The Limelight Index: Mark Tapio Kines – Writer/Director


Mark Tapio Kines (above) has made 2 feature films and a number of shorts. He has also worked as a web designer for Paramount Pictures and is currently hosting a screenwriting course on I got the chance to chat to Mark about his filmmaking career and what we can expect in the near future:

When did you first get interested in filmmaking?

I was probably about 16 or 17. At first, I was interested in animation; one of my friends had asked me to join him on an animation course, which was a lot of fun. However, he also had a super 8 camera, so we played around with that too.

The following year, I got hold of a video camera in my German class. My classmates and I wrote a script – a kind of spoof on these old ‘60s German training films. This was the first bit of live-action shooting I ever did. It was the point when I really realized I want to do this for the rest of my life – but more importantly, that I can do this.

You’ve now made 2 features and a number of shorts. Regarding your first feature, Foreign Correspondents, how did the idea originate?

It’s a two-story film. The first story I’d had in mind for several years, which was all about what happens if you find a letter in your mailbox meant for the previous tenant. I was obsessed with the concept that you can’t open a letter, but you can look at a postcard, so what happens if you find a postcard that happens to have something very passionate written on it? So, the story came from this relationship between two strangers who live on opposite sides of the world. This came out as a 40 to 50-page script, which I knew wouldn’t be commercially viable.

I therefore decided to pair this script with another story that had similar themes of pen pals and such, which was actually based on a personal experience. I had a friend who lived in London; she was an au pair from Yugoslavia and working for this wealthy London family. They flew me out to discuss marrying her so that she would not have to go back to her homeland. The real story was just so beyond belief that I actually had to fictionalize it a bit to make it believable. For the film, I changed it to a British character coming over to California. It was cheaper to shoot it this way!


You are the first person to ever raise funds for a film online. Did you have high hopes or was this a last resort for the film? 

It was sort of a last resort. At the time I thought to myself, if it’s going to take ten years to raise the money via my day job, then I’ll do it just to get it finished. I hate having unfinished films, especially if you’ve already spent 100,000 dollars on it. I made the website hoping that the word would get out there – at this time there was no crowdfunding, no established sites like Kickstarter, etc. It was pure marketing and self-promotion. A lot of the money I received was actually investments – not like today, where money is literally given away. This would’ve been unheard of back then!

The crowdfunding got me some press at the time, but since no one did it right after me, it sort of vanished from the radar. No one was talking about it. I’d even forgotten about my connection to it myself, until recently, with all this buzz around crowdfunding platforms. I realized: ‘Oh wait, was I really the first person to do this?’ So I looked at the Wikipedia article for crowdfunding, and it said that the first film ever crowdfunded was a 2004 picture. Not true! I beat this by six years! I now ‘claim my crown’.

What’s your opinion about platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter?

They are useful for filmmakers. I help out a few friends raising funds, which is my way of giving back. I have this third feature film ready to shoot now, which I wrote the script for several years ago. So, I’m thinking about going back to this financing method for the film.

Can you give away any more details about this new project?

It’s called Dial 9 to Get Out. It’s another thriller in the same vein as my second feature, Claustrophobia. So many years have passed. I feel I’m a better filmmaker, and technology has progressed, so I’m really excited about this. There have been a couple of close calls getting funded through the traditional roots of production companies. They fell apart, like it often does in Hollywood. But after my most recent run in, I thought, why not just try it independently? So in February, I’m thinking about independently starting this project up. I’ve been doing a lot of networking, plotting out strategies, but who knows what might happen.


Are your stories personal to you?

All my stories are personal to me in one way or another. One of the stories in Foreign Correspondents was very personal and Claustrophobia was based around the essence of a dream I had as a teenager. Ideas will often just pop up here or there, but it can take years for the actual idea to gel into a good storyline. In the meantime, if I get an idea, I’ll write it down and then later I may come across it and have the answer.

Are there any filmmakers in particular who have influenced you?

Influence is always a hard word. When you ask this, it always makes it sound like: ‘Whom did you copy?’ Filmmakers that I like – ones I’m rarely disappointed by – include Zhang Yimou, best known for films like House of Flying Daggers and Hero. These are slick martial arts films, but I like him more for his dramas like Shanghai Triad, which are very well plotted and executed. There are many others, but Alfred Hitchcock is probably my all time favourite.

