An Interview with Kevin Kangas – By Emily Intravia

Kevin Kangas made his mark on the indie horror scene with 2002’s Hunting Humans, winning Best Screenplay at the Los Angeles DIY Film Festival. His next film, Fear of Clowns, was distributed by Lionsgate and a well-received sequel followed (currently streaming on Amazon’s Video On Demand). Last month, Rogue Cinema reviewed his latest film, Bounty, a unique spin on the reality TV style of COPS and Dog the Bounty Hunter with a sprinkle of zombie action and smart science fiction.

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EI: Starting at the top, what made you want to be a filmmaker? Were genre films always your goal?

KK: My original goal was just to be a writer. I’ve been writing since I was 12—started on short stories, wrote a really shitty book when I was 18, and started writing scripts around there. I’ve always loved movies, so it was sort of a natural progression. When I was younger I had a problem writing a lot of internal dialogue like you see in fiction, and I found out that you CAN’T write that stuff in a script…so it was a perfect fit.

As for genre…yeah, I naturally gravitate toward horror. My two favorite films in the world are John Carpenter’s The Thing and Aliens. I know some people make horror films because it’s the easiest genre to sell, but for me it was definitely because I enjoy horror the most. But I do also enjoy Westerns, sci-fi/fantasy, and action so I can see myself doing one of those some day. (My newest flick Bounty is sort of an action/horror hybrid).

EI: How did you come up with the story for Fear of Clowns?

KK: I wanted to do my own Halloween. The classic “Woman being stalked by a big, strong, silent type killer”. But I wasn’t gonna just slap a mask on a guy and have him chase her. Then I thought of a friend of mine—she’s deathly afraid of clowns, and I used to draw scary clown pictures for her just to terrify her. The story progressed out of that.

EI: Fear of Clowns had a fairly large DVD release from Lions Gate. What effect did that have on your filmmaking?

KK: It was a blessing and a curse. It definitely helped our reputation—as many other filmmakers can attest to, it’s not easy to get a deal to be a Lionsgate picture.

On the other hand, we had backlash because people renting Lionsgate pictures are used to watching movies with budgets typically in the two million to thirty million dollar range. So they pick up FOC with its slick ad work and are a bit shocked to find out it’s a B movie. And not the best B movie, either.

EI: Many reviews have noted the huge leap Fear of Clowns to its sequel. How did your experience  differ the second time around?

KK: Well, first, we had a tiny bit more money, and that’s big. There really are no problems you can’t solve when you have money.  Second, I had spent more time making the script exactly what I wanted. On the first film I lost my focus and had to rush into production before I’d given it the final two drafts it needed.  On FOC2 I made sure it was exactly where I wanted it. Short of not having an actor back, that script’s exactly where I wanted it to be.  And lastly, I had learned a lot from making the first film. If there’s one thing I’m pretty good at, it’s not repeating past mistakes.

EI: You’re known for being quite self-deprecating about Fear of Clowns, actively commenting on blogs that sometimes give less-than-stellar reviews. Do you enjoy reading viewers’ responses to your films?

KK: There are two kinds of responders to FOC.

First: There are the douchebags who just want to bag on a film. Many of them are wannabe filmmakers who are jealous the flick got picked up by Lionsgate when they can’t even get Brain Damage to pick up their film. Maybe they want to look smart by throwing out film school phrases like, “jumped the line” and “mismatched reverse shots”. Or maybe they’re just angry in general. These people I’ve stopped responding to, because you’re not gonna get anything from their reviews and you’re not gonna change their minds.

The second type of person is the reviewer who has actual valid reasons for their dislike. I mean, come on…it’s not that hard to find valid reasons you dislike FOC, okay? So these people who critique the film with a bit of intelligence—and also humor—these reviewers I can respect. And sometimes even learn from, so I definitely like those reviews. I also like to laugh, so it’s a bonus when they’re funny.(one of the reasons I enjoy Deadly Doll’s and Lightning Bugg’s reviews)

There’s a User Review on imdb for “Hunting Humans”(my first movie) titled, “If you thought that we thought this was a bad movie….” that made me laugh out loud. It’s negative, but man…if you’ve seen the movie then you will laugh at this review.

