Cary Conley: Brooks, introduce yourself to Rogue readers. How did you become interested in film? What is your background in the film industry?
Brooks Hunter: I basically became interested in film at a very young age, watching a ton of movies. My grandmother gave me a VHS copy of Ghostbusters at the age of 6 and I must have watched it over 200 times, sometimes twice in a row. It was a bit of an obsession. I wanted to tape the Ghostbusters logo to my parents’ car to make it look like ECTO-1 but they only let me tape it to the inside windows. NOT the same thing! As soon as I picked up a video camera at the age of seven, I constantly shot short films with my friends. Pure fun. I honed my skills and built techniques by continually advancing my craft. I transitioned from editing while shooting to using two VCRs to using some of the first computer editing programs such as very early versions of Adobe Premiere. I attended Sheridan College for Media Arts from 2002 to 2005 and then worked various jobs to learn as much as possible. I’ve worked on the Dr. Phil Show, at Cannes Film Festival, the L.A. and Toronto Film Festivals, and on many independent film sets. It’s been crucial to learn the business aspects of the industry as much as the progression of creative technique. Throughout this time, I also built up my reel by directing more short films.
CC: What filmmakers and films have been your primary influences over the years?
BH: Spielberg has always been a major influence, specifically with Jaws and E.T. Hitchcock’s mastering of the thriller genre is extremely motivating. The Birds and Psycho are my favorites. Tarantino’s outside-of-the-box techniques with Pulp Fiction literally blew my mind. Ghostbusters and Back to the Future have been some of my all-time favorite films. They’re both a genius mix of adventure, fantasy, and humor which create such well-balanced journeys. Two other important films to recognize are Scorsese’s Raging Bull (its raw power, focus, and simplicity is explosive) and Kubrick’s The Shining is so well-crafted it’s as though you’re watching nature evolve in front of your eyes. The list goes on and on but recently Aronofsky has made the largest impact. I’ve always been a fan of his, but Black Swan launched him into my "top favorite directors list". I saw the film five times in theaters. The themes and metaphors resonated deeply. Maybe I was creating my own meaning to the film which made it so jolting. But that’s the point right? We have to answer the film’s questions ourselves.
CC: You’ve directed several dozen film shorts, some of which have won some prestigious awards. Tell us about those films.
BH: The first short film to win an international award was Dirty Cops, created in 10th grade. It’s a fairly "classic" tale of crooked cops rivaling against a supreme cocaine dealer but every character is around 14 to 15 years old. We all have fake facial hair and everything is simply over-the-top with exaggerated punching sounds and numerous surreal elements. The Kenneyville Clown was a type of Twilight Zone-esque episode where a young man’s prank involving the ghost of a dead clown becomes real and turns on him. Kenneyville stemmed from this concept but changed immensely through numerous drafts. Happy Now is a ten-minute short which was created after film school. It’s about a future society where the government experiments on prison inmates to create an "amplified" antidepressant to force upon the nation. This was the first short film to reach a caliber of professionalism that I considered at an entirely different level than the others. Prepped for Life is about a woman giving birth to a full-grown teenager who literally eats money. An obvious metaphor. It’s the first film I shot on 35mm. There are many other shorts before and in-between but these are the ones that stand out the most.
CC: The story about the evolution of the Kenneyville script is intriguing. It started as another short film, I believe, and morphed into several different scripts. Tell the readers about that process. When did you get the original idea for Kenneyville?
BH: I joined forces with one of my best friends, Geoff Heintzman, to write a feature film script and we decided to use The Kenneyville Clown as a primary "base". The resulting screenplay was entitled Red Dot, about a film that essentially "becomes" haunted. We kept writing and teamed up with Vincent Galvez, a writer/producer in Toronto, which resulted in a script that was so different from Red Dot that it was literally an entirely new film: Babe with a Sword. It’s a similar story to Kenneyville but involves a massive amount of special effects and science fiction elements like an ancient idol that completely possesses peoples’ minds. Finally, more tweaks were made which transformed it into what is now Kenneyville. Babe with a Sword is still different enough to be made into its own film. Three scripts emerged from trying to get one film made.
CC: You’re not just an independent filmmaker, but you also worked in Hollywood for several years as a camera operator, production assistant, and second assistant director. How did these years laboring in the trenches prepare you for feature filmmaking?
