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Action Speaks Louder: An Interview with Kely McClung, Filmmaker/Actor/Writer

Terms like jack-of-all-trades and Renaissance man weren’t coined for Kely McClung, but they might as well have been. Stemming out of necessity and an active refusal to limit himself to one role, Kely makes feature films with high production values on shoestring budgets, regularly serving as writer, producer, director, star, camera operator, fight and stunt coordinator, makeup artist, location scout, and editor. He is aided by a carefully-cultivated and loyal team of talents, and with them, Kely has co-opted the original Robert Rodriguez business model. Unlike Rodriguez, however, Kely is using it to make dramatic, character-driven crime thrillers and action sagas.

His latest film is the dark, atmospheric and exciting crime thriller Kerberos, which blends action with pathos and character study. The title refers to the monstrous, three-headed watchdog from Greek mythology that guards the entrance to Hades and reflects the film’s trisected narrative structure, which weaves together three portraits of that most versatile archetype of modern fiction, the tough guy. These three men are pulled into one another like magnets, all battling over a jackpot of stolen money and a young girl. One wants to control and abuse her, one wants to use her as a bargaining chip, and one wants to protect her.

The film is being entered in festivals all over the world and comes on the heels of Kely’s very successful action feature Blood Ties. He graciously sat down with me to discuss his work, his back-story, his artistic process, and the exciting new career he is carving out for himself. For a fascinating and candid portrait into the challenging world of DIY filmmaking, read on…

CC: Could you talk a little about your extensive stickfighting and martial arts experience, how you came to work in films in the ‘90s, and how you came back to do the work you’re doing now?

KM: I’ve pretty much trained in some form of martial arts for my entire life. I was lucky to have some of the greatest teachers of the world, Dan Inosanto, Paul Keller, Dr. Fred Wu, Shang Dong Shang, Wai Ku, the list goes on and on. My formal training was pretty equal between Japanese and Okinawan Karate and many forms of Kung Fu. I was always obsessed with the training and hungry to learn from everyone. I trained on the seminar circuit and spent time in the Philippines and Thailand working with some of their Thai boxers and trainers. Besides western boxing, and kickboxing, wrestling, and judo, I was lucky enough to win the Full Contact International Stickfighting Championship under the guidance of Tuhon Leo Gaje.

I taught my own philosophies of martial arts in a half dozen schools throughout the South East, and had clubs and followers in Thailand and Malaysia. I ended up auditioning for Mike Stone as a possible replacement for Jean-Claude Van Damme when he was tied up in contract disputes. Though that deal eventually fell through as he resolved his contracts, I ended up in South Africa for many months working on American Ninja IV, where I played a dozen roles, easy with a mask on, and doubled Michael Dudikoff and a bit for David Bradley, as well as played their main martial arts foe. Not a great movie by any means but, it served as an accelerated education in film and production—basic falls and stunt work, and how to sell techniques on camera. I had my own ideas even then, choreographed many of the fights on this first film, and started to get a feel for how to covert my fighting technique to movie technique.

I never really left once I had this first taste of how the business worked. I was playing script doctor almost immediately, started designing movie posters, and taught myself how to edit. Editing helped teach me both how to direct economically—filming only what I was actually going to use—and helped me analyze acting and how the camera interpreted it so I could start learning how to act.

As an actor, I think the action movies of the 90′s were very formulaic and that lower budget producers were trying to force people into a mold that I really didn’t fit or even want to fit. Unless you could somehow make the jump from the B and C movie realm up to A list movies—you were expected to be a watered-down clone of one of the big four; Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Van Damme and Seagal I was obviously not any of them. Like martial arts itself, I had my own ideas on character and style and story. My ideas were much more along the lines of Denzel Washington’s character Creasy in Man On Fire or Mel Gibson as Riggs in Lethal Weapon, instead of trying to fake being one of the others already out there.

I studied and learned more on all facets of filmmaking, and as I learned more, cameras got better, software and computers got better, and I got better. Eventually those factors converged and I ran out of excuses to not make a movie.

CC: How did you get into writing and directing and how long had you harbored the desire?

