Review Fix chats with film director Jeremiah Kipp, who discusses the creative process behind three of his films, “The Minions,” “Berenice” and “Painkiller.” Breaking down everything from the on-set relationships and his hopes for the films, Kipp gives us an inside look at his work and what makes it special.
Review Fix: What was the creative process for these three films?
Jeremiah Kipp: THE MINIONS was an opportunity to work once again with writer Joe Fiorillo. (Our previous film was the phantasmagoric strip club movie THE DAYS GOD SLEPT.) He was working on a book, and one of the chapters involved the true story of this man wandering home and his strange encounter with these two women along the Witch’s Path. As with most of Joe’s work, it was like the sacred and profane living side-by-side. The story reminded me of THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW where Ichabod Crane has a confrontation with superstition, or the supernatural. Only THE MINIONS is told in a modern urban city street; so it also reminded me of the Kitty Genovese murder case and the outsiders we can encounter in a metropolis. Things can jump right out and grab you.
BERENICE is an adaptation of a great, and shocking, Edgar Allan Poe story. Like most of Poe’s work, it’s sensual and yearning, but the ending is so weird that Poe got in hot water with the reading public and his editors. True to form, he saw he was on the right track with his shock imagery, and that translated well into a movie. It was originally intended to be part of the anthology film TALES OF POE directed by super-talented genre filmmakers Bart Mastronardi and Alan Rowe Kelly, but my financing didn’t come together until a few years later when Mike T. Lyddon was producing a horror anthology called CREEPERS (available for purchase at www.creepersfilm.com) and was seeking short scripts based on literary works. BERENICE seemed a good fit, so off we ran.
PAINKILLER was a direct result of me directing a short horror film called BAGGAGE. One of the financiers of that film, Jerry Janda, wrote a script dealing with body horror, addiction and physical violence. He had gone through withdrawal symptoms from pain medication after a back injury, which informed the script for PAINKILLER. Of the three films, I’d say PAINKILLER is the most nasty, physical and gruesome. The movie is available for $1 rental or purchase at http://painkillerfilm.com/2014/10/18/buy-or-rent-painkiller-today/
Review Fix: What do you think is special about them?
Kipp: Many of the films I’d made since 2009 have had women at the center; BAGGAGE started me on a series of works about male anxiety. THE MINIONS scared me, because I feel like it is so easy to slip into delusion. We trick ourselves into thinking we’re safe, or we’re right, and that can lead us down a rabbit hole of trouble. BERENICE is about the corrosion of a relationship; a man obsessed with the idea of a woman more than the woman herself. And PAINKILLER’s main character is a scientist who lives within his work to such a degree that he winds up killing what he loves. All of them are about weakness, giving in to a false idea that is destructive. The body count is higher than usual in these films than some of my others. I often fall in love with the characters, so it saddens me to butcher them; in this series of movies, I mercilessly took several to the charnel house.
Review Fix: How important was the casting process for these films?
Kipp: I greatly enjoy working with actors, so it was important for each film. BERENICE and PAINKILLER were largely drawn from a pool of talent I frequently work with. Let’s just talk about THE MINIONS, since that is essentially about three characters on a street and from that you have to conjure up an entire mood of the occult. The casting was all you have to hold onto. I wouldn’t have made the film if we hadn’t found the right actors, location, sound designer or cinematographer—and we almost postponed after a long audition process where we felt we hadn’t found Katrina. Robin Rose Singer was one of the last people we saw. If Robin hadn’t been so commanding in the role, if she just played “the drunk girl” and missed the cues where her character is manipulative or commanding, the bottom would have fallen out of the movie. It’s the kind of performance that seems easy but in fact demanded enormous charisma.
I’m in love with all of the actors we selected. Cristina Doikos (as Sarah) and Lukas Hassel (as William) were on board from close to the beginning of the process. Lukas and Cristina were completely unafraid to delve into the darker side of these characters; which actually made me enormously sympathetic to them and their crisis. They are both tenacious, fighting tooth and nail for their character’s needs; they give no quarter. Those are the kind of people I enjoy collaborating with; who immerse themselves into the world of the movie. When Lukas was performing his monologue, drawing himself into a place where the very room seemed to disappear and we were going right into his brain, the cinematographer Brian Dilg whispered to me, “I wonder where he is right now (as an actor), where he has to go. I’ll bet it’s a scary place.” And Lukas was completely in control of his instrument, a true professional. Fearless.
