Interview: David Kittredge (4/27/2011)

[Ryan] Was there a particular film that made you think, “I want to make movies”?

[David Kittredge] Oh God… there were a lot of them.  Gosh, I don’t even know what I would pick as “one.”  I know that, early on, I used to read… we had a Leonard Maltin movie guide… back in nineteen, I wanna say, seventy-eight or seventy-nine, and as a kid, as a six or seven year old, I would read it.  I would just read it.  I was always obsessed with movies.  Movies that profoundly affected me to become a filmmaker… well, the one movie that I keep coming back to is probably THE SHINING.  It was the first time I ever saw a move that really showed me what one can do with a movie.  It really got under my skin and spoke to me, even as a kid, in a really intense way.  It also is an incredible tutorial on editing, of all things.  Those flash cuts of the girls in the hall just horrified me.  I didn’t think a movie could do that; I didn’t even know you could do that with a movie.  That movie was the first movie that really showed me that there was more to movies than, you know, a very kind of bland, straightforward way telling a story.  I had appreciation for a lot of movies, but most of the movies I had seen up to that point were probably like the Ron Miller live-action Disney movies, largely.  When you’re raised on a diet of THE NORTH AVENUE IRREGULARS, seeing something like THE SHINING is really going to change your perspective on what cinema can do.  Not to disparage THE NORTH AVENUE IRREGULARS, but it’s kind of a different “thing.”

[Ryan] Who would you say is your favorite director working today? (And why)

[DK] I don’t know, there are certainly a number of them.  I don’t know if I could pick one, to be honest.  I know that whenever Brian DePalma releases a movie, I’m there; whenever Paul Verhoeven releases a movie, I’m there; David Fincher, Michael Mann, David Cronenberg, and of course, David Lynch – who I have had to answer questions about in every single interview I’ve given about this movie.  I’m almost loath to bring him up.

[Ryan] And a favorite director of all time?

[DK] I guess Stanley Kubrick, maybe… although that’s a very “film geek” thing to say.  I think his movies more than anybody else’s have affected me in the way I view cinema, and that’s partially because he’s a genius and amazing, and partially because when I saw a lot of his great movies were at the times when I was learning about cinema: I was a sponge.  I feel like if I had seen the Powell & Pressberger films earlier, they might be tied with him, or if I had been more attuned to Polanski or Hitchcock at the time… but Kubrick was my entry into viewing cinema as a craft and an art form.  I just adore his movies.  Even with Kubrick, the irony is, there are some Kubrick movies that I just don’t need to see again.  And he didn’t do all that many.  There are movies I could just watch endlessly, and then there is something like LOLITA, which is a fine film, but I don’t really need to see it again.

[Ryan] What is your favorite part of the filmmaking process?

[DK] It’s funny, I would say probably – in retrospect – it gets more fun as it goes on.  I don’t know why exactly that is; maybe it’s just the giddiness that comes with putting finishing touches on something.  Really, the most fun is the color correction and the mix, at the very, very, very end.  The second most fun is the post-production and the edit.  The most difficult is, I think, the very top, the writing, the developing.  This is just really hard, and very wearying.  I feel like the genesis of the idea, it’s kind of like: you know you want to climb the mountain, and the mountain is in front of you, and you can’t wrap your head around where you’re going to be and what state your mind will be in and what state the film will be in when you’re leaving the post-production facility with a master.  That’s so far away; it’s literally like climbing up the mountain, climbing down the backside of the mountain, and then walking to the next village.  You can’t even think about it; you just have to put one foot in front of the other.  I think with writing, and developing, and getting it to production, it’s a lot of denial.  You have to not think about the immense amount of work it takes to make a movie, you have to just be in denial and get obsessed with the movie and not think about the journey… ‘cause it’s a long one if you do it right.

[Ryan] What advice would you give to people trying to get their foot in the door?

