Your new movie
- in a few words, what is it about?
is essentially a fake documentary about a fake documentary... about a fake documentary. It looks at the
found footage genre and asks: What would happen if someone actually
discovered a video record of the death or disappearance of the filmmakers
in an alleged supernatural incident? Would anyone believe it? What
steps would be taken to verify its authenticity? As such, it's the story
of my film crew following a wedding videographer named Gavin York as he
attempts to cash in on the box of mini-DV tapes he has discovered in the
basement of his in-laws' new house, footage supposedly showing the
misfortunes of two film students who went in search of the Flickergeist of
being a mix of mockumentary and found footage movie, what are your
personal opinions about these two genres?
enjoy both. This is Spinal Tap is one of my favorite films of
all time, and I love the entire Christopher Guest catalogue. It
usually surprises people to hear how great an influence comedies were on
what I suppose is best labelled a horror film, but that loose sense of
scripted improv really helped us in crafting Butterfly Kisses
on set and in the edit, particularly given how many non-actors (Eduardo
Sanchez, Matt Lake, etc.) were playing themselves. I'm also a fan of found
footage, but like all genres, it begins to feel repetitive once you
recognize the tropes and conventions inherent within a repeated framework.
In that sense, Butterfly Kisses
serves as a deconstruction of the
genre, which shouldn't be confused with a takedown. It's an
important distinction, I feel.
(Other) sources of inspiration
when writing Butterfly Kisses?
a student (and skeptic) of all things weird: cryptozoology, urban legends,
the paranormal, conspiracy theories, and the like. Monsters and
"true" ghost stories are my thing, though from a sociological
perspective more than anything else. I'm fascinated by the origin of
legends, and the inciting incident that first occurs and is then fed by a
combination of superstition, embellished retelling, and hoaxes, all of
which lead to the creation of a social construct. Butterfly Kisses
contains elements of all these things I find so fascinating,
and tries to comment on these belief systems we continue to feed.
It's as much about, say, the Loch Ness Monster as it is the Vanishing
least to me, there's also quite a bit of tragic comedy in
- would you at all agree, and if so, could you elaborate on that?
the saying: Comedy is tragedy plus time? Gavin York is in
many ways an unreliable narrator, and I wanted you to either love him or
hate him, but find him compelling regardless of which way you go on the
emotional spectrum. Seth Kallick, who plays the role, is just so
charismatic that you're kind of rooting for him, even if it's just to keep
shooting himself in the foot. It was a delicate balance in hitting
the sweet spot when editing: You didn't want the guy to be too funny
because he becomes likeable, but neither did you want him to come off as
overwhelming to the point where you lose any sense of emotional investment
in his story. Considering this began as a three-hour film that had
to be pared back to a tidy ninety minutes, Butterfly Kisses
as much a battle for narrative clarity given all the storytelling layers
as it was a question of achieving the right tone. I'd like to think
we succeeded in both regards.
what extent could you actually identify with
lead character Gavin and the trials and tribulations he's going through?
we're at it, we also have to talk about your depiction of yourself in
for a bit, and how much of the real you is in the movie's you?
think all filmmakers will recognize Gavin's plight on some level, whether
in their own lives or in the lives of artists they've known or
encountered. I try to avoid telling too much of my own story in
filmmaking, as one has a tendency to romanticize their own history; I find
it easily detectable and eye-rolling in the extreme. Nonetheless,
there are certainly elements of my life in Gavin: We are about the same
age, and we both have a child and mortgage and responsibilities that can
sometimes hinder the Hollywood dream; but given that I appear as myself in
the film, I'd say the onscreen "Erik" is a more accurate
representation of who I am -- I need to finish this documentary about
Gavin, damn it! It's an exaggerated version, but I'd say my
on-camera freakout over the fate of Butterfly Kisses
documentary, as depicted, is something I've felt when projects I'm
emotionally and financially invested in become threatened. It rings
true. There's also a bit of me in Sophia and Feldman, the missing
students featured in the found footage, as I remember the film school
experience and how crushingly important my senior projects were to me at
the time, and the lengths I'd go to in order to stand out in my
department. Real life always informs the fiction, but I prefer the
fiction to be just that.
talk about the rest of your cast, and why exactly these people?
The film students in the found footage
(Rachel Armiger and Reed Delisle) had zero romantic chemistry, which is
why I cast them as Sophia and Feldman. Talent was obviously
paramount, but how the characters interacted and what we could infer from
a relationship that consciously lacks a backstory or frame of reference,
was a part of what they brought to the table. I was looking for
fresh faces, given that the "documentary proper" would feature
so many Google-verifiable folks playing themselves. I had a list of
three finalists for Sophia, and three for Feldman, and I brought them back
for a second audition in which we more or less workshopped the movie, with
me switching actors in and out and doing scenes with different boy-girl
pairs. I had known Rachel previously, but Reed was new to me, and I
felt very strongly about both from the start, but the combinations became
fascinating, as identical scenes had romantic chemistry with certain
actors, and absolutely none whatsoever when Reed and Rachel played off of
one another. I loved it. There was no threat of
predictability, a "Will they or won't they?" sort of thing.
I needed their relationship to become somewhat ambiguous and open to
interpretation, as late in the film their offscreen actions become
questioned in regards to the legitimacy of their footage. Is he
tricking her into believing they've filmed Peeping Tom, the Blink Man of
Ilchester Tunnel? Are they in cahoots? Did they film the real thing? I
prefer to let audiences draw their own conclusions, which is, I feel,
informed by choosing not to inform you too much as to what seems like a
potentially adversarial relationship... assuming it isn't all an act for
the camera, of course.
