An Interview with Jake Kennedy – By Duane L. Martin

 Let’s start off way back at the beginning. What kind of a kid were you? Were you always fascinated by horror movies and such or did you discover that later on?

It started early on, probably around 10, when I saw the Exorcist, evil dead 2 and dawn of the dead. Then I was hooked. Loved Fangoria and all the gore. Then at around 16, some of my friends started to become hard core fans and wanted to break out of school (I was a boarder in London) and go to all night horror screenings at the theatre. That just got a little too much for me then and I kind of stopped following the genre. Still liked it though. Then when I became interested in film making I took up my interest and passion for horror again. It also became a semi-calculated move too. I was working off the principal that horror was hot at the box office and nobody gives a first time writer/director a chance with a $10m action or romantic comedy script. But they might just give them a chance with a $200k horror script. So that drove me deep into the sub-culture again.

You studied film making at both the University of Sydney and the Los Angeles Film School. What were some of the unique experiences that you took from each school and do you think that attending film school is essential for every would-be independent filmmaker?

For me, film school the first time round was to learn the basics. I am a hands on kind of guy and need to touch and feel these things. So school was great. Then when I knew the basics, I went off and ‘did’ – I bought books, a camera, Mac and FCP and just started churning the films out, learning new stuff every time. When I moved to LA, I really went to film school to find a sense of belonging in a new city, as well as make those friends, partnerships and connections that school’s good for. The learning was a bonus. And I did learn. Do you need to go to film school? No. However, it is a great place for structured learning, in case you are not good at that. I’d say, if you want to be a sound guy, DP, gaffer etc, bank those $30k fees and go work for free for a year on as many jobs as you can. You’d gain a ton of experience and meet all the people who will hire you again. If you want to be a writer/director, learn how to write. Go on classes, courses, buy books and just do. Plus get on sets in any capacity – learn how the machine works. Then start making shorts. It’s the only way to get noticed.

I actually discovered you through your film "We All Fall Down" on the Fangoria Blood Drive II DVD. How long did the various stages of development take and what kind of a budget did you have for it?

I was at the LA film school for 6 months and I realized that if you dropped out after 6 months, you got 1/2 your tuition fees back. As the last 6 months of school were all about making a short film, which I had made a bunch of by now, I decided to drop out, cash in, and make my short anyway. I made one of my student friends co-producer with me. As a result he got all the school privileges – like access to equipment, student deals around town etc. Then we recruited people from the school to crew and I took the money and shot my movie. The film took about 3 months from conceptualization to shooting. Then another 6 to finish. I used my rebate money from school and then some! But I couldn’t stop the machine. I knew I had something, so wasn’t going to compromise what I needed. It ended up costing around $20k.

Julia Ling did an amazing job playing the girl who was murdered and dismembered in the film. What I liked about her is that she gave the film in some ways the feel of an Asian horror film. What about her impressed you and led to you casting her in the role?

Julia just stood out to me as someone who was a team player. She’s a great actress and wanted to do the role. She had the look and the right attitude. I specifically wanted a woman who could play a girl. Julia is 21. She’s a director’s dream. She even got a real nose-bleed on cue in one of the bloody scenes. Now that’s an actress!

How close was the final cut of the film to what you saw in your head as you were writing it? Were there any changes in the look of the film or the content of the story that just sort of happened along the way that differed from your original vision of how it would be?

The film turned out exactly as I wrote it in terms of story. But it looked so much better than I thought possible. The actors raised the game as did my fantastic DP, Brandon Trost. But my 13 page script ballooned to 19 minutes on screen as the scenes lengthened as I created moody, atmospheric moments. For the folks in this town, it was just too long as a short film. I had to make cuts. As I was editor too, I just couldn’t see where to cut it. Fortunately, there is a whole ‘nother subplot in the story that I managed to cut completely out. Then I moved some of the scenes around and hey presto, 6 minutes were gone. I actually think the film is stronger for it.

Julia LingI’ve heard comments from people saying that We All Fall Down could have been made into a full length feature. Do you feel it would have worked as well if it had been feature length? Was there ever any thoughts on your part before production that maybe you would like to stretch it out into a feature length film?

When I came to LA, I had a plan. I had my previous short horror film, Black, under my arm and a horror script. Then ‘Saw’ came out and I realized the best way to get a film off the ground as a writer/director was to make a short of a feature you wrote – like James Wan and Leigh Whannel did with Saw. So We All Fall Down (WAFD) was made and then I wrote the feature script before the film was completed. So if someone liked the short, I could thrust the feature script into their warm soft hands and say: ‘here’s the feature script, and it will be just like the short.’ It worked. David Jones, Catherine Zeta Jones’ brother saw it, then read the script and their company (Milkwood Films) optioned the script right away.

Both you and the film have won a lot of awards at various film festivals. Were you surprised at how well the film was received?