KM: My first thoughts on reading the script for the American Ninja movies and some of the other scripts floating around in their offices, was that I could write much more interesting, believable stories. I started in on a story much like Bloodsport called Stickman even before I left Africa. My first movie script, I was trying to tie in much more history and cultural reference to the surrounding story while trying to outdo the action sequences. A really watered-down version of that story was cobbled together for the movie Stickfighter. That was another lesson in the business of Hollywood filmmaking as I was forced to credit another writer who didn’t contribute a single word. The entire shooting script was written in 10 days with the production team scrambling to accommodate what I wrote on a day-by-day basis. The movie and entire production were pretty bad, but I learned so much about every part of the production process; some good and some bad and some really bad! At this stage, good or bad, I’ve completed scripts for 23 features and am now investigating the short film format.

I draw and paint, and have a natural instinct for composition, color and light. It’s nothing I really had to work at, but I did limited edition prints of pen and ink drawings, and sold art from a very young age, maybe 15 on.  I always had confidence in the fact that I could direct. Part of that is being analytical and so detail-oriented, and part of it came from teaching martial arts for years and speaking to huge groups of people on the seminar circuit. So I never doubted that I could elicit emotion and find the truth of any given scene. It’s turned out to be that way, but the first time I really felt like a director was in handling a bit of location juggling for a single sequence on Blood Ties—I think eight separate locations to make up a single scene.

My first film was the action feature Blood Ties. That was made with a partnership with my friend Robert Pralgo, who is just now starting to really get some of the recognition he deserves as an actor, both in features and now as the Mayor on CW’s Vampire Diaries. We had very little money, and I somehow convinced him to let me shoot most of it in Thailand. Just so it wouldn’t seem too easy, I added Cambodia, Washington DC, Miami, Virginia, and Atlanta to the mix. Blood Ties did really well on the festival circuit, winning everything from Film of the Year at the Action on Film Film Festival, to Best International Film in the UK at the End Of The Pier Int’l Film Festival. It’s still not out there but there is nothing in the story or look to date it except the date itself – so I think we’ll be in a good position to sell it. Blood Ties was really ambitious, and not only are the fights and locations exotic, it has a lot of story told with some unique editing and story structure devices. Mostly, it’s a lot of fun!

I know I’m too new at this to have a definitive style, but even I can see similarities in all my work and screenplays. I do try to make them dense in terms of visuals and content, so that they work on several different levels and then let people discover them. Anyone who has seen my movies more than once, and sometimes even 5 and 6 times, always discovers nuance and themes that were meant to be revealed slowly and from contemplation. Good or bad, there is nothing random in my movies. Each scene, and even each frame is crafted very deliberately.

CC: What was the most challenging sequence in Kerberos to shoot?

KM: So many were challenging for different reasons. Like the extended foot chase because I only had a crew of one to do it. I knew the shots I wanted, but it was just my cameraman and me moving the dolly and jib, setting up the shots, and then me jumping back in frame and running. That entire scene was done in a single afternoon – except for the jumps, which I had to do over and over again. For some reason I always ended up out of frame. So maybe 20 jumps to get it right from all the different angles.

The fights were tough physically of course. The main fight at the end with Grant (Jess Dillard) was pretty brutal. My only cameraman on it, Rafael Rivera was great, but didn’t get time to adjust to the speed of our movements so we ended up out of frame and had to repeat moves a lot.

The warehouse shootout has 15 speaking parts, 5 extras, action, and guns, some of which were real, some blanks, and some plastic. Since I am in that scene and actually doing about half the camerawork, that seems difficult but I never really had any trouble keeping it together. It was a very long night though, and a challenge bringing out the different levels of performance from so many people for such an extended time, many of which I had never met before that night.

Something as seemingly simple as the rain in the opening scene was a nightmare. Just my AD, Attila Alexander, and I traveled 80 miles to an amazing cemetery to film. The Southern United States had a few extended weeks of nearly non-stop rain last year, and though we checked radar and weather reports, and would drive though torrential rainstorms, every time we actually pulled through the gates into the cemetery it would stop. The one day we got rain, Attila held an umbrella until I set up the shot, then I ran to get into frame while he held the umbrella and filmed, only to have the rain stop on us after the first take. It really became a challenge to get the scene, but I was determined and we both knew it looked amazing through camera. Still, it took 5 separate trips of 8-hour days to get the one 60 second scene.

