“Kinks”: Guest interview by filmmakers Juliane Block & Virginia Kennedy

Juliane Block and Virginia Kennedy are the filmmaker duo who created Kinks, a feature mockumentary about two sisters who meet while shooting a kinky American reality show in Malaysia and fight because one is the Host and the other, the Censor.

Virginia & Juliane about Kinks:

How did you get to work together?

Juliane: When I finished my first feature Emperor I already thought about the next film. And there was one thing I haven’t tried out yet – Acting. I knew Virginia from some Indie film meetings in Kuala Lumpur and thought maybe it’s a great fit. I knew she was keen on directing her first feature, so I approached her. First, just with the idea of having collaborative writing sessions, but [to tell the] truth I already thought about asking her as director or co-director at an early stage.

Things progressed and Virginia came on board!

Virginia: The first time I saw Juliane she was selling a short film she had made and I was blown away by this opinionated German woman’s strength. She was fiery and powerful. I was too scared to even make contact with her. I hid in the back and made a silent escape. The second time I met her, a film distribution friend of mine thought I should meet this “female” director. It was Juliane! Up close and personal we actually had a lot in common and I realized I had as many if not more scary qualities like her. And honestly she is FAR from scary. She is strong and honest and all great qualities. I was so lucky to meet her. Julie said she had an idea for a feature film and I was looking to work with someone who made things happen. Juliane was that someone!

Betty's Elimination. (Photo courtesy of the filmmakers)

Working together to create Kinks:

Virginia: Firstly Juliane has an amazing work ethic. Working with her was perfect for me. She is driven to achieve, so our writing schedule was regular and geared to succeed. Within a year we had a full feature script. We found that we worked well together. Only arguing maybe three or four times… and those arguments were usually when I was on a diet or needing relationship advice! Juliane was a great couch therapist and within that year I wrote a script with her and healed a broken heart! Great achievement.

As the shoot day came nearer, I also realized Julie has an amazing producing ability. Her organization skills are better than a lot of the professionals I have worked with and we had to work around crews that were working for no budget.

Juliane: I think Virginia and I have a very good set of skills we were able to bring to Kinks. Virginia is great in writing and I have experience with low budget producing. Additionally we have both our own experiences about living as white women in Asia and all those experiences we could use to add into the story of Kinks. The finished film is really our collaborative product. I think both of us learned a lot!

Movie poster for "Kinks" (Image courtesy of the filmmakers)

What do you plan to do with Kinks?

 Juliane: We finished Kinks a couple of months ago and are currently looking for distribution. We are on the festival circuit, awaiting the replies of some of the big ones. However, knowing it’s always very tough to get even into the Tier 2 festivals, we are working on our blog and alternative social media strategies to make Kinks public. We want to release it around May 2012 on itunes and other internet outlets, and have time to build our audience till then. Of course a big festival premiere would help, so fingers crossed!

Virginia: Our plan for Kinks is to entertain and enlighten. Julie and I have both lived in Malaysia and we have a lot of respect for Malaysia and Malaysians. I personally love Malaysia. It is warm and sweet and caresses you like a buttery muffin. I love Malaysia but like all countries they have their “ways” and this can be cause for humor just as western culture can be made fun of.

Kinks celebrates all cultures. It looks at Malaysia which is different from my western upbringing and looks at it in a humorous way from the perspective of shooting a crazy reality program in Malaysia. We want everyone to appreciate Malaysia by seeing Kinks.

What did you learn so far?

 Juliane: I think the biggest thing I learned is that you need to put money aside for your distribution. I came along with a range of skills to actually kickstart production and to last with almost no budget until the film is finished. However, now we are realizing that distributing the feature film is an entirely different challenge, as difficult as creating the film itself. Well, once you realize that, it sounds logical, but when you are on it, you might just overlook some very important aspects – like the distribution 🙂 I recommend anybody who wants to make a film – double the production budget, keep 50% for distribution!

