An Interview with Jeremiah Kipp – By Misty Layne

Jeremiah Kipp is a filmmaker out of New York City, a filmmaker with whom I actually have a bit of a past. When I started my personal website of movie reviews, he was the first filmmaker to contact me to ask if I would review a few of his short films, which for me was kind of a big, exciting deal. And after watching his films, I kind of fell in love with his work, no lie. Mr. Kipp does some beautiful, intense and amazing films and today I’m here to talk with him about his latest “The Days God Slept”.

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ML: As with some of your other films, “The Days God Slept” is pretty much left open to interpretation as to how it can be taken and what it’s about. How do YOU describe the film to someone who has yet to see it?

JK: Sometimes I’ve introduced the film by talking about Dostoevski going to his publisher to get him excited about his new book. He did not talk about the angels and the devils that lurk within the heart of man. Instead, he would say, “I have a pitch for you! The new book, it’s about a young whore!” And the publisher would nod his head, excited, asking for more information. “And then…there’s a robbery!” So when I talk about THE DAYS GOD SLEPT, I usually being by mentioning that it is set inside an otherworldly strip club.

ML: You’ve done a wide variety of genres in your films from dramatic (“Crestfallen”), experimental (“Drool”) and humorous (“Easy Prey”) – is there a genre you prefer to work in or do you enjoy moving back and forth between genres?

JK: My favorite genre is the horror film, so I try to find the beautiful and the macabre in all of the movies I’ve worked on. DROOL, EASY PREY and THE DAYS GOD SLEPT all have a commonality to them in that they venture deep into a kind of non-reality. I’m less interested in realism and more intrigued by elements of the fantastic. Reality is brutal, unrelenting and aggressive; by delving into the magical we can find poetry.

ML: Have you done a full-length feature film? If not, do you see yourself doing one in the future?

JK: My first full-length feature film, shot in 2010, was a work-for-hire slasher movie called THE SADIST starring genre icon Tom Savini. Tom was absolutely fantastic to work with; his non-verbal role as the villain reminded us of the Universal monsters who found means of expression through their behavior. I had great empathy for those creatures. Alas, I was working with very young, inexperienced producers with whom I did not get along at all, and, after completing my rough assembly (which is the most vulnerable stage of a film’s production) my regular editor and I were unceremoniously fired. The film apparently just wrapped post-production, so I’m as curious as anyone else how it all turned out. The producer of THE DAYS GOD SLEPT, Lauren Rayner, has a feature film she enlisted me to direct in early 2014. The project is written by and starring Lauren Fox, who plays the lead in DAYS. It’s a beautiful story, a haunting tale of love and loss and danger. If THE SADIST taught me a valuable lesson, it was that it’s always best to work with those you trust. I’ve followed that mantra ever since.

ML: “The Days God Slept” involves some intense imagery and ideas – do you worry that people may be offended or turned off by this?

JK: Our screenwriter Joe Fiorillo said up front, “We’re probably going to lose half the audience.” He was cool with that, and so was I, so off we ran.  I remember more people being offended when Joe did public readings of the script, where members of the audience would literally be screaming at him and accusing him of being some kind of nihilistic sexist jerk. I was, of course, deeply excited whenever he was confronted in this way. But that hasn’t happened in our screenings and reviews thus far. Viewers seem willing to be entranced by the film, or disinterested in committing.  They react more to the fact that the film doesn’t hand them a map, or the way John responds to the content, rather than the imagery and ideas themselves.  I’d be curious to speak with someone who was offended by the film; I just haven’t encountered them yet.

ML: Music is important in this film – the score by Harry Manfredini is subtly brilliant. Is this the first time you’ve worked with Harry and if so, what compelled you to go with him?

JK: Harry and I had a remarkable collaboration on CRESTFALLEN which people can watch or listen to here: http://kippfilms.com/crestfallen.html. A fellow director named Patrick Rea introduced him to me. Harry and I quickly found a great rapport over our mutual appreciation for art, history and cinema. THE DAYS GOD SLEPT is our second project. I knew Harry would be able to tap into the beauty and the horror, but what also intrigued me was his exploration of the religious struggle inside the film. Harry loves to talk in depth about the subtext of the film, so our working relationship tends to be discussing the script, the finished picture (sometimes shot by shot) and the philosophy, at great length. Once he handed in a draft, we’d dig into it and explore further. But ultimately there was a feeling he got from the material that led to this beautiful score. I love working with him. Even though he has so much experience as a film composer, it’s like working with someone incredibly youthful and vibrant.