I guess the toughest scene in terms of pressure was the final car wreck and shootout. Like the warehouse shootout, I was in the scene as one of the main three actors, setting up every camera angle and shot, doing everyone’s make up including mine which was melting off as fast I put it on, and coordinating all the police cars and driving, as well as the actual shootout.

We had 6 police cars, closed off streets and intersections, had real police and real guns to deal with, the police dogs, an ambulance and the attendants that go with it. I had a fire truck but it got pulled away to deal with a fire… so I came back another day just for that. We also had a helicopter shot that I was trying to coordinate while lying on the ground, but there were 60 mph winds and it was buffeted around the sky so much there was not a single usable second for the scene. But it could’ve been worse; our executive producer Brad Fallon was in the helicopter and it ended up just a few feet away and moments from being blown into a radio tower!

Sound design became crucial, as the winds made all location sound useless. Jess Dillard is a police officer and was able to secure the permits and help coordinate the real police and I count on him to secure the real weapons. He double-checked all the firearms and pulled the firing pins from the rifles, then we took the time to go over them together. One of my closet friends was killed on a movie set a few years back, the main reason I left LA, and so I take everybody’s safety seriously. Still, it’s a bit disconcerting at first to have real rifles pointed at you, and then directing someone to pull the trigger!

CC: What job do you find harder, acting, writing, or directing?

KM: Writing comes easy to me, and I appreciate that time alone to create. I can’t say I’m a great writer yet, but I’m really good at creating the ‘hero’. At this stage of my career, I always have to be conscious of the budget, or lack thereof, and so I only allow myself to write what I think I might be able to pull off somehow. I stretch and then force myself to meet the challenges I impose. That applies to the all the roles, the acting challenges I set for myself, and of course, production values.

Acting is tougher in that actors can be really confident and yet still second guess themselves and be full of doubts and fears. Part of the director’s job is to help them confront and explore those fears, and of course I only have myself. If you are pushing, or if the role is demanding and you are seriously trying to meet it, then you’re walking on an edge that is both terrifying and exhilarating. It’s why we’re all pretty much nuts, but also why so many actors are such interesting people, and maybe why people become interested in us to begin with. It’s the embrace of our flaws and foibles, and the honesty it takes in facing the extremes in humanity.

As the actor being directed by myself, I don’t really get the feedback and encouragement to explore from anyone else. It’s such a strange balance of mental games to be genuinely invested in the moment of whatever world I’ve created, yet still controlling the camera and having to search for ways to get performance out of everyone else at the same time.

Directing is the pressure cooker that lets me bring all the flavors together. I am one of those people who seem to do best under pressure, and somehow have the energy to put in the continuous days and weeks and months to get it done. I know I’m lucky, or maybe just psychotic, to be able to have such extreme focus. I don’t know that I’ll be a great director, but all the great ones I have ever heard or read about have that, so my only consolation is in knowing that I’m not the only psycho out there saying “action”!

CC: The best action sequences manage to be exciting and reveal character—different characters move and fight in different ways. How do you approach coordinating fight sequences? What goes into your process?

KM: Designing a fight is really just an extension of acting to me. I am very good at creating violence, and the fights come from my background and physical talents as a fighter, and then genuinely putting myself into the situations I create. Just as an actor speaks and moves and reacts with a fundamental truth that an audience feels and intuits as reality even in perhaps unrealistic situations, the physical movements and reactions in my fights come from moment-by-moment recognition of the circumstances I’ve created within the story, which is maybe why people think my fights look and feel so real.

I place the camera and set the shot, and then we pretty much go for it. Then I move camera to accommodate the reverses or angles for whatever technique develops, and so on. I map out the start and end goals, and maybe the final techniques. If I am fighting with someone who is not a trained fighter, or used to a more rigid form of technique and or choreography, then I take time to understand their physical limits and abilities, and design very precise movements around that. In those cases, the fight is done the exact same way take after take. Again, I place camera based on our movements rather than design the fight to fit the camera.