Virginia: I learnt how wonderful Malaysian actors are and how generous and willing they are to work hard. I learnt that you need to prepare even harder for distribution. Shooting is the easy part but getting it out there on a no budget production takes work and strategy. I learnt, with the help of Julie, how to create a strategy for selling an independent film. Without her I probably would have given away all rights to the film and it might have been left on the shelf. I also learnt that you have to LOVE your script from the beginning. It is a little like a marriage because you have to stay married to it for a long time.

Production of "Kinks" (Photo courtesy of the filmmakers)

SYNOPSIS OF Kinks

Kinks is a mockumentary style feature film. The movie takes a cynical but nevertheless humorous look at two inter-racial sisters who appear far from alike. Inside and outside. One is white and one is dark.

Split up as children, because their parents divorced, the film starts when they finally meet again after years growing up on separate continents. On meeting it is obvious their agendas are as different as their looks. The fiercely competitive, western educated Caucasian looking Jay wants international success for her cross cultural dating show. She returns to Malaysia to produce her dream, a reality show for the American market. To succeed she needs it to be as outrageous as possible. Jay’s Malaysian sister, Joythi, the Indian looking darker one, happens to work for Ministry of Culture. She is more introverted and has to learn to stand up to her sister while desperately trying to keep her job, while in charge to establish some decency in Jay’s misguided production.

Clashes are inevitable!

The story of this mockumentary feature evolves during the two weeks production of the dating show pilot. Through the seemingly different sisters, Jay and Joythi the audience will witness first hand all the bruised egos, crazy accusations and extreme cultural clashes and misconceptions between East and West but also the similarities of two sisters being eventually just humans.

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Short CV Juliane Block

My filmmaking career started in Germany as special FX make-up artist on an underground Zombie flick (“Mutation,” released on DVD in 1999) followed by producer & screenwriter credits on several other shorts (e.g. “Killerbus,” released on DVD in 2004). I got hooked. Even though I have a design masters from the university of art in Braunschweig, I continued with film making.

In 2005 I migrated to Asia to pursue Asian cinema. I directed and produced a no budget feature in 2008 (“Emperor”) which screened at the Asia Pacific festival of 1st Films in Singapore and won the feature category at the Portable Film Festival. Since 2007 I directed, wrote and produced 13 shorts which have been screened in film festivals around the world, and my 2nd feature (“Kinks”) just completed post. I participated in the Berlinale Talent Campus in 2008 and my short film “It could happen to you” was chosen for production in the BTC Hands on Training “Garage studio”. I’ve held lectures about low budget film making in Hong Kong (Hong Kong Int. Film Academy) and Singapore (SAE Institute).

After living the last 6 years in Asia (Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand & Indonesia) I just returned to Germany to pursue my next feature film projects.

I love my life!

Short CV Virginia Kennedy:

I started out working as a special effects editor and animator in commercials in Australia and South East Asia. Designing program openers and promos for CHANNEL 7 in Melbourne. I then moved to Sydney and into Advertising.

I was offered a job in Malaysia and was excited to travel so the first time I left Australia was to live overseas. Soon I moved into directing music videos and commercials in 1994. I have shot many commercials all around the globe and won Malaysia best MUSIC VIDEO (AIM) four times. In 2007 I shot a Music Video in LA for Karkis.

I moved into films with a Malaysian 60minute telemovie Jalan Berangan which I wrote and directed for the “Festival Series” on NTV7 and after a few short films, a horror, “@traction”, and a sexual revenge drama “I’ll Trust this January.” I wrote and directed Kinks with Juliane Block.

I have completed shooting a magic realism, short film “Thread” I wrote and directed and will be submitting to festivals in 2012. I am continuing writing with two completed feature film scripts.

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To find out more or to follow the film, watch a trailer of Kinks online here and connect with the film on twitter @kinksthemovie, on facebook at kinksthemovie or subscribe to the newsletter by signing up on the website.

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The trilogy concludes: Part III of interview w/Hillary J. Walker, filmmaker

Hillary J. Walker. Photo courtesy of James Bok.

Finishing up this week, here is the final installment of a three-part interview with the multi-hyphenate Hillary J. Walker — director-writer-star of ACTION!!!.  Walker’s film is a mockumentary of the “real” behind the scenes happenings on a big-budget Hollywood picture.

