An Interview with Jeremiah Kipp – By James Dubbeldam

You hear the names of other filmmakers in the industry all the time. Usually, you don’t have enough time to look them all up or you lack the interest to. I had heard of Jeremiah before, and recently had the chance to review one of his short films, Crestfallen. I loved it. So when he asked me if I was interested in interviewing him, I couldn’t say no. And I’m very glad to have met him- he’s one of those artists who you can’t NOT learn something from.

What amazes me sometimes about filmmakers and the world they live in is how different they all are. The reasons they do what they do; their background; their experiences; their view on the filmmaking world. It’s funny to think that so many people who do the same thing in the same industry could be so different.  Jeremiah has a great outlook on life / film making, and is an excellent example of an artist to look up to and learn from. Not only is he incredibly experienced, but passionate and wise about what he is doing (making movies).

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James- How long have you been making films?

Jeremiah- When I was twelve, my grandparents purchased a VHS camcorder with the intention of documenting family gatherings and weddings. My friends and I started making monster movies in the backyard, culminating in a three-hour adaptation of Stephen King’s THE STAND and a biography film of Vincent van Gogh. The movies were absolutely terrible, totally amateur, we had no idea what we were doing, but I knew early on that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

James- How many films have you worked on? Are you a writer/director/producer/actor?

Jeremiah- As a director, I’ve made eleven short films, some of which I wrote, completed one feature as a work-for-hire and am on pre-production on my second. I’ve produced nine features and several short films, including THE BED-THING directed by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Matt Zoller Seitz, which he boldly shot on 35mm. As for my acting experience, I try to do that as little as possible, but my roles include an Albanian pimp, a yuppie scumbag, a Satanic bunny rabbit, a post-apocalyptic robot, and a Hungarian composer. Those who want to follow my acting work will notice I am kept far in the background and out-of-focus, because I am not Daniel Day Lewis.

James- What do you do with your films? Send them to festivals? Do you seek distribution for them?

Jeremiah- My short films have generally gone the festival route—I made one called THE CHRISTMAS PARTY that played all around the world with new festivals every month for three years, and since that movie had several young children in it, I was hired by Canon to direct spots for them involving children. So the short films have led to new clients. In 2009, I made a short called CONTACT, which was a phantasmagoria of body horror and drugs, and decided not to go the festival route. Instead, I put it online and marketed it that way, and while it also played in many international festivals, it also allowed anyone with a computer the opportunity to see it. Based on that work sample, two producers hired me for a feature film called THE SADIST starring Tom Savini. Work begets work, and that seems to be the way it goes. Some of the feature films I’ve produced have achieved theatrical distribution, and I have no doubt THE SADIST will eventually find a home, but that’s up to the producers now. The future of that movie rests entirely in their hands.

James- Why did you start filmmaking? Why do you love it so?

Jeremiah- I was a child actor, had short stories published in magazines for young writers, and took an early interest in painting and sketching. Filmmaking combined the performance aspect of acting, the storytelling aspect of writing, and the visual element of drawing. It was a culmination of my varied interests.

James- Who are your inspirations?

Jeremiah- It depends on the project. For THE CHRISTMAS PARTY, we looked at the paintings of Norman Rockefeller. For CONTACT, I’m sure David Cronenberg was on the brain but I also enjoyed the photography of Gregory Crewdson. It all depends on what we’re doing.

James- Where do you want to go in this business?

Jeremiah- Now that I’ve directed my first feature, I eagerly look forward to creating more full length narrative movies, both inside and outside the horror genre. Sometimes I wonder if I’m in fact simply a dramatic or comic filmmaker whose attraction to scary movies is based in the fact that I regard life with heightened anticipation.

James- Have you won any awards?

Jeremiah- Yes, but that’s not my primary reason for making these films.

James- Where do you get your funding? Have you ever sold anything?

Jeremiah- Several of the movies had benefactors, and most recently CRESTFALLEN was produced by Russell Penning, who had seen my short CONTACT and thought it was a good idea for us to work together. He flew my cinematographer Dominick Sivilli and I out to Indiana, where our associate producer Marv Blauvelt put the rest of the team together and enabled the movie to happen. As for sales, the shorts have mostly led to my getting hired on commercials and work-for-hire jobs, which pay me for my services. Lately, I’ve been making a living as a working director. Movies I’ve produced have achieved theatrical, DVD and television releases, which makes me happy. That’s what encouraged me to start directing feature films; you can’t sell a short.

