Blood, Sweat and Drool: A Conversation with Director Jeremiah Kipp

When Shock Totem put out a call for filmmakers who’d like to have their work featured on the site, I bet that they didn’t expect to get anyone near as accomplished as Jeremiah Kipp.

Kipp, a short film writer/director, meshes art film heft and horror film content with a polish and style all his own. The combination seems to be working out for him as his work has been featured in festivals and garnered numerous awards.

Jeremiah sent us three films and was kind enough to sit down with me for some questions. Check out the films embedded below (WARNING: NSFW content) and then read on for our conversation.

Adam Cesare: The three films you sent to Shock Totem all share elements of genre films, but I wouldn’t call any of them genre. Are you a fan of the horror genre? How would you classify your work?

Jeremiah Kipp: I love horror movies and have found it to be a wonderfully flexible genre. What’s interesting to me is when Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, they called it a romance, but not in the Hallmark sense of the word. Romance at that time meant it has sweeping elements of the fantastic. And how would you classify a movie like Don’t Look Now, the intensely dark story of a couple in Venice haunted by the death of their child and perhaps communicating with her beyond the grave? It feels like a drama and yet has a sense of tension and terror. I would call it a horror movie. I feel like the films I’m making might fall into that category. I’d be proud to have them called horror films, but am content if people find them to be beautiful and macabre.

AC: Even between the three films you sent us, there seems to be shared themes (strained relationships, abuse, estrangement, etc.) do you see these thematic elements stretching across your entire body of work? Why or why not?

JK: We can’t escape who we are.

AC: Drool is by far the most impressionistic and surreal of the group, could you talk a bit about its production and inception? It’s listed on your website as a collaboration with the Mandragoras Project. Was there any filmmaker or artist who inspired that?

JK: That movie started from scratch. An art space called Mandragoras is coordinated by an actress named Laura Lona, and she was looking to produce some video work in the vein of Antonin Artaud’s “Theater of Cruelty.” I proposed to her this very strange project about a man and a woman, and this strange science fiction subject that they both needed. Laura responded immediately to the idea, and enlisted cinematographer Salinoch and actor Brian Uhrich. The film was collaborative, which we figured out together. The themes were birth, addiction, relationships, and the performers always had a sense of what their character wanted, or was trying to achieve. It was all very specific. I also credit the editor, Scott W. Perry, for helping the finished product find its form.

AC: In Contact you have a character’s descent to hell which moves towards what looks like it may be a conventional “happy” ending, only to cast that into doubt in the final seconds and in Crestfallen you end on an image of hope. Which do you prefer as a filmmaker/audience member? What do you find yourself drawn to when looking for material (Contact is credited as being based on a short story while Crestfallen is you working from Russell Penning’s script)?

JK: Contact began with an image that haunted me. Edvard Munch’s painting “The Kiss” shows too lovers whose faces seem to be fusing together; and the film uses that notion at its peak moment, in a fleshy body horror sort of way. Everything else in the movie builds up to that sequence. And you want to see how that moment lingers with our characters afterwards. Contact was inspired by a short film I directed called The Pod, written by the enormously talented Carl Kelsch. But I wanted to push it further, strip away all the constitutive elements of a movie (plot, character, dialogue, even color) to see if, when complete, what we were left with was something closer to pure cinema.

As for Crestfallen, Russ Penning had seen Contact and shared a few of his scripts with me. This one felt the most personal, and as it turns out it was directly inspired by Russ’s life. We changed the gender of the main character to distance it from him somewhat. The ending of that was originally quite bleak and despairing, something I’m not shy about, but it felt like we were making a story that was an affirmation of life. The optimistic ending was something we discovered through making of the movie; the film tells you what it needs to be.

AC: Your work has received acclaim from both news outlets and other directors (Paul Solet and Frank Hennenlotter!) What’s next for Jeremiah Kipp? Shorts or features? Where is production on The Sadist?

JK: The Sadist is a painful subject because I directed that movie back in 2009. The producers hired me after they viewed Contact and we had a rigorous shoot. They were very young, just out of undergraduate school, and had never made a movie before. The cast and crew, mostly my people from New York, did not get on with the producers at all, but we got through it. During post-production, my editor and I finished a rough assembly, which as any serious filmmaker knows is the most vulnerable stage of the process. The producers got scared and fired us and proceeded to finish the film themselves with their own reshoots and bringing in their own post-production people, which they have been doing for the past three years. I am as curious as you are how it will all turn out.

I’ve moved on from that, determined now to only work with people I trust. Since then we’ve made several short films, and the two running the festival circuit now are The Days God Slept, a weird little movie with a dynamic score by Harry Manfredini (Friday the 13th) set in a phantasmagoric strip club and Baggage (written, produced by and starring Rob Dimension), a day-in-the-life story that veers into grand guignol. The star of The Days God Slept (Lauren Fox, from Darren Aronofsky’s PI) hired me direct an intense feature film for her in 2014, so everything seems to be going in the right direction.

AC: It seems to me like there’s a whole vibrant subculture of indie film on streaming sites like Vimeo. In your experience has the internet helped or hurt the indie film (and especially short indie film) community? I’m thinking specifically of the accessibility here, films that used to only play festivals are now circumventing that process entirely.

JK: The internet allows the possibility of a wider audience, and the films are not created to exist in a vacuum. We’d love these projects to be seen by as many as possible. That said, film festivals also create a sense of community. There’s something to be said for sharing a movie with a room full of people, and seeing other films and filmmakers. The internet has not hurt indie filmmaking; it’s created a new platform. If there’s a new subculture emerging, let’s embrace it.

AC: Although everyone at ST has a strong interest in film, we are a literary magazine, so I gotta ask: what authors have inspired your work? Who are you reading now?

JK: I am an avid reader, and just finished a collection of short stories by James Baldwin called Going to Meet the Man. The title story is more horrific than any genre film; it’s about a deputy sheriff trying to have sex with his wife but it’s just not working, then as he tries to sleep he flashes back to a childhood memory of a racial crime his father took part in, and the twisted part of the story is it turns into a kind of sexual euphoria for him and he thinks he can, in a way, reclaim his manhood. Baldwin was a sensitive and provocative writer who had a great gift with words. Other recent books include Dostoevski’s The Gambler, which is a vampiric tale of addiction and self-destruction, and Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame De Paris, which captures some wonderfully vivid moments in the love-damaged lives of Quasimodo, Esmerelda and Dom Frollo, and a stunning battle sequence when the army of thieves lay siege upon the tower.

I draw tremendous inspiration from books, but also paintings, music, photography. Before going out on a recent shoot, I looked at some Mark Rothko paintings and listened to Nick Cave’s most recent album. Life is so intensely difficult at times, and the arts enable us to cope.

AC: Big thanks to Jeremiah Kipp for his films and his answers. We’ll be keeping an eye out for more of his work. You can find him online at: www.kippfilms.com

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