Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Interview with Dav Kaufman, writer/director of "13 Hours in a Warehouse"

When I head to the theaters or I rent a big budget horror film, chances are I'm not going to be surprised. Now, I don't mean 'surprised' as in getting a jump scare or shocked at some scene... a horror film better do that or else it really sucks ass... I mean, surprised by the film as a whole. That's one of the reasons that I love indie-horror. You never really know what you're going to get and I get shocked at how good, new or 'out there' indie films are all the time. "13 Hours in a Warehouse" is one of those indie films where I was shocked at just how good it was.

It really sucks that a lot of people don't get that there's a difference between studio films and indie films. A modestly budgeted studio film has a budget in the 8 figures range... and that's the VERY low end. A modestly budgeted indie film can be the cost of film stock. If you check "13 Hours in a Warehouse" out, then read this interview and see what Dav Kaufman put the film together for... I think you'll be amazed. "13 Hours in a Warehouse" is a well put together film, with great acting, great effects, a great story and it's well worth getting your hands on. It's screened at 5 festivals as of right now and it's won 3 awards... and there's more screenings coming. It's a great piece of indie filmmaking and I really suggest checking it out.

We had the opportunity to discuss the film with writer/director Dav Kaufman...

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a filmmaker, author, and reptile fanatic. I share my home with 24 snakes, and 3 lizards. I’ve been into them since I was a kid, and written many magazine articles about them. I have given talks on their conservation and husbandry from Elementary Schools to Universities. Movies and reptiles occupy 99% of my time. The other 1% I try to get some sleep.

What are your influences and what brought you into the world of indie horror filmmaking?

I love the horror genre. I have since I saw films like Salem’s Lot, Burnt Offerings, and Halloween when I was a kid. I also read tons of horror books (including Halloween before I saw the movie). The horror genre is much more forgiving than any other genre. You can get away with a lot more in terms of bending realism and sometimes even logic which, of course, gives me as a filmmaker more freedom to get as creative as I’d like. I also love the films Hitchcock made, but I fear that his subtly is lost on the more sophisticated and bloodthirsty audiences today. I used a lot of that subtly in “13 Hours” and I think it worked pretty well.

Film School: Yes or No?

It’s funny, when I moved out to LA in ’98, one of my first jobs was with UCLA’s Film School. I produced film after film, and essentially got paid to go to film school, but I was never officially enrolled.

Where did the idea for “13 Hours in a Warehouse” come from and what was your motivation to actually go out and get it done?

The idea came from a simple, personal test. I set out to write a script that took place in one location, had a handful of characters, could be done on a micro-budget, and could still captivate an audience. I guess I pulled the story line from somewhere deep inside the dark recesses of my “weirdo oblongata”.

The motivation to get it done was always there. When I graduated from college in Minneapolis in ’97, I set out to put my life-long ambition of making movies into overdrive, so I sacrificed everything in my life to make that happen…everything. I sold everything I owned, moved to LA, struggled almost more than I could stand to make something happen, and it took me ten years to achieve this goal. Even though in that time I was running a successful publishing company and living off the royalties of my novel and my other book, I never saw my life as having any kind of success until I accomplished what I set out to do.

First off, I thought it was a very well written script – interesting characters, good plot, a decent amount of scares and gore… Talk about the process of writing a script that you know you’re going to direct on a low-budget.

Thanks. Writing anything is a difficult endeavor because the tools you have only exist on a mental plane. You have to invent your own inspiration, but eventually, I’ve found that once you get to a point in the script, it begins to talk to you and tell you what and where it wants to go. Writing a script knowing it’s going to be low budget is more difficult than it sounds. You have to keep your run-away impulses on a pretty short leash. On the other hand, it forces you to be much more creative.

How did you go about securing financing and what was the approx budget?

The budget was around $75,000. I met our investors at a festival I organized in 2006. We had two investors in this film, and because I was asking for a little bit of money to make something that I felt could go pretty far, they took a chance with me, and now not only does it look like their risk has been significantly minimized by the film’s global release, but we’re doing two other movies together, one of which we just wrapped, and the other is in pre-production right now.

What did you shoot on and how long was the shoot?

We shot on the 200. Our production schedule was set for 28 days, but we came in at 21 days or something like that.

I thought the ghost effects were particularly effective and well done… talk about the look of the ghosts and how the whole effect was achieved.

