An Interview with Neil Kellen and Lewis Chaney – By Cary Conley

I recently caught up with a couple of filmmakers who have done some truly remarkable work over the last few months: Neil Kellen and Lewis Chaney of Keychain Productions. Neil grew up with Gregg Hale of Blair Witch fame and Lewis…well, let’s just say he doesn’t think it’s safe to go into the water. Neil and Lewis discuss their latest projects, Elysian and Nightwatch as well as their newest project, entitled Eidolon, which I’m super pumped up for.

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Cary Conley: Let’s allow the Rogue readers to get to know you a little bit. Tell us about your background and how you became interested in film producing and directing.

Neil Kellen: I’ve been making movies since I was 13 years old, starting out on Super 8 film with my good friend Gregg Hale (The Blair Witch Project, Seventh Moon, Lovely Molly) and continuing through college working on Beta and VHS. I worked for a few decades in event videography and television news production after college, but I never put aside my love for filmmaking. I pounded out scripts and shot short scenes for practice. It’s these experiences that have allowed me to hone my visual storytelling ability.

Lewis Chaney: I would say it’s a whale of a tale, but actually it’s a shark story…Jaws. The movie mesmerized me and by the end, I had sat so motionless both legs were asleep. Fittingly, the first blockbuster drew me in, huh? But I don’t give enough credit to another film that stands out from my youth that made me want to know “how’d they do that?” The original Poseidon Adventure. I have seen that film many times since the summer of 1972 in a mosquito-laden, hot summer drive-in in Madisonville, Kentucky.

When my parents bought our first video camera in late 1982, I embarked on making movies using my poor younger cousins. Of course, I learned about squibs too, the hard way. I put a blood pack under my shirt in a small can strapped to me, with a firecracker strapped to the bloodpack, videotaping my death scene. I would light the fire cracker and wait. After a few duds, my brilliance was to use TWO so if one failed the other wouldn’t. My calculations failed to account for what happens if BOTH go off. The first one blew the second one out of the can and onto my stomach, where it went off. I deleted the tape because when it exploded, my movie went from a PG to an R rating due to language, and I feared death from my mother.

After I started my TV career as a photojournalist (fancy talk for news photographer with a video camera), I spent time making short films and music videos, never really thinking I would turn this into much but I found I just truly loved the process of making films.

CC: The two of you have formed your own film production company, Keychain Productions. Tell us how and why the company was created.

NK: It just seemed like a logical progression in our filmmaking journey. Our skills complement each other very well. I couldn’t ask for a better collaborator or friend.

LC: Ditto. We were both done with the news scene after so many years of it, and all the BAD news that comes with it. Now we want to make things that are good for a change.

CC: Lewis, your first film was 2009’s VictimEYES–a great play on words, by the way. How does one get their feature film debut off the ground?

LC: Thank you. I have to credit Seth Cheek (who played our killer) for the title.

First, dismiss the idea of a no budget film. No such thing exists. If you pay for gas to a location, that’s your budget. But that’s okay. You just have to commit yourself to getting it done and do it.

You do NOT have to go to film school to be a filmmaker. I subscribe to what Quentin Tarantino says, take that money you planned to spend for film school and make a film–you will learn more. In my experience I have seen film school turn out people who have no idea how to actually make a film. It’s just like most schooling, they have good ideas and theories but leaving you woefully unprepared for the real world, particularly in indie filmmaking. The biggest key is, find like-minded people to help you, because having a great crew is crucial. These are WE, not ME, projects and you have to have the help, and always, always, give them their due credit.

Lastly, pre-production work is a lifesaver. To be a good producer, you have to learn to plan…and have back up plans for your back up plans, because things will go wrong. Flying by the seat of your pants will only go so far and you will wear out your cast, your crew, and your welcome. So many tutorials are out there now, so learn all you can.

CC: What were some of the most important lessons you learned while filming VictimEYES?

LC: Casting. After years of using family and friends, I learned the value of local actors to help bring a character to life in your film and make them more real. Even in the smallest of roles, you need someone with skills. I was very fortunate to find the talent of our leads in Seth Cheek and Katie Morton and a wonderful supporting cast.

I let my sound suffer too, a mistake I knew better than to do and have never let slip again. I used a microphone I shouldn’t have on this film and didn’t go back and loop the audio, and my film suffered for it. My intention was to see if I could make a feature and just hand it out to those involved at the end. It was Neil who pushed me to put it out in the world of indie film and got me thinking in broader terms.

I am a stickler for lighting. Learn about it, understand the science, slow down and make your film look more professional. No, you don’t have to have all the fancy tools. Example: To soften light, pros will pull out this huge white silk on a frame, upwards of several hundreds or thousands of dollars. Know what works? A one dollar shower curtain. It does the same damned thing. Just learn to adapt and overcome. Watch all the behind-the-scenes footage you can and see what you can use and go play with it.

We constantly push ourselves and learn from every project and strive to make the next one better, to go to the next level.

CC: Neil, you have worked in various capacities in several films, from editing and cinematography to visual effects and camera operator, and now you have co-directed your first film short. Which job have you found to be the most challenging? Which do you enjoy the most?

NK: This is far from my first short film. I directed FOREVER in 2007 which is a "Monkey’s Paw" tale of lost love, then in 2009 directed the fan film BATMAN:metaphors. 2010 saw me in roles of Director of Photography on Silence of the Belle and A Mind Beside Itself where the visual direction was left up to me in most cases. In 2011, I co-directed the feature film REALITY with Lewis and Joe Atkinson, and was a solid co-creator on Elysian and Nightwatch with Lewis for 2012.

