A few weeks ago, I received two movies in the mail — director Jamin Winans’s cult classics, Ink and The Frame. Since I live in a cave under a rock, I didn’t know anything about either movie. In this way, I feel incredibly fortunate. I got to sit there through both movies in wide-eyed delight wondering, “What is this?”
You might never have heard of them either. Jamin Winans and his partner, Kiowa Winans, make movies out of their house in Colorado. Ink achieved its cult status because someone pirated it, people on the pirate sites were delighted by it, and the Winans decided to roll with their new-found underground popularity. (Though, let us all pause for a moment to consider the mixed bag of being an independent filmmaker that finds himself with a movie adored by people who don’t want to pay for things — you’re having a kind of “success” that doesn’t make it any easier to make your next movie. Folks, you can now rent either film on Amazon for five bucks or buy them on DVD and do your part to keep the work coming.)
The movies are really different — Ink is about a father whose daughter is stolen by a bogeyman, The Frame is about a man and woman who meet under really strange circumstances — but they’re both concerned with what compels people to try to be the best versions of themselves. They’re both delightfully strange, fantastic in a magical-realist way.
And at the center of both films is actor Christopher Soren Kelly, who, considering the oddness of the situations he’s presented with in both films, has an almost preternatural ability to seem like a guy you know in real life. I looked around for other things he’s in and I learned that he also writes and directs. He made the short film, Chasseur, about a guy who hunts down the devil’s lawyer and is not that impressed by him, which I’d seen when it came out and hadn’t realized was the same guy—probably more testament to his ability to thoroughly inhabit his roles.
So, here’s a guy who spends a lot of time telling interesting and strange genre stories, either in collaboration with cool folks like the Winans or on his own. I wondered what kinds of thoughts he had about storytelling, especially telling fantastical stories with real constraints.
Christopher Soren Kelly so awesomely answered my questions.
APEX MAGAZINE: A lot of the films you work on, both as an actor and as a writer and director, are science fiction/fantasy. What attracts you to the genre?
CHRISTOPHER SOREN KELLY: I have always loved the genre. I grew up reading science fiction, Asimov, Herbert, Kim Stanley Robinson, and my favorite ‘normal’ fiction usually involves at least some fantastic element, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Blood Meridian, Gravity’s Rainbow. I think all art is world creation; even a single painting creates a world. Genre work makes that activity explicit. A big part of the joy of playing these roles is the richness of inhabiting a new character in an entirely new world with new rules. What would life be like if the whole world were different?
AM: I’d like to ask you about the end of Ink, (so, spoiler alert for readers, skip to the next question if you haven’t seen the movie). My experience watching the movie is that, as a viewer, I was watching this cool fantasy about the forces of good battling the forces of evil while, in the other storyline, this guy jerks it up while his family needs him. But then, at the end, when the two stories come together, I was sobbing for this dude who knows he’s a jerk and who suddenly realizes he wants to be better. You’re almost unrecognizable in the make-up and the costume, the setting is so weird and stylized. And yet, you somehow make that moment feel so crushingly real. At the end of the movie, my first thought was, “I want to be a better dad,” and I’m a woman and I don’t have kids. Maybe this is too big a question or too vague, but how did you do that?
CSK: Well a big part of the answer to that question is, obviously, Jamin Winans and the rest of the film-making team. There are a lot of elements involved in pulling that moment off, editing, music, make-up, costume, story, Quinn etc … So most of the credit goes elsewhere. One of the first rules of acting, though, is you need to see the world through your character’s eyes. And through our own eyes we are all the hero. Despite being a jerk, John is trying really hard and you begin to realize this and he has monumental guilt for his failures. At least one way of interpreting the Ink storyline is as an embodiment of John’s internal struggle. It is obvious from the very first scene in which John has to overcome his nature to play with his daughter, that he struggles to do what is right, but he wants to do what is right. So I just try to play every moment from John’s real hopes and fears. Hopefully, his vulnerability comes through even when he’s being an ass.
Haha. I am sure you’d be a great father!
AM: I read the interview you did at Starpulse with Jason Coleman where you talked about editing films you wrote and you talked about the importance of revising. You said, “I try when I approach the edit to just start over. Throw the script out and say what did we get and can I make a story out of it?” I find this to be the hardest part of writing, that revision where I have to let go of the story I had in my head and instead focus on improving the story I’ve ended up with on the page. For the writers who are reading this, how do you get in the headspace where you see what’s in front of you and not what you intended?
CSK: One thing to remember is that the original intention in your head is not a complete work of art. If it were, then making the thing wouldn’t be so hard. The intention in your head is just a vague outline, a shadowy shape, an idea. The making of a work of art is the slow movement toward that shadowy idea, but in that movement the very goal is shifting as it becomes real, it is being laid bare. The point is you can never know where you are going in artistic creating; you can have an idea of the general direction. But if you think you know exactly where it is, you almost certainly will never get there. You need to navigate the whole way, continually check and recheck that original feeling and intention and hold it in the ever increasing light. Like a child growing into an adult, there is a connection between the original idea and the final work, but the final work is so much more.
AM: I was blown away by your short film, Chasseur, about a guy with a grudge against the Devil who encounters the Devil’s lawyer. The story is fun and it looks beautiful. But I also read that you made it for what, in movie budget terms, is “no money.” I’m sure, as a filmmaker, you’d love to have a huge budget, but I wonder if, as a storyteller, you find some benefit to having those limits? Like, sure, if you had a billion dollars, you could have a huge CGI Devil and an apocalyptic fight scene but you have you, Joshua Bitton, an inside location, and an outside location. That must give you real focus on what matters in your story.
CSK: There are absolutely benefits to limitations. When I was young, I loved writing poetry with complicated structural forms. The limitations are essential to the form. Indie filmmaking is in many ways a different form than big budget filmmaking. The Tangle which I am editing now is an example of this. I wrote the script knowing the limitations of the budget and I think it will be film unlike almost any other because of that (that doesn’t mean it will be good, of course! though I am optimistic).
AM: You have The Tangle in post-production. What can you tell us about that?
CSK: Here’s a little info on The Tangle. Look for a trailer in September!
THE TANGLE is a stylish neo-noir hard sci-fi feature film to be shot in and around Los Angeles, Summer 2015. Set in a near future in which the Tangle connects everyone to everything including each other, a group of government agents try to protect humanity from within hidden technology safe rooms, rooms the Tangle cannot reach. A murder mystery, a love triangle, and an existential threat to humanity infuse this richly textured thriller with the flavors that made our classic sci-fi films, the dark style, and hardboiled detective of a BLADE RUNNER, the rich interweaving of stories of a 12 MONKEYS, the fully imagined technological future of a MINORITY REPORT.
AM: And last, will we get to see a feature-length version of Chasseur?
CSK: The feature version of Chasseur is in the works, but I plan on making it my third film. After we finish The Tangle, we will be moving on to Crossing the Flood, a metaphysical thriller about two men trapped in an alternate universe. The feature version of Chasseur will follow three storylines, Louis Chasseur, the devil hunter, Mycroft Coney, the devil’s Lawyer, and a trio of bank robbers. I can’t wait to make it!
(Editor’s Note: Watch the short film free below!)