It’s hard though, to find filmmakers in today’s cinema with a really pronounced style. Chan-wook Park is one I can think of. Stoker is a rare example of a mediocre script being elevated by great direction. Usually a director can’t save a mediocre script, but Park is so idiosyncratic and odd that what he brought to the camera was far more interesting than the pedestrian script. I always get excited about his stuff.

What’s your favourite thing about filmmaking?

Editing. I love editing. You get such immediate results. You can instantly see whether a cut works or not, and when it does, it’s beautiful. With writing, you’re always thinking, ‘This is just the beginning’, which is always far more stressful and time constricting. Seeing a film come together in the editing room is the best and most satisfying part. Production is, of course, great fun, but also very stressful. I’ve been doing a lot of short films recently to get stuff produced with little stress and, ultimately, get more stories told.


Any advice for young filmmakers today?

Learn how to tell a good story. This sounds like a no-brainer. But everybody today seems to be avoiding story and focusing on technology. I would love it if people could really take the time to craft suspenseful stories. By this I mean, anything where the goal should be having your audience ask what’s happening next – a ‘page turner’, as they say in literature. There’s no similar term for this in cinema. Maybe ‘bladder stretcher’?

Thanks Mark.

It was a pleasure to interview such a friendly guy with a warm heart for cinema. There is a lot of useful content here for writers and directors; I like how Mark takes us back to basics suggesting that we shouldn’t get sidetracked by technology and focus primarily on our stories. Do that extra draft of your screenplay or look up the new iPhone app for filmmakers?

Visit Mark’s website here.


The Limelight Index: Kevin Slack – Writer/Director


Above is Kevin Slack, a filmmaker whose latest short film was selected by Ridley Scott and Michael Fassbender to screen at Venice Film Festival. I caught up with Kevin who tells me how he got started out in film, where the future lies and that you should always “keep shooting.”

Hi Kevin, when did you first get into filmmaking?

I first started making movies in high school with my best friend.  These were mainly “Jackass” inspired sketches that nobody laughed at but us.  Then in my high school video class I had to recreate a scene from Scarface and I completely fell in love with filmmaking.  After that, my best friend and I wrote and shot a feature film one summer and the rest is history. That feature film will never be seen by another soul though, it’s horrible.

Did you always want to be a director?

As soon as I realized that “being a director” was actually something people did then yes.  I didn’t know that was really a job until I was at the end of my high school career.  Up until then, I just thought movies were kind of magically made without knowing how.  I also love editing and operating camera, but I have always wanted to be the director on a project, the main creative source.

Who are your influences?

Unfortunately I have a horrible memory, so I don’t have the backlog of knowledge that a guy like Scorsese has.  I tend to be influenced by more modern filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson, Steve McQueen, David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky, the Coen Brothers, Spike Jonze, Nicolas Winding Refn, David O Russell etc.  However I find myself referencing the greats like Hitchcock, Robert Altman, Kubrick, Spielberg a lot to.  I’m really influenced by the painter Edward Hopper.  I’m always going back to his work at the beginning of my projects. I’d also like to mention that these guys are more inspiration than an influence.  I do my best not to imitate, no matter how inevitable it is to do something others have already done.  I try to be inspired by those filmmakers and use their work as motivation to create something beautiful.


Your short film, The Drought, has been widely successful, how did this project start?

That project was born really organically in my apartment.  I saw a news reporter interviewing an umbrella salesman in Manhattan and that night I had a rough draft done.  It all just happened so quick and so easy.  That film was really a blessing because it brought me on such an amazing journey all the way to Venice, Italy where it screened for Michael Fassbender and Ridley Scott.  It aired on PBS, played at numerous film festivals and has around 100,000 views online.  That film is still my favorite project I’ve done and the most fun I’ve had making a film to date.

What’s your take on online distribution platforms?

