Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Clowning About (Or, How I Beat Down A Slag At Wal-Mart For A Bargain)
I have a love/hate relationship with Wal-Mart. I think everyone does. Cheap crap and lots of it, but it does tend to attract the dwellers of the Nether Realms from Trailer Park Limbo. Sadly, much like myself, they seem drawn to the dump bins of DVDs for three bucks or so. And such a situation came to pass when I paused to scan the jumbled mass of cases one day.
Instantly, a bovine-inclined lady awash in a heady fragrance of cigarettes, body funk and spoiled food decided I shouldn't have freedom of choice, but that I could have what she deemed "beneath" her refined taste. Wherever my hand went, hers beat mine there. She pretended to be intent on making her selection when I tried to see the evil in her face. Nah, she was just ugly as a turd. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my buried treasure. Hunting Humans sat unsullied by her nicotine-stained fingers. I focused on some Pauly Shore tripe, muttered a happy "Oooh!" and reached for it. Sensing I might snap up something wonderful, the heifer yanked it up as my fingers touched Pauly's image on the cover. I swiftly snagged Hunting Humans and muttered, "Bitch" as I walked away.
Was my showdown worth it? Hell, yes.
Kevin Kangas wrote, directed and produced Hunting Humans, a great example of what can be done with a minimal budget and a cast and crew who will see the project to the end. It deals with a slick and likeable guy who happens to be a serial killer. No stalk and kill crap here, though a few folks do bite the dust. Kangas opted for suspense and mystery by having our anti-hero be the target of someone hunting him for their own purposes. A refreshing change in the indie horror world full of slasher clones.
On the DVD, released by Mti Home Video (out of print as far as I can tell, but check eBay and Amazon, or if you want a copy with an autograph, go to www.marauderproductions.com/order.htm), I found a mention of their next film buried in the "Biographies" area of the disc. Fear Of Clowns (kangaskahnfilms.com/foc) had an interesting title. And I went on about my life, silently waiting for the movie.
Fear Of Clowns is now out. Does it stack up to Hunting Humans? Well, check out the review to be posted soon. But it did inspire me enough to use those cyber-stalker skills to track down the director/writer/producer Kevin Kangas. Okay, he has an email address on his web site. I have no Internet kung fu skills. But I did convince him to answer a few questions. I have people skills. Okay, Kevin Kangas is really just a nice guy who enjoys talking about movies, so it wasn't that hard to convince him.
At the risk of appearing lazy, I'll present my short interview with him in the question and answer format. I could pretend we met at some hotel restaurant, and I could pepper the give and take conversation with little details of the wallpaper and the food and the odd looks from the other diners. This isn't Vanity Fair. In the time it'll take you to peel those damn security seals off your copy of Fear Of Clowns, you can just read the more direct questions and answers.
Dog Pile: One thing I've noticed about Hunting Humans and FOC is how professional they both look, though FOC does seem to be a stronger film as far as visual presentation. Most low-budget, direct-to-video features look cheap and are impossible to hear. Your films have such a strong element as far as how the shots are framed and structured. Do you take the extra effort to storyboard your shots in advance, or do you just work within the confines of the locations you have available to you?
Kangas: Thanks! We love compliments! And truthfully, a large chunk of that should go to my DPs (Director of Photography)--David Gil on HH and David Mun on FOC(he'll be returning for FOC2). To answer your question--I don't do any storyboarding, but my shooting scripts are extremely detailed. The only problem comes when I haven't actually SEEN the location before we get there to shoot. (Hard to believe, but this happens a LOT on low-budget flicks.) Then it's a matter of looking for interesting compositions given the layout. David Mun in particular has a phenomenal eye--he's working on big, real-budget projects out in Los Angeles, so he knows what he's doing. I trust him a lot, so if he tells me what I'm thinking of shooting is gonna come out like crap--well, we shoot it anyway, but then we get the shot he wants just in case.
Dog Pile: I noticed FOC had the camera moving for a wide variety of angles, whereas Hunting Humans seemed to have fewer cuts within any given scene.
Kangas: Hahahaha. Yeah. For HH we had almost NO money, and we shot entirely on 16mm film. So we shot a total of 5.5 hours of footage to make a 90 minute film. If you know anything about shooting ratios you know that's RIDICULOUSLY low. There were times we only had one-take shots--get it or you don't get it at all. For FOC, we shot a combo of digital and Super16, and we had a crane (small) and a steadicam. Makes all the difference in the world. You can do a LOT more, the more toys you get. But those toys cost money.
Dog Pile: Do you work with one camera?
Kangas: Yes, though FOC2 may employ 2 cameras.
Dog Pile: How do you and the cast handle the time involved shooting the same scene from different angles? I mean, you have a fairly small window of time in which to shoot your films, so anything that slows forward progression would have to be a bit nerve-wracking, though the multiple angles do improve the movement of the scenes.
Kangas: It's tedious, obviously. But most of the actors--if they've done ANYTHING--know to expect it. So you just get it done, as well and as quickly as you can. When stuff goes wrong, you curse and wish you'd picked another career. So there's a lot of cursing and wishing going on. But you try to have fun too.
Dog Pile: You've said Fear Of Clowns fell short of your expectations. In what ways?
Kangas: As a filmmaker who started as a writer I'm constantly fighting an internal battle: Story versus Marketability. The writer wants to tell the filmmaker, "Fuck your marketability--the story is all that counts! Write the best story you can and the movie will sell itself." This, unfortunately, is a lie. Especially in the low-budget market. So I wrote Fear of Clowns knowing that there really aren't that many good horror movies featuring clowns. I had in mind a kind of homage to Halloween--with the strong, silent killer pursuing the woman in distress.But things happened and the first draft took longer than I expected (my wife got pregnant--she delivered the child about 2 months before we started filming--right in the middle of MAJOR preproduction). I should have spent another three months on the script, but if I had done that we would have had to wait another eight months for the weather to change again. So it was either: Film now and do the best you can, or wait. I went forward. The result was that the ending was completely unusable, and since the clown's entire motivation was based on that ending--there I was in the editing room trying to come up with new motivation. We also lost the rationale behind the lead character's coulrophobia, which was a MAJOR part of the story. My bad. I take responsibility for it.