I credit all of that to Crist Ballas, our SPFX make-up master, and Danny Kimura of ADFX who did all the digital effects. The only direction I gave them was “make ‘em creepy” and their individual talents took over from there.

I thought the acting was another high point, as well. Talk about your directing style and how you worked with your actors…

As a director, you are essentially a tour guide for your actors and thus your audience. Actors are actors for a reason, and they will dissect, investigate and get to know their characters more intimately than a writer and/or director ever will. Knowing this, I give my talent a lot of room to create and explore and even scrutinize their characters to better bring them to life. Actors will see things in the text that could be delivered better, different, or sometimes even opposite to what is written. It’s a good director that listens, and considers every suggestion, but at the same time is not afraid to say no. I also think that a director’s most important job is to establish trust with his/her talent early in production, as there is a natural tendency for distrust between actors and directors. Going into a project with a director they have not worked with before, an actor may distrust that the director is going to make them look bad, and therefore they will never get cast again. On the other hand, directors don’t trust that their talent will give them the performances they desire. Constant and open communication, and respect for each other’s craft is the cure to that.

Tell us about some of the hurdles you overcame to get the film done. Any advice you can pass on to other indie filmmakers who might be just setting out to make a film.

With this film, the only real hurdles were things like fire codes we had to abide by in the warehouse. We couldn’t have real fire, so all of that was added later with CGI. For the most part, it was a pretty smooth shoot. Advice to other filmmakers? Easy. Never give up! This is a very cruel life choice we’ve made, but also one with the most rewards. Don’t get discouraged by investors leading you on, or by the nay-sayers telling you that you can’t do it. Use it as fuel to motivate yourself. On the other hand, once you do get that success, don’t forget about the struggles you went through to get there. Also, don’t take any reviews personally (and that includes your work) especially those written on the IMDB. Anonymous public forums give soured idiots license to say whatever they’d like, and most posts on the IMDB are by kids and by envious people who want to be in your position. Once you find yourself believing what they say, you’re dead in the water.

Not only did you enter a bunch of festivals, you actually won the Gold Award at WorldFest Houston. Talk about the festival circuit… is it something that every indie horror filmmaker should consider doing?

YES! Only because they are a ton of fun and a good excuse to take a road trip (as if an excuse was needed in the first place). They are also a great place to network, get ideas on how to become a bigger and better filmmaker, and possibly win awards which help considerably in your marketing and attracting a distribution deal.

Tell us about the process of finding distribution. How did that go and what insight could you pass on to other filmmakers who are looking for distribution?

Right after we premiered the film and it screened at its first film festival; the Nevermore Horror Film Festival in Durham, NC, I did something that I think a lot of filmmakers are afraid to do; I got on the phone, and called the distributors directly. It’s a common theme I hear from other filmmakers that they think distributors will either hang up on them, or ask for materials they don’t have making them look like morons. But the bottom line is distribution companies don’t make money unless they have product to distribute. Most distribution companies will welcome filmmakers pitching their work to them, and will work with you to fulfill deliveries. It’s not as formidable as people think it is.

Where can people find out more about “13 Hours in a Warehouse” or, better yet, buy a copy?

It’s available in all rental and most retail locations throughout the world. Our official website is

Talk about the indie horror genre. Where do you feel it is now and where do you see it going?

I firmly believe that the studio system should just quit producing horror films. In the past few years, I have been greatly disappointed by all but one horror film produced by the studio system. I think that they are afraid to take any real chances with the material, and they are too married to producing a formula rather than a good, scary story. Instead, they should send buyers to all the horror film festivals to purchase their horror catalog for the next year from indie filmmakers who are not only fans of the genre themselves but can afford to take chances and strive to bring something fresh and unformulaic to the genre.

What’s next for you? Do you have any projects in the works?

My newest movie is a feature documentary titled “Herpers” which explores the huge reptile culture in our country with segments featuring Henry Lizardlover, Chad Brown of the NE Patriots, and Slash among a host of others. I am also going into pre-production on another film titled “The Psychosis of Ghosts”; a psychological thriller that follows a psychology student who takes a job as a night guard in an abandoned state hospital that is in the process of being converted into condos. He finds that its lingering residents are far from cured, and discovers that after the physical state is gone, the mental state continues on. “Psychosis” will film in January 2009.

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