Part of me is a total traditionalist where I believe every movie should be seen on a big screen in a dark room with strangers projected on film.  I don’t think any setting can replicate how magical that situation is.  I still try to go to the cinema every Sunday, even by myself to see a film.  I was a projectionist for a while in college as well, so I really have a place in my heart for it.  However, the majority of people are seeing content online or on demand in some way now.  It’s great for smaller films that don’t have the funds to do a traditional marketing campaign.  It’s really expensive and risky to do a theatrical run for films.  Take a guy like Ed Burns who makes his movie for a few thousand dollars and then puts it right on iTunes.  He always makes his money back and then some.  It works really well for some filmmakers.  I think it gives a voice to some films and filmmakers that otherwise wouldn’t have been seen.  I like to think when I make a feature that it will be in the theatres, but when it comes down to it, I’m just thrilled to get eyes on something I make.


Can we expect any big projects in the works?

Right now I am writing a feature, directing a comedic short next month and always writing treatments for music videos and commercials.  Nothing too big that I can talk about right now, but you’ll be hearing from me!

What’s your favourite thing about filmmaking?

My favorite part of filmmaking is the collaborative process between myself and the cast and crew.  It’s a really special environment that is hard to describe to people that haven’t been through it.  Even just being on set with people for four days can create this magical bond that is really sad to let go of when the shoot is over.  In terms of specific parts of the process I love being on set directing and then editing.  If it was up to me, I’d write the script and 2 days later I’d be on set shooting.

Any parting advice on the craft and, or, industry?

Keep shooting.  The best way to learn is to make some seriously bad mistakes.  It’s a good thing to make bad movies at first.  Also just watch as many films as you can.  Try to constantly surround yourself with people more talented and experienced than you on set.  That way when they come up with an amazing idea, you’ll get the credit for it.

Watch The Drought below:

Kevin’s website.


The Limelight Index: Patrick Chapman – Artist/Director


I recently caught up with Patrick Chapman, an artist turned filmmaker from Los Angeles. Patrick has recently completed his first feature film PHIN and is now working on his second feature ToY. We chatted about his inspirations and how he goes about the filmmaking process. Here is the interview:

Hi Patrick, when did you first get passionate about film?

I was in college doing an art major and found that I wasn’t learning much, so I was spending a lot money paying for something that didn’t seem worthwhile. I started watching a lot of movies with my friends, and the college had a pretty good film department, so things fell into place and I gradually switched over to that. I got really lucky, because I’d be painting houses right now if I got an art major, instead I get to make beautiful films.

Your background is in painting; does this influence your filmmaking?

Definitely. I like to make a lot of films about artists, similar to David Lynch’s stuff. It definitely helps with the cinematography and processes of that nature. You can both be a writer and be a good storyteller, or you can be a cinematographer and have a really interesting vision.

So you’d describe your style as prominently visual?

Yeah, I’m definitely an artist. But, of course, I do depend on other writers to help me build my story.

Am I right in saying, your new project is co-written?

Yeah. My twin brother helped me on my first one and now I’ve got Andrew Hanson helping me on my latest. I also have a bunch of other people who look it over. You always give out your scripts because it’s the best way to have a lot of feedback, especially in film. If your doing art, that’s one thing, but when you’re doing film or television you need a lot of feedback.


Could you tell us a bit more about your latest project?

Yeah, my latest project is called ToY and it’s about an individual artist who’s just doing regular artwork and its not getting her anywhere. She searches for new models and comes across an online escort service, which interests her and she goes into interviewing escorts. She meets an escort in particular, an ageing 45 year old at the end of her career. The artist wants to make an art installation around this character, but ends up falling in love with the woman. It’s very Leaving Las Vegas; it’s two twisted souls learning about each other’s life, one gets ruined, and the other doesn’t.

Does your storytelling come from a personal background?

Yeah, I definitely twist that into my characters. For this next one, I don’t exactly have the experience of lesbian love in my background. But, thanks to people on the creative team, I have been put in the shoes of two women in love, which has been quite interesting. ToY’s COLLEGE and PRO have a unique mix of softness, tumultuousness and passion to their relationship, a raw vulnerable kind of love. Their love is fascinating and fresh to me.

Which filmmakers do you look up to?

