Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Recently I had the opportunity to view an intense and very well done short film entitled Spek.ter. Over the past few months at Facebook, I have had the great pleasure of getting to know and become friends with the creative force behind Spek.ter, the writer and director Terrence Kelsey. Terrence, who shares many of my tastes and loves in film, was kind enough to participate in another Moon in the Gutter Q&A and I greatly appreciate it. I hope it proves interesting and both of us would appreciate any comments readers might have to offer.
Moon in the Gutter: Terrence, thanks so much for taking the time to do this. First up, can you tell us a bit about your background?
Terrence Kelsey: No problem. Let’s see. I’ve been into movies since I was a little kid in the 70’s. Music and art (as in drawing) were my first loves. But once I saw Star Wars when it first came out, something snapped in me and from that point onward I knew I wanted to be a storyteller of sorts. I immediately began writing my own short stories, I think in the second or third grade, and having copies made to give out to my classmates.
MITG: What initially got you interested in filmmaking?
TK: Again, Star Wars and the fact my parents got this new 70’s toy attached to the family TV set for me to play with called Showtime - long before they began 24 hour programming in the early 80’s. Back then Showtime came with a black box that sat on your TV set, hooked up to your cable. There was a black button for regular television and a red button for the Showtime station. But they wouldn’t come on until 5pm. During the day, there would be this blue screen showing the movie listings for that particular evening.
Sometimes when I wasn’t out playing with my friends, I would amuse myself hours on end by staring at that blue screen with the upcoming movie titles and listening to whatever FM radio station tunes they were playing. And when 5pm hit, my eyes would light up as Showtime would come on and begin playing a series of movie trailers for the films being showcased that month. One of my favorite trailers to watch was Brian DePalma’s Carrie.
Showtime also had very cool booklets (like TV Guide) that gave the synopsis to each movie and told the rating and gave the elements justifying that rating, like we see now (back then, movie ratings didn’t list things like graphic violence or nudity etc. in the newspapers. But Showtime did in their booklets). That’s how my friends and I knew which cool R-rated movies to watch when our parents weren’t around. For the record, my parents were the most liberal about letting me watch whatever I wanted, unlike my friends’ parents who were more strict.
The only R-rated flick my Mom refused to let me see as a kid was Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes - given the cannibal subject matter. She watched it first and said “no way!” Total bummer.
For the longest time I wanted my parents to buy me a Super 8 camera and projector from the Sears or Consumers Distributing catalogues, which they never did - fearing I would tear them up like I normally did with my toys and various musical instruments. I knew I would never do that. But oh well.
To compensate, I used to draw my own make believe one sheet theatrical poster ads as seen in the newspaper’s movie section (on the music side, I also used to draw my own album covers for my imaginary rock group). Plus, I had one of those old cassette tape recorders. So sometimes I would write out my own stories and record myself acting them out, then play it back like I was watching my own movie - kinda like a one-man radio stage-play.
Other times, my friends and I would create our own adventure stories (like the movies we had seen on Showtime) and act them out in the hills around our apartment complex, even in the storming rain, much to our parents’ chagrin.
MITG: I know you are a fellow horror enthusiast. How did you first get interested in horror and who are your biggest influences in the genre?
TK: I first got into a horror through this late night TV program my mother used to watch in the early 70’s called Creature Features, which aired in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was on that program when I first saw a trailer for George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, which at the time scared the shit out of 5 year old me. The little masochist inside myself quickly noticed that I liked that thrilling sensation, and I knew I wanted others to feel that too (whether they liked it or not).
As for genre influences that’s a tough one, ‘cause I’m influenced by a lot of different horror directors, as well as particular movies made by non-Horror filmmakers. As far as directors go within the horror thriller genres: Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, John Carpenter and Brian DePalma are my biggest influences. Movies made by non-horror directors that have influenced me greatly are Richard Donner’s The Omen (my favorite horror film and one of my top 5 favorite films of all time), William Friedkin’s The Exorcist and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
The one horror film made by a horror director that also made an impact on me was (again) Night of the Living Dead. SPOILER ALERT: the whole black & white photo montage at the end of my horror short Spek.Ter was inspired by the ending to that film, especially with the use of the creepy music.
MITG: Horror aside, who are some of your other favorite filmmakers and are there any that have come out recently that you follow?
TK: Oh, this could go on forever! Sergio Leone is my all time favorite director - I consider him to be the ultimate visual storyteller.
Some notable others: Tarantino for sure. Hitchcock. The Coen Brothers, Louis Malle. Sidney Lumet. Scorcese. Bertolucci. Coppola (both Francis and Sofia). Mira Nair. Kathryn Bigelow. Danny Boyle. And the list goes on.
Don’t know about new directors. Sometimes I tend to forget that there are filmmakers whose past films I liked very much and totally forgot to follow them. Tom Twyker is one of those directors. I loved Run Lola Run and its only recently his other films have been brought to my attention, via various friends. So, though he’s technically not new, currently his post RLR films are new to me.
