Sweetback (SB): Brett, I really want to thank you for taking some time to talk to us at Daily Grindhouse. With over 15 features under your belt, you’re a bit of a Canadian independent legend, so it’s a treat to be able to pick your brain. You’ve been ridiculously prolific over the last decade, and I think a major inspiration to young directors who are interested in taking the initiative in putting together their own features.
Brett Kelly (BK): Thanks, that’s very kind.
SB: Let’s talk a little bit about your background. Your webpage mentions studying theater and television broadcasting, but when did your initial interest in films and filmmaking develop? Was your intention always to be involved in genre films?
BK: At first I wanted to be an actor, and I did it for a long while, lots of stage stuff. Initially, the movie making was a way to promote my acting. I was inspired to make genre films by folks like Romero and Raimi who also used horror and such to get a foot in the door. Since then, I developed more of a taste for the directing, and that’s is what I’ve been doing ever since.
SB: To be honest, one of the things that drew me to this film, and you as a filmmaker, is that you’re a Canadian and working on projects within Canada. I have a deep and enduring love for Canadian film-making and Canadian films, but I recognize that it comes with its own specific challenges. As someone who has been working consistently here for a decade, what is the state of Canadian independent film-making?
BK: We don’t have states, we have provinces. LOL, just a little Canadian humor.
The scene is pretty good here, Canadian film has come a long way. A lot of Canadians groan when they hear the phrase “Canadian film”- but truthfully, a lot of Canadian product is competitive on a global level. It wasn’t always that way. The only challenge I feel is my distance from the distributors, but so far I’ve been lucky to stay working here and finding companies that will let me direct in my own country and ship my films to them in LA.
SB: Can you talk a little bit about your first film THE FERAL MAN. What prompted you to make a feature, and what were some of your biggest difficulties as a first time director working on a very limited budget?
BK: I made THE FERAL MAN because I was inspired to tell the story, based on true life events. It was challenging because up to that point I was used to telling stories theatrically rather than cinematically. Also things that all newbies experience such as scheduling, finding actors and locations etc. I overcame and luckily it was only my first step towards bigger and better things. While it is an older flick to me, I still feel it has a lot of heart.
SB: PIRATES: QUEST FOR SNAKE ISLAND is a first for me; an independent Pirate movie. While PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN seems like an obvious influence, swashbuckling adventures have a long and impressive history in films, dating back to the silent era. What seafaring movies were the largest influence on your film? What elements from these films did you know *had* to be part of your production?
BK: No specific pirate film influenced it. Believe it or not, the biggest influence on the story was the original STAR WARS. Watch it again with that in mind and see if you can see it. I knew I had to have a pirate ship, a pirate film without a ship is like a western without a horse. I put in it all the things that people expect, treasure, mutinies- all the classic pirate things.
SB: One of the most impressive aspects of QUEST FOR SNAKE ISLAND is the amount of production value you were able to put together on a low budget. Attempting to do a period film – particularly one of this scope – must have been quite an undertaking. The credits of the film confirm that you were able to film in some actual historical structures. How did you end up getting permission to shoot in these locations, and were there specific challenges to filming around historical landmarks?
BK: Yeah, it was tough. But It forced me to pre-edit the movie in my head to make all the movie trickery work. Getting permission is fairly easy if you are honest with the owners of locations. I had to pay a few bucks here and there as well, but it was worth it. The biggest challenge was in the sound. We cut all the time for car and plane noise.
SB: Aside from your impressive directing resume, you’ve also done your fair share of acting – including being the lead in QUEST FOR SNAKE ISLAND. How do you manage to juggle your directing and acting duties? When you’re doing acting gigs, like in BLOOD RED MOON, is it a bit of a relief to be able to focus entirely on your acting?
BK: It’s hard. Nowadays I try not to act in the movies I direct. I’d rather focus on the directing. That said, I love acting for other directors. I’d be into doing more of that. It was always easier at the beginning to cast myself because I knew I’d always be available.
On Pirates, I actually got laryngitis during the shoot, which as director – and actor – made the days really hard. I had to direct with hand signals and change some of the dialogue around.
SB: The closing credits of QUEST FOR SNAKE ISLAND give thanks to both genre stalwarts Fred Olen Ray and J.R. Bookwalter. What sort of influence have they been on your work, and do you feel like you’re continuing on the independent tradition that they helped pioneer?
BK: I consider them to be mentors of sorts. J.R. helped me at the start of my career by signing a lot of my early work. Fred has been kind with offering words of encouragement over the last several years. I think on PIRATES he may have given me specific advice about greenscreen stuff, if memory serves. Plus I’m a fan of both Fred and J.R.’s films. I guess it’s up to history to see if I’m following their tradition, but it would be nice to think so.
SB: One of the things that helps propel the film is the use of computer generated effects, allowing for both scenes to take place on the open sea and for the titular snake creatures to pop up at the film’s climax. At what point did you decide that CG was going to be necessary to realize your vision for the film? Was it difficult incorporating these effects into filming?
BK: Yeah, it was very difficult. We were shooting on the DVX100 which is tougher to do greenscreen and CGI with than the newer HD cameras. It took a good year to get it all looking the way it does. I knew the snakes would be CGI from the beginning. We had originally planned to film on a real ship, but that fell through.
SB: What’s your distribution model for your films? What have been some of your biggest challenges in finding funding for your work?
BK: I don’t know that I have a distribution model. I just make movies that I think that distributors want to see, then I send out screeners and hope that the movies get signed. I’ve been lucky so far. Funding is always the challenge, every movie is different and the money never comes the same way twice.
SB: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
BK: Hopefully still working consistently on films funded by companies that hire me to do them. Its way better than trying to raise the money as one man.
SB: If one of our readers wanted to pick up a copy of PIRATES: QUEST FOR SNAKE ISLAND, or one of your other films, how would they go about it? And what’s the best way to keep up with your current and future projects?
SB: You’re a man of many talents. Aside from writing, acting and various production duties on your films, you also teach acting and movie making classes, as well as developed some comic books. Can you speak a little bit about some of these other projects, and how you became involved in them?
BK: The comics publishing was supposed to be a hobby that coincided with the making of my superhero film AVENGING FORCE: THE SCARAB. I have put out a bunch of books, I’m not doing it so much now, it’s hard to find artists who will stick around and stick to their commitments. The books are still available from www.indyplanet.com. I teach classes in my town for the City of Ottawa. It’s a fun side gig that is within my field.
SB: What do you currently have on your plate, and what should be people be looking for from Brett Kelly in the future?
BK: At the moment I am in post-production on JURASSIC SHARK and am in pre-production on the zombie comedy musical MY FAIR ZOMBIE (www.myfairzombiemovie.com)
SB: Anything else you would like to plug?
BK: Not really, just my site at www.brettkelly.net. I hope folks will check out my work. I thank you and your readers for their support!
SB: And finally what advice would you give to young filmmakers who are just starting out?
BK: Make shorts privately and learn your craft. It’s very tempting to put everything you make on youtube, but if you wait until you can dazzle everyone with your honed skills- you will knock the world on their asses. Be patient, learn your craft.
SB: Cheers, Brett.
- [NO-BUDGET NIGHTMARES] PODCAST #80: PLAGA ZOMBIE (1997) - July 25, 2016