I would say mostly David Lynch, his stuff is always great. The Coen Brothers are also great, but Stanley Kubrick is probably my favourite. He was a photographer at first, so he has a similar path to me, coming from the art angle. I find his work very visually stimulating and interesting, A Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket are two good examples.


Do you still have time for your painting?

Filming takes up most of my time, but I’ve been doing personal stuff for the past 3 or 4 years and editing for CBS. Painting comes on in-between each project. Everyone should have a good hobby, whether it be photography, painting, poetry, it’s nice to have something to look forward coming home too.

What’s your favourite thing about being a filmmaker?

I’d say shooting and directing. You work really hard to write the script, raise the money, casting, then actually being on set, when the lightings struck and calling action, this is the best part. It’s seeing the project come alive. Casting is actually fun though, you’ve written the script and now you get to see a load of different actors interpret it their own way. Directors should sit through as many castings as possible. You can write a character and say this is exactly what I want to say, but you’ll always get someone who goes 180.

Have you ever had an actor influence you that you go back and change the script?

Definitely. When we wrote PHIN he was meant to be this very melodramatic character, very serious, but then Eric Frentzel who actually came in and got the part, was all over the place. He had different accents for each character, so we ended up going with his idea. You should change stuff after you see actors do it; you want them to naturally be able to change the lines how they see fit.


Any advice to filmmakers starting out?

I would say, technically, know as much stuff as you can. When it comes down to doing filmmaking on your own, being an editor, or a cinematographer, always helps. Your going to have to do a bit of everything at some point, it will also save you money. Home your skills into one area to start with. It’s always hard to come straight out of college being a director, but if you’re a really good editor or writer, and really focused in, you can actually make money coming out of college. No ones going to be like “Hey, I’m Speilberg”, no one can be like this right after college.

Do you find if you know more about different areas then you can pass on your vision more clearly?

Definitely, but you don’t have to read up on the latest technology, for example the new chip that’s in the red camera. But, knowing your lenses, and your lighting kits is great. So, when I talk to my DP we know what we’re talking about, he is also an editor so he can make good judgments on where to cut etc. You should always have a general feel for everything, but do find one thing to focus on through college and try and get paid at doing it.

Thanks Patrick, it’s been great talking to you.

There’s some really interesting stuff said by Patrick in this interview. I particularly like how he approaches filmmaking from a very visual aesthetic and therefore uses his background to an advantage. Finding a hobby that ties into what you do as a profession is surely an ideal phenomena for all of us. I specifically find photography a great hobby to practice, and as Patrick mentioned, greats like Kubrick have evolved from this background. Anyway, you can find Patrick’s intriguing new film project on the web at all of the following links:

Like ToY on Facebook:
Check out ToY on Kickstarter:
Follow ToY on Twitter:
Visit the website:

Thanks for taking part.


The Limelight Index: Michael Knowles – Actor/Writer/Director/Producer


Above is filmmaker Michael Knowles best known for his film The Trouble with Bliss starring Michael C. Hall, Brie Larson and Peter Fonda. I got the chance to talk to Michael about how he got started with filmmaking, his vision as a filmmaker and ultimately why he loves making movies! It was an absolute pleasure and he gave lots of noteworthy expertise about the film industry and even some thought on life in general.

Hi Michael, when did you get into filmmaking and where does the passion stem from?

It started out for me as an actor. I did the senior play in my high school, Our Town, and absolutely loved it. I think it was the fact that everybody paid attention to me, when it was my turn to say my lines, everybody had to listen. It was an awesome feeling. From there, my passion gradually morphed into realizing I had the ability to express what was going on inside of me through characters; the character I was playing. I found this to be incredibly freeing and liberating, which, in turn, led to me writing. I enjoyed writing about what I was feeling and trying to get that out through the characters and story. This then led on to directing, it just all made sense.

So, it’s really about falling in love with telling stories?

Exactly, that is what ultimately came clear to me. However, it did take a while to realize what I was doing and why the hell I was doing it, but I finally realized that I just love sharing stories. It allowed me to express how I feel about things.


Your films are very much about human relationships, are they personal to you?