[DK] It’s funny, because I think the thing right now is: there is no foot in the door, there’s no door, really, the door is gone!  There’s no door.  How do you put your foot in the door?  You make a movie.  How do you make a movie?  You make a movie.  I’m really not one of these independent filmmakers who thinks that everyone should pick up a camera and make a movie.  I’ve read that a lot, and a lot of filmmakers say, “just go out and do it.”  I’m not generally in agreement with that because I that there are an awful lot of smaller independent films that aren’t very good, and get sucked into nothingness.  I feel like, if you really want to be a filmmaker, you have to do your homework.  And that’s a lot of homework.  You have to know what it means to make a movie, from writing and knowing what the formatting on your script is going to be, to getting money together, to actual production, to post-production, to deliverables.  That’s something that independent filmmakers don’t think about much, that’s a word called “deliverables.”  It ends up costing them a great deal of money.  Without deliverables you don’t have a movie, or at least, you don’t have a movie that you can sell to anybody, or show to anybody, really.  If that’s the case you’re not going to make any money back, and then, good luck on your second movie.  I feel like, if you know your stuff and you have a vision, then there are ways with today’s technology – and it’s getting better all the time – to make movies that are professional-grade for very little money.  By the way, I’m a complete tech-geek, so I think I come at this from a very different perspective than a lot of independent filmmakers.  I talk to a lot of independent filmmakers, and I’ve met a lot of independent filmmakers on the circuit, and a lot of them – a lot more than I think is permissible – feel like they don’t need to know the technical aspects of what it takes to make a movie.  And not just the cameras and the codecs, but the post-production workflow, how it works, if you want to sell it to a distributor, what they need, what you need to hand them.  I feel like directors need to know all this.  Directors need to know what the codec is that their camera is going to be recording, even if they’re not DP’s or anything, they’re not personally operating the camera, they should know the ins and outs of what they’re doing.  They should know at least some of what every other key knows.  There are just way too many directors that, I feel like… I don’t know if they’re confused by it, or intimidated by it, or they’re just too damn lazy, but they shouldn’t be, they need to know this.  That’s how you make a movie for very little, and that’s the way that people get out there.  You make a movie for very little money, you make it intelligently, you make it non-amateurishly, and it will get out there.  There’s so much bad stuff out there that the good stuff gets seen.  It really does.  But it’s important, first and foremost, to make something good, and avoid as many rookie mistakes as possible.  You’re never going to avoid all of them.  But it’s always difficult to talk about it like this because I am the last person who wants to rain on the parade of any burgeoning independent filmmaker.  If you really have a passion for making films then absolutely we need your voice.  I say that as a film geek and a film fan.  I want to see those movies that are made by people that passionately believe that they have something to say, or that they really want to make movies.  But the flipside of that is: in addition to that desire, they need to accept the responsibility that making a movie is not like painting a picture on a canvas or something they can do alone, or something they can do for very cheap.  You can’t spend twenty bucks and make a movie, really.  There’s an awful lot of learning to be had, and there are ways to do that, you can be a PA on other movies, you can certainly enlist the help of more talented and more knowledgeable people than yourself.  PORNOGRAPHY never, ever, would be where it is without the amazing contributions of the keys.  Everybody went above and beyond on that film, and it looks it.  It really does.  Did I get too far off the question?

[Ryan] For the newbie filmmakers that are out there, can you explain to them what you mean by “deliverables”?

[DK] Deliverables are what you literally hand to a distributor in order to make the deal, and that’s what the distributing uses to make DVDs, and the VOD master… a lot of filmmakers now are self-distributing, but even with self-distribution, the aggregators – who give it to iTunes, or Amazon Video on Demand, or Netflix Instant – they all have specs.  They all have things they need in order to put it up there.  In other words, they need the movie in a specific way, at a specific resolution, frame rate, and codec, and you need to know how to get your movie into that.  Beyond that, you need to know how to shoot a movie so that it looks good in whatever it is going to end up being seen as.

[Ryan] What was the first film you worked on, and what was it that you did on that film?

[DK] I went to NYU film school, undergrad, so I worked on a lot of student films at that point.  Before that, in middle school, I ran around with a video camera and made a thirty-minute movie of The Most Dangerous Game, which was a short story we were supposed to read in the sixth grade.  That was a lot of fun.  The first feature I worked on?  I don’t even remember… I was probably a PA on something… thinking back I was almost certainly a PA on something, I just don’t remember what it was.

[Ryan] What’s the earliest David Kittredge film the public can get a hold of?

