to read more about Kelsey's current brilliant film Words
Like Knives - this is part two of the (not so) little interview on
Let's start at the beginning of your career:
As far as I know, you actually studied screenwriting at university - so
what can you tell us about your training?
I was a Digital Cinema major with a concentration in
Screenwriting at DePaul University in Chicago. Writing, Film Studies and
Criticism, were my focus, but I had plenty of classes in more technical
aspects of sound and editing to producing, giving me a well-balanced
education within film, although writing and more content-based creative
material is where my home clearly is. I had one screenwriting teacher in
particular that was a breath of fresh air. There are a lot of film schools
and books that rely on a certain format or structure. Sure, itís
important to be aware of these things, but I really appreciated that this
teacher encouraged us to think of the most obscure or unique script ideas
we could. Everyone came up with such different ideas, tones, and styles
within the same assignment, which showed we really all had our own voice.
There are so many things re-used, watered down, and done over and over
again within the same, unimaginative format in Hollywood. Especially as
emerging talent, itís essential that we have our own inspiration, spark,
and creativity to dare to do something different.
DePaul is probably the most liberal and progressive Catholic
university out there, based on some of the classes I took and the fact
that I always wrote very brutal yet intriguing horror scripts. Some of my
classes included Vampire (screenwriting) class and Cult Cinema class. I
was reading early Victorian gothic literature of the vampire myth first
coming into existence and how it reflected on the religious fears of the
time. I learned how many different cycles it had gone through as it was
constantly re-invented, watched everything from Nosferatu to the
sexualized Hammer vampire films to
True Blood as a metaphor for gay rights
(which is up for debate). I have watched and/or read so many different
vampire stories, with completely different strengths, weaknesses, and
rules, in completely different realities. I still strive to create my own,
unique perception of vampires and supernatural creatures.
Iíve always been more in
the counter culture and inspired and passionate about darker material. I
even wrote a research paper in the Cult Cinema class about the
rape/revenge sub-genre as an overlooked meaningful examination of horrors
humankind can commit given social pressures. Soon after college, this
encouraged me to write a feature-length rape/revenge screenplay, heavily
inspired by films like I Spit on Your
Grave, that was both an example of
what this wrongly judged sub-genre was capable of while also serving as a
way of portraying some of the horrible traits I had seen in others and
having a sense of justice as a writer and say that you donít have in
What can you tell us about your
passion for writing, and how would you describe yourself as a writer?
Writing is really just who I am. I really think and operate like
a writer. Naturally, Iím a person who is always thinking, my mind really
never shuts up! I like to think things out fully and write in a colorful
and descriptive way to really engage readers, almost as if sharing in a
second hand experience; that they can experience something through my
writing as if theyíre a part of it.
Iím so passionate about film, which my life really revolves
around. At first, when I was about 14 and started writing movie reviews
and a few years later when I started writing screenplays, writing was a
way to share and almost have a release for that love, spark, and intrigue
the cinema has always had in me. I was lucky enough to find a community of
aspiring film critics that I could share, interact with, and feel
My style of writing varies
based on the type of writing it is. As a film journalist, Iím extremely
thorough, looking at all angles, trying to give credit where credit is
due. Even with a really bad film, I try to find potential or something
positive. Iím just a lover of film and I know how hard it is to make a
film so I tend to be a positive and fair critic, compared to most anyway.
As a screenwriter, my style is disturbing, surreal, intense both through
brutality and the emotions and levels characters are pushed to, but also
very heavy on themes. The themes or exploration is the reason Iím
writing the script in the first place and why Iím passionate about what
I write. Thatís the entire point, everything else is just a creative way
of approaching and bringing out these things.
got you into acting eventually, and did you take any classes and the like?
And would you like to talk about some of the films you acted in?
