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An Interview with Nicholas Kleban, Director of The Kingdom of Var

by Mike Haberfelner

January 2020

Films directed by Nicholas Kleban on (re)Search my Trash


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Your new movie The Kingdom of Var - in a few words, what is it about?


The Kingdom of Var is about a skeptical college student who watches a film allegedly made in the 1500's featuring a sorcerer performing a weird ritual. After dismissing this, she releases the spirit of the sorcerer, who proceeds to attack her at every turn. The film is an exploration of the theme of belief and how Sonja goes from a skeptic to a believer in the supernatural through the events of the film. It also explores other things, like abusive relationships, and in some ways is almost like an epitaph for the VHS format, but belief is the main concept.


The Kingdom of Var features a very complex mythology at its core - is this based on any existing mythology or is it made up out of thin air?


The Kingdom of Var is a completely original story not based on any pre-existing material. It was primarily influenced by a dream I had where I saw a movie from the 1500's, which looked  almost identical to the one in the movie.


(Other) sources of inspiration when writing The Kingdom of Var?


Primarily the movie The Ring. I never cared for the film much, Naomi Watts is good but otherwise it's just another lame Hollywood remake, and I didn't see any of the Japanese films. But I loved the idea of a haunted movie, where you watch it and the ghosts haunt you or curse you as a result. Someone also told me the film reminded them of Carnival of Souls, which may have been an unconscious influence. I also think the work of Philip K. Dick was a big inspiration for the story.


Do talk about your movie's approach to horror for a bit!


With this film, I sort of wanted to create a synthesis between psychological horror and a schlocky exploitation movie. Sort of like how The Shining is a synthesis between supernatural horror and a slasher movie.


What can you tell us about the effects-work in your movie?


Some of it is great, like the throat-slitting, or the woman peeling her own face off. Some of it is kind of cheesy, like the massacre scene at the end, where you can kind of tell they're not really stabbling themselves, just sticking the knife beside themselves and I'm trying to hide it with camera angles, and there's no blood either. I wanted the film to be gorier than Peter Jackson's Braindead. That was my fault, though, the FX artists did a great job.


A few words about your directorial approach to the story at hand?


The film was made with a painfully low budget, but I storyboarded the entire thing and knew all the shots, and we used mostly natural lighting with one LED kick light, so we were able to move pretty fast, and I never do more than a few takes anyways. I don't understand directors who do 20, 30, 40 takes of every shot, it seems to me all the energy is in the first few takes, since the scenes are continually fresh and new. It's like they think they're directing a play and have to rehearse everything 100 times so the actors don't blow their lines. This is the primary reason why you have film shoots which go on for 20 hours a day. On this film we almost never went over ten hours a day. I never improvise anything either, the only ad-libbed scene in the film is the scene on the balcony with Madison Graves and Vida Zukauskas.


Do talk about your key cast, and why exactly these people?


I cast Vida Zukauskas because she reminded me of Shelley Duvall from The Shining. I think she exudes the kind of nervousness and anxiousness I wanted the character to have. Sarah Swerid was the first actress cast, and I think her performance is very strong. My favourite performances in the film are those of Mark Brombacher, Madison Graves, and Matt Sears, who I think are brilliant. I think everyone in the cast is great and enjoyed working with them very much.


What can you tell us about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?


The shoot lasted 13 days - my lucky number - ten days of principal photography and three pickup and reshoot days, the latter of which were spread out over an entire year. I had a surprisingly difficult time getting the film up to 80 minutes. The on-set atmosphere, for the most part, was very relaxed and jovial.


The $64-question of course, where can your movie be seen?


I'm in talks with a distributor, I can't say any more than that at the moment. What I CAN say is that the film was rejected from the Blood in the Snow Film Festival in Toronto, Canada. It did also have a theatrical screening last year.


Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of The Kingdom of Var?


Not many people have seen it, but those who have seem to really like it.


Any future projects you'd like to share?


I want to make a drama for my next film, sort of like the movie Once Were Warriors. I just want to make the one, though, all my other movie ideas are horror and sci-fi related. I prefer making fantasies, not gritty realistic dramas, but I want to tell this one story. Otherwise I have like ten other ideas going at any time.


What got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?


I saw Pee-Wee's Big Adventure when I was four and it scared the living hell out of me, so from then on I've been interested in movies. I attended film school at Confederation College in Thunder Bay, where I made several shorts on 16mm. I never liked school and just did it to get my parents off my back, but it was a good experience nonetheless. I've done practically everything you can do on a film set - director, producer, writer, actor, cinematographer, production assistant, set dresser, art director, grip, camera assistant, driver - basically everything except sound. But now I just want to focus on writing and directing. Films generally are all made the same way, so once you've worked on three or four sets, you got it.


What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to The Kingdom of Var?


Outside of my film school stuff, I made two independent short films prior to The Kingdom of Var in 2016, respectively titled Polydoris and Cordelia and Trapezohedron. Polydoris and Cordelia is about a novelist who moves into a haunted house, and it contains what I'm most proud of in my directing career thus far: a farting sandwich. Trapezohedron is about a woman who watches a film of her getting murdered, but she sees it after chasing anti-psychotic pills with vodka, so who knows what's really happening? While The Kingdom of Var was in post-production, I directed another short called Dana about a cannibalistic serial killer played by John Migliore [John Migliore interview - click here]. When the film was screened at a festival in Toronto, someone in the audience gagged. I recently completed another short called The Star Light Motel which is coming out soon, and am also working on an action short with an actress named Cassidy Civiero.


How would you describe yourself as a director?




Filmmakers who inspire you?


Kubrick, Scorsese, Coppola, Bunuel, Fassbinder, Raoul Walsh, Billy Wilder, Hitchcock, Michael Curtiz, Brian De Palma in the 1970's.


Your favourite movies?


The Godfather, Goodfellas, The Shining, Aliens, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Wild Strawberries, American Movie, Bonnie and Clyde. As far as horror goes, The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Carrie.


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


The two worst movies ever made are Troll 2 and Mac and Me. Plan 9 From Outer Space is a technical abomination, but plot-wise it's just the usual alien invasion nonsense. Troll 2 and Mac and Me, on the other hand, are punishingly bad films. The negatives for those movies are far more demonic than the haunted video in The Kingdom of Var. I also can't stand the infantile Problem Child movies, or the severely awful Clifford with Martin Short. Generally, though, if a movie is no good I'll just shut it off, and I'm not a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 either.


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Thanks for the interview!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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Thanks for watching !!!



Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner


Out now from




On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD