Exclusive – Steve Kahn Talks Fear!

FEAR-Steve-Kahn-DirectorThe other half of my Fear interviews is here! A couple of days ago I interviewed the star of the short, and now it’s time for me to talk to the director – Steve Kahn. Read on for our chat about horror films, the experience of being afraid and how to combat it…Hello there, how are you today? Congratulations on Fear!

Hi James. I’m great, thanks! And thank you, Fear was quite an undertaking and a project created out of love. It was shot in 5 day shoot days with just me and my actress Jessie Rabideau cramped in a small bathroom. Then the film spent almost a year in post: editing, visual effects, then finally color correction. Though not an easy project to make it was an important one for me; one that facilitated my own personal growth and character evolution. My greatest hope is that it can serve to help others as well.

It strikes me as interesting that you set out to make a short film that’s focused on the emotional state of fear, rather than using it as a story element. What inspired you to focus on an emotion in this short?

Thank you for noticing that. I’m very glad you did. This is just what I was alluding to in your previous question. My own fears in life inspired me to focus on the emotion of fear. Seeds were planted when I noticed how I could get upset over meaningless things. I noticed the process in which I would let them manifest and expand in my imagination – potentially they could become huge monsters. They were my demons but they were an invention solely in my own mind. Then I saw how we all could and do this. How universal it was how we all would go and create these demons and devils in our minds. And how truthfully they were the most insidious enemies of man – the twisting of his own imagination.

fear_sighDid a lot of the work on screen come from you trying to replicate personal feelings when you were afraid, or did you talk to lots of people about their experiences to try to and paint a universal picture of fear?

A bit of both. The project certainly started with my personal fears. When I was a kid my dad used to have a motto. He used to tell me ‘you have to run scared’. And, like a good son I listened to my father’s wisdom and applied it to my life. I ran scared. I lived a very fearful existence. It wasn’t until I woke up one day and realized that running scared wasn’t that wise that I stopped. At first it was a struggle not to live out of fear. And, having done it since a kid I was quite good at it. But I worked hard to reprogram my mind to not be ruled by fear.

Then, when I looked around I saw that most people were living that kind of existence as well. It had become an unconscious part of the human condition to be fearful and run scared. Though I didn’t interview people on their fears in life I am a huge people watcher. So I would observe.

And, as with me, people run scared in ways that are highly unconscious to them. For example: what happens when you don’t go to the dentist? The running scared answer is: your teeth will fall out. But my answer is: not if you stop eating sugar and take really good care of them. Or how people rush to the doctors at the slightest sign that something is wrong with them while in truth the well maintained body is quite good at fixing itself – far better than antibiotics. In a similar vein a happy carefree person could go to the doctor to be told there is something wrong with them and then immediately they go into flight mode and fall to pieces, and create conditions from high cortisol shock that could weaken the bodies natural defenses and set conditions for disease to take hold. They panic at their doomed existence rather than understanding their body has an intelligence. And trusting that. Our mind like to create gods and monsters. It doesn’t realize that the doctor really isn’t the god we concoct him to be.

Like the film Fear and dealing with fear in life it’s all a matter of consciousness. It is a matter of being conscious and awake. It is a matter of taking care of yourself, of your mind, of your body, and of your life.

Fear StillWashing in the bathroom is a very good choice of location for setting the film, due to the vulnerability of a person there, but I was wondering whether there were any other locations considered for the film?Actually no. There’s a scene where Jessie is on her knees and leans over the tub to wash her hair. The idea for the film popped into my head when I was doing the exact same action. I thought; this is scary. I felt vulnerable with my head craned over the tub. The water created a racket as it burbled filling the tub which didn’t help matters. The bathroom is just a vulnerable place, maybe like no other. Especially for women.

The nudity of Jessie, my actress in Fear, also helps expand on those fears. Just the process of shedding clothes highlights one’s vulnerability. Jessie starts off wearing a business suit. To me the formal suit is reminiscent of armor or military uniforms. There is something strong and defensive in their blacks and browns and blues. So when she takes off her suit her vulnerability is all that more apparent and all the more exaggerated by the contrast.

The bathroom, because it is in general a very personal and very private sanctuary, symbolizes the inner world of the mind. In the mind thoughts bounce around similar to the way sounds bounce and echo off bathroom walls. That room works well to set the proper tone without explanation. It hnits that she will be going into her own mind and we will take that journey with her.