I first started acting when I was about 10. It was through a school
production and I just fell in love with the stage and that form of
storytelling. I took a lot of acting classes and camps for years. It was
kind of my gateway drug into the arts as prior to this I was more into
sports and was definitely a tomboy. From there on, the arts and creative
expression were pretty much all I had an interest in. Around high school,
I veered away from acting and concentrated my efforts more on writing. I
acted in a number of shorts in film school, but it really wasnít until
after graduation that I re-visited the idea of pursuing acting again. A
huge part of that was crime writer/director, Kevin Jamison, who I was in
contact with after reviewing his gritty short, Serial: Amoral
Uprising. He shortly after offered me a role in one of his upcoming
films, which then made me look more aggressively for roles. From there I
got involved with an absolutely amazing independent horror community
around the Chicago area. I was able to get involved with some great
projects and people, which also garnered more interest for my scripts.
far as I know, the first film you scripted was What
They Say, based on a story by that movie's lead Heather Dorff [Heather
Dorff interview - click here]. So what can you tell us about that
movie, and your collaboration with Heather?
Heather is one of my closest friends and one of the most talented,
hard-working people I know. She wrote a dark, depressing, but
incredible 1 page short story, which What
They Say was based off of. Like
myself, she had met a great deal of really talented people working on
films in the area, and wanted to have an outstanding film in every way
with all of the cast and crew just as remarkable as the film. Heather
asked me to adapt the screenplay from her short story. I worked very
closely to her to understand every aspect of what she wanted to portray in
the film, even visually to create this surreal and haunting story. There
were definite challenges, especially since the main character (played be
Heather) barely says one word out loud during the entire short. Sheís
very solitary, dealing with this constant torment that everyone around her
is completely blind to, caught in their own superficial and self-absorbed
We had to tell her story with her having little interaction with
any of the other characters. Even the script had to be very visual and
dynamic using very colorful and beautiful language to depict the mindset
of our character who was so alone, but could still find beauty in getting
release from her pain. That being said itís really not your typical
cutter story. Thereís something completely possessing, draining the
fight in her every time that razor drains another drop of blood from her
arteries, which is ironically her only moments of peace.
far as I know, you have also written a few segments of and star in the
upcoming Scream Queen Campfire - you just have to talk about that
movie for a bit!
Yes, I wrote three of the segments actually, hitting on different styles
and tones within the horror genre. My segments included, Scream Queen
Bloodbath, Wrong Number, and Night School. Night School is probably the
one I am most proud of. Especially with shorts and tackling a horror
anthology I think itís really important to portray different tales of
horror and to do something new with a monster that has had so many
variations and interpretations. Night School feels like a fun, witty film
with classic vampire characters and villains. However, it goes in a very
different turn and explores something entirely different. With all of the
vampire stories I have consumed over the years, itís a turn that I have
never seen before.
Any other future projects of yours
you'd like to talk about?
Itís more of less in the development stage now, but The
Hazed is a psychological slasher film I wrote and will be starring in.
Itís another very brutal, surreal tale about someoneís past coming
back to haunt them. It centers on very cruel pranks, which turn to
eventual torture, in a sorority who use hazing to get revenge on our main
character. Iíve never understood why anyone would put themselves through
something like that for acceptance, ďsisterhoodĒ, or even career
connections. In the case of the main character itís her way of proving
that sheís not afraid and is willing to take whatever torment she has to
in order to put one mistake in her past where she would like to keep it.
There are still so many engaging yet inconceivable mindsets involved such
as once you go through this type of torment, being demeaned as a person,
and many are physically and mentally damaged (if not killed, which has
happened more than you would think), how could you do this to another
person? Is it the only release? The only way to feel like you are no
longer the victim to have the illusion of control? Either way, itís a
horrendous cycle that continues, scarring all along the way. Weíre
currently exploring the best options in how to go about funding before we
move forward, but there is a teaser trailer and posters for the film which
were shot last June to be released soon.
There are a few other
projects in the works, but theyíre in earlier stages right now so itís
better not to discuss. I will make sure to keep everyone up to date when
things are closer to production!
