John Brian King has just written and directed his first film, Redlands, a stylish horror filmed using only a static camera. John has worked as a title designer on almost 40 films -- including those of auteur Paul Thomas Anderson -- going back to 1996. Mr. King was kind enough to chat with INFLUX Magazine about Redlands.
by Nav Qateel
Nav Qateel: How did you get into the movie business?
John Brian King: I have a friend who is a successful screenwriter, and he suggested a few years ago we write a TV pilot for an idea I had about 1930s crime in Los Angeles. We wrote the pilot and sold it to Showtime, but they ultimately decided it was too expensive to film. I then wrote my first TV pilot by myself, a genre script about Armenian gangsters in Glendale; it got some notice from the talent agencies, and I eventually signed with UTA. But then I found myself in the never-ending clichéd loop of Hollywood nausea, which ended with me working on a horrible TV show called Cold Case. Sitting in the writers’ room with a bunch of overeducated asshats talking about their bratty kids and expensive houses, pitching ideas based on conservative notions of sentimentality and nostalgia, gave me the idea to make an independent film, something dark, personal and unflinchingly real. This became Redlands.
NQ: How did the idea come about and was it a personal project?
JBK:Redlands is not personal in the typical sense of the “indie” film – I hate the whole “my mumblecore-slacker life is so interesting” genre of filmmaking that is currently in fashion – but obviously it is my dark view of the current state of things in American culture.
The idea for Redlands began with me considering creativity – why do people want to be creative, how people need to explore creativity in their lives, and how frustrating and sad the whole process can be, especially for people who never really find an audience and are just looking for some kind of connection. I was also interested in one of the characters being somewhat successful – Zack, the musician – who was, on the surface, the most corrupt of the three major characters. And photography has always interested me – I majored in photography at CalArts – but I thought photographing nude models was too often a way for sexually repressed men to meet beautiful women, so I decided to explore that too, the latent misogyny of such men in the world today.
NQ: Was finding the funding and distribution problematic?
JBK: I decided from the beginning I didn’t need distribution – it might’ve been nice, but it wasn’t necessary, since I could screen Redlands on Vimeo on Demand and Amazon Instant Video without any middlemen. And I took what I considered to be my own personal blood money – the residuals from Cold Case – to finance Redlands. It seemed only right to take money from that experience to fund something that I wanted to do.
NQ: What prompted the static camera used in Redlands?
JBK: I wanted to make the film as real as possible, with as little “artistry” getting in the way of the story and the characters. I am, like many filmmakers, a student of film history – I was going to the Silent Theater on Fairfax when I was kid, decades before it became the execrable Cinefamily – and I wanted to go back to the beginning of film, before camera movement and film editing, when it was just a director and a few actors in an open-roof barn making films. Since I had a very low budget, and I knew that bad acting and bad sound often kill a low-budget film, I made sure to hire talented naturalistic actors and a very good sound team (production and post-production).
Film editing – cutting – has become, in my mind, a very male-centric way to impose the filmmaker’s testosterone onto film. Think Michael Bay, Zack Snyder, all the dudes who love to over-edit. I wanted the violence in Redlands to be on screen – in the pauses, the words, the actions – not in or behind the camera. And I wanted the audience to really sit with these characters in a radically voyeuristic way.
A conscious decision I made before filming was to move the placement of the static camera closer as the film progresses. Whether anyone notices isn’t important to me.
NQ: Who are your influences?
JBK: I have many influences, but for Redlands in particular I was influenced by the movies The Honeymoon Killers by Leonard Kastle, Bad Lieutenant by Abel Ferrara, Jeanne Dielman… by Chantal Akerman, The Merchant of Four Seasons by Rainer Fassbinder, and Paper Moon by Peter Bogdanovich.
NQ: Why horror; is this a genre you like to examine and did you consider others?
JBK: Horror, especially when it is psychologically real, is a wonderful way to explore the vagaries of life and culture. Obviously there are other ways to successfully explore such things – the black comedy of Dogtooth or the lush melodrama of All That Heaven Allows immediately come to mind – but, for me, interacting with other people, especially people who perceive themselves as creative, always makes me think of (and with) horror.
NQ: Could you tell us how you came to create the characters and of Allan and Vienna in particular; were they based on anyone?
JBK: I researched the character of Vienna by reading blogs and watching vlogs of amateur glamour models – Model Mayhem and YouTube in particular – and I hired a nude model through Model Mayhem for a photography session, which was very helpful. The character of Allan was psychologically based on two people I knew pretty well: my father and John Wayne Gacy.
NQ: How much effort went into the casting and how important was it to you?
JBK: The casting process was possibly the most important part of the process, besides the writing. I rented a theater and had three weeks of auditions with the valuable assistance of my co-producer Eva Richter and assistant director Nicolas Kokich. Just before filming we had a week of rehearsals, which helped tweak my writing and the actors’ performances. There was no improvisation on the set during filming; I was very strict about that.
NQ: The special effects were extremely realistic and I didn't notice any edits. Could you explain a little bit of how they were achieved?
JBK: There was no editing; it was a practical effect created by Jim Ojala, a very talented member of my crew. Also, I think one of the reasons it is realistic is because there is no editing to take you “out” of the scene. And I chose a camera position that perhaps makes the audience more complicit in the action.
NQ: If you could make any film you wanted, from say, a novel you’ve read for example, what would it be and why?
JBK: Last year I lived in Vienna, Austria, for five months, where I finished a screenplay called Dream Story, which is about an American tourist who slowly loses her mind in Vienna. I would love to make it into a film, but it is a bit more expensive than Redlands and would undoubtedly require outside financing.
NQ: What’s next for you?
JBK: I am currently writing a novel about the intellectual and emotional malaise of hipsters. Considering the current state of cinema and my place in it, I will probably not make another film.
NQ: Thank you, John Brian King.
Read the review for Redlandshere.
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