EI: Bounty, your newest film, is constructed as a found footage documentary of sorts. What are some of the challenges that come with this filming style?

KK: The biggest challenge is that everything needs to be well rehearsed and blocked, because there’s not much room for cutting—especially in a few scenes where there’s only supposed to be one cameraman. In those cases you can ONLY cut to a different point in time, not a different camera angle. That would be a cheat, and I only did one cheat in the entire movie. (when we see Grunt’s reaction when he’s talking to his wife late in the movie…)

At other times it was coordinating the multiple cameras to shoot what you want them to shoot but still seem like you’re spontaneously recording. Technically they’re not supposed to know what’s going to happen, so they can’t pan toward an actor because that actor’s about to speak—they need to wait until that actor starts talking.

Doing special effects on no budget when you can’t cut around it to make it look realistic…that’s a nightmare also. There were some effects that didn’t work, so that’s a bitch.

EI: What inspired you to make Bounty in this sort of found footage style?  Was it a format you always wanted to try or did the nature of the story dictate the found footage approach?

KK: It was a combination of necessity and desire. As a long-time fan of Cops and Dog: The Bounty Hunter, it was something I was aware of. And the great thing about it–and the reason it’s popular right now besides cost is that it lends realism from the get go.

Anyway, I knew I wanted to shoot a pretty cheap movie so that if I wanted to take a smaller distribution deal then I could–so I wrote two scripts, and Bounty was the one we could afford to shoot.

EI: So far, you’ve written the screenplay for all of your full-length features. Can you see yourself directing someone else’s work and, on the other hand, scripting a film that you do not go on to direct?

KK: In the past I would have said No, I do not see myself directing someone else’s work. The reason is that I’m a better writer than a director. But now I’ve gotten better at directing. Every film is just a mini-bootcamp on How To Make A Movie. I’ve learned so much over the films I’ve done, that I really believe that every one I do is going to be a quantum leap above the previous one. (That’s right, Bakula, I referenced your show!)  So now, I guess if I read a great script that could be shot for low budget I’d consider it.

As for scripting something I wasn’t going to direct…funny you should ask. I’m actually co-writing an action film for Tom Proctor(the lead in Bounty) that I won’t direct. They’re probably going to shoot it in Cambodia for a couple of million, and I may go out and be Second Unit Director or something.

EI: Are there added screenwriting challenges when you know that you will be filming your own script on a small budget? Do you find yourself
sacrificing story due to budgetary and time constraints?

KK: I wish I could say no, there’s no story sacrifice due to budgetary constraints, but that would be a lie.  When I’m writing a script I have to always have my eye on what’s possible for us. I’m not gonna write a helicopter crashing into a building and exploding, because I’d rather not have it in the movie than have a really bad CGI copter with explosion.

An actual example of this was the ending of "Hunting Humans"–the original script had a big John Woo slow motion gun fight between the two serial killers. There was gonna be exploding glass, leaping men firing their guns…

We ran out of money. We had already run out of film (we shot on 16mm) and had ordered all I could afford, but there wasn’t much left. And shooting slow motion takes up WAY more film because the film goes through the camera much faster.  So now it’s a bit of a masturbatory Got you–No, I got YOU–No, you thought you had me, but I got YOU! little Scooby Doo kinda thing.

The ending of HH is a bit of a disappointment to me now, but what are you gonna do?

EI: Most of your films have been shot on location in your home state of Maryland. Does this pose any added challenges or benefits to low budget filmmaking?

KK: Well…before Bounty I would have said it posed nothing but challenges. We didn’t get a lot of help or cooperation or understanding when we filmed stuff. I basically had to lie every time a police officer stopped us. Come to think of it, that’s what I did with Bounty also, but I guess the difference is that the police were friendlier this time around.

In comparison to actual “movie” states like L.A. and New York, you can get away with a lot more here without a permit.