One can't help but
notice many of your films are of the horror variety - coincidence, or is
horror a genre especially dear to you, and why (not)?
That certainly would be quite the coincidence! With my light skin
and darker features, I suppose it would be possible since with looks alone
Iím a good fit for a number of character types in horror films, but no,
itís an active pursuit of all things horror. I first got involved with
acting and films due to my involvement with horror through writing for
horror websites. It is something I have immense passion for and look
forward to exploring in many ways.
I think you can get a sense of my passion and desire towards
horror. Itís a horribly misjudged and looked down upon genre, and yet, I
understand why it is. There is a lot of crap out there and majority of it
is Hollywood remakes or just flat material that they think will make
money. So if thatís whatís in the mainstream of course most people are
going to think thatís all horror is capable of. Boy are they wrong
though! I think thereís just so much more creativity in depicting
something ugly, uncomfortable, or dark within horror, even if it is an
extreme example of what you are trying to portray. You can either make a
point of the evils or injustices within our world or you can take charge
and make your own brand of justice through the medium. Honestly, the
possibilities are endless and I find it more effective and inspiring than
a more straight forward drama for example. Iím a little more centered on
horror as a writer. I want to create different tones, styles, and
realities (although often blurred with fiction or fantasy), but to mostly
stay within the horror realm. As an actor, Iím more eager to dabble in
different genres, characters, and stories, although a strong female
character in a horror script will often be my first choice.
Besides acting, you have also done a bit of modeling,
right? So what can you tell us about Kelsey Zukowski, the model, and how
does this compare to acting?
I first got in to modeling due to being an actor and simply needing as
many images and looks of myself as possible. Modeling is kind of like
capturing all the emotion and story that you would in acting, in a series
of snap shots. Generally, I am very particular about modeling shoots. The
modeling I have interest in is very creative, atmospheric, and tonally
artistic. Anything revolving around fantasy, twists on material such as
films I admire or dark twists on fairy tales or supernatural creatures,
definitely intrigue me. I also am interested in shoots that can capture
emotions, intrigue, and beauty - not so much a fan of modeling that
doesnít have substance to it.
Somewhere I've read
that you made it a point to review every episode of the TV series The
Vampire Diaries - what do you find so appealing about the series,
and what can you tell us about your background as a film/TV reviewer?
You are correct! Oh wow, you just really want me to go on and on,
making this the interview that never ends, donít you? Haha. I have very
strong feelings about this show and quite honestly I already have most of
the written material to write a book on it since I have written about it
so much! I also read and reviewed all of the books before the show aired.
I quickly fell in love with the show, even more so than the book series.
In my opinion, The
Vampire Diaries is the best written and best
acted television show on now. The writers are always 5 steps ahead,
constantly weaving this complicated, deceiving, alluring, and always
shocking web of what happens for these characters and the town of Mystic
Falls. At the same time there is so much human emotion at hand that makes
you feel so much for these characters. Damon Salvatore simply oozes with
passion, loyalty, and sincerity-especially towards Elena Gilbert. He is
really my ideal vampire, conniving, impossible to resist, and really
embraces his blood-thirsty, powerful nature. Even Stefan, who was intended
to be the ďgoodĒ vampire at first has gone through so many interesting
stages, pushing his character to levels that you never would have thought
he was capable of. Really, all of the characters are like this. They are
interesting and layered, but as time goes on, they are affected by things
and are developed so completely itís nearly as shocking as some of the
plot twists. Elena has really grown in to a strong, fiercely protective
character, and with her becoming a vampire this season, she has realized
these things and is at her best. Iím so invested in Damon and Elenaís
happiness and passion through one another, which can be both an
aggravation, when they like to yank you back and forth, and a completely
blissful thing to experience through them.