Hillary J. Walker tweets @Hillary_J and blogs at Altering Reality: The 2010 Project.  Click on any of the ACTION!!! links below to visit her film’s website.

Q: What are your goals as a filmmaker in terms of other topics, genres, etc.?

A: The next two films I want to make are both comedies that I’ve already written and that I mention as if I’ve already made them in ACTION!!!Happy Acres and 101 Ways to Kill Your Boss. And of course, I want to make the film that ACTION!!! is based on MLM, which I haven’t finished writing yet, but it’s all in my head, so maybe this summer I’ll finally plunk it all down!  I do like to pepper my films with messages. I feel that there are a couple in ACTION!!! And Happy Acres is actually rife with them, but I think people are more apt to enjoy a message if they are laughing at the time they hear it.

A couple years ago I was able to do something very cool with the improv troupe that I’d love to do again.  We went around to area schools and did a substance abuse prevention show using improv comedy. We didn’t create scenes about controlled substances, rather we let the limitations the actors faced in the scenes serve as metaphors for the limitations controlled substances subject us to.  The kids loved it.  Yeah, they were learning and being taught to respect their bodies, but they were laughing and interacting the whole time.

I want my movies to do that.  Sure, I might make some more serious films eventually, but as a cancer survivor I can honestly say laughter IS the best medicine.  It’s what got me through nine grueling months of chemo and a very painful surgery.  It’s what keeps me going even now.  So maybe some people see comedy as frivolous or pointless or a waste.  I don’t.  I see it as a highly challenging and infinitely rewarding way of story-telling that has the astounding power of making people feel good.

The other genre I know I have to eventually tackle is the MUSICAL! As I’ve mentioned a couple times, I really love singing.  According to my mom and grandma I could actually sing before I could talk.  And my first experiences as a performer all involved music.  I have a few ideas for musical films as well as stage musicals.  I’m just hoping to find the right collaborative partners to make it all come together.  Dang!  I’m going to be busy for the next 20 years or so!

Hillary J. Walker (second from left) at the Broad Humor Festival in Venice, CA, with fellow winners. Photo courtesy of James Bok.

“[My mother] has told me my whole life that I can be whatever I wanted to be.”

Q: What people (filmmakers or otherwise) have influenced you as a filmmaker?

A: Other influences… let’s see… well picking back up with the musical thing — Stephen Sondheim — another great master of both language and intricate ensemble story telling.  He was one of my earliest influences in writing actually.  I did my Senior English Thesis on his work.

My family has been amazingly supportive.  Not many mothers would encourage their 30-something daughters to just go full tilt following their dreams without a good financial contingency plan in place.  It’s kind of embarrassing, but my mother has been serving as my financial contingency plan ever since my separation from the military.  I do get some disability pay but it’s not remotely enough to live off of.  But instead of insisting I get a real job right now, my mom just offers to help whenever I need it.  Luckily, she is also an investor in the film, so she stands to make some decent money once we get distribution!  She grew up during the women’s movement and has told me my whole life that I can be whatever I wanted to be.  I know my grandpa was hoping that “whatever I wanted to be” would be a doctor or a lawyer, but hey, some of us look better under dramatic lighting!

My baby brother, who is a staff sergeant in the Army back from his third tour in Iraq has also been very supportive.  He and his awesome wife also invested in the company to help us get the movie made.

Another huge influence was Shelly Thompson, my high school Performing Arts (and German) teacher.  She really encouraged me but always made me accountable for my screw-ups.  She helped me to learn to take responsibility for myself and my actions and gave me countless opportunities to grow and express myself as a performer.  And then there was the multitude of people who didn’t believe in me.  I’m a little bit feisty, so the naysayers definitely pushed me forward — whether they meant to or not!

Hillary J. Walker on the green carpet at Dances With Films with Adam Richardson, Executive Producer of ACTION!!! and also cast member. Photo courtesy of James Bok.

Q: What advice might you give to women, specifically, who aspire to work in film or who are set to debut as a filmmaker?