[DK] I made a short film, right out of NYU, called FAIRY TALE.  It got on this DVD gay shorts compilation called BOY’S BRIEFS, which sold very, very well, but I believe the distributor went under.  I think it’s still available on Netflix, I don’t know if it’s available on Amazon anymore, but I know it’s on Netflix.  That’s a thirty-minute film I did when I was… oh, what was I?  Twenty-three?  Something like that?  Twenty-two?  Twenty-four?  Something like that.  It was a long time ago.  It’s fine, we shot it on 16mm and I cut it on a flatbed, it was very old school.  That’s the first thing I directed that anybody can get a hold of, that’s really the first thing I directed that got out there, period, out of NYU.

[Ryan] What filmmaking “jobs” do you do?

[DK] I basically own a small production company that also does network promos and sizzle reels and stuff for networks.  It’s a small company and it keeps me out of trouble and keeps the bills paid.  I do a bit of everything; I edit, I produce, I write, I direct.  That’s what I’ve been doing the past eleven years.

[Ryan] Out of the jobs you do, which do you enjoy the most?

[DK] Directing.  Absolutely.  Second place is editing. I like working with other editors if I’ve directed something, but I like editing if I didn’t direct it.  It’s all about the collaboration; that’s one of the best things about filmmaking is that you can collaborate with a lot of other cool people, and talented people.  The more you can do that, the more you can actually get other people involved in your project that are really excited, and really know what they’re doing, and confident in what they do, and imaginative… that’s really the joy of filmmaking: working with great people.  That’s one of the reasons it’s almost unique among a lot of art forms, because it’s so collaborative of a medium.

[Ryan] What would you say are the pros and cons of working in the low-budget world?

[DK] The only pro I can think of is that you can basically do anything you want.  The cons are… epic!  The cons are: you don’t get paid much, nobody gets paid much, and you have an enormous amount of limitations.  One might say that creativity is actually helped by some limitations, and that’s true, some limitations.  But there is definitely a point in budgets where you make a lot of compromises trying to get your vision up there.  I love the freedom of low-budget, but if you told me that I could do what I do with twenty million dollars I certainly wouldn’t say no, but it would be a question of how much would I have to give up in order to do that, as far as, the vision.  I think that there are definitely projects that I would like to do, that I have, that would be perfect for a much higher budget, because the target that it would hit and the people that would like it would be a much broader base.  And there’s certainly projects, like PORNOGRAPHY, that work much better on a lower budget because it’s a much more confrontational movie.  It’s certainly gotten an enormously polarized response.  When the critic’s responses were coming in for PORNOGRAPHY it was like whiplash.  Literally one day it would be called a “landmark in gay cinema,” and “Editor’s Pick” of New York Magazine, and the next thing I know the Village Voice is panning us.  It just seemed to fall into this category of you either really loved it, or really didn’t like it at all.  You can’t do that with a movie that costs a lot of money, because you need to be able to make a good movie that a lot of people like.  PORNOGRAPHY was a movie that was… it was a work.  It was confrontational, it was a mind-fuck.  It’s a jigsaw puzzle that lets the audience put the pieces together, and that’s really hard to do on a much larger budget because there is an awful lot of audience that doesn’t want to go to the movies to be challenged, or to think.  Which is kind of a bummer because that’s always my favorite kind of movie, but that’s – I believe – the way it is.  You couldn’t do something like PORNOGRAPHY for twenty million dollars, but you could do something else for that money.  Or even, ten million dollars, or even, two million dollars.  It really just depends on the project.

[Ryan] Where did the idea for PORNOGRAPHY come from?