Lewis and I have worked on almost all these films together in some capacity. When it comes to our own films, we direct very differently, which makes a formidable team. Lewis is an sctor’s director, and I’m a director for the camera. Both are motivational positions with a common goal.

The most challenging part of the process for me is the editing . There are so many ways to arrange a picture once the pieces are laid before you. You can tinker with scenes forever and never think they are right or, on the flip side, you can get too close to a film and forget that others may not "get" what you are trying to show them. Luckily, I think we have succeeded over the years in people "getting" our films.

CC: A few months ago I was honored to be able to view a unique and incredible piece of work you guys co-directed entitled Elysian. It was a true work of art and impressed me with its use of imagery, the ability to tell a story with no dialogue, and an impressive musical score. I’m very interested to hear how you created the storyline and planned this exceptional film short.

NK: ELYSIAN was a way for us to truly collaborate on a film project. We have a core group of people in our ranks that are very creative individuals. After many discussions with our "KEYS" of KEYCHAIN-productions, we came up with an idea to do an art film, what I like to call "Visual Poetry".

We set out to do two things, really. To have a calling card for KEYCHAIN-productions’ visual creativity and to give each member of our production team a piece of this film to call their own. I think it worked.

LC: Theresa Chadwick, Sharon Caudel and Jason Welden are the “KEYS”, our core team, Neil is talking about and we branched out and gave them all different responsibilities in this film than they normally do so they could grow. But everyone working on it had input. We are very open to suggestions from everyone on set. We may not use them all but we welcome hearing them, harkening back to these are WE, not ME, projects.

CC: I was extremely impressed with the musical score for Elysian which was created by singer/composer Mina Fedora. How did you meet up with Mina and how were you able to get her to score your film?

NK: I was Facebook-stalking one night and came across Mina’s picture. I thought out loud, "She’s Hot!" and added her as a friend. It was after that that I discovered her music. NIGHTWATCH was the first song that I listened to and I was instantly hooked.

We were to a point on Elysian where we needed a powerful composer to carry the first half of the film. I pointed Lewis toward her page, told him she was a local girl, and we agreed she should take a stab at it. In exchange for her work on ELYSIAN, we agreed to produce a music video for her song, NIGHTWATCH.

CC: The two of you have recently completed a music video for Mina Fedora, called Nightwatch. While many music videos are the standard studio/live footage of a singer or band, Nightwatch tells a spooky but tender ghost story. What was the process for creating a story that would fit the song? Did you work closely with Mina or just bring her the plan for approval?

NK: Doing a horror-themed music video was a no-brainer. Mina is a self -professed horror junkie and as we started talking about the "ghost-like" lyrics in some parts of her song, the pieces started falling into place. We started pecking out ideas from the last three decades of horror films. We pay tribute to Poltergeist, Halloween, American Psycho, Insidious, Sixth Sense, and others. She was involved in the process all the way. It’s my favorite piece we’ve done so far.

LC: Mina was fantastic, sitting in on the story concept meetings, listening to and suggesting ideas, because this was to be her first video and it needed to be something that fit her.

CC: I know you both are hard at work on a new project, Eidolon, that you are very excited about. What can you tell us about this project?

NK: EIDOLON is Lewis’ baby, so I leave the floor to him.

LC: Neil is being far too humble here. Yes, this is something I have toyed with for years, but he’s such a huge part of me even considering taking it on, that he has no idea. Not to mention I consulted with him while writing it.

I will try to be brief. It’s a ghost story that will give you chills, make you jump, tug at your heartstrings, and be PG-rated. It has an element to it that we have never seen done in film before and we are playing that very close to the vest. I know it sounds so clichéd but, we have a very powerful script here. I can’t name names, but there are famous actresses you would know who have read this script, loved it, and expressed interest in being a part of it. One has gone so far as to have me contact her agent and she has asked for the full budget so she can be armed with that information while networking. If I die today, the mortician will be three days getting the grin off my face because I know she read my script and loved it.

But this one has a bigger budget and those things take time. We know we plan to use some “name” actors mixed with locals on it and when you start down that path, the cash register dings a little more. But everyone, and I mean EVERYONE who has come into contact with this script has the same feeling, that this is THE film that could make us.

CC: Aside from Eidolon, what does the future hold for Keychain Productions?

NK: We have a plethora of ideas waiting for their turn on the table. ABADDON, a superhero/horror film, is screaming for its chance in the limelight and many other stories that Lewis and I will dream up over the coming years will all make their way onto the production platter. This rollercoaster is just getting started. You better hang on tight.

LC: I can’t wait till we can get into ABBADON! Like Eidolon is my baby, that’s Neil’s.

As I have put it, we have popcorn on the stove, it’s sizzling and very soon will pop and more than just one kernel will go. We have some spec shows we plan to shoot; some clients we are already working for or have worked for (including international ones); and we are in talks to be commissioned to write a script for and produce and direct a short film for someone else once a full budget is drawn up on that, to name just a few.

We have over 50 years of combined experience doing this stuff and frankly, with a visionary partner like Neil, I personally can’t wait to see what the future holds for us.

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If you are interested in viewing Lewis’ and Neil’s work, please check out the following links:

BATMAN:metaphors trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnCd263vZtA

ABADDON teaser: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJTY2wAAzw4

FOREVER short film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OY3d5xkBIxM

Eidolon website: http://eidolonmovie.wordpress.com

Keychain productions: www.keychain-productions.com

Full-length feature VictimEYES: www.victimeyesmovie.com

Nightwatch video: http://www.keychain-productions.com/portfolio/mina-fedoras-nightwatch