words to express it?
These actors were good, and open to exploring the characters in rehearsal. By the time they arrive on set they understand the roles they’re playing. Deneen had a friend who committed suicide, and was drawing from that. She has a rich inner life, as does ZoĆ« Daelman Chlanda (the lead in CONTACT). They also have a unique star quality, a charisma, that informs their work. If they trust you, they’ll take you right into the heart of the movie. Michael Partipilo also did very good work as Deneen’s husband—he was able to tap into a kind of emotional honesty. It helped that he and Deneen knew each other and have worked together before. They had a foundation for their character’s relationship. We see the husband’s love for Deneen’s character even as he damages the relationship, and we see him struggling through that pain.

You seem to like exploring people's mental landscape: their emotional states, their choices and way of thinking. What draws you to the psychological aspects of horror?
Some audiences watch THE EXORCIST and are knocked out of their seats by the religious, iconographic power of that film—it’s truly one of the great horror movies. That said, it’s worth noting that I was not raised in a religious household—which probably affects how I view the world, and genre film making. My parental figures were compelled by French existentialist writers like Camus and Sartre, and the terror of basic human existence. THE EXORCIST doesn’t scare me in that primal way because I’m not afraid of the devil. But I’m truly scared of other people, and how we fail to understand one another.  We’re mysteries even to those we love the most. That’s probably why I’m drawn to the stories you suggest; the frayed mental landscape of human beings who find themselves pushed to the edge.  We learn the most about ourselves when we go there, into that horror.

How did you decide upon utilizing black and white for "Contact?"
We wanted to pare everything down to the essential—the plot, the characters, the narrative, the dialogue were all kept very taut.  By reducing the constitutive elements of the film, I found we would also increase the sense of tension. Black and white may have had something to do with that; and it also takes CONTACT out of the realm of naturalism. It’s also quite beautiful. There’s something romantic about black and white, don’t you think?

The imagery in both of your short films is striking and stayed with me. It's almost like the scenery is used as a tool to create tension, as much as the actors are. How long did it take you to get the scenery just right to convey such heavy emotions?
You cast your locations the same way you cast your actors; it has to have some kind of resonance. On CONTACT, we had the great privilege of working with our talented producer Alan Rowe Kelly, who has a great eye for moody, evocative settings.  He’s the kind of collaborator I love working with, where you make a very small suggestion and he’ll say, “Oh, I have something you’re going to love.”  There’s a haunted quality to ruined buildings, burned-out ruins, vacant lots—and for CONTACT we wanted to contrast this strange underworld with the refined, carefully arranged suburban home of the main character’s parents, where the actors convey a sense that this order is delicately preserved, and could easily be broken.

I absolutely loved the minimalist dialogue, and how during her bad trip, her partner's voice comes through as though it is a part of the drone score, as a barely understood echo. You seem to have a good feel for how a soundtrack impacts your work. Did you study it, or is this something that comes naturally to you?
With CONTACT, we knew there would be no distinction between music, sound design and dialogue; it was all of a piece.  We had a fantastic collaborator in Tom Burns, who had scored Alan’s films I’LL BURY YOU TOMORROW and THE BLOOD SHED.  Those films have a kind of humorous camp quality, but Tom’s life as a professional musician has taken him into many unique modes of expression. I think he liked delving into something a little more experimental, and our work in the studio was more like play, like a jazz riff, where he’d pick up strange instruments, record them as a texture, and weave it into the movie.  I loved the intensity of his work; his keen intuitions. He’s a romantic at heart, and also has a keen understanding of the darkness. He understood the project completely, truly the right man for the job.

When can we expect your next film, The Sadist?
The project rests entirely in the hands of the producers, who are re-cutting the film. We’ll see what direction they take the material.

What is the movie about?
This was a work-for-hire project about a killer in the woods, played by Tom Savini, who came back from the war severely damaged.  As this was my first feature, I was bound and determined to give the project tremendous energy, so it would feel like an aggressive, ferocious adventure. The movie was made in pain and terror, a sort of forced death march into the woods, and I hope that translates into the finished product. I was mugged and beaten up earlier that year, which perhaps affected how I handled the violence in the movie.

What was it like working with Tom Savini?
He has a reputation for being difficult, and after we hired him I called around and asked people who knew him what he was like. Those who met him at conventions all said he was going to be a handful, but the directors I spoke to said he came to the set enthusiastic, ready to work, and that he loves playing villains. This was the Tom Savini that I collaborated with on THE SADIST. We had a wonderful time, and afterwards I helped him assemble some of his crew on a directing project he was working on later that year as part of the horror anthology THEATER BIZARRE.  It was terrific visiting him on the set and watching him on the other side of the camera, where he seemed wholly in his element.  I’ll say this for Tom: you don’t wonder if he likes you or not. He liked what the cinematographer Dominick Sivilli and I were doing on THE SADIST, and was very good to us—but if he feels like you don’t know what you’re doing, he’ll eat you alive.

Watch the trailer for "The Sadist" below.

The Sadist Trailer- Starring Tom Savini from Dominick Sivilli on Vimeo.

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