An Interview with Jeremiah Kipp – By Brian Morton

Last month, I had the chance to catch the short film, Contact, online. It’s such an interesting movie that I really had to take a minute to talk with director Jeremiah Kipp to find out more about the movie, and to catch up with this very busy filmmaker.

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BM – Contact doesn’t have a lot of dialogue in it. Did you set out to make a movie that was largely without speaking?

JK – Silence has the potential for fear and tension. If you linger on two people sitting at a table, and there is intensity within the performance, you start to imagine the worst possibilities. You feel the weight of tension, or a sense of ambush. We came to realize that the more we pared down to the essential, the spare, the more the audience would project a mood of dread. But also the movie was in some ways inspired by pictures—which are worth a thousand words. I was drawn to Gregory Crewdson’s photography, which shows domestic scenes of nearly unbearable pressure and mystery, and Edvard Munch’s “The Kiss”, which is both romantic and disturbing. That painting is simply two lovers united into an expressionistic blur, but I wanted to push it to its most horrific extreme, where you are literally morphed into the flesh of your lover. CONTACT was our attempt to discover what happens before, during and after that nightmare.

BM – This is your second collaboration with Carl Kelsch, any plans for more…maybe a feature?

JK – Carl and I have been friends for many years; he has an elusive and unique perspective of the world. We worked on THE POD together, and it was a strong collaboration. CONTACT was a continuation or reboot of some of our ideas, and Carl was gracious enough to let me run with the concept. He basically allowed me to use the premise as a jumping-off point. We’ve discussed the notion of making a feature based on this material, but let’s see what the future holds. I suspect Carl is interested in directing his own work now, and it would be interesting to see what he does as a writer-director in his own right. He made a short film himself a few years ago that was quite unnerving; I think he has many more stories to tell.

BM – You could make the argument that Contact is an anti-drug film. How do you classify it?

JK – The movie should remain open to interpretation; it just so happens certain members of the audience have latched on to CONTACT as being some sort of anti-drug public service announcement. For my part, it was made for a horror festival in downtown New York that screens every Halloween, so perhaps it could be classified as a genre film. The curator, Bryan Enk, only told us our films needed to include nudity and gore, and beyond that we were free to explore all of the possibilities.

BM – What kind of budget did you have for Contact?

JK – The budget was miniscule—I think we spent something like $600 to make the picture, which is significantly less than the budget I am used to working with. But I also felt that the movie turned out much better than some of my more expensive projects, and there’s a lesson in that. My back was against the wall, and it forced us to be more creative. That said, we wanted to make a movie that felt cinematic, so we shot it in widescreen with an aspect ratio of 2:35, and did rigorous location scouting and planning, rehearsals. To achieve certain visual palettes, we timed shots to maximize natural light, using magic hour for exteriors and early morning light for interiors. Morning light is elegant and striking; when you use a smoke machine you pick up ray beams cascading through the air.

BM – Since you have experience as both, do you prefer being the director or the assistant director?

JK – I’d prefer to define myself as a filmmaker. You’re there to serve the film, not yourself. Making movies is communication, sincerely expressing an idea or a feeling and sharing it with others. CONTACT was made in that spirit, and was one of my most rewarding experiences to date. Being the assistant director to someone like Alan Rowe Kelly (on THE BLOOD SHED), James Felix McKenney (on AUTOMATONS) or Myna Joseph (on the Sundance award winning MAN) is also satisfying because it broadens and enlivens your perspective of what movies can be. More often than not, though, assistant directing feels like babysitting.

BM – Is it difficult serving someone else’s vision, after working on your own?

JK – I just wrapped a production where the director went on and on about the vision, yet had no real input on the acting, production design or cinematic storytelling at all—and treated everyone like shit along the way. The director of photography, sound mixer and I made an agreement that we’d tough it out, since we believed in the project more than in our leader; but it didn’t go well. We worked 16-hour days and were pretty much left stranded at the end of the shoot to find our own way home, paying for it out of our own pocket. The executive producer heard about it and immediately reimbursed us, because he’s a straight shooter, but it was a reminder that serving someone else’s so-called vision can be sheer living hell.

BM – You seem to enjoy working ‘outside the system’, any interest in working within the ‘mainstream’?

JK – There’s the danger of independent filmmaking feeling small minded and provincial because of budgetary limitations, but there should be no limit on the power of the imagination. Peter Jackson was a bold filmmaker when he made no-budget horror movies in New Zealand, and he remains so making pictures within the Hollywood model. What he did with THE LORD OF THE RINGS was pretty extraordinary, don’t you think? It’s good to be able to exist within both worlds; just make the most out of what you have and find a way to share it with the audience. Abel Ferrara and Steven Spielberg are both important directors to me, so I try not to make distinctions between “outside the system” mavericks and Hollywood heavy hitters, as long as the work is bold, visionary and cinematic.

BM – Since you’ve worked with both, would you rather work on something you adapted or work with original material?

JK – I’ve become more interested in developing my own material, but remain open to working with talented screenwriters. The script is the foundation, the blueprint, for the entire project, and I’m constantly on the lookout for riveting stories that make you want to keep turning the pages, which is a good indication that you want to continue watching the movie.

BM – As a filmmaker, how hard is it to put your movie out there and face criticism from goofballs like me?

JK – When you finish a film, it no longer belongs to you. It belongs to the audience. This really gives you an opportunity to listen to the film, to contemplate the finished work through someone else’s eyes, whether they like it or hate it. I look at it as part of the inherent process of making movies, or any art form.

BM – As a producer on a film, what role does a producer have during the actual filming process?

JK – It’s a good job as long as you’re working with a talented director, and my singular goal is to pave the road for them so that they can concentrate exclusively on their work. I had remarkable producers in Alan Rowe Kelly and Bart Mastronardi when we made CONTACT, and mostly what I felt was a sense of protection. They ensured we had the time and space we needed to make the movie, and removed anything that might be considered a distraction. When I produced GOD’S LAND for Preston Miller and THE JONESTOWN DEFENSE for Greg Takoudes, I felt like a comrade-at-arms, collaborator and field marshal every step of the way, making sure they got their scenes in the can, and playing the bad cop whenever they needed someone to yell and motivate and push people. Nobody cares how nice a guy you were when they screen the movie; they only care about how the movie turned out.

BM – What are you working on now?

JK – Hopefully I’ll be able to work again with the wonderful cast and crew we assembled on CONTACT. I’ve got a few projects on the front burner right now, particularly a monster movie feature that I’m passionate about filming in the very near future. I’m happy to be directing a segment of a creature feature anthology later this year executive produced by Marv Blauvelt, and Bart Mastronardi and I are working on a top-secret project based on classic Gothic horror stories. But no matter what happens next, I hope to sustain the integrity, sincerity and artistry of the films I work on.

BM – I have to say, I can’t wait to see what you do next. Thanks, Jeremiah.

JK – Thank you.

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If you haven’t had the chance to see CONTACT yet, then you really should find it and check it out, you can do that by clicking right here, it’s a great short, and with everything that Jeremiah is up to, we here at Rogue Cinema will do our best to keep up with him and keep you informed on what this talented guy is up to next!