The final fight with Grant in Kerberos might be a pretty good example. The actor is my good friend, Jess Dillard. In real life, Jess is a cop, a decorated Marine, and martial arts instructor in Kali and Wing Chun. I was actually Jess’ first martial arts teacher about a hundred years ago. So he’s basically a real life tough guy. Also one of the nicest people I know. Jess is a pretty stocky guy, with massive chest and shoulders, so I am sure no one expects him to move the way he does. Jess took some lumps and told me later his shins were pretty smashed up from banging into mine. The knife work was much more elaborate but I cut it down in the edit because people couldn’t follow the speed of the hand switches and lock dissolves, so it looked like we were repeating things.

We did the entire scene in about 3 hours. The cameraman had trouble keeping up with the speed of the kicks and punches so there were many repeats. Even Jess and I were surprised at how fast and high the kicks were going. I sit at an editing desk for weeks and months at a time and then jump up and yell “action”. So it starts as a very general walk through, “I think I’ll kick you here” or “maybe you can hit me here and I’ll counter with what ever makes sense”. Because most of our training is based on feel and reacting to subtle changes in energy, it’s actually quite hard for us to make ourselves repeat things exactly the same way each time. We both embraced the adrenaline of fighting and friendly competition so suddenly things are moving much faster than we’re used to and kicks you’re hoping make it to head height are going two feet over. It’s about as close to a real fight you can get without actually trying to take the other person out.

CC: How did Kerberos originate? What was the writing process like, and how does the title reflect the story?

KM: I loved the idea of exploring the various forms of tough guy all in one story. Finn, someone tough enough that he was trying hard not to be but couldn’t outrun his own brutal nature, Menacci playing the classic mad dog bully, and Armstrong as the sociopath using his charm and intelligence to lead and control. From there, it came pretty easy to realize Finn wouldn’t really have anyone in his life or let anyone in, Menacci would have those he terrorizes and maybe one partner to bolster his ego, and that Armstrong would get off on leading a group of men to do his bidding. The various characters that surround were meant to give further cross sections of the tough guy motif.

I let the Irish myths and legends of Foinn Mac Cumail help inform my character of Mike Finn. The photographic memory accessed by biting his thumb, the martial skills, and Robin Hood feel to his thievery. Ideas like the death of his daughter and the prison rape of his friend Burns played by Chris Burns (I always have a least a couple names as the real actors – my homage to Chinese movies) were done to compress the time and realty of grief and loyalty. The rape scene is only 50 seconds, but after Finn saves him, we understand Burns’ absolute loyalty as he is tortured and abused by Menacci and Harris.

Katie of course becomes the catalyst for all three men. Finn opens up to her as her age and innocence brings comfort of what his daughter may have become, Menacci wants to control and abuse her, and Armstrong’s only use for her is as a lure for Finn. There are no innocent people in the entire movie except for the little girl in the closet as by the end even Katie has been forced to cross irrevocable lines.

The title Kerberos came very easy, and reflects back on the fact that these three men, the heads of the Hellhound, are entering the Hell of their making and not getting out. For Finn, the real tragedy is he knows he’s on the precipice, but makes a conscious decision to wade in and do what he knows will condemn him. He sacrifices his only hope for redemption and the chance to see his daughter again in order to do what is ‘right’.

There are other themes that I weave in and out, i.e. the working class blue collar guy fighting against Menacci’s mid level bureaucracy and Armstrong’s federal entitlement, but I want to make a story that hits hard emotionally, and if you are just into action, delivers some real grit and visceral punches to the chest as you watch. I always want to make movies that when they finish, like Alabama asks Clarence in True Romance, make you want to go out to get a piece of pie and talk about it.

CC: What kind of sound equipment did you use?

KM: A Rode boom pole and a mid-level Sennheiser mic running straight into the camera. Our sound crew wasn’t the most experienced in terms of mic and boom technique and we didn’t have the luxury of a mixer. Headphones for basic levels and we went for it. It wasn’t that I don’t know how important sound is – all you have is light and sound to make a movie - but the half dozen experienced sound mixers I called laughed or hung up when I told them my budget.

CC: How did you acquire all of the many weapons and blanks used in the film?

KM: On Blood Ties we only had 3 or 4 cheap plastic guns, and even in a massive action scene and shootout with 24 guys, we just creatively traded back and forth. A nightmare to make it look good in post, but no one has ever caught it. On Kerberos, I tried to take things to another level, and so I bought 5 guns that fired blanks. For safety, they are the kind that the barrels are totally solid and the flashes are ejected out the sides with the cartridges. We also had another half dozen plastic guns and the shotguns mixed in. All the police had real weapons. Some of our cast in the big shootout showed up with their own guns, all real, which gave us a lot of variety but raised the stakes for safety that much more.