A: Well first and foremost for all filmmakers, if you don’t believe in yourself nobody else will.  But it always helps to know what you’re doing.  Get some professional set experience even if it means working as a PA or a grip or a stand-in for a few months.  See how the “big boys” do it and learn from the successes and mistakes of others.

Also, I’m a firm believer in “The Secret” aka “The Law of Attraction” aka “good old fashioned faith.”  Your beliefs truly do create your experience.  Not your desires.   Not your hopes.  YOUR BELIEFS.  If you think it will be hard, it will be hard.  If you think you’ll meet the perfect people and everything will fall into place, guess what?  That will happen, too. If you’re afraid you’re going to screw up and lose everything, stop what you’re doing until that fear is gone. (I really wish I could convince some of my friends of that one.)  But you need to learn to be honest with yourself. I’ve known too many people who qualify their statements with things like, “I know what I’m doing, but nobody else believes in me.”  Nope, not good enough.  Buts are great in a nice pair of jeans, but leave them out of your belief system.  Just say “I know what I’m doing.”  And believe it!   But don’t forget to see it all the way through to the end.  NO ONE will be more committed to your project than you are.  EVER.  If you lose interest, how do you expect anyone else to really care?  I think a lot of us are creative and we have great ideas, and we think, “well, I’m creative, I’m an idea person. It’s up to someone else to take care of the details.”  Okay, that can work, as long as you assemble a competent team of individuals and delegate each detail in detail.  This is why billions of people have ideas, millions of scripts are started thousands of movies are shot and only hundreds are ever seen.  Sure it’s art, but Susan diRende [@BroadHumor] reminded all the Broads that it’s also a business. And the truth is, without the business skills to market your art, no one will ever see it.

To women specifically…

Learn the difference between story and back story, (my journalism training really helped me with that) and the difference between making artistic choices and wasting time on screen (again, journalism really keeps me on point with story telling.) Truly listen to suggestions and different opinions WITHOUT getting defensive (still working on that one.) If you do manage to assemble a fantastic, experienced team, for goodness sake listen to them, especially when they’re advising you about their area of expertise. Part of being a good leader is being able to alter course when it’s in the best interest of the project as a whole. It doesn’t negate your power — it amplifies it and empowers your crew to do their best work.

Living the dream. Hillary J. Walker in Hollywood (2010). Photo courtesy of James Bok.

“Filmmaking should be like sex — if it’s not fun, you’re definitely doing it wrong!”

I think women are still to some degree socially programmed to feel threatened by people questioning their choices. This is perhaps our biggest stumbling block as a gender in leadership positions.  People question men, too.  The difference often comes in how we handle being questioned.  Listen objectively, weigh the options and proceed with the best course of action.  It might be yours or it might be theirs — the important thing is they are consulting you.  If someone is constantly consulting you, make sure they’re doing it “off-line” and not in front of the rest of the crew.  If they try that crap, make sure you have another “heavy” on your side around to deal with it until you can take care of it yourself.

Again, socially, women are more apt to respond emotionally in stressful situations. But in our society, a display of raw emotion by someone in power is frequently perceived as weakness.  Building a “character” to get you through the stressful parts — a role or persona you can play — can help shield you from feeling of personally being attacked if you find you are extra sensitive to criticism.

No matter what genre you choose, learn to laugh at yourself and your art.  Don’t take this so seriously that you forget to enjoy yourself in the process.  Filmmaking should be like sex — if it’s not fun, you’re definitely doing it wrong!

And for the love of all that’s holy, DON’T MAKE EXCUSES.  So it’s your first film.  So you’re a chick.  So you’re not invited in the “boy’s club.”  So what?  Make your own club!  And when the boys see how much fun you’re having they’ll want to come hang out in yours.  Being a woman is only a stumbling block when WE make it one. Sure, there are some men in power out there who won’t take you seriously.  So work with the ones that DO.  Or better yet – distract the good ol’ boys with your cleavage while you’re kicking their butts at the Oscars — The Hurt Locker anyone? (Not saying Kathryn Bigelow shows much cleavage, but she could if she wanted to!)  Right now is an amazing time to be a woman in film and television.  We have Tina Fey, Kathryn Bigelow, Oprah Winfrey, Betty White etc…. We’re still enough of a minority in the business that we can get press, recognition and funding that isn’t available to men, but attitudes are changing, doors are opening and 20 years from now all that special consideration that we’re getting won’t be available to our daughters because they won’t need it.  But just like us, they’ll be able to do anything they want to!