The folks playing themselves are there because their voices absolutely
legitimize the sense that we are watching a real documentary about alleged
real-life found footage. Eduardo Sanchez co-directed The Blair
Witch Project, so having him point out the tropes in Sophia and
Feldman's school project tells the audience we're on their side and they
shouldn't buy into Gavin's claims that this is the real deal... all while
painting the documentary telling Gavin's story and containing this
criticism as the real deal. David Sterritt
(Chairman of the National Society of Film Critics) and Steve Yeager (Sundance-winning director of Divine
Trash) fulfill a similar function. Matt Lake is a writer and
editor of the Weird U.S. book series, and gives the Peeping Tom
legend a touch of authenticity, at least in the sense that it's presented
as a genuine urban legend; we counter it with the paranormal
investigators, who call themselves Inspired Ghost Tracking, and don't
believe a word of the story. Andrew Wardlaw is there to use his
background as an editor on shows like Finding Bigfoot in examining
Gavin's footage, and the guys from Studio Unknown, a Maryland-based audio
house, are there to make discoveries of their own. And of course
there's Mike Jones, a DJ for DC101, whose on-air scene is always a crowd
favorite. Everyone appearing on camera seemed to enjoy the
experience, even when acting was completely new to them.
Seth was vital in helping me to bring out performances, which they all
you tell us about your directorial approach to your story at hand?
I felt very strongly that the film needed
two distinct looks, and two distinct styles. The found footage had to look
like films of the genre, and the documentary wrapped around it needed to
feel slicker. More professional. More polished. I recruited Kenny Johnson,
a documentary filmmaker, to act as DP and co-editor, to lend the project
that sense of realism. I also tried to manufacture reality on set, by
essentially directing three versions of every scene: one where we stuck to
the script, one where the actors (and real people) went off-book while
adhering to the main points as written, and then a complete and total
improvisation of the scene. From there I had a wealth of material to
pick and choose from. I found myself gravitating toward material in
which the subject tripped over their words, or misspoke; it felt
"real" in that way.
few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
was fun! I've never directed anything like this before, and the
actors felt the same way. It became very Method, in that I
encouraged everyone to pretend this was all actually happening, and Kenny
and I chose to forgo storyboards and shot lists. Instead, we just
got in there and allowed the scene to dictate where we stood and how we
framed the action. Again, it was as close to shooting an actual
documentary as possible, and throwing people like Ed Sanchez and Matt Lake
into the mix just added to the surreal, mind-bending quality of the whole
thing. This was further enhanced by Seth Kallick arriving to the set
and staying in character; many participants only knew him as Gavin, and
never met the real guy until we wrapped. The whole thing was
occasionally disorienting, and it could be difficult at times to discern
real-life from meta-textual reality.
you can tell us about audience and critical reception of
last film, Roulette, garnered some regional press and some good
reviews, but it was an arthouse thriller for people who like arthouse
films. It didn't prepare me for the reception
has received. We toured the new film to festivals in the U.S. and Canada,
and won a number of awards. That last point is cool, but not the
point of filmmaking; rather, it's about finding an audience, and
connecting with people. Forcing a discovery of the work. I met
so many people in so many places during the festival run, people who loved
the film. Since the release, that pool has grown exponentially.
Art becomes a very insular thing, a private process in so many ways, and
it can be difficult to see past the finish line. "What are my
friends going to think? Will my parents like it?" That
sort of thing. Getting Facebook messages from someone in Idaho who
saw your movie and wants to talk about it never really occurs to you on a
realistic level during the creative process, and it can spin your head
around, particularly when those messages keep coming from so many
different people. When you see folks tweeting about the film, and
recommending it. When major websites give fantastic reviews, or the
news stations begin reaching out with interview requests. I'm still
trying to get used to dozens of Facebook friend requests each day.
I'm both humbled and grateful.
Any future projects you'd like to share?
have a dream project in my back pocket. Know anyone who can lend me
a few million bucks?
got you into filmmaking, and did you receive any formal education on the
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
been a movie nerd since I was very young, sitting cross-legged in front of
the TV and watching everything I could. An
American Werewolf in London traumatized me as a five year-old; so did The
Exorcist. I became obsessed
with classic horror, devouring Nosferatu, the
Hammer films and
eventually discovering slashers. In
time, I found films that were socially, thematically or structurally
groundbreaking to be the ones that inspired me as a young storyteller.
I grew up writing scripts, directing radio plays, and making
terrible gangster movies with my high school friends; but I never actively
included these things into my academic goals.
I actually planned to become an English teacher.
I thought maybe I could nudge myself sideways into the film
industry at some point — maybe by writing the Great American Novel, or
maybe selling a screenplay I cranked out in between grading papers.
But I had a moment of clarity after seeing the first Lord of the
Rings, and realizing that an indie filmmaker with an entrepreneurial
attitude could become noticed on their own terms, regardless of whether or
not they lived in Hollywood. You
could be on the other side of the world. You
just needed to prove yourself. So
I dropped out of the teaching program, went to film school, made and
released Roulette, and here I am, talking to you about
Butterfly Kisses, for which I am incredibly appreciative.
Your favourite movies?
How much time have you got?
and of course, films you really deplore?
How much time have you got?
movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
Check us out on Facebook, and on Twitter: @BKMovie2018
you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
If you pirate independent films, or watch illegal
versions of pirated films, you're an irredeemable asshole.
for the interview!
Thanks for suffering through the long-winded response!