Review Fix: What were the relationships like on set?
Kipp: On PAINKILLER, we had on-set tension unlike anything I had experienced before. THE MINIONS was a rigorous shoot on the nighttime streets of New York, and was uncompromising in its own way, but there was a sense of nocturnal adventure and everyone was on the same page. PAINKILLER was the opposite; we spent four days in a cramped room with low ceilings that felt like a submarine. Getting through all the dialogue was like a death march into the sea. Nerves were frayed and members of the crew were frequently testy with one another. I thought that would change when we moved into the science lab, but there was a brutal altercation between the crew with disparate ideas about how one of the key sequences should be filmed. It was like the stories you hear about BLADE RUNNER or THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, on-set environments where people literally wanted to murder each other. I didn’t enjoy the process, and we went several days over schedule so it felt like a never-ending nightmare. That said, the making of a movie can inform the movie, and PAINKILLER is as stark, vicious and uncompromising to watch as it was to make; I stand behind the film and our writer/producer Jerry Janda’s intention behind it. Unpleasant to make…but resulting in a finished product that strikes a chord with genre audiences. BERENICE was like a vacation in comparison, even with all the gore, sex scenes and so-called challenges of making a movie. It was a quick shoot and brought some of the joy of the filmmaking process back to me.
Review Fix: How quickly are these films put together? How much of a toll do they take on you?
Kipp: Thankfully, each of these films were shot, edited and completed this year. It’s strenuous work, and takes me away from my friendships and relationships. Sometimes, I think it destroys my relationships with people outside the film business. Those within the industry are like gypsies well versed in coming together, making something, and splitting apart. If you collaborate with the same people often, as I like to, it can create enduring partnerships. But it’s unhealthy for one’s love life. It’s easy to see why creative people burn through so many marriages. And financially, I’m sure I’d make more money doing something else. I frequently joke about wanting to work on an oil rig and catching up on my reading, and making some cash. It’s a struggle, but it’s also the life I’ve chosen.
Review Fix: What have you learned about yourself through these films?
Kipp: I’m still learning, but one of the pleasures has been to direct so frequently. It’s the way I’m happiest to communicate my thoughts, feelings and beliefs to others. I’d like to find ways to communicate better in real life, outside of the movies, since life is not a film set.
Review Fix: What are your hopes for these films?
Kipp: BERENICE is part of an anthology film called CREEPERS, and it’s wonderful to be part of a collective that people are buying on Blu-Ray and DVD. We’re also submitting the films individually to festivals, and we have one coming up in January and another we’ll announce shortly. It’s a weird film, so I’m glad some audiences have a delight in weirdness.
It would be great for PAINKILLER to have a festival life. We went very far over budget with the movie, so I think the promotions have largely been through word-of-mouth. We’ll see what the future holds for it, but it’s the movie that forges the easiest connection with the horror crowd.
And THE MINIONS is having it’s premiere screening in New York. We sold out in two days, which was gratifying. We’re going through the process of submitting to festivals and have been toying with the idea of releasing it on DVD along with THE DAYS GOD SLEPT. My greatest passion, though, would be to take the character of William, so plagued with fear of The Witch’s Path, and make an entire feature length film about him. Writer Joe Fiorillo and actor Lukas Hassel are game, and Joe’s been giving it a lot of thought. It’d be a nightmare character study in the vein of TAXI DRIVER or CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, a modern Gothic with witches, sorcery, demons and madness. In other words, my cup of tea…
Review Fix: How do you want each of them to be remembered?
Kipp: That’s up to the audience. Once the films are out there, you have to trust the tale and not the teller.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Kipp: There’s a short film finishing up post-production right now called SOUND/VISION, about an unlikely friendship that is forged through music. It was nice creating a movie about creativity instead of mayhem. In 2015, there are a few producers who may have a feature project for me to direct; I’m ready to climb those larger mountains again. It would be great to make a movie about monsters again; those creatures who are grotesque versions of our very selves. And I always enjoy a good fright.