My friend Jess cleared and checked all guns, pulled firing pins, and kept any real bullets away from our sets. If I had to entrust my life to someone, and I did, Jess is the man. All guns, real or not, used extensive compositing to give us muzzle flashes, light up the rooms and people, and create the smoke, debris, sparks, and shell ejections. The knives we fought with were real, though we took the edge off just enough to give us a small room for error. There are only a couple people I’ve worked with that I would trust with that at full speed and Jess is one.

CC: What was your biggest expense on the film?

KM: Initially the cameras, then post sound. We bought two EX 1′s, additional memory cards, the card reader, a basic tripod, some protective filters for the lenses and camera bag. Those cameras were sold off to work on other projects so their final cost is negligible. Our post sound work in London, a fraction of what the studio normally charges, became our biggest single expense. I did pay cast and crew, and though again, only a fraction of what they really should be making, a lot of people had a lot of days on the movie, so that’s where most of the budget went.

CC: You shot on Sony’s PMW-EX1. How was your experience with that camera and do you plan to use it for future projects? What other camera equipment did you have?

KM: I love the cameras. Staging in depth along with their half-inch CMOS chips gave me the shallow depth of field to look cinematic. My rules for making low budget films look great are dust, rust, and dirt. In Kerberos, we can add blood to the mix, and the digital format translates those elements really well. They have great low-light capability. I wish I could have taken time to use the slow motion more often and though it’s only one speed at 720P is really pretty. I never had a problem or lost footage on the memory cards. Though I do very little playback and trust my instincts to get what I want, the instant review is great if needed. If we had soft focus or other picture issues it was not the fault of the monitor. It’s very good in terms of resolution and accuracy. It does need a monitor hood in bright light. The batteries last as expected, and I found the controls and menus easy to navigate.

We had two cameras but rarely someone to run them both. We had a homemade dolly running on PVC pipe, a homemade ‘skater’ dolly, and a 10-foot jib. Many times I wanted to set up and use the dolly, jib, or both, but usually we had such little time we moved on. The shots we do have on those supports were conceived in the script and so I forced the issue. Of course, remember I am the director and the producer, so usually that argument is with myself!

Cameras change so much I can’t say for sure I would use it again. I would like to be able to step up to interchangeable lenses and will investigate the EX3 pretty hard. What’s comforting about them, is that I know the work flow and can concentrate on the other million things that make a movie. And last, that I can look through camera and see not only what it will record but know what a given image can become with my post processing and grading. Right now, I am also investigating the Canon 5D mark IV.

CC: Did you write the script around locations you already knew and had free access to, or did you have to scout locations more formally and worry about location fees and permits?

KM: I only had one location in mind when I wrote the movie, and we got chased off by the police for that one! A bit hard to stay under the radar for it as I had about 80 people and 40 cars involved on that scene! A couple kegs of beer can go a long way in attracting extras!

My 1st AD Attila Alexander and I scouted for a couple of months nearly every day as we broke down and discussed the script and what I was trying to accomplish with it. We had a lot of great adventures in places where no sane people would step foot in! All downtown scenes, including the alley, were coordinated with the police Sergeant on duty, of course the final scenes were done formally through Jess. Still, a lot of our locations, I think we had 50 or 60, were stolen guerrilla style. We filmed mostly in Atlanta, but had scenes 30 miles east, 40 miles west, 80 miles north, and 90 miles south. Like everything else in Kerberos, pretty ambitious for a no- budget movie!

CC: How much time have you spent in postproduction, and what has been the biggest challenge there?

KM: I started editing and logging even as we filmed, so that’s been going on for nearly two years. My consolation there is that I know lots of studio films take much longer, and in this case the only postproduction up until the very final mix was done by me. So the edit, the effects, and the color grading. And of course rendering. Will probably be on my headstone someday – “still rendering”. I believe in my script, so the edit is mostly about pace and performance. I really try to give the actors their moments and one of the things I push for is the actual transition and thought process going on within an actor’s expression as the story unfolds around them, so I search and edit around that. Effects run from adding smoke and muzzle flashes and debris, to adding shadows and shafts of light, to touching up blemishes. All the breath in the exteriors of the first act of the movie were done in post, partly for continuity and partly to help create a feel and mood. Every individual shot and angle has had it’s own treatment and color grading. I do all my grading and effects in After Effects.