BH: I learned an incredible amount about patience and the value of knowing every position on-set. The crew will usually respect a director who knows their positions over one who doesn’t. I learned how other directors worked and how things operated in general. Being on-set for a week was virtually like being in an in-depth university program.
CC: You also secured a major distribution deal for Kenneyville, a coup for any independent filmmaker. As of October 11th, the film is widely available in stores such as Wal-Mart as well as online at Amazon. I’m sure other indie filmmakers would be interested to know how you secured such a deal.
BH: Once the film was edited, we had NO funds for extra post production such as visual FX, sound design, mixing, and color correction. I knew the film would not sell unless it was polished and completed without any technical flaws. We ended up needing to ADR 70% of the film! Long story short; I convinced five companies to work on the film’s post-production, completely on deferral. There’s no way Kenneyville would have sold without these crucial steps. Once this was done, I made my way to the American Film Market in Santa Monica. I hit the market on my own with about 100 copies of the film, handing them out to sales agents and distributors. There were a number of companies interested but I chose to work with sales agent Jeffrey Cooper at CUT Entertainment out of Los Angeles, a highly specialized sales agency dealing with genre films. It’s highly recommended that emerging filmmakers work with a sales agent who has established relationships in the industry versus trying to sell to each territory on his/her own. I followed this advice of course. Jeffrey then sold the film to Media Blasters out of New York City for US and Canadian distribution. Throughout this process, other distributors heard about the film such as Atlas Grove out of Montreal that is now distributing specifically to Canadian broadcast. Jeffrey also recently sold the film to Japan, and other territories will hopefully soon follow suit. The KEY I realized was knowing where to "draw the line". You don’t want to rush in and just work with anyone but you also don’t want to wait and miss the opportunity to work with a company that’s perfect for your film. You essentially need to "emotionally separate" yourself from the film, put on your distribution hat, and be a very good judge at what "level of distribution" your film is on.
CC: Kenneyville is a deeply personal film for you. It is an attempt to deal with your history of bipolar disorder using a creative outlet. Was the film always going to have these underlying personal elements, or did that evolve as the script evolved?
BH: It started with mental health elements as a broad inspiration without molding the story specifically around them. As time went on, I noticed the script was getting increasingly closer to being metaphorical for my harder times with bipolar disorder although I didn’t want to make an announcement about it. I finally was able to clearly see the many metaphors there really were once I watched the final product, thus, writing out a brief explanation of this on www.kenneyville.com. I must state that the film essentially is an abstract expression of the darker feelings I had at the time that were occurring. It’s not a representation of how I see all of this now. Going through the "darker times" has ultimately been a blessing; a road to greater appreciation and understanding of myself and life. I’m also very grateful for psychiatry throughout all of this. The film seems to portray scientists/doctors as "bad" but that’s really an expression of the distorted perception taking place when the feelings were at their worst.
CC: Without giving away any surprises, can you describe a scene or two in the film that were directly influenced by your history with bipolar disorder? Did you find that the filmmaking process effectively helped you deal with your past?
BH: There’s a hallucination scene where Kelly walks upstairs to what pretty much turns into an alternate dimension. This scene doesn’t literally showcase something I "saw" or "heard". It’s about the abstract confusion and fear that was felt. It’s as though something terrible was constantly coming and I was heading into eternal darkness. Not the most comfortable place to be! The scenes that deal specifically with drugs are quite representative of being placed on medication when I didn’t want to be. It was a good thing in the end but at the time I definitely didn’t see it that way.
CC: You were deeply involved at all levels of the filmmaking process. Is there one part–directing, writing, editing or producing–that you like better than the others?
BH: I definitely like directing the most. Being able to visualize a story in my head and then bringing that to life is crazy. I love it. So if I had to choose just one role, that would definitely be it. Writing takes second place.
CC: Can you tell us about any future projects your production company has planned?
BH: The most developed original ideas are a feature version of Happy Now and a currently untitled story where a complex disease transforms human beings into animals which ignites cataclysmic levels of discrimination. I’m also attached to direct two scripts currently being written by very talented writers; a dramedy, Doctor Sweetleaf, by Si Si Penaloza and a thriller, Me and a Gun, by Martin Jagodzinski. These projects are still in development so the next film has not been confirmed just yet. We’ll see how things progress. I know something will soon come to fruition to move into production in the near future.