Kelsey with Ron Fitzgerald in
Afraid of Sunrise
Klaus is another wonderful example of the killer characters on
the show. He really stepped up when Damon became less of a villain and
more of a rough around the edges character. Klaus is selfish, power hungry
(and heís already the first and most powerful vampire/werewolf hybrid in
the history of vampires), yet wickedly charming, incredibly smart, and
finds endless glee in the suffering of others and his own superiority. All
of his negative, evil qualities really make him all the more alluring as
strange as that might sound. Even with his crush on Elenaís sassy,
sensitive, and strong vampire friend, Caroline, I find myself endlessly
rooting for him. I donít even know what his intentions are, whether they
are pure and thereís something in Caroline that speaks to him, or
whether his intentions are malicious. I love Carolineís character
(except for when sheís being judgmental of Elena and Damonís
relationship - then I canít stand her!), but I kind of donít care what
Klausí intentions are because he is just so damn engaging and alluring,
I know thereís always going to be dark yet intriguing material with him.
In a way heís hard to read so you never know what he might be capable
of. Then of course thereís the rest of the original family (the family
of the first vampires ever created - Klausí brothers and sister). His
sister, Rebekah along with Klaus are two of my favorite vampire
characters, especially in TV or film. Rebekah is fiercely loyal, but she
is forced to come to the realization that no one has treated her with
enough care or respect to be worthy of this loyalty. She has very strong
emotions whether through hate and revenge or love and insecurities.
Rebekah is a powerful vampire that enjoys toying with others and embraces
being a blood thirsty beast, but when it comes down to it she just wants
to be loved, appreciated, and to experience the human life she was
Kelsey in Monster Mash
I really appreciate that the
series stays true to the book and characters, but it is its own entity.
Most of the storylines are unique to the show. So even for fans you still
never know whatís coming next or the direction they might go. A good
number of main characters have been killed off. I donít think they would
kill any of the main three, but in a way no one is really safe or off
limits. They are constantly dealing with age old curses, dealing with
damaging dark magic, fatal creatures that can easily end their supposed
immortal existence, and so many deathly people and situations that not
only might wipe out them and who they love most, but further destruction
from there. The story is constantly moving, pulling at your emotions and
investment in this world in nearly every way. Even if you have no interest
in vampires, drama series, or you donít think this is your thing,
incredible writing and out of this world development and realizations of
characters in such stellar storytelling should be everyoneís thing.
other talents of yours you want to talk about?
Well letís see we covered acting, modeling, screenwriting, film
reviewing, film in general, artistic goals and projects, horror,
vampiresÖ yeah I think we pretty much covered everything! My life really
revolves around film as a fan, writer, actor, etc. Itís both work and
play for me.
Writers, actors, filmmakers, whatever
else who inspire you?
Iím heavily inspired by Wes Craven. A
Nightmare on Elm Street is one of my favorite films. He took away the safety net of it being
ďjust a dreamĒ. Craven created a world that didnít seem real and
therefore there was no hope for outside help in this realm where victims
had no control and Freddy was a complete master. I also admire Nancy for
being such a strong female character compared to most who were being
portrayed in slasher films at the time. The fascination with survival and
fighting through outsmarting a very psychological monster, is very
interesting to me as well. A lot of Cravenís most horrifying and
all-consuming villains are most terrifying because they haunt through the
mind such as in Serpent in the Rainbow, mentally tormenting his victims
after zombifying them. Craven has created so many cases of encompassing
terror and villains that are larger than life and completely vicious.
He uses the sphere of horror to explore fear, blur the lines
of fiction and reality, and dive in to the darkness of humanity and
society. From hearing about my
films and what I set out to create, I think you can see the similarities.