Big films or studio films have such high standards of technical excellence and resources that the audience rarely has to worry about picture and sound. They can’t all be masterpieces of cinematography or sound design and score, but their quality level is really transparent and so audiences concentrate on the story and acting. Low budget movies tend to first fall down on story, and then acting, and then of course have to worry about technical issues. In most cases the weak point is sound.

The biggest challenge and probably the most important that we conquered is our sound. We made this movie with a very limited crew, mostly inexperienced, and like a lot of no-budget films, sound suffered. Our end result is pretty good, but it took me a lot of work in re-recording voices and doing Foley for many of the scenes. Foley on Kerberos usually means me and maybe one other person holding the mic while I repeated actions, footsteps, running, jumping, etc. I would change shoes and jackets and play all the parts to get it. The exception being I could never move soft enough to recreate the girl’s parts so Amanda McCarthy stepped in and played Foley artist for those scenes. We ended up with a powerful, poignant score that was mostly done by an English Composer, Russell Scott Johnson, and then radically reworked by me to fit our mix at the last minute. We have songs from 8 bands; 4 from Australia, 3 from my home town in Atlanta, and then anchored by 7 songs from the awesome Katy J from LA.

What really brought the soundtrack together though was the final mix at Twickenham Film Studios in London. I got to work with BAFTA-winning sound engineers Rob James and Craig Irving. Rob and I became friends when Blood Ties premiered in England and won the End of the Pier Film Festival last year, and he was able to talk Twickenham into taking a look at Kerberos. Kerberos is the smallest budgeted feature they have maybe ever seen, much less worked on. Twickenham and the studio’s co-director Craig Irving have done the mix on little movies like John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love and ProofMikael Håfström’s Derailed and 1408, and Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth the Golden Age. They took Kerberos from sounding like a kickass desktop movie to sounding like a ‘real’ film. They taught me a lot, and I pushed them a lot as I had very specific ideas on how it should sound, especially the violence, and the interplay of my music choices. They had to use all their tricks and magic to take my original source recordings to the level it is now, and the entire experience is one of the highlights of my young directing career. I can’t wait to be there again working with them on the next one!

CC: What are your eventual distribution hopes for the film, and do you have any future projects currently lined up? Would having a more substantial budget change the kind of film you’d make and how you’d go about making it?

KM: Of course we’ll do the festival circuit. At first glance, Kerberos is an action movie, and many times those movies are overlooked by the bigger festivals. We’re really proud of Kerberos on so many levels; the acting is stellar, the look and filming, the editing, the music, and it really pushes all boundaries in terms of production values on a micro budget film. I give a lot of credit to the Action On Film Film Festival for focusing attention on Blood Ties and starting out our festival run for it in such a positive light. That in turn helped bring me the attention of my investors and partners to Kerberos. The festival Founder and Director Del Weston has some really big plans on promoting Kerberos at this year’s Action On Film Film festival. It’s really exciting to grow in stature as a film director at the same time a film festival grows and be a continuing part of it.

My Executive Producers and partners on this film, Brad Fallon and Buck Rizvi, are Internet marketing geniuses, and are sought out from around the world to share their knowledge and ideas. They make their livings not just from thinking outside the box, but helping to define it. So it will be very interesting to see what we all come up. I think some combination of traditional distribution and probably something I have no idea about yet. One of the great things that came out of working with Twickenham Film Studios, they pretty much work exclusively on A list movies, is that they were under the impression that this was being readied for a theatrical release. Almost every time Blood Ties showed somewhere on the festival circuit, people would walk out saying “wow – that looks like a ‘real’ movie”. Kerberos takes that much further, so the possibilities are really exciting.