[DK] It’s a funny story.  I was at a point in my business and in my life where I had some money set aside and an awful lot of credit, and an enormous number of people… I had two shorts that had run around the international film festival circuit.  The last one was called TARGET AUDIENCE and it went to the Berlin Film Festival.  That was a huge thrill.  I had a number of people – this was about 2007 – saying “are you going to make a feature, you really need to make a feature, you’ve had two shorts out there, you’ve got these scripts, you’ve got this attention, blah blah blah, you really should make a feature.”  I had a situation where I had a bit of money, I have a company with cameras and stuff, I had a lot of people who were backing me and wanted to work on it, and so I figured that if I couldn’t make a feature with these kinds of assets, I should just pack it in and just say “I’m never gonna do a feature.”  So I started writing a movie that was a comedy, and it was a gay-oriented comedy, and I thought it was pretty funny.  But as I was writing it, I realized: I really didn’t want to make this movie; moreover, I didn’t want to see this movie.  I felt like I had seen this movie a lot, this gay comedy, and I knew – I absolutely knew – that if I made that film that I had been writing that it would’ve gotten sold and it would have done very well, and I probably would have made a very nice profit on it.  It would have been very inexpensive to make and it almost certainly would have gone to an enormous number of festivals and gotten out there, because in the gay circuit there’s a great desire for good movies.  When you make a good one, it’s kind of a celebration.  But I realized I didn’t want to see this film, and I got very depressed.  My partner, Rob, my best friend, Melissa – who is an artist in New York – basically, over two bottles of wine over dinner one night, actively confronted me and said, “what movie do you want to see?  Picture yourself opening a festival book, like Sundance or something, what movie would get you the most excited, what movie would you put on you’re a-list of ‘I have to see this film’?”  And I knew.  PORNOGRAPHY had been brewing in my subconscious for a while, and what I said to them was “I can tell you what movie I really want to see, but you’re gonna think I’m crazy.”  It’s a weird movie, it’s in three parts, it has different protagonists, and it’s called PORNOGRAPHY.  It’s a very confrontational, weird movie.  They made a deal with me that I had to write it.  “You have to write this.  Set the other things aside, write the first draft, and just see what happens.”  I wrote the first draft in four days, and saying that has actually come back to haunt me because two of the bad reviews of the movie, the critics have come back and said “we wish he had spent a week on it.”  What they didn’t say was that I spent the next five months re-writing it, and nineteen drafts later we shot the movie.  A bunch of people latched on to this idea that I wrote the movie in a week… no, I wrote the first draft in four days!  But it did pour out of me.  I sent it to my core group of people that really wanted to read it, and the views came back enthusiastic.  I was like “really?” and they were like “Oh my God, you have to make this movie!”  I didn’t even know if we had anything, I just felt like it was a psychotic reaction or something.  But we crafted it.  And for what it’s worth, the first two parts of the script are more or less identical to the first draft.  The third part got a lot of re-writing, ‘cause that’s kind of when everything comes together and gets reflected back, but the core structure and the characters were all there from the first draft.

[Ryan] Have you worked in the world of porn before?  If not, what made you decide to set the film in that world?

[DK] No.  I have been asked this a number of times, but I have never worked in porn.  I know many people who have, but I have never worked in porn.  What made me set it in the world of pornography? Well, it’s really about movies.  The film is kind of about the power of cinema.  Pornography is a very powerful thing, because it’s cinema – which is in and of itself powerful – but it jumps over our conscious mind and goes straight to our lizard brain.  Pornography is a special thing.  If cinema is the language of dreams, then pornography even goes around your better sensory modes and goes to a source.  It’s a very powerful thing, ‘cause it affects you in involuntary ways when you watch it.  And its such a, you know, politically speaking – not just like, as in politics, but social politics – a hot potato.  You can’t have a conversation about pornography without some strong opinions coming up, with anybody, even if those strong opinions are “oh, it’s nothing.”  I’ve had extremely heated discussions – not heated from my end, but heated from the other end – where people would vehemently insist that it’s nothing, but I figure: if you’re vehemently insisting that “it’s nothing,” then it’s not “nothing.”  My view on pornography in general is that there are ethical, and even healthy ways of making, producing, and consuming pornography.  There are.  It’s just that there are also inordinately unhealthy ways of making, consuming, and producing pornography.  There have been a couple of reviews that have called the film “anti-porn,” which I find really horrible, because I’m not, and I don’t think the film is either, but I think the film acknowledges that there is a cost to pornography.  I don’t think that’s necessarily anti-porn, in the same way that I don’t think that making a movie about heart disease means that you shouldn’t eat meat ever again.  I’m a stout carnivore, but I acknowledge that if I eat meat too much that’s probably not healthy.  I don’t know if that’s a good metaphor; I think I just made all pornographers into pieces of meat!  I don’t know if I want to do that!  The movie is so much about pornography; pornography is more of a metaphor.  The movie is about denial and identity.  Pornography is just a very, very effective way of getting under the skin, of these characters, and of people in general.  Honestly, one of the things that cinema does… Quentin Tarantino says that one of the things that cinema does best is violence; well another thing it does best is sex.  And that’s sex as a good thing, a titillating thing, or in the case of PORNOGRAPHY, as kind of something horrifying.