Recently, we got a really great review calling Fear a ‘mind trip’ and that’s exactly what it is.

That makes a lot of sense… now obviously there is a deeply embedded fear of bathrooms due to a certain film by Mr Hitchcock and I think it is pretty clear that you play with that cultural association in the film, as well as evoking other horror films too with elements such as the static on a television screen… at what point in the process did you decide to use such tropes of the genre? 

I am a huge fan of Mr. Hitchcock. Huge. And a huge fan of horror as well. But Fear goes against the grain of horror in this way; it says: there is nothing to fear. Let me clarify. Of course say if your significant other, a failed writer who now manages the Overlook Hotel, with you and your son Danny, has suddenly turned mad and is running at you with an axe in a snowstorm, or let’s say your child has a mysterious 666 inscribed on the back of his skull and starts to look at you funny – of course you should be fearful. At that point my advice would be to run scared and run like hell. But, in Fear I’m talking about the day to day fears that we concoct in our own imaginations. The irrational ones that are harmless. Unless we react to them as doing so can ultimately cause us the greatest harm.

When crafting the film I wanted to pay homage to the iconic imagery of my favourite horror films while at the same time lampooning them. I wanted to revisit those fantastic horrific elements which horrified us but at the same time debunk them. And, to be honest at times I felt fearful going down those roads. I didn’t know how the horror community would react. But, as I knew how important the theme was, as I felt it was something that had to be said. And, so I continued.

FearHow important was the look and physicality of your lead to you in this film? Jessie Rabideau’s look is particularly striking and in some ways rather childlike… And what about the look of the bathroom and house? How did you approach the space you were shooting in to achieve such a high level of atmosphere and tension?

You know Jessie is quite a special actress. And you’re right she does look at times childlike or perhaps innocent. Not all of it was conscious but instinctively when I met her I knew she was the right actor for this film. And I auditioned tons and tons of actors before her. But with Jessie everything seemed right for just those reasons you mentioned above. Physically she embodies the character completely; she has a natural air of innocence but at the same time a deep intelligence about her. This makes her entirely relatable. We can insert our psyches into her and feel what she’s going through and go through it with her. With her we go on a journey of innocence to (hopefully) self-realization as she faces her own inner demons.

In casting Jessie, and creating the look for the film, I wanted to create something timeless. Again, Jessie fit the bill perfectly. She’s just not your typical movie starlet. Though of course she’s beautiful with a knockout body, but she’s also quirky. And her quirkiness nicely offsets her sensuality. As an artist I love irony and contrasting elements and Jessie has a lovely polarity to her character which is fascinating to watch.

The location also fit into that mold of the irony. I lit and shot locations so they would be timelessly beautiful. I wanted every shot to be gorgeous to contrast the hell that my character was enduring. In addition to loving that irony I feel life just is that way. The world might be beautiful but in our minds we still can be going through our own personal hell.

Fantastic, just before we go I was wondering what was next for you Steve?

I want to say a big thank you to you James for doing this interview. You know without you and the people who have enjoyed and backed and supported this project the film really wouldn’t go anywhere. It is so fantastic that the viewers and fans have so much power to help indie projects grow and be seen and ultimately succeed. So a big thank you!

You’re welcome!

I am quite passionate about Fear and it being seen. I think its message is important and the imagery is beautiful. So in that effort I’ve been on a whirlwind press tour doing interviews and doing articles to help promote the film. While I may have spent 2014 in editing I realize that my 2015 will be best spent connecting with fans and viewers and the press.

As I said, I owe a great deal to you but let me explain why. The film just wouldn’t see the light of day without this interview and other articles like it. Recently the Toronto Film Festival was held and the big film they promoted was Ghostbusters. A 30 year old film. Now I like Ghostbusters but the reason it was so featured at that film festival was because everyone knows it. It is extremely popular and it sells tickets. It will draw an audience, and that is understandable. Everyone wants to succeed. Including film festivals.

So that’s my mission for this film. That’s my intention for 2015. I would like to grow our audience so that Fear can initiate the conversation and discussion of this most human condition. So that we become conscious of fear and our fears and perhaps one day put an end to them once and for all.

Thanks to Steve again for taking some time out and chatting with me here. Be sure to leave your comments in the box below!

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