EI: Your use of musical soundtrack seems to vary a lot from film to film. Fear of Clowns 2 had a very grand and effective score, while Bounty’s more realistic approach has a much more subdued tone. At what process in filming are you actively thinking about the soundtrack?

KK: In general I know ahead of time what type of music I want, and it’s orchestral. I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with some phenomenal composers. Evan Evans on "Hunting Humans" and Chad Seiter on FOC1 and 2.

I knew on Bounty that I didn’t want a score; it was going to be what’s called sound design, which is more of an ambient background that would subtly add tension. Chad was nice enough to come in and help me with some of that–he’s a superstar, having worked for Michael Giacchino on pretty much everything from Star Trek back to The Incredibles(and he’s an orchestrator on "Lost" right now).  In general,though, I’m a big fan of traditional orchestra score on my movies.

When I need actual songs in my film I’ve used a band named Unfaith out of Canada. Very talented–if you wonder who did the closing songs on both Fear of Clowns, that’s them. They also do the song played during the "Search Montage" in Bounty.

EI: What is the current release status of Bounty?

KK: The way it works is that first I send it to my producer’s reps in L.A., Integration Entertainment. Then I send it out to the festivals I think the movie might fit in. Right now we’re waiting to hear—most of them won’t announce until June/July. I update the Facebook page pretty often, so if someone’s curious they should become a fan at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Kangas-Kahn-Films-LLC/37653005973

And it’s cool, even if you hate my stuff. Make believe it’s a Fan Of Hating Kangas’ Movies, and join up.

EI: Can you tell us what you’re working on next?

KK: Asking the most secretive guy in the world that question, are you? Well, I’m finishing up the final draft of “Red Fish Blue Fish” for Tom Proctor, the action script I mentioned that I’m co-writing with Margie Rogers. I’m co-writing on another project which will almost definitely be my next directorial thing—and it will diverge a bit from horror. I’m keeping that under wraps right now, but expect to hear more in the next two months.

Then I’m always writing—we’re actually working on financing a script I recently finished which is basically an awesome(he said modestly) Scarecrow horror flick. None of that Scarecrow gone wild shit. This is like Pumpkinhead, only with a terrifying scarecrow.

And I’m finishing up my “vampire” script. A very non-Twilight, Vampires-Are-Scary-But-Not-Goth-Scary flick. I would love to direct that next year.

EI: Clowns, scarecrows, vampires, zombies…you seem to take a lot of common movie monsters (yes, I consider clowns monsters) and give them little twists. Is this a conscious choice?

KK: Yes. I’ve always said that if I can’t find a twist then I won’t make it.  I’ve wanted to make a werewolf movie since I saw Lon Chaney in the original Wolfman, but unless I come up with something original then it’s not something I’m going to do.

EI: Finally, the question millions of viewers have been dying to know: why does Shivers the Clown not wear a shirt?

KK: I was visited late one night by the ghost of a Clown who resembles Shivers, and he forced me to make a movie about him. Now you should thank me, because this ghost was NAKED. I did you a favor by putting pants on him in the movie.

Oh, you mean really? All right, here it is for the first time(because seriously, I don’t think anyone has ever asked me this…)

I am not scared of clowns. When we shot the test trailer to raise funding, we used a buddy of mine named Dennis as Shivers and he was in the full costume. You can see the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0F8vBcDt9c

Later we started casting and I met Mark Lassise, who looked just like I’d pictured Shivers when I wrote him, only more muscular. And I got to thinking…okay, a clown is not scary. A clown with an axe is scary, but no more scary than any other guy with an axe. But if you could tell this guy was ripped and looked like he could pull your head off…THAT would be scary to me.  I asked a couple of people what they thought and, oddly, nobody tried to talk me out of it. So I cut the costume in half and we shot a makeup test with Mark and the half-suit. I liked it, and never looked back.  Also, I really wanted to gather a huge gay fan base and I figured a Chippendale Clown would do it. Mission accomplished on that. 🙂

Anybody interested in reading some uncensored accounts of what happened behind-the-scenes on the flicks should check out: http://kangaskahnfilms.com/blogs.htm