Yes and no. I knew it would do well at some of the horror festivals as it’s a perfect fit. However, I didn’t know it would do SO well! Plus it won festivals that didn’t have a horror film presence, which really surprised me. One festival even phoned me up to say that that they created a third place in their drama awards because they wanted WAFD to win something!

How did it come about that your film was selected for the Fangoria Blood Drive II DVD?

Like other festivals and competitions, I saw the competition on line and entered. Then they did the rest.

You’ve got a new feature length movie coming out called Days of Darkness: Rise of the Flesheaters. Tell us about that and how it all came together.

When I first arrived in LA, I met a producer through some family connections. As the only person I knew in the industry, I held onto that connection with my fingernails! He was the only guy I knew who had directed and produced movies and was great at giving me advice. Then he decided he wanted to make another movie. I showed him my horror script that I wrote in Australia before coming over to LA. He liked it but didn’t want to make it. But it showed him I could write, so we set about writing another script together for him to self-finance and produce. We wrote 2 scripts, but as my fingers typed bigger and better scenes, the budgets grew! Then I went off and started working in the industry. I interned at a horror production company called ‘Raw Nerve’, under Eli Roth, Scott Spiegel and Boaz Yakin. Saw how they did the post production on 2001 Maniacs there for a year. Then I interned at another horror production company called The Asylum. They make a horror movie a month!!! I had just shot WAFD and had some scenes cut together and showed it to them. The next thing you know, I am 2nd unit director on their next horror film. Then I finished WAFD. So I went back to the producer, showed him the finished WAFD film and then told him how to make a low budget horror film for $100k. He was in and we started writing a zombie horror movie that was tight, contained and had only a handful of actors. Then we went and shot it!

Days of Darkness is in post production right now. Once it’s ready to go, what are your plans for it? (distribution, film festivals, etc…)

At this stage, it will be a straight to DVD release. It should be ready to sell towards the end of the year. But if a distributor wants to give it a theatrical, then so be it! I will also take it round on the festival scene too.

This was your first feature length film. Do you find yourself sort of over-thinking things in post production trying to make everything perfect since it’s your first full length "baby" so to speak?

Yeah. I want this and that, but when the producers are footing the bills, the director doesn’t always get what he wants!! Film making is a series of compromises. I’m lucky that I got most of what I wanted while shooting, so the film will turn out great regardless.

Do you already have plans for your next project? If so, what can we look forward to from you in the future?

We now have a financer involved in WAFD the feature, so hopefully that will be my next project. I also have a high concept horror film script I have been working on with a producer. That is almost ready to go out to studios and production companies. Plus, I’ve just got an agent, so they will hopefully open up doors and expose me to projects that I never even imagined possible.

 What’s the best piece of advice you could give to a filmmaker who’s just starting out and about to start working on his first film?

Have a clear vision as to what you want. Be able to convey that vision to others. If you believe in you, others will too. That’s when magic starts to happen and you get stuff for free and high caliber actors start becoming involved. Then hire a great crew and treat them with respect. Then point yourself in a straight line and GO! Don’t let others dissuade you and don’t let any problems stop you. Believe that a set back is an opportunity and will probably make your film better and you stronger. Have a bigger picture too and make this film part of that. Is the film for festivals, is it to launch a feature? People are in this game for themselves too. So if you can give them something back too, then they are more likely to help you.

What’s it like to work in Hollywood?

Where do I begin? It’s great because it’s where dreams can become reality for so many people. It’s what everyone’s here for. But it’s tough. Very tough. There are so many more opportunities than anywhere else in the world, but there are also so many more people here to fill those opportunities. My advice to anyone who comes to this town to ‘make it in the biz’ is this: Don’t expect things to happen over night. Things move at 2 rates here, glacial and lightning. Bank on glacial. Get a day job! Have a skill that is flexible and can support you while you do the stuff you want to do. Network and meet people. It’s all about those connections. Then prepare for war. Write those scripts, make those films, build your reel, get that work experience. So when you meet Spielberg or Raimi in the elevator and they ask what have you got, you can give them your award winning short and script and tell them about how you are so ready for them to give you your break. You only get one shot at things in this town. Make sure it’s your best. And that takes time, so be ready for the long haul.

Just to wind this up with a fun question, if you had a virtually unlimited budget, what kind of a film would you make?

Probably a quirky comedy like Men in Black. But I’m not ready for that yet. I’m still cutting my teeth. I want to be able to master this genre before moving on. Horror and comedy are the 2 hardest genres to get right. If I can crack one of them, then I am ready for anything.

If you’d like to find out more about We All Fall Down, you can check out the film’s website at http://www.weallfalldownthemovie.com. Additionally, if you’d like to check out the film, you can pick yourself up a copy of Fangoria’s Blood Drive II DVD and see some other great films on it as well.