Yes, my scripts are very personal and ultimately a lot about relationships. A lot about the relationship we have with ourselves. This is evident in my new film Old Friends/New Beginnings. It’s also about your relationship to a significant other, and then the relationship between you and society. So, my filmmaking is a lot about relationships and communication.

Could you tell me some more about your new film Old Friends/New Beginnings?

Yeah, so it’s coming along really well. I couldn’t be happier. We made this movie for very little money; it was shot on a micro-budget. I wrote the first draft of the script back in 2005 when I was studying screenwriting. My writing teacher always encouraged us to write about what we were afraid of and one of my biggest fears was about being lazy. So, I wrote about what it would be like if I become lazy, and this is the character I play in the movie: David. Because of his financial situation, David has lost his ambition and passion to create, which ends up affecting his marriage. His wife Julie, feeling undesired, invites an old friend and his new girlfriend to spend the weekend with her and David to hopefully stir things up but she never could have expected what happens over one long weekend.

catherine&david - jpeg

You worked with a small crew on this project. Do you feel that working in a small crew allows everyone to more clearly express the same vision?

Definitely. I really enjoy working with a small crew, which I did on my first movie, Room 314. The second movie, One Night, got a little bigger and the third, The Trouble With Bliss, even more so. But, with this movie I’ve gone back to the stripped down model, and I love it. You know where you are with everybody, there isn’t a chain of command where you have to wait five minutes to hear back from the person you need to actually get something done from. I love that intimate feeling on a small set, it’s cozy and warm and you feel as though everyone is really in it together. We’re all there for the same reason.

How do you manage all your roles; you work as a writer, director, producer, cinematographer and editor?

It’s hard work but I love having the knowledge in everything. It informs me on all the other aspects I do. So, editing has helped me to become a better writer, a more efficient writer, and directing has helped me to become a better actor and visa versa. It all feeds into one another and informs the storytelling process. It helps me to understand, just keep it simple.

Producing for me was something that was necessary to get things done – it just made sense. If I needed something done I could do it myself or try and convince somebody else to do it for me, it was easier to do it myself.


Which filmmakers and films influence your work?

There are so many films out there, but I ultimately just love all movies and actors. Just watching great performances mostly inspires me; for example, Daniel Day Lewis I could watch all day and this motivates me as a storyteller. He makes me want to write better just so I could work with him one day. Woody Allen’s stuff is great and he is obviously a big influence. I find his work hilarious as well as dramatic.

As directors, I also love Sydney Pollack, Robert Altman. Their the kind of directors who work with ensemble type casts, who work on character driven pieces, I love those type of directors. For example, I love the fact that Steven Soderbergh can do so many different things.

Do you feel a director who tries out different genres is more masterful than a director who just hones in on one genre?

I don’t think about this too much, I don’t really care who is a master. I feel like Ang Lee is amazing that he can do so many different styles, but if you look at his stories there is still a similar theme. I love that he can tell the stories he is telling in all these different ways. I would find it to be a little bit boring if a director continued to do the same genre over and over. I don’t know how anyone would want to do that.


Does anything inspire you outside of filmmaking; you’re also a martial artist?

Oh yeah this inspires me big time. It’s a huge influence. Martial arts is everything to me. First off, martial arts introduced me to meditation, which helps me tremendously to get focused and grounded, which ultimately helps me to see things clearly. Another important thing I learnt is about the exchange of energy that happens between people. Just like with characters in a movie. For example, the way that two characters wrestle, I apply this the same as when martial artists freestyle, it’s the same as signing a contract, it is ultimately about dominance and submission. We see this in real life all the time. Martial arts have helped me to see this clearly and have no doubt been a big influence on how I see the world.

What marital art is it you practice?

It’s called Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan, it’s a traditional Korean karate.

Is it similar to Hapkido and Taekwondo?

There are things in those martial arts that have similar moves to Soo Bahk Do. But, just to be clear, why I do martial arts is to find inner peace. This is why I want to tell stores, I want to help more people find inner peace.

And this is your vision as a director?

