An Interview with Jordan Kerfeld – By Joshua Samford

Jordan Kerfeld may not be a name that is instantly recognizable to some of our readers, but he is a filmmaker who certainly deserves the attention of all who read this. He is a director who isn’t afraid to take chances, and his short films reflect this by being wonderful narratives that can be both inspiring and emotionally jarring due to their content. He has shown throughout the years that he can work in various genres, and as he moves onto his latest project he is trying to do something entirely different. This new project is called Tears At Dawn, and it looks to be both an action spectacle as well as something emotional. I was lucky enough to exchange a few words with Jordan and discuss his latest project, as well as his time in Austin and the artistic inspirations that make him tick.

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RC: For readers who aren’t familiar with your work, where do you hail from and what got you started in film?

JK: I am originally from Kansas City, Missouri. I am in the middle of my 3rd and final year in the graduate film program at the University of Texas at Austin.

I was a kid with a rich and restless imagination who was constantly drawing things. In High School, I got into writing short stories to impress a girl, but I developed an immense enthusiasm for it. The girl didn’t work out, but it was the start of a much more rewarding and lasting love affair.

After deciding I did not want to be a computer scientist literally on the first day of my undergraduate years, I wandered into a small film department at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where I found a committed group of teachers who nurtured and encouraged me to marry those passions in a way that I was too ignorant to realize at the time.

RC: How has Austin treated you? From all that I have seen, it seems like a film geek Mecca of sorts. From the local Alamo Drafthouse to all of the wild locals, the town has inspired numerous film geek societies. Is it very different from your home state?

JK: I love it here! The difference is honestly night and day, just from a standpoint of activity level. It’s a large city that breathes movies and still maintains a level of tolerance for us poor filmmakers. While I’m sure people in L.A. and New York are sick of it by now, the "Third Coast" has tons of talented artists, a casual pace, and people who might let you shoot on their property — and make you a meal or two.

That said, Kansas City also has a ton of talented people doing wonderful work, it’s just a difference in scale. KC had Robert Altman, but Texas produced Wes Anderson, Robert Rodriguez, Richard Linklater, Alexander Payne (and on and on and on…) I recently heard that Kansas City now has an Alamo Drafthouse, so both of the film geek worlds I’ve known are blending together. It’s wonderful.

RC: Stepping back to your films, how would you go about describing your work?

JK: It seems the trajectory of my recent output has contained a strong thematic emphasis on the family unit. I made a short film KNUCKLEBALL, which was about keeping a family on the brink together, and Housebreaking, which dealt with more complicated extended family issues.

I LOVE genre movies, but it’s only recently that I’ve had the guts to try and make them. I am inspired by a massive pool of very different filmmakers. It used to make me a little nervous that I didn’t have an auteurish "thing" like Malick or Scorsese, but others have started to identify me in my work, which is promising. I guess the highest form of praise that I dream of having is that my films have the heart of Frank Capra and the audacity of Brian DePalma. I’m not there yet, but I plan to keep grinding!

RC: I was going to ask about your recent forays into genre cinema. I could certainly see a love for this style of film in Fingers, but it certainly came to prominence in Housebreaking. I would say that your films have hinted at genre aesthetics, but your shorts have been, without being hyperbolic, technical marvels. We all know that great things can be done with horror and action movies, but it seems rare that filmmakers attempt to prove new things within these genre templates. Do you think genre cinema maybe doesn’t get the respect it deserves?

JK: Wild Strawberries and 81/2 are great, GREAT movies, but those aren’t the kind of movies that fueled my imagination and hit me on an immediate, visceral level. I value entertainment in movies. I wore out VHS tapes of Back to the Future and Ninja Turtles as a child. I love modern genre filmmakers: Brian De Palma, Michael Mann, William Friedkin.

To me, there’s very little difference in the process of making a intellectual, character-heavy indie drama and a stylized genre film. However, genre films are usually met in "serious" circles with sarcasm and eye-rolling. I just think there’s so much fresh terrain to explore. Just look at Drive, one of my favorite movies last year. It’s a complicated genre movie that is strongly authored. I love how storytellers look past the familiar surface elements and use the template as jumping off points into exciting new territory!

RC: When I think about your films, I am personally drawn to your very creative visuals. However, there’s always something very special about the narratives found in your movies. Do you lean more towards writing/story, or do the visuals come to you easier?

JK: The idea and story are everything to me now. I think it’s the only way to set yourself apart from the hundreds of soft-focus films that are being uploaded to Vimeo as we speak. Let’s face it: storytelling is hard, and interesting storytelling can be even more burdensome. I’m more sensitive to that lately, but I still find myself making rip reels of film clips and compiling a stack of visual references that speak to me. It certainly helps that I work in close collaboration with Deepak Chetty (D.P.), who has similar tastes and interests.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about color and how I can push that element in my work. Realism/motivation is not important — or fun — to me. I want to make the audience feel something when they see my films; setting a creative mood is important to help digest the sleight of hand that is storytelling. One hand feeds the other.

