Director Richard Bates, Jr. makes weird movies for weird people. From EXCISION to TONE DEAF, they’re beautiful, gross, and all about trying to find yourself in a world where you feel like you don’t belong. In his latest film, KING KNIGHT, which premiered as part of this year’s Fantasia Festival, Bates continues that trend, but this time with a little less cynicism and a lot more love. We were able to sit down with him to discuss his world of witches, talking pine cones, and genuine love.
Where did you come up with the idea for this movie? I think it’s so funny and so sweet. And I would just love to hear a little bit more about your process of coming up with the story behind the film.
So I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do after coming back. And there’s all the Trump stuff and all this awful shit happening. Things just felt so bleak and I just knew … I said, “You know what, we’re going to make something happy. Going to make something to makes you happy and it will make someone else happy and that’s what we’re going to do right now and I don’t know what it is.” I started thinking, and I realized that I like witches. I don’t want a witch killing people. All my friends who are witches are so nice and I collect tons of books on Wicca and witchcraft.
So the idea was a Southern family where the very notion of witchcraft is evil. Right? So I said, “Okay. This is it. We’ll make a movie about witches and they’ll be the protagonists and they’ll be the good guys. And we’ll show people that they’re just like anyone else, searching for the same answers to the same questions as we all are.”
All my movies…[are] kind of farcical. They take place in a heightened version of reality. But in order to do this one, I just totally stripped it of cynicism. I made sure I loved every character. I was touching on what makes me happy. And I knew that would come naturally with witches and then from there, the approach with I’m not going to tell people to love witches. No one likes being told what to think. I’m not going to preach to them. I can’t treat [these witches] completely like reverentially or make them holier than thou. I’m just going to treat them like I would treat any normal people in a comedy that I was making.
That’s amazing. And I feel like that really shines through because every single character I wanted to give a hug, watching this movie.
Good. That is really good. At the end of the day we got everyone together. I said, “You know what, just imagine if Nickelodeon tried to remake HOLY MOUNTAIN.”
So that’s kind of our journey, if you will. And then these actors are so amazing. The best thing about putting a movie like this together myself was I got to cast. In this [film] every single actor in the movie was who I wanted to be in it. I even negotiated the contracts with some of their agents.
I did all that because it’s an ensemble movie, it’s a family movie. It’s about a family. And no one was in this movie to get rich. So everyone was awesome and fun and in it for the love of making movies and it felt like we were kids again. I felt like I was a kid in my parents’ backyard or something.
The entire cast seems they’re having so much fun. I was thinking especially of the scene where they’re having Beltaine and there’s these amazing, almost a music video of them dancing, but it looks serious, but also really fun and funny. And I just wanted to hear about what it was like working with this entire cast to create this very heartfelt, both movie about them being a family.
That was the thing. Every one of them gets it. So the first thing was, “Okay guys, no matter how ridiculous anything reads to you on the page, you are not in a comedy, you are in SOPHIE’S CHOICE.” And they were all like, “Are you sure?” I was like, “Yes.” And everyone committed to it.
And it was just fantastic. So they all got it and they all committed. I think we created this really fascinating tone and it was interesting in editorial because comedy is edited very fast these days and a drama would be edited slow, and then it was finding that sweet spot right in between so that it’s comedic but it’s not like a sit-com, you know what I mean? So it was a lot of fun, a lot of fun.
A lot of your films are about the loner and this film in particular really does kind of talk about the idea of being a loner and finding your family. So what about this film did you want to be different besides the stripping of cynicism?
Sure. I think the twist here is that none of the others really start delving into this deep significance of accepting yourself in order to accomplish real self growth.
So I think that’s sort of the new twist in this story. Because each one of these movies is kind of like a journal entry for me. As I’m growing or evolving or occasionally devolving, I try to capture it. I’ll try to create some sort of, I don’t know, record of being alive in some strange way. The thing about my movies is that there are a good amount of people that are going to like them. There’s a lot of people that really hate them. But then there’s this handful of people that love them and they don’t get a lot of movies made for them. And so these movies are really special to them and that’s the sweet spot. That gives me purpose.