Other times, I may discover an older director’s films and coincidentally see a connection to what I’ve accomplished with Spek.ter. Jean Rollin would be one that comes to mind, particularly with his ultra-stylish erotic vampire film Le Frisson Des Vampires. My short would make a great opener if they were screened together.
If I had to name at least one new director, then Rian Johnson is someone I’m currently following. I really enjoyed Brick. And I totally loved his latest film, The Brothers Bloom.
Overall, there’s way too many filmmakers (both living and deceased) whom I enjoy emphatically from all over the world.
MITG: On to Spek.ter. I was really impressed by the film and appreciated how ambitious it was. Can you tell us the initial idea behind it and kind of tell us what went into the process of preparing it?
TK: The idea for the short goes back to a feature script I had written as far back as 2002. I had spent several years working with some producers to get the story made, but we didn’t see eye-to-eye with my David Lynchian/Japanese Horror puzzlebox vision of the story. They wanted something that was simple and easy for the average person to comprehend, and I wanted something that left things ambiguous, so the audience has to think about what’s really going on. Unfortunately, most people just want to turn their brain off when watching a movie. That’s fine sometimes. But all the time?
I wrote numerous drafts of the feature, so much so, that I lost my initial supernatural vibe. The story became an Italian giallo of sorts. There’s stuff in those latter drafts I like, but its not the story I originally wanted to tell. So I and the producers parted ways amicably.
It was in 2005 when I decided to make the short, to get back to my original supernatural concept and it took me nearly a year to raise the money myself through various means and get all the pre-production elements in place. I was already in talks with the main girls you see in the short for the feature. When I decided to do this as a short film, I asked them if they were still interested and obviously they said, “No!” Just kidding.
MITG: Since it is such an ambitious short film, were there any particular problems you faced in making it?
TK: The main problem we had there was never enough time in the day to get all of the shots I wanted. But that goes with all types of filmmaking, especially the indie kind.
The only real problem we faced was some of the stunt work. SPOILER ALERT: when Keisha is attacked at the front door by the killer in black, we weren’t really sure how we were going to choreograph and film it. My storyboards didn’t come in handy that day. Luckily, I had a friend there who was a trained martial artist and he came up with something simple that would film well. That’s what you see in the short.
***Serena Toxicat, Terrence Kelsey and Keisha Jackson***
MITG: I was really impressed with the cast, especially your lead Keisha Jackson. How do you go about casting a work like this?
TK: Keisha was referred to me by one of my best friends from high school. Apparently, the two of them have been friends for 10 or 12 years at the time I had mentioned my story to him. Plus, she and the other girl Serena Toxicat were both Suicide Girl models. Of course, neither girl is using their real names for the short (or Suicide Girls for that matter).
While Serena has a performance background, Keisha was totally new to this. She had the look that I wanted and my instincts told me she could pull off what was required of her, acting-wise. I’m satisfied.
And since my story deals with an Erotic Goth pin-up model and has full frontal nudity in it, I naturally gravitated towards working with these ladies who came from that Alternative Pin-up Model scene.
***Silvin Morgan Battaile and Terrence Kelsey***
MITG: The cinematography of Silvin Morgan Battaile is also very well done. Can you detail the relationship a director has with their cinematographer, and is it difficult communicating your visual ideal for the film or does it just work out naturally as the filming progresses?
TK: I’ve known Silvin for almost 10 years, since our sophomore year at film school. I’ve been watching his work during that time and we kept in contact afterwards. I knew he’d be the one to bring my visual sense to life.
Over the several years I had tried getting the feature version made, he and I met on occasion, going over the script and my storyboards.
When it finally came time to shoot the short, we were mostly prepared. But we had a few disagreements on certain shots I wanted, yet he still complied with my vision. There were also times when he would enhance a shot I had come up with. And other times when he came up with shots that I liked better than what I had initially envisioned.
I’m sure each relationship between a director and cinematographer is different - good and bad. Luckily, my working relationship with Silvin was a good one. He’s a VERY talented and dedicated visual stylist.
MITG: I know Spek.ter has played a lot of festivals. Is there one in particular that stands out, or do you have a memory in particular of presenting the film that stands out?
TK: Sadly, I couldn’t go to any of these festivals. So, I have no idea how they played to the various audiences around the globe, with exception of a couple I had heard back from the festival directors or those who had attended the festivals.
Seems most people liked it, even if they didn’t entirely understand the story. I can consider that to be a good thing.
MITG: So what’s next for you?
TK: Right now, I have two feature scripts ready to go (both horror/thriller -related), which I’d like to be my debut and sophomore efforts. Hopefully, things will pan out as planned.
MITG: Thanks so much again for doing this. I really enjoyed Spek.ter and can’t wait to see more of your work.
TK: You’re very welcome. And thank you Jeremy for your kind words and support. I appreciate it very much.
***Thanks again to Terrence for doing this. The stills above (along with dozens of others) can be found at his Facebook profile, which is located here.***