[Ryan] Do you feel that the setting of PORNOGRAPHY limits its fanbase to the gay community?

[DK] I don’t know if it limits its fanbase in the gay community, I think the fact that it’s a gay movie limits its fanbase a bit, which is unfortunate.  I don’t know if any gay people are going to be any less likely to rent the film, or watch the film, because it’s called PORNOGRAPHY.  I think they will be less likely to watch it because it’s really creepy.  I don’t know.  It’s hard for me to answer those kind of questions because I never came at it from that aspect.  I did the movie that I really, really wanted to see; no one has made that movie.  Like it or hate it, it’s a very – I feel – effective film.  There are people that hate it, and they can go ahead and hate it, that’s their opinion, but no one can say that it’s been done before.  And as much as people want to compare it to Lynch or whatever, it’s a very different esthetic from what Lynch does.  It’s a very different point of view.  Aside from some very surface-level things, there’s really not much similarity.  God knows Lynch didn’t invent the fractured narrative.

[Ryan] Do you intend to work solely within that community, or will future projects have more accessibility to non-gay film fans?

[DK] I absolutely feel that I want to do the films that I want to do.  The movie that I’m working on right now, there’s a gay character in it, but it’s not really a “gay movie.”  It really just depends on the project.  I feel like the moment that artists, or directors, or anybody, begin to think about “oh, I wanted to do this for my career, I wanted to appeal to a broader demographic,” or this thing, or that thing, I think that’s the slippery slope by which then you’re trying to give people what they want, rather then actually doing things that are cool.  I don’t feel like it’s the responsibility of independent artists – and I’m not talking about if you’re making the X-MEN sequel, because that’s one kind of movie, and I have no problems with that, I love those movies – but if you’re gonna make a low-budget movie, and you have that kind of freedom, then the one thing you should be doing is making a personal film, making it a personal vision.  That’s what really sets these movies aside.  There isn’t a lot pf pluses to working in the independent world.  The one big thing, the one big plus, is that in an independent film, anything can happen.  You can sit down, and be taken to a place you have never even imagined in an independent film, because filmmakers have that freedom.  If independent filmmakers don’t use that freedom, or if they’re trying too hard to be in a bland, mainstream, unimaginative place, it’s like the worst of both worlds.  You’ve got a low budget, and you’re unimaginative.  The high-budget ones can give you exactly what you want, and they can do it in two, two and a half hours, but they have two hundred million dollars in special effects to play with.  You can’t make THE DARK KNIGHT on a hundred grand, no matter how imaginative you are, so you have to think of other ways to be imaginative, and you can do that with character, narrative, story, you can challenge the audience, you can make a personal statement.  That, I feel, is what’s missing from the independent world; we need to bring the cinema back in to independent cinema.  There’s just too much… crap.

[Ryan] Are you working on anything new?

[DK] Yep.  I’m writing a film right now, and I really would love to shoot it either at the end of this year or the beginning of next year, depending on when the money comes together.

[Ryan] Do you have anything else to add?

[DK] I think that the one big thing, going back to independent film… independent film is in a very weird place right now, it’s in a state of massive transition.  We’re basically at a place where all bets are off.  The best thing that any independent filmmaker or artist can do right now is to do the work.  Independent film is not somewhere you can make money right now.  Period.  Full-stop.  I look at my favorite directors, and the directors I most want to emulate, and I don’t think any of them are making a living just doing independent film.  I don’t think even the bigger directors – except for the A-List – I don’t think that directors make a living in low-budget film right now.  That’s just the way it is right now.  People have to understand that you need to do your work anyway; you need to get your work out there, even though it’s harder than ever to monetize it.  The good news is: it’s easier than ever to make it!  We have these cameras, and this editing equipment that is so much less expensive, and we have tapeless acquisition… you can make movies for so little right now if you know what you’re doing and you have good people around you.  All you need to do is make the best possible movie, something original, something from you.  That’s really the big opportunity.

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