For almost two decades, NYC-based filmmaker Jeremiah Kipp has made a name for himself as a creator of bold and uncompromising experimental narratives. With a vision focused on character-driven story arcs that reflect the darker side of human nature, Kipp’s brand of everyman horror subtly transcends the fine line between genre and non-genre films. I sat down with him to discuss Body Horror, Poe & how he finally made a film his grandmother can watch.
WIPCO: One thing that strikes me about your recent works is that they’re all very psychological in nature. Would you say that is your genre of choice?
KIPP: I’m drawn to character-driven stories, and horror pushes us to our extreme feelings. Humans behave in complicated and messy ways when we’re in love or scared. So yeah, I’m probably motivated by psychological horror. But I’m also afraid of how the mind and body fall apart and what that does to us when we’re exposed.
WIPCO: The Minions, Berenice and Alone have a theatrical aesthetic both in dialogue and cinematography. In what ways has the theater inspired your work?
Many of my great heroes come from the theater. The experiments of Peter Brook, the body work of Jerzy Grotowski, the hazing poetry of Sam Shepard, the tension of Krystian Lupa, the madness of Artaud, the visuals of Ivo van Hove…It’s a profound experience to be in the theater and have that shared moment in time. I also love actors and how much they contribute to our storytelling.
WIPCO: As for literary influences, Edgar Allen Poe is an obvious inspiration; particularly in your adaptation of the short story, Berenice. What drew you to his work?
Poe is a doomed romantic who felt like the death of a beautiful woman was “the most poetical topic in the world”…brilliant, perverse, fascinated by the wondrous and macabre. My kind of guy!
WIPCO: How did you merge his writing (style) and your own interpretation as a filmmaker in Berenice and Alone?
Alone was a direct expression of the poem to the viewer, so we had our actor Adam Ginsberg speaking directly into the lens. Poe’s work often feels like a fever driving towards one peak moment, so Ginsberg gave an emotionally open performance meant to draw the audience in, to share with them. Alone is a pure, expressive piece of writing, and Ginsberg brought his soul into the work. Our goal was to capture that and support it with expressionistic visuals. We all loved the poem and wanted to vividly bring it to the new medium, with great enthusiasm.
Berenice was all about driving to the brutal climax, which achieved a lot of notoriety for Poe when he wrote it.
We modernized both stories because I feel like Poe is our contemporary. A timeless writer.
The visual style of Berenice was all about suppression. Keeping the lid on the obsessive cruelties. After “The Minions”, which was immediate and handheld on the streets of Brooklyn, followed by the aggressive sweeping, pushing and pulling shots of “Painkiller”, I wanted a tale of terror told with maximum restraint.
WIPCO: How did you explore the Body Horror genre in Painkiller?
The script was written by Jerry Janda (his first) and was inspired by the struggle to wean himself off of painkiller medication after an injury. While he wasn’t an addict, he got a taste of the body fighting against him, hungry to consume. When the body revolts against us, we are faced with a horror. Our movie “Painkiller” pushes that notion to the limit. That’s a freaky and unnerving place, but also hopefully one we recognize. Scary movies are great metaphors, and David Cronenberg’s body horror movies are some of the best examples of that.
It’s easier to comprehend a man turning into a giant fly than it is to watch a loved one die of AIDS or cancer. The movie allows for us to understand our feelings in a cathartic way.
Divorce in movies is shown through films like E.T. or The Brood. Divorce or breaking up feels like we are getting ripped apart. Films take those feelings and make them literal. It’s a powerful and transformative medium.
WIPCO: Can you tell us about the sexual fetishization of pain that is referenced in the film?
There are many ways people connect, sometimes through pleasure and sometimes through pain, or a blurred line between both. I think of Painkiller as a demented love story with a happy ending…for some of the characters anyway.
WIPCO: What are the challenges of indie filmmaking? Pros? Cons?
The sense of community and support in the indie community is a pro. Being a starving artist can be a genuine struggle, so not having money is a con. But lack of cash can also force you to use creative muscles you never knew you had. The results can be quite original.
WIPCO: Were the special effects in Painkiller challenging to pull off?
Yes but not just because of our low budget. There were uncomfortable confrontations on set between the camera department and our special effects designer (Daniel J. Mazikowski) about how to best represent the parasite. Those arguments led to a lot of creative disagreements on set. It got ugly. But they say the making of the movie is the movie, and often the themes get mirrored on set. Ultimately, the end result is a movie we are proud of and stand behind. And those discomforts led to some inspired work. When the parasite gets inserted, the audience has a big response.
WIPCO: Besides filmmaking and writing, what other aspects of the film process are you involved in?
I used to be a film critic, which allowed me to see a lot of movies. That was a fun gig, but right now I’m more into creating projects than reviewing them. That said, criticism is a strong art form and very much a part of the entire process.
As a director, you interact with every department from picture to sound to editing to music.
The director is the person who helps everybody.
I enjoy the work with all my diverse colleagues.
WIPCO: Do you create films outside of the Horror genre?
I’m in post-production now on a non-genre film called Sound/Vision. It’s about how music can bring us together across cultural divides. It’s a non-horror film about a pensive friendship.
The producer describes the tone as being like that great movie The King’s Speech.
Finally, I’m making a movie my grandmother can watch.
There are some other movies coming down the pipeline but those are the most immediate.
WIPCO: Are you working on any other projects?
The other project is halfway through principal photography, a gritty and brutal genre film called Theresa & Allison.
Update: Pickup – 15 minute short starring Jim True-Frost from HBO’s “The Wire”, written by Broadway playwright Jessica Blank (“The Exonerated”).
WIPCO: Favorite visionaries at the moment (filmmakers, writers, etc.)?
There were some good movies last year. The Wooster Group did a reconstruction of Spalding Gray’s haunting autobiographical play Rumstick Road, which I think they’re selling on their Web site. I also vividly enjoyed Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin and Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive.
There are indie filmmakers whose work I follow, and I recently enjoyed screening The Minions before Joe Stauffer’s uncompromising low budget gem Pieces of Talent. That’s definitely one to seek out. He’s a director who marches to the beat of his own drummer. Some people don’t like to compromise, who make work that is daring and sincere. Those are the kinds of creative people I admire.