Dog Pile: How do you intend to address these elements in the sequel?
Kangas: The sequel will avoid those problems for two reasons: I've spent more time on it, and I've gone back to basics. It's more of a mainstream horror, where the original became more of a suspense movie. For those die-hard horror fans who were bored by the first movie--that's not gonna happen in the sequel. Believe me.
Dog Pile: How do you feel about doing sequels? Did you originally intend a sequel to FOC, or are you attempting to make the movie you hoped the original would be? Do you see sequels as being a likelihood in your future, or do you prefer to focus on fresh topics for each feature?
Kangas: Sellout! I see it already! But no, sequels were not something I was planning on doing. As far as FOC I had no plans for a sequel even though I left it open, but when Lionsgate mentioned they were interested...well, how stupid would I be to say no? Still, I gave it some thought, because I wasn't going to just crank out a film to crank it out. When I commit to a movie, I'm committing about 2 years of my life to it, so I have to be invested. And I came up with something that interested me a LOT. Then another idea popped up and I started writing. As for the future...who knows? I wrote a sequel to Hunting Humans and am actually writing a third, but that's more because I really find Aric Blue (the main character) fascinating. Neither script could be shot on the budgets I work at. I may shoot another feature at the end of the year that's not a sequel. In general I would say I won't do too many sequels (for instance--the likelihood of me doing FOC3 is almost nil).
Dog Pile: What kind of budget to you have for your films?
Kangas: HH's total budget was about $24,000--and it was shot entirely on film. That is MINISCULE for film. Anyone who knows anything about it knows that about half of that went to film/developing/transfer to video. So for those douchebags online who like to act like they know something when they say "God, when are filmmakers gonna learn not to shoot on video, it looks like shit" when they talk about HH--clearly you don't know the difference between film and video.The reason HH looks so muddy is not because it was shot on video. It's because it was shot on film and then one-light transferred (which is like $300/hour) instead of best-light transferred(which is like $500/hour). That per hour fee is not per hour of your footage--it's per hour of the transfer house's time.Not that I'm bitter about know-it-all online critics or anything... As for FOC's budget I'm not supposed to say. Not that much more than HH.
Dog Pile: Do you still have to pound the pavement to round up investors, or is it easier now that you have a couple of features to back you up?
Kangas: One of the producers from HH came back for FOC, but we needed someone else so a long-time friend came in, plus I put my money back in. Now I'm pretty much footing the bill on FOC2, but when I step up to the half-million range, I'm going to have to have investors. No way can I come up with that kind of cash.
Dog Pile: What kind of contract do you have with Liongate Films? By that, I'd like to know if you have a set number of films you will be doing for them, or are they working with you on a film-by-film basis?
Kangas: Film by film. I'm an unproven commodity right now (even though FOC has made almost a half million dollars in rental fees alone in the two weeks it's been out). Who knows what will happen after FOC2. My master plan is to finish FOC2 and one more ultra-low budget, and then I'm hoping to step up to something more in the half million dollar range. Which is still ultra-low budget for most films, but will be a major step up for me.
Dog Pile: I remember reading that you have a different type of film coming up, or at least, that is what I remember from a recent Fangoria article. What do you have in the works other than the FOC sequel?
Kangas: The thing I'm going to try to shoot isn't exactly horror, but I'm not talking about it yet. Until I finish the script I'm not exactly sure what it's going to be. And with all the preproduction going on right now for FOC2, I haven't had much time for PE, which are the initials of the script's name.
Dog Pile: Any plans to do a frat house comedy? Just kidding.
Kangas: No, but my interests are broad. I like horror, suspense, fantasy, thriller, westerns (yeah, I know) and more. The only thing you won't ever see me doing is romance, and probably comedy, unless it's very black comedy.
Dog Pile: Last one. What horror movie freaked you out the most when you saw it? I don't mean your favorite movie, unless it happens to be the same.
Kangas: Well...I'd have to say Giant Spider Invasion and The Giant Leeches were two that scared the shit out of me. I was 5 when I saw GSI and not much older when I saw GL (it was on an afternoon Creature Feature) and they REALLY scared me. If you watch them now, they are hilariously bad. Later on Nightmare On Elm Street did scare me (I had to walk home from a friend's house that night, and I walked in the middle of the road so if anyone jumped out at me I'd see them coming), but that always had the "It's not real" rationalization.Which Friday the 13th and Halloween did not--those killers felt like they were real. Those two scared me probably more than Nightmare.My favorite horror movie is John Carpenter's The Thing. It scared me and grossed me out at the same time, but it also played with the theme of identity which is something that really resonates with me. Philip Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers wigged me out a little for the same reason. Like, maybe one day people I knew would start acting different because they weren't THEMSELVES anymore...THAT'S scary stuff, especially for a kid.
Dog Pile: Thank you for your time.
Kangas: No problem. I think it's great when people enjoy the low budget stuff. There are a lot of people who rent the films and expect to see Star Wars and are naturally disappointed.
(Kevin Kangas appears here of his own free will, and The Dog Pile thanks him. All images were "borrowed" from his web site www.marauderproductions.com. Please visit the site and find out more about him, Rick Ganz (the star of both of Kevin's features), as well as order goodies. I would also like to thank Lionsgate Films and Mti Home Video for releasing these films. For the love of God, please, no one sue me!)