James- Are you comfortable with the business side of things? The “necessary evil”?

Jeremiah- I regard the business aspect of filmmaking as simply part and parcel of the artistic process. If you’re skilled at pitching, it probably means you have an inherent understanding of the material as a storyteller. If you can capture the attention of a potential producer, then you have made an initial spark with your first audience member, your first fan, your first supporter. This is how movies get made. If you can’t handle that as a director, producer, actor or creative person in any art form, how do you expect anyone to follow you on this adventure?

James- Do you feel supported along your journey by family, friends, society, government?

Jeremiah- No man is an island, and filmmaking is a collective experience. Unless you’re making experimental films as a one man army, you depend on the support, trust, enthusiasm and collaboration of your team, or the guidance of your mentors. I am grateful to them all. One of the first and greatest inspirations was Larry Fessenden, director of THE LAST WINTER and his deeply personal vampire film HABIT—he understands the craft, he lives and breathes visual storytelling, he continually stresses the vital importance of having something to say, as well as the necessity to grow and continue to learn. Working with him, I learned about movies, about life, and about myself.

James- What tips do you have for other filmmakers?

Jeremiah- One can only learn by doing.

James- What’s different about you and what you do?

Jeremiah- In the world of horror movies, my goal is not simply to scare you—although I love genre films that are like a skillfully designed jack-in-the-box. I love people and am profoundly interested in them, I feel we’re all plagued by weaknesses and must struggle to overcome them, I fear we will never comprehend one another as human beings which leads to anguish. My movies hopefully exist in a place of dread, waiting for something terrible to happen, while hoping above all that our decency and humanity will prevail. Sometimes I am not so sure; but as I get older, I strangely grow more optimistic.

James- What’s your plan to be successful?

Jeremiah- Did you ever see the Michael Jordan commercial directed by Mark Romanek where he talks about all the games he’s lost, all the baskets he missed, how he has failed literally thousands of times, and he continues to fail, and that is how he succeeds? I have a similar unyielding commitment to filmmaking; it’s always been the great love of my life, the means by which I communicate with the world. The key to success seems to be talent plus perseverance, and you make your own luck along the way. That, and I simply take enormous pleasure in directing movies; it brings me such happiness to tell stories through this medium and share that with an audience. And once the movie is completed, it belongs entirely to them.

James- What if you had the chance to direct a big Disney film—what would you do? Would you take it?

Jeremiah- One of my favorite movie directors is Steven Spielberg, and one of my favorite pictures of his is E.T.—THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL. Of course I would heartily enjoy making a Disney film, since BAMBI is one of the most heart-wrenching, poignant and painful narratives about growing up that I’ve ever seen. Who can forget the scene when his mother is shot? Disney was not afraid of making children’s films that touched a nerve; and I feel horror movies and fairy tales are very close to each other. HANSEL & GRETEL is the story of two little kids who are starving and abandoned by their family; they come across a Gingerbread House and, after feasting to their hearts content, are nearly eaten themselves by a wicked witch. Children are more bold in their taste and sensibilities than we give them credit for. I love working with kids, and love watching movies with them, and think they are the best audience of all because they don’t pretend at all—they are either excited by what you’re doing or they’ll throw eggs at you.

James- How can I or other readers help you?

Jeremiah- I am always on the lookout for new opportunities to make movies, but it’s equally important for me to share my work. CONTACT is available online for public viewing, as are some of my spec commercials. If anyone is curious to see them, I heartily encourage them to Google me and my work. I’d welcome anyone’s thoughts, for good or for ill, since these movies are made for them.

James- I recently watched your film CRESTFALLEN and really enjoyed it. Can you talk about your inspiration for the film?

Jeremiah- The producer, Russ, had written a very powerful and poignant script, a suicide film loosely based on his personal experience. Our main inspiration was the material, which we used as a leaping-off point. We shot out in Indiana, where we found the Midwestern cast and crew to be remarkably good-natured, brave and hard-working. Ultimately, in the editing room, we discovered this to be a life-affirming project. I wonder if my recent short films have been public service announcements in a way, since CONTACT was interpreted frequently as an anti-drug movie! (Of course, other viewers said they immediately wanted to go home, get naked and take drugs, which is an equally valid response, I think!) At any rate, I’m very proud of both CRESTFALLEN and CONTACT. If I make another socially relevant horror short with a “C” in the title, we’ll have ourselves a trilogy.