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Many thanks once again to Hillary J. Walker for her willingness to be interviewed about her work and her life.

Interview in three parts: Hillary J. Walker, filmmaker

An improv comedian, writer, former military sergeant and broadcast journalist has turned her eye toward film and is currently on the festival circuit screening and promoting her new film.  Hillary J. Walker is the writer, director, co-executive producer and star of ACTION!!!, a new mockumentary film about what really goes on behind the scenes of a Hollywood film.   I found out about Hillary by googling for news of women filmmakers, and read a feature in a Florida newspaper which had given her project some good coverage.  (See below post.) I approached her and she was kind enough to do this interview (to be posted in three parts) through Facebook.

Trailer for ACTION!!!

ACTION!!! website

Broad Humor Film Festival

@Hillary_J on Twitter

Altering Reality: The 2010 Project (Hillary’s blog)

On to the interview…

BIO: Hillary J. Walker is the president and a co-founder of Poison Oak Inc. a Florida-based production company whose inaugural comedy feature ACTION!!! has already won three awards and is currently being screened at a number of different film festivals worldwide.

Founder and director of the Daytona Beach comedy improv troupe Random Acts of Insanity, Walker obviously likes to start things! Having survived cancer, military separation and marital separation, not much scares her any more, so filmmaking was a logical choice for this singing, dancing, acting, writing, blogging, self-proclaimed average goddess.  In her spare time she loves fostering new talent and encouraging people to follow their dreams.

PART I

Q: You have an interesting background having served in the U.S. military and worked as a journalist. What led you to become a filmmaker?

A: In truth it was actually my desire to be a filmmaker that led me to pursue journalism in the military. Before I was anything I was an entertainer. I started singing at two, dancing at four and had my first speaking role on stage at six.

In my 20’s I got frustrated by the fact that there weren’t a lot of good roles for women my age in film and television and I decided to try my hand at writing. But as I started to create these stories and characters on paper I found I wanted to be more involved in production to ensure the stories were told truthfully. I considered going to film school in Orlando, but it was very expensive and I wasn’t sure how to pay for it.

I finally decided to join the National Guard (a decision I’d considered on and off for years having grown up in a military family) about a year after 9/11. I was thrilled to find out there were openings in Florida for Broadcast Journalists because it enabled me to serve my country, earn a paycheck, assist with my education and give me a solid foundation for a career in media arts. When cancer cut my military career short (the amputation of left great metatarsal restricted me from the rigorous field work required in that career) I felt somehow it was a sign that it was time to go back to my initial goal of writing, producing and acting in films.

Hillary J. Walker at the Broad Humor Film Festival, June 2010. Photo courtesy of James Bok.

Q: How do you see, or plan for, your filmmaking career (or in old timey speak, “your future in pictures!”)?

A: I love to do EVERYTHING! I’ve been directing my Daytona based improv troupe Random Acts of Insanity for five years now and of course I still love to act. I have several completed scripts that are ready to shoot as soon as we secure funding for them and several more “in development” meaning that the ideas are rolling around in my brain just waiting for me to sit down long enough to write them. So – I guess I’m shooting for a future in which I get to continue doing what I’ve already done – only making more money.

Admittedly my first loyalties are going to be producing the projects that I’ve written on, but I also write for hire and I would definitely love to mix it up by producing, directing and or acting in other projects as well. It’s just really tough to audition for outside projects right now since I’ve been so busy promoting ACTION!!! and working with my other Executive Producer Adam M. Richardson on future projects for Poison Oak Inc.

Hillary J. Walker with Adam Richardson at BHFF, June 2010. Photo courtesy of James Bok.

Q: Your directorial debut came in the form of a mockumentay, Action!!! How did the film come to be and what were your experiences directing a feature for the first time?