RC: What was the reception like for your last short film, Housebreaking? It was obvious via the Rogue Cinema review that I was a big fan, but has the short been helping you while moving on to your next project?

JK: Viewers are investing themselves in the movie, which is all I can ask for; it’s been humbling and wonderful. Some viewers have said that they wish it were longer, which is a note I’ll take every time. It’s a much easier sentiment to swallow than "Gee, I couldn’t wait for it to be over!" I take pride in the fact that now the primary comment is not simply about the look, but expanding feedback to the performances, script, and editing — the idea that someone is at the wheel making these elements come together in a way that is hopefully worthwhile.

We all dream about making a short film that will land us an agent, distribution, or feature meeting. In the interest of maintaining my sanity I’d rather keep my head down, throw everything I have at my work, and with a little luck earn some degree of trust and goodwill with audiences and the industry at large.

After funneling so much money and energy into the short, I’m almost exclusively working to promote it online instead of watching my bank account evaporate with festival fees. We’re in the process of raising funds for my thesis film Tears at Dawn. We hope that if people enjoy Housebreaking, they might feel more inclined to support our team for the next one.

RC: Tears at Dawn certainly seems to be a different project than anything you have attempted thus far, can you give the readers a brief description of the film?

JK: Tears at Dawn revolves around Arthur Orange, a Force Recon Marine Corpsman. When his little sister is kidnapped in a ice cream truck, he must rely on his specialized skills to save her from a human trafficking ring.

A screenwriter I know describes the script as "John Woo meets David Lynch," and I think that crystallizes it well. We’re planning on doing something exciting and out of the ordinary!

RC: As a big martial arts fan, both in the real world as well as in the kung fu movie realm, I’m intrigued by your influences going into this movie. How are you approaching the action elements?

JK: Arthur Orange is highly skilled and effective with knife fighting and is trained in the Filipino style of Escrima and Kali. We’re concentrating on letting the beautiful dance-like quality of one-on-one fighting enrich the action set-pieces.

I loved The Raid: Redemption recently and have really enjoyed Tony Jaa’s work (Ong Bak, The Protector, etc.). I am an editor by trade so I’m still mapping out the fights in my head to make them as fun and ambitious as possible.

We’re currently in a rigorous training period preparing for the spring shoot. I am so lucky to have Hector Gonzalez as the fight choreographer, who has a wide experience base as a martial artist and fight film consultant. Aaron Alexander, who is playing Arthur Orange, is on the edge of total stardom. He has tremendous presence, screen fight/choreography experience, and an awesome human being that nearly overwhelms everything else. He is the anchor that is going to make this project work.

RC: You are crowd-sourcing this project over on IndieGoGo. I think that the crowd-sourcing movement has been a real blessing for the independent film community. It certainly seems as if it has become a very important tool for indie filmmakers. Is this your first attempt at crowd-sourcing? And how well has the campaign for Tears at Dawn been going?

JK: It really is. Kickstarter and IndieGoGo helps compensate for the low prioritization of the arts in this country. This is the first time I’ve tried to do it, and it’s been nerve-wracking. We have a little over a month to achieve our goal and quite a ways to go, unfortunately.

This is my final graduate thesis film at UT, and has to be completed by May. Genre films especially require a lot of attention to locations, production design, and other elements. We’re incredibly fortunate to shoot the film on the ARRI Alexa, a great motion picture camera that lensed films like Argo and Skyfall and TV Shows like Game of Thrones.

Bottom line, I just hope visitors can see the passion and ambition of our crew to really do something special. We hope that they’ll join our filmmaking team– Every dollar counts!

RC: I know that Tears is your main priority right now, but are there any other projects brewing for you? And is there anything else you would like to plug aside from http://jordankerfeld.com and the Indiegogo campaign?

JK: I’m currently finishing a feature draft of a story that involves the Arthur Orange character from Tears, but I’m focused strictly on making the short the best it can be. I have a lot of great people on the team and I can’t let them down. I have a notebook of a few shorts and a couple feature ideas outlined, but nothing I can commit to as Tears is going to be a 24/7 job between now and May!

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So, that about does it for now. We here at Rogue Cinema would like to thank Jordan for all of his time, and I personally hope Tears At Dawn is quickly funded. If you have a few extra dollars, I highly recommend you visit the Tears At Dawn IndieGoGo campaign page, located here http://www.indiegogo.com/tearsatdawn. You can visit the page and watch a nice introductory video that showcases just what this project hopes to deliver, and Jordan has also offered Housebreaking for view if any perspective donors care to give it a look before throwing down some cash. For all other things related to Jordan Kerfeld, you can of course visit http://www.jordankerfeld.com.