In relation to my
writing and emergence in to film, Roger Ebert was one of the largest
inspirations to me. I respect that he is much more open and receptive to
films more so than the average mainstream critics, many who only like a
very certain type of film that they think they should like. Ebert judges
every movie for what it is and the experience that film gave him upon
watching. What I really love about Ebert is how vivid and powerful his
writing is. He really makes you feel like you experienced that film with
him for better or worse. You understand it in a sense and have dived into
his perspective with a likeminded and brilliant film fan. His reviews
really inspired me to write my own reviews, to take a closer look at
movies and the emotions they sparked in me. Heís a major reason why I
become more passionate about film and become more and more involved in a
number of ways. Iím really blown away by him considering all of the
sickness and pain he has battled over the past few years, yet he still had
the drive, love, and need for film to keep on watching and writing about
them. That is completely shocking and beautiful to me and shows what a
strong person he is and how deeply a part of him being a film critic is to
him. Completely breathtaking.
Your favourite movies?
A Nightmare on
Elm Street - surprise, surprise. I could go on about
all the things I love about this film, but I think I have hit on most of
the elements. Enticing villain, encompassing surreal horror, strong
characters, and a vision in horror that will live on forever.
My other favorite is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Both
films as a collective, but especially Part I. Iím a massive Harry Potter
fan. I grew up with the books and films. I was 12 when the first film came
out and Iím the same age as the actors. As I grew with the characters, I
grew with this world which became increasingly darker and more adult. I
love exciting, fantasy worlds. I especially enjoy those that offer a
magical, whimsical escape, but also are relevant to the world we live in
and things we are have to deal with at some point in our lives.
Deathly Hallows is not the
fun, magical, anything is possible, we can defy the odds, Harry Potter
film. Itís grim, bleak, incredibly depressing, showing all of the light
being closed up by the overwhelming darkness. They run out of their luck
and are faced against the torture, brainwashing, and eventual destruction
of both the magic and muggle worlds if they donít succeed, Harry and his
friends are the last chance for the world. Everything is total anarchy;
fear is flooding through, and hate and death is all that seems to prevail.
All hope is lost, yet giving up is not an option. There is nothing left to
do but keep on trying and fighting no matter the consequences or the cost.
That is one of the most inspirational things I can think of. Like anyone,
I have gone through difficulties and hard times in my life. This film is
one of my go to movies to both indulge in its darkness and relate to their
struggle while also reminding myself giving up is never an option. Also,
it makes life look pretty easy in comparison to what theyíre dealing
... and of course, films you really deplore?
There are plenty of films I have hated, but the types of films
that frustrate or anger me the most are those that are just pointless or
lacking any substance. Now some films can just be entertaining and that is
perfectly fine, but Iím talking more about films that have potential and
just donít do anything with it. The Human Centipede comes to mind.
I was intrigued by it and interested to see what could have been done. The
answer is a lot, but there was no exploration of the villain, why he was
doing this, or any reason to the madness at all. There was room for
interesting exploration and themes there, but thatís not what it was
about. Iím actually very enraged by the film and think itís an insult
to art and artists, especially considering it was a recent success story
of horror that blew up in pop culture. That is just a shame considering
how many more deserving gems are out there.
Feeling lucky ?
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The links below
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Iím not too fond of found
footage films or horror films that rely on jump scares or random loud
noises to shock the audience rather than building authentic suspense for
example. I enjoy every genre, but itís going to take a lot more than
some explosions or car chase scenes to impress me in an action film, it
needs to stand out or be dynamic. How much I can invest in a character,
how well a story is told, and if any themes resonate with me are the most
important factors in whether I enjoy a movie or not. Falling drastically
short on any or all of those areas can definitely make me dislike a film.
Your website, Facebook, whatever
My website: http://kelseyzukowski.com
My IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3857479/?ref_=tt_ov_wr
Words Like Knives IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2624690/
My Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/kelsey.zukowski
Words Like Knives Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/RumorsCanKill
Anything else you are dying to mention and I have merely
forgotten to ask?
I believe you have
covered it all! Thank you for your interest in Words
taking the time to interview me. I enjoyed contemplating the world of
horror, film, and intriguing exploration with you!
Thanks for the interview!