An Interview with Anthony Kilburn – By Cary Conley

Last month I reviewed a very unique film called "Gore-e-ography," best described as a mockumentary. In the vein of "This is Spinal Tap," the film spoofs filmmakers as they make their latest feature. The film itself is hilarious and the concept of creating the entire production using improv was intriguing, so I got together with director Anthony Kilburn to talk about "Gore-e-ography" as well as his forthcoming projects.

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Cary: Anthony, tell us a little about yourself. How did you get interested in filmmaking?

Anthony: I’m a "Star Wars" baby—ever since visiting that distant galaxy through the eyes of the camera, I’ve wanted to create my own universes. I went to film school back in 2001, but I didn’t even finish. At that time, I was really into hip-hop, so I started this weird "white boy" rap act for a few years (I think you can still buy copies of Philosorappers online). Only when my wife, Halina Lubczanska, pushed me to get back into filmmaking did I even think I’d end up back behind the camera.

Cary: With all of the references to horror films in Gore-e-ography, I assume you are a horror film fan. Is that correct? What films and directors (either horror or non-horror) have influenced you the most?

Anthony: When I was younger, my friends and I would rent all the horror we could get our hands on. My favorites were "Day of the Dead" and "Dead Alive". I’ll tell you, I used to watch a lot of movies, but now that I’ve seen behind the curtain, so to speak, I hardly ever watch films except for research. But here are my top five favorite films of all time, in no particular order: "American Beauty," "Ghostbusters," "Taxi Driver," "Big Trouble in Little China," and "The Scorpion King". Don’t ask.

Cary: How did your production company, KillaCozzy Productions come about?

Anthony: My wife and I were going to start a wedding photography and videography business, but when the economy tanked, every one of our leads had a family member who could snap shots or roll tape for way cheaper than we’d ever want to work. At that point, I had a script in the wings we were planning on shooting with the profits from the business. Needless to say, there were no profits, but we figured we’d already invested in the video equipment, so why not just plan meticulously and put the film together? That’s where "Chiaroscuro, Baby" came from. (NOTE: "Chiaroscuro, Baby" is Kilburn’s first film.)

Cary: I was captivated by your hilarious new feature, "Gore-e-ography," a mockumentary about a group of amateur filmmakers who don’t realize they are amateurs. I thought the idea of making a film about filmmakers was a stroke of genius. How did you come up with this particular idea?

Anthony: After we wrapped "Chiaroscuro, Baby" and premiered it, we were doing a screening here, a festival there. I got bored. So another filmmaker buddy of mine, Sam Farmer, and I started coming up with experimental film ideas we could shoot with no money and no planning. I was toying with the idea of an improvised mockumentary about filmmakers—a behind the scenes, if you will. I figured we could shoot some interviews to see what our story would be about, then shoot the on-set footage once we had a framework. We went with filmmaking because we all knew the subject matter intimately. We had no idea what the quality of the product would be in the end, but hey, we were experimenting! We had one meeting with the selected cast and crew to field questions, and we all decided it’d be best to at least pick a film genre so that everyone could come in prepared. We decided on horror because it seems every low budget filmmaker debuts these days with a horror flick. There was some debate on whether or not we should decide who would play the director, the lead actor, and so on, but I was confident that these details would all come out through improvisation. My confidence stemmed from the fact that I was working with Bill Welch, Rachel Stromberg Wical, and Matt Shuman, some career improvisers from Mad Cowford Improv (Jacksonville’s version of Second City, but better!).

Cary: I get so tired of watching interviews and "Making of" features on DVD’s that are just love fests between the cast and crew members. I’m so tired of watching and listening to the directors/producers and the stars fall all over themselves lauding everyone else only to end up watching a terrible film, so it made the interview sections of "Gore-e-ography" that much funnier to me. Has this been your experience as well? Did some of the ideas for your film arise from watching one too many cast and crew interviews?