Absolutely one hundred percent. I want people to feel something and know that there are other people who feel the same thing, which gives a bit of peace knowing they are not alone. If you watch my movies, you will see that I try to remove all judgment, I don’t try and say what is right or wrong, or who is good or bad. I’m trying to tell stories and trying to help people understand that we are all doing what were doing because it is ultimately what we thinks best. I don’t judge any of my characters.

 julie - jpeg

Do you have any advice for young filmmakers starting out in the industry?

The things that I’m reminded of all the time, is to keep trusting myself. So, I would say to anyone who is up and coming to just keep trusting that gut feeling you have. No matter what anyone says to you, if your gut is telling you to go left, then go left. Even if at that time it seems wrong, just go with your gut feeling and see where it takes you. This is the biggest thing I’ve learned.

Also, for the most part, no one is going to do it for you, you’ll have to do everything for yourself. You are your biggest cheerleader, don’t wait for other people. However, if someone comes along and helps you, fantastic, thank them and thank them again. But, you will eventually have to keep pushing in and doing a lot of stuff that other people don’t want to do until your famous, and then everyone will be your best friend!

So, ultimately it’s a case of just getting out there and doing it?

Yeah, just start making movies. Don’t wait.

It’s been great talking to you, thanks Michael.

My pleasure!

Support the Kickstarter campaign here.

Find the film on Facebook.

Michael’s Website.


The Limelight Index: Carlo Mirabella-Davis – Writer/Director


I’m really excited to share this interview I did with Carlo Mirabella-Davis – a filmmaker from upstate New York. He’s a great guy with a heap of noteworthy advice to offer on the industry and the wonderful practice of filmmaking. So, here it is:

Hi Carlo, I’d like to begin by asking you what sparked off your first real interest in filmmaking?

I’ve always been interested in filmmaking.  My favorite toy was an old 1970’s portable tape recorder.  I’d spend endless hours constructing radio plays and casting my friends and family as voice actors.  I would also spend a lot of time drawing.  I initially wanted to be an underground cartoonist.  I was that weird kid off in the corner constructing vast, fictional worlds.

As a family we also had a movie night every Sunday.  We’d order Chinese food and then watch some old film from the golden age of cinema.

So your whole family has a passion for film?

Yeah, my sister Francesca Mirabella is also a filmmaker.  She’s just started her first year at NYU grad film school.  She’s making beautiful films over there.  It’s in the blood I guess.

Which movies and filmmakers influence you most?

That’s so hard to answer.  There are so many movies I cherish and obsess over.  I used to watch 4 films a day, which was insane.  Now I’ve cut it back to 2.  I love horror films, genre films.  I also love art films and experimental cinema.  David Lynch is obviously a huge influence.  Also Flannery O’Connor.  I love her. Terrence Malick.  Badlands is a massive influence.  I love classic horror films from the 70s and 80’s like John Carpenter’s The Thing or Possession by Zulawski.  Rosemary’s Baby is one of my favorite films of all time.


Psycho is another film I’m completely obsessed with.  The Night Porter is a brilliant film.  So is The Servant  by Joseph Losey and Night of the HunterKiller of Sheep is fantasticI love all sorts of flicks though.  I can go back to the classical era and watch silent films like Metropolis or The Passion of Joan of Arc . Of course there’s animated films that I love, Akira, and also science fiction.  To be honest, I pretty much just digest anything I can get my hands on.  But, I also love just a good solid drama, like The Verdict, City of God, or Oldboy.  I adore Chan-wook Park.  I got him to sign my hammer!

Do you find Asian movies a significant influence on your work?

Yeah, I love Asian film.  Takeshi Miike’s film Audition is incredible.  I also love Akira Kurosawa.  Seven Samurai is one of my favourite films.  I think Korean and Japanese films in particular have a tone to them and a pacing that I really admire.  There’s an economy and ruthlessness of vision that I think is really masterful.

What inclined you to set up your own production company, Elkcreek Cinema?