A: ACTION!!! was actually the third project in as many years that I’d tried to produce. In fact it was only a few weeks before our first pre – pre – production meeting that I’d told co-producer and long-time writing partner Tami Anderson that I wasn’t going to work on any new projects until I got one of the old ones made. Of course, we’d been talking about ACTION!!! for a few years, but I hadn’t actually written the script yet. I guess she didn’t quite understand what I was saying because she set up a meeting with Adam to discuss the possibility of him coming on board to help produce the film before we even had a script. And then, in this little impromptu meeting in a Winter Park coffee shop he inadvertently threw the gauntlet down. He said he thought it was a great idea but we’d probably need a few months to get together the funding and resources required. I suddenly felt like that was some kind of dare and was compelled to prove him wrong. Don’t ask why – I guess after three years of coming REALLY close to getting a few projects off the ground it took just one more person saying “wait for it” to annoy me into action.

The inspiration for ACTION!!! came while I was working on film sets in Utah. I was a stand-in FOREVER (or at least that’s how if felt.) But it was a great job to learn about film. I was there in the middle of everything and I saw all this drama and comedy unfold everyday at work. Lots of times I felt like the stories going on “behind the scenes” were far more compelling than the actual script we were shooting! I became kind of obsessed with DVD extras and realized quickly that Hollywood never tells what REALLY goes on behind the scenes and I would watch people get up and walk out on the credits at the movies because – let’s face it – who really knows what a dolly grip or a gaffer does anyway? So I thought a Christopher Guest-style mockumentary that could entertain AND educate might be really fun to produce. I always saw improvisation as being a crucial element for that style of story telling and it was my insistence on using improv that got me “nominated” to direct it. Honestly, I hadn’t really considered directing it until that first meeting, and all of the sudden I felt like – yeah, I AM the best person for this job. It was exciting and scary and empowering all at the same time.

It’s not that I hadn’t considered directing. It’s just that I figured I’d do things in steps.  You know, write and act in one, produce and act in another and then EVENTUALLY direct. This just sort of put me on the “mega-fast track.” But hey – if you’re waiting your whole life to do something, when the opportunity finally arrives, you just HAVE to go for it. I’m so glad I did!

Hillary J. Walker (center) with Action!!! team at the Broad Humor Film Festival, June 2010. Photo courtesy of James Bok.

Q: As a first-time feature filmmaker, what were you most confident about going in to the project?

A: I was so very blessed with this project for a number of reasons. First of all, I had an AMAZING cast! I had worked with nearly every single member of the cast in some capacity prior to filming. I didn’t hold auditions for ACTION!!! – people had already auditioned while they were working with me. That’s something for all actors to keep in mind. Always do your best and be pleasant to work with. You never know when that PA bringing you coffee or that stand-in over by the craft [services] table will be the person you’re auditioning for on your next project! Always – ALWAYS put your best foot forward.

So I showed up on set knowing that if we could stay on schedule we’d have a great film. Luckily I managed to secure the help of one of Central Florida’s most experience Unit Production Managers, Craig Richards, who among a plethora of credits worked as the UPM on the Academy Award-Winning film Monster. He wrangled an amazing crew – some of the most experienced technical professionals in the business. I think a lot of them couldn’t believe that I was trying to shoot an entire feature in just three days and wanted to see if it could even happen. Thanks to their skill level, professionalism and work ethic we made it happen!

We also had an amazingly talented driven Director of Photography.  Scott Toler Collins was a Full Sail [film school] grad who helped with one of my prior projects (that is still awaiting completion) who I knew had good instincts when it came to filming improvised scene work.  I was also pretty confident that he had good improvisational skills himself. I met with some resistance when I insisted that our actual DP play a role in the film.  Several members of my production team tried to talk me out it, but I wanted a certain air of realism with the documentary element of the film, and I felt having the camera guy really interacting with the actors while he was shooting would be a better sell. Luckily my gamble paid off and Scott multi-tasked like a pro! So I guess the short answer to your question is I had confidence in every person doing their job which made my job way easier than it probably should have been!

Part II to follow next week…

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News articles on ACTION!!! and Hillary J. Walker:

Orlando Sentinel

The Daytona Beach News-Journal

Florida Guard Online

Hometown News