Anthony: That’s a better question for the actors! They provided most of the story with only some guidance from me when things seemed to go off track, which happened rarely. I did have them watch a segment from the behind-the-scenes featurette found on "Hot Shots, Part Deux," which struck me as silly. Other than that, I pointed the actors to Christopher Guest films such as "Waiting for Guffman" and Rob Reiner’s "This is Spinal Tap." I think we even referenced "The Office" for tone.

Cary: The film started as an experiment in improvisation before becoming a full-blown feature. How do you, as the director, work with an actor to mold an improvisational performance into something you can use?

Anthony: Improvisation is a matter of trust in self and each other. I had to trust the actors to create quirky, honest characters, and based on that, they trusted me to keep them on track. Since we started with interview questions first, we were able to pace ourselves. Everyone started by naming their character and their role on the fictional film set. Once this was established, we would start to riff. The key was that I had to honor whatever the performer chose for his/her character, so they had nearly limitless freedom. I suppose there was really no molding of performances, just exploring the characters together. Only in editing did I have to make decisions on what worked for the story and what didn’t (and there was a lot of good stuff that ended up on the figurative cutting room floor).

Cary: With no real script, I was impressed that you were able to piece together such a complete film. Talk a little about the processes you used to develop the story during filming and then edit it into a full-length film.

Anthony: I feel like "director" was an apt title for my role in this project. The conflicts the actors created lead in a certain, inevitable direction, and it was my job to remind everyone of that. For example, Chris and Lané start the film hating each other, so it’s only fitting that this dynamic should change. Between the scenes, I would simply give a blanket direction like, "Okay, guys, let’s see how these relationships change" or "Now, we’ve hit the brick wall." The actors chose how to interpret these directions, and I simply had to roll camera and discover the plotline with them. Editing was simply a process of trimming fat off the bacon. We had nine hours of original footage, and I had to pull out only what was essential to the story we had all created. I used to joke that I could cut this movie three times over without a lot of repeated shots, which is a testament to the consistency of the performers.

Cary: I know your first film, "Chiaroscuro, Baby," had a fairly large premiere complete with a red carpet, free drinks and live music, and several hundred people in tuxes and evening gowns. "Gore-e-ography" is slated for the same treatment this October. I’m sure other filmmakers will be interested to hear how you are able to work out the logistics of such large premieres. How do you do it?

Anthony: Ask me in five years, because I still have no idea. We basically just promote the hell out of ourselves and get people to buy into our films and our events. We normally sell tickets for $30 or so, which (in theory) covers the cost of the event. Pre-sale tickets to friends, family, and co-workers are key because it’s not cheap. Once some money starts flowing in, we work in phases to pay for the immediate essentials, like marketing materials, deposits, insurance, and merchandise. We spent about $10,000 on our last premiere, and nearly that for this one. Why the effort? Jacksonville used to be the "Winter Film Capital of the World," and we’re just doing our part to bring the glamour back to our beautiful city!

Cary: "Gore-e-ography" developed from your experiments while you were raising money for a much larger budget science fiction epic. How is the development of that picture coming along?

Anthony: Ah, the sci-fi. Not quite an epic, but it won’t be as cheap as this one ($0). Jay Rhae Hagley (who played Chet in "Gore-e-ography") and I came up with the story earlier this year, but I haven’t found the time to actually work on the script. I can tell you that it’s slated to be a neo-noir/comedy/political/dark/sci-fi film.

Cary: One of the more difficult and challenging aspects for indie filmmakers is raising money for their projects. Right now you are in the midst of trying to raise a substantial amount of money for your next project. What are your thoughts on how to go about raising funds? Do you have any particular method you like best?

Anthony: I have never actually raised money for a project, as everything has been funded out of pocket thus far. Perhaps that’s why I haven’t really launched the sci-fi! But I find that I’m becoming more and more weird in my filmmaking ideas so the science fiction piece has been back-burnered yet again in favor of a film that wants to hurt its audience. As usual, we’ll make sure to let Rogue Cinema have the first look.

Cary: Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?

Anthony: Make films, and never forget why you do it.