When I turned 13, Chris Dapkins, my life long cinematic collaborator, found an old super-8 camera at a yard sale in upstate New York.  That was, like, the moment of “ahah!”  We set out to make this black and white film about necrophilia in my parent’s basement, which was the start of many movies to come.  This led to us setting up Elkcreek Cinema as a collective to represent our brand of grass roots, by-the-skin-of-your-teeth filmmaking.  It also made sense, as the road that runs through our hometown is also called Elkcreek.  It was a natural fit.  My sister joined the collective as well.  It wasn’t until we met the brilliant Nick August-Perna, who co-directed The Swell Season, that we really decided to make Elkcreek Cinema into a viable production company.


Your short film Knife Point comes from a very strong psychological standpoint and could be seen as quite controversial, what was your message here?

I wanted to make a film about how people who commit sinister acts of brutality often believe they are doing the right thing, the moral thing.  The most hideous deeds are often committed in the name of freedom and justice.  It’s very rare you find someone who consciously knows they are doing something wrong and does it anyway.  In reality, most extremists believe they are protecting something sacred and important.  I wanted to explore that psychological mentality.

I was also examining the “culture war” in the United States.  Today, literally, our government has been shut down by a group of tea party right-wingers who are threatening to destabilize the entire world economy unless they get their way.  I thought, what would it look like if the cultural war in America had reached an extreme, nightmare-world scenario?

I was also interested in religious extremism, which is really at the heart of the film.  I deeply respect all religions and feel strongly that everyone is entitled to believe what they want as long as they don’t try to impose their beliefs on other people.  Knife Point examines how extremists often take a peaceful religion, in this case Christianity, and twist it to justify their violent or hateful actions.  Like that preacher who stated after Hurricane Sandy that God was punishing the east coast because we support gay marriage.  It’s not religion that’s the problem, it’s those who misuse the religion for their own sinister agendas.

I love thought-provoking horror films.  One of the reasons Rosemary’s Baby is so evocative and brilliant is because it’s not a film about Satanism.  It’s a film about sexism, the pressures of conformity, and how women are often oppressed in traditional marriage.  I see the horror film as an interesting excuse to get into politics, sociology, and philosophy.


How do you take to the online revolution, using social media as a form of distribution, rather than perhaps just taking a film to a festival?

I’m very intrigued by these new technological developments.  I think it’s very interesting and opens up a lot of new possibilities.  I did this music video, Cry For Judas by the Mountain Goats, and after the video had been put out, people who liked it took clips and reassembled collages and gifs and put them on Tumblr.  They made new art from my video, which I totally love.  What a great way to interact with cinema.  I think when you love a work of art, that’s what you do, you incorporate it into your identity, you cherish it.  It’s like saying, “This piece of art represents my inner essence”.

In terms of online distribution, Vimeo is amazing.  I was just looking at the geographical spectrum of who in the world is watching my films.  It’s amazing.  People in Russia, India, Iraq and Poland are watching my films.  On Vimeo I can see what they’re doing and watch their movies too.  The only issue with the rise of the internet is that piracy is a huge problem for independent feature films.  When Chris, Nick and I made The Swell Season, our feature music documentary, we lost so much money from pirating.  We’d finally gotten a genuine distribution deal, it’s on iTunes and Netflix, but every day I’d get Google alerts about people ripping a Swell Season DVD and disseminating torrents.  This is bad for the entire industry, but big budget films can take the hit more because their returns are still so massive.  For independent movies, it’s a killer.  I think people should always pay for feature films.  I buy everything, because it supports the filmmakers who made it.  I’m that guy who spends loads of money on iTunes.


This is a good attitude!  In terms of crowdfunding platforms, have you ever engaged with Kickstarter or Indiegogo at all?

I think websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are a wonderful miracle for filmmakers and other artists.  When I was younger we had no way to raise money except to go into credit card debt or have a bake sale.  These new platforms are definitely the wave of the future.  Kickstarter is an incredible resource for artists around the world.  Thumbs up.

What’s your attitude to these celebrity campaigns – do you think they will take away the independent audience or create more buzz around independent film?   

My feeling is, the more the merrier.  There are a number of profoundly talented filmmakers with an established name who just can’t get funding from the studios anymore.  I don’t think these people should be denied from raising money on Kickstarter.  I wish Kickstarter had been around when Orson Wells was banished from the studio system.  Look, I understand how people could feel these big names are hogging all the backers, I understand that.  I still feel it’s unfair to say people like Spike Lee can’t use these programs.  He’s a brilliant filmmaker and I love his work.  If Kickstarter is going to help him make another movie, then what’s the problem?  That’s my feeling.  It’s an interesting question though.