I have the action thriller Black Heart in Thailand and Australia, and a disturbing allegorical thriller, Altered, I’m putting together to shoot later this year, and at least two short films, Dust To Heaven and Tears. I’m trying to figure out how to do two more, one cute and comedic, and one decidedly not cute or comedic. The shorts are meant to break the mold of what people are expecting from me. Dust to Heaven is about an older gay couple on their deathbed, and Tears deals with the worldwide apathy and ignorance of conflict deaths. I also love the idea of relinquishing control and being directed, and creating a character for someone else’s project.

I would love to have a very small, very talented, multi-hat wearing crew. I know if possible I’ll keep my gaffer extraordinaire Dan Slemons on any project; he not only works his butt off but without complaint and is a very talented. I will find a location sound genius that I can work with, and then be thrilled to work with Rob and Craig again at Twickenham. Since I’m still in front of the camera on the next couple projects, it’d be nice to have some kind of personal assistant who makes sure of things like taking my glasses off when I go from looking into the camera to being in front of it! It would be nice not to have to worry about make up and wardrobe. That was taken in consideration in Kerberos as I wrote it… so that with the compressed 36 hour timeline, we never had to change clothes. Still, not all the stories will work out that way.

Pretty sure I’ll still be the DP and doing as much actual camera work as possible on the next couple of films. I use an alias in my movie credits. It’s really hard to imagine turning over the edit, or even the color grading. I’d love to be able to direct the effects work instead of having to do them all, and of course I’d love to have assistants to help with the massive amounts of rendering and data management in post. Good luck to someone trying to keep up though. Once, I couldn’t remember the project name I had settled on and had just worked on a few days before. I did a search by date of all modified project files of that month, and it was over 700 separate files! I don’t really consider myself a composer though I’ve had to step up on 3 films now, so it will be great to keep working and finding people who have that talent I can work with.

CC: What are some of the films and who are some of the filmmakers that have influenced you?

KM: Tony Scott for all his genius in story structure. Spy Game was amazing. I loved Man on Fire and Deja Vu. He pushes a lot of creative envelopes and maybe doesn’t get the credit for the beauty of his movies. Terry Gilliam; Twelve Monkeys is one of my favorite movies. He found just the right balance for his wonderfully insane ideas and Bruce Willis should of won an Oscar for it. If you see Lost in La Mancha, you almost have to fall in love with his obsession and blindness for making films, and his talent for blending such disparate, otherworldly images.

Fabrice Du Welz is a demented genius, Calvaire and Vinyan have such control of the fear and dread they create with such small claustrophobic sets and casts, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. I love the economy and beauty of Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 and getting ready to watch the opposite in John Woo’s 5-hour epic Red Cliff.

I do love the grandeur of big, epic movies when they are done right, so Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven. I really loved the look and feel of Antoine Fuqua’s Replacement Killers. Too cool! I liked Training Day, and loved everything about his Tears of the Sun.

When I saw Peter Berg’s The Kingdom, it had really a strange effect on me. Though obviously I haven’t handled anything approaching such a big production, there were dozens of times throughout the movie when I felt I was looking at my own work. I think it’s in his shot choices, the immersion of his angles, some of the rhythms, and the compositions he uses to film dialog scenes. I’ve since gone back and watched it a half dozen times and always have the same feeling, as if it’s something I worked on. All these people, and of course many more are such inspiration, that it gives me hope that someday I’ll do something really well too.

CC: What are your thoughts on the current state of action and action-oriented films today?

Maybe it’s because I can see past some of the magic, but a lot of them don’t anything for me at all. The ones that do emphasize the human element. Dark Knight was great, Iron Man great, and both worked for me because that element was never lost in all the special effects. The movies I mentioned before were memorable to me because of the emotion and characterization the actors brought to it, and how the directors let that guide the action and stay in the forefront of the finished product. A moment like Emma Thompson has in Love Actually when she realizes her husband Alan Rickman is cheating on her - it just can’t get better than that - those stay with me. That human element is many times glossed over in action movies, and when it’s not, you get the iconic movies like Rocky, and First Blood, The Crow, and Heat, and The Professional.

It seems to me it’s when the importance of the action is somewhere down the list is when the movies with action have the chance to become not just awesome action movies but awesome movies. I only hope for myself that I can keep making the kind of movies I would want to see, and gain the skills and opportunities to live up to my own ideals.

I’d like to thank Kely for taking the time to talk with me.

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