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An Interview with Joe Clarke, Director of Kung Fu Graffiti

by Mike Haberfelner

May 2012

Films directed by Joe Clarke on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your film Kung Fu Graffiti - in a few words, what is it about?

 

Kung Fu Graffiti is about a rebellious teenager who is sent to train with an ex-marine in 1960's Iowa, while an evil mastermind warrior pursues him in search of a powerful scroll. You know, that old song and dance.

 

Why kung fu? Are you trained in martial arts yourself, and/or are you a genre fan? And your genre favourites?

 

My idea of fighting is:

A. Kicking the other person in the nuts.

B. Running.

C. Kicking the other person in the nuts, and then running.

 

I did, however, grow up watching Jackie Chan movies. Apparently, I thought that was the key to being popular in junior high (it wasn't). His movies opened up a flood gate to all kinds of action movies that blew my pubescent mind.

 

As far as I know, Kung Fu Graffiti is a kids movie. so how do young audiences and martial arts go together?

 

When we first produced the film in 2010, we had a couple screenings around Iowa, and that's it. It's sitting with a DVD company, but we're still waiting to bring it to the mass audiences. The movie was in this weird spot, where it would cater to younger kids with its cartoony action and humor, but was loaded with adult language. So we recut the film into a more family friend version to appeal to the Power Rangers/Ninja Turtle crowds. I'm excited to see how the younger kids react to it.

 

What were your inspirations when writing Kung Fu Graffiti?

 

There were a string of 70's Jackie Chan movies where he would play a rebellious teenager, and was always forced to train with a wise kung fu master. I used that as the template, then threw in the high school Karate Kid-esque subplot, and the ex-marine thing after working with Randy Miller (who plays the ex-marine).

 

How would you describe yourdirectorial approach to the subject at hand?

 

I like to keep it a fun atmosphere on set, and make sure everyone is having a good time. I'm a strong believer that if the cast/crew is having a good time on set, it will show up on screen.

 

A few words about your key cast, how did you find them, and what made them perfect for their roles? And did any of them have martial arts backgrounds, actually?

 

Most of the key cast I knew through my time at the University of Iowa. A lot of the actors were breakdancers, which helped tremendously. Each of the cast members has a unique way of how they found themselves in the movie. I offered the lead role to Steven Hullana the first time I met him, Greg Geffrard was my substitute acting teacher one day, Joe Sciorrotta emailed me about the movie, etc. etc.

 

You also play a role in Kung Fu Graffiti, right? What can you tell us about your character, and Joe Clarke, the actor?

 

I came in on a last minute reshoot. We cut a scene that wasn't working, and subsequently filmed a greaser scene that has literally nothing to do with the rest of the movie. The best thing about the scene is a guy named Don Fabian, whom Randy Miller scrounged up at the last minute from some local dive bar. I have no way of contacting Cockroach (the name of his character), but damn, he was hilarious. Cockroach, if you're reading this, I love you!

 

What can you tell us about audience and critical response to Kung Fu Graffiti so far?

 

For a lot of us, it was our first full length movie. It's scary putting a product out there for people to judge. I don't think enough people have seen it for us to really gather it's overall consensus, so I can only speak for myself. There are parts of the movie that I love, and there are parts that I think are complete dogsh*t. We learned a ton throughout the making of it.

 

Let's go back to the beginnings of your career: What got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?

 

I graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in film. My brother gave me his old camcorder about 11 years ago, and I've been making movies ever since. I've used everyone from my mom playing an assassin to one of my best friends' babies. There's something to be said about hanging out with your best friends and manifesting a creative vision. Wow, I sound like a tool saying that.

 

As far as I know, you have completed (at least) one feature film, The Wedge, since Kung Fu Graffiti. What can you tell us about that one?

 

The Wedge is a fun movie about a pizza guy that finds himself in the middle of a casino heist on the fourth of July. We were very blessed to have another extraordinary cast and crew, and it was an honor to work with a lot of talented individuals. Except for Tyler Thirnbeck. I hate that kid. I'm kidding, I love him. He steals every scene he's in. I recently texted him thanking him for being hilarious.

 

Any other films of yours you'd like to talk about, any future projects?

 

Backrow Studios' third feature length film, The Formula, will be filmed this July. This will be the first movie where we will have actual "names" in the film, so we're going to take advantage of LA talent meshing with homegrown talent from Iowa.

 

A few words about your company Backrow Studios?

 

A fellow University of Iowa alum, Tim Nash, approached me shortly before I graduated, and asked if I had any film ideas. I pitched him the idea of Kung Fu Graffiti, and Backrow Studios was born shortly after. We have since added a third producer, Ravi Patel, into the mix. We're excited about the direction of the company and are looking forward to making many more movies in the years to come.

 

Directors who inspire you?

 

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Spielberg, Scorsese, Jackie Chan, Stallone, John Avildsen, Darren Aronofsky, Robert Zemeckis, James Cameron. Anyone that makes a good blockbuster is a badass in my book.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

Hmmm. I have my usual favorites that include Rocky, Goodfellas, Forrest Gump, Wizard of Oz, etc. Some I've seen recently that I've really liked are Cast Away, Boys Don't Cry, Almost Famous, The Wrestler.

 

... and of course, films you really deplore?

 

You can learn a lot from bad movies.

 

Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?

 

www.joeclarkecity.com has film clips, trailers, news, and more!

 

Anything else you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?

 

I can't thank my friends/family enough for the support!

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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On the same day
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A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
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directed by
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written by
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starring
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out now on DVD