I’ve heard Elkcreek Cinema has potentially a couple of features in development.  How are you handling this?

My big advice to young filmmakers would be, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  Have three scripts you’re working on, have three feature projects in development.  This industry is so unpredictable and you never know which project will take off.  If you spend ten years just working on one project and it doesn’t have what it takes then you have to start over from scratch.  In that spirit I have two projects that I’m working on.


One is feature horror film called Bulldog, which I really can’t talk too much about right now.  It has a similar aesthetic to Knife Point and it’s a real horror film.  It’s a genre film.  It’s inspired by real events I witnessed as a kid in the 80’s in upstate New York.  I’m really excited to make it.  My agents are just about to send the script out to producers.

The other feature is called On Evil.  This is a project I went through the Sundance Labs with.  I got into the screenwriting and directing labs up at Sundance, which was a truly amazing experience.  You literally get to go out there and shoot scenes from your film for practice.  Robert Redford and other amazing industry professionals watch your scenes and give you incredible guidance, which was just mind-blowing.  On Evil is a drama with thriller overtones about a family of academics in upstate New York.  I also have a science fiction film I’ve just started writing.

People say screenwriters write about what they know, to what extent do you agree with this?

Personally, I need to write about what I know.  Within your unconscious mind lurks all these dark, beautiful creatures you must harvest and display in all their bizarre glory.  A film’s authenticity often comes from the screenwriter drawing upon real childhood experiences and emotions.


Any noteworthy advice you’d like to give to young filmmakers?

There are a couple of main things I’d like to say.  You have to have thick skin as a filmmaker.  This is not an industry that is going to be kind to you.  You have to be able to protect the fire of your passion for cinema.  It’s like a little candle you have to build strong, thick metal around and keep alight.  People will attack you as soon as you start making your first film.  They’ll say, “What are you doing?   Making a film?  That’s insane!  You should be a doctor or a lawyer.”  You gotta have courage.  Have the faith of your convictions and say “You know what?  I wanna be a filmmaker and I’m going to stick with it no matter what.”

You have to be prepared to make mistakes, especially early on.  You can’t give up when you hit a wall.  Many people pack it in if they don’t acquire instant creative success.  Stick with it no matter what.  Remember, you’re not making films to make money or win awards, you’re in it because you love cinema!  You love telling stories.  You love to enter the world of your imagination.  Holding onto that fire is a hard thing to do, but you have to hold onto it forever.  That fire is the light of your soul, flickering in the vast, impenetrable darkness.


The other thing I would say, in terms of actually making movies, is that finding the right people is important. Find people who like the kind of films you like and want to make films too.  Make sure they share your passion and then, like Shakespeare wrote, “Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, grapple them to you with hoops of steel”.  A good director surrounds themselves with talented, interesting people.  If you meet somebody who is like you and has an unquenchable passion for creativity, become close with them.  It’s you and them versus the world.  It’s those collaborative bonds that ultimately lead to great movies.

Also, don’t be afraid to admit that you’re still learning.  Continue to teach yourself.  Once you say, “I’m done. I’ve figured it out.” you die.  Good filmmakers are always evolving.  Try new styles.  Try new technology.  Try everything.

Do you feel the same way about genre? Do you think that directors who stick to only a certain genre are limiting themselves and therefore can’t be a great director?

I’m a big Kubrick fan and I love the way he went from an amazing science fiction film to an amazing horror film to an amazing drama.  He did everything.  I do like the idea of mixing it up.  But at the same time, I’m also a big Hitchcock fan and he really understood genre and was into the idea of picking one and honing your skills in that arena.  He embraced being The Master of Suspense.  I think both are totally valid ways to do things.  Either way, filmmakers must do everything in their power to avoid stagnation and predictability.

Thanks Carlo, there’s some remarkable insight here. Good luck with your projects!

Thanks Charlie!  Good luck with your projects as well.

Watch Knife Point below:

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