ML: What attracted you most to Joseph Fiorillo’s script?

JK: I read the script and thought it was like a frightening poem, or a feverish prayer. It was about the sheer inability to comprehend another human being, and how the closer we get to another, the more mysterious they become. Joe seems to have a strong intuitive understanding of that bottomless chasm that exists when we fall in love. And his Catholic background frames the argument as a moral one, existing under the microscope of some higher power. When Joe asked me to direct it, I immediately agreed. When I went home that night, I dreamed of having a ferocious argument with God. I remember being in direct contact with Him and demanding, “How could you do this?” And mind you, I’m a non-believer. I’m an agnostic without faith. When I woke up from that conflicted nightmare, I knew I had to make the movie.

ML: Can you explain the directing process to us – how did you decide to focus on the two main characters while working the club itself in as another character? How did your vision develop?

JK: My first homework assignment was figuring out the different levels of reality. My cinematographer Dominick Sivilli and I liked to talk about the story as existing in heaven, hell and purgatory, with the club being a heavenly zone of cascading blue light, and hell as a nightmarish red room filmed entirely in long lenses, and the park as a no man’s land under the sun.

But you create those kinds of theories and then forget about them, because Dominick and I love actors and respond to them on the set. There were extensive rehearsals beforehand with Lauren Fox as Kristy, Malcolm Madera as John and Lukas Hassel as Carl, each of them very different and unique performers, where we’d play acting games and tear into the script, not for the scenes but the character. If you create a strong life for them and support them, you can parachute the actors onto the set and suddenly it’s alive.

As for the club, we did treat that as a character and personality, and our production designer Kimberly Matela built the entire world from scratch, literally from the ground up. Finally, with the extras, we treated them as if they had their own lives and agendas, not as if they were “filler”. They had their own stories as a means to make the club feel teeming with life.

I feel like the extras are often so neglected on movie sets; even the name “extras” sounds awful. They call them “background performers” now to be politically correct. But I treated them like actors, since that’s what they are. It informs the environment, and with all of my collaborators that’s the goal: to create a total environment for the actors to live in, and beyond that we think about the audience and how we’re leading them through this story, even a tale as experimental as THE DAYS GOD SLEPT.

ML: What’s next for you?

JK: We just finished post-production on a short horror film entitled BAGGAGE written, produced by and starring Rob Dimension. It’s more narrative driven than THE DAYS GOD SLEPT and is a kind of decaying urban gothic about a businessman struggling with his own sense of normalcy. His world collapses around him. People can pre-order the DVD here: http://youvebeenrobbedfilms.blogspot.com/. After that, there are a few possibilities for other short films this fall. Joe Fiorillo has a new script that we’re in love with that feels like a night shriek of despair. And then there’s the feature with Lauren Fox in 2013, which we’re all looking forward to.

ML: What’s your biggest dream as a director?

JK: I’d love to do a car movie, something like MAD MAX or VANISHING POINT or DUEL. Something terse and tense that’s about the intensity of the road. The opportunity has not presented itself yet, but it’s something I’d be incredibly passionate about. My guilty pleasure is THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS; the first one, not the sequels. It’s 90 minutes of high-octane adrenaline; and then once the race is over, there’s nothing else. The movie immediately ends and cuts to the credits without a dénouement. I found this so refreshing!

ML: Do you have any other projects/events/etc. you’d like us to promote?

JK: If people would like to see more of my film work, I encourage them to go to my Web site here: http://kippfilms.com/media.html. It’s a kind of clearing house for my work, reviews and projects. Thank you so much for your consideration.

You can also see the works referenced here at these links:

DROOL: http://kippfilms.com/drool.html
EASY PREY: http://kippfilms.com/easyprey.html