Friday 21 December 2012

Interview with Jordan Kerfeld

Jordan Kerfeld is an award-winning filmmaker, writer, and artist from Kansas City, Missouri. His films have appeared in film festivals and curated screenings around the globe and on PBS. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where he received seven awards for his journalism and short films. He is currently studying for an MFA at the University of Texas. Jordan works as a video editor and producer. I first came across him when he wrote a guide to editing short films, which was reproduced around the world. _______________________________________________________________________

•  Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

I was born in the midwest and grew up in and around Kansas City, Missouri. I moved to Austin, Texas, two years ago to pursue my MFA in film production at UT-Austin.

•  What kind of a family did you grow up with?

I was profoundly lucky to grow up in a stable household, and looking back I'm very inspired by our family. My dad owns a small business of his own and my mother considers herself "a domestic engineer," who insists I should have been a lawyer because I like to argue. I have a younger sister, Alyssa, who is studying to be a nurse. They're all amazing.

•  When did you first take an interest in films/stories?

When I was young I loved wearing out VHS tapes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Back to the Future. I had a tendency to wear out the same movie instead of exploring a wider range of titles. 
   As I got older I took a liking to cartooning and short story writing. It wasn't until my undergraduate years at the University of Missouri-Kansas City that I was shepherded by my professors to marry those passions with film. After making a few shorts I found myself completely committed to it.

•  What was your first paying job?

My first paying job was working in an office that manufactured and sold plaques and trophiesaward type items. I spent a hot Missouri summer putting together trophies for little league baseball players!

•  Your first film, Fingers (2008), shows a deep sensitivity to mood. Tell us how you came to make that.

There's something that's liberating and slightly insane about making a short film when you have no idea what you are doing. Fingers was my first narrative effort. It literally came about because the small film program I was in had acquired its first HD camera in the spring of my graduation. I desperately wanted to experience HD and had several visual images I wanted to explore in a film.
   I got access to the camera, put together my ideas in an outline form, and hit the street. I learned so much by doing. It's a bit of a visual tone poem, and was thrilled to see it play in Germany, Paris, and a half-dozen festivals in the U.S. Sometimes I wish I could regain that recklessness and passion in my own work now. It has some qualities of a "choose your own adventure" book. I love what interpretations people have projected onto the film. 

A scene from Fingers (2008)

•  Your current project, Tears at Dawn, revolves around a man with specialist military training. How did the story originate, where did you find an actor who could carry the action, and how can we get involved in the project?

I wrote a thirty page script in Spring 2012 and, over the summer, whittled it down to 13 or so. I think Tears At Dawn is unique and kind of quirky, while blending the high-octane kinetic quality of action films. The story borrows from films like The Searchers, Taken, and Hardcore, films about men trying to recover their child and restore their families. 
   I thought it might be interesting to frame the film younger and be more about a sibling relationship than the traditional paternal/child relationship. I think recent action cinema lacks people of color as well. I thought casting would nearly be impossible, but I met with Aaron Alexander on set of my friend Deepak Chetty's film, and found a brilliant talent. He's a great actor, martial artist, and fight choreographer, and he will be perfect for this project. I'm so lucky to have someone who is so passionate and professional—I've never been this excited about making a film before!
   We recently shot an improvised fight scene teaser on the ARRI Alexa camera—which is the same model that lensed the new Bond film Skyfall. We have an indiegogo page and are looking for help before we start shooting. Every dollar counts and makes a huge difference! If you like the scene and our last film Housebreaking, we hope readers will consider helping our cause. The donation period ends soon! 

A Hitchcockian shot, employed by Brian De Palma, in Bonfire of the Vanities (1990).
•  Who has had the most influence on you as a filmmaker?

In the past handful of years, Brian De Palma ranks at the top. He is often dismissed as a wannabe-Hitchcock, but as far as visual storytelling strength and audacity goes, there's no comparison for De Palma BUT Hitchcock! He really exhausts the cinematic language in a very powerful and visceral way. I think his films are brilliant. 

•  What are three things you wish someone had told you about filmmaking when you were starting out?

- Mood, tone, and an engrossing story should be prioritized, just as highly as making pretty visuals. 
- Embrace what you don't know. Every film you make will offer important lessons. You're never going to fully "figure it out." 
- Being a director is like being the mayor of a town. Take care of your people.

Yes, I did! It's been bizarre how people are noticing my graphics work. A publishing company out of New York approached me last October about contributing a portrait I created of Walter Sobchak and the Dude. My publishing credits have been growing quite rapidly in the past six months. I was also humbled and grateful to be featured in the July-August 2012 issue of Moviescope Magazine, where I was allowed to share my thoughts on editing short films, which I feel require a different discipline and approach than features. (On Adelaide there's a post where y'all describe it). 

•  Do you have any dreams of working in Hollywood?

Absolutely. Audiences are everything to me, and any opportunity to be in a place where I can reach a larger audience is one I'd gladly take. I work as an editor by trade and it's a deep passion of mine. Even if I am unable to have the privilege of directing, I hope to have opportunities in the post production.

•  If you could recommend just one filmmaking advice book to a newcomer in Adelaide, what would that book be?

I Was Interrupted: Nicholas Ray on Making Movies.

Nicholas Ray was in the studio system and "went indie" before people understood what that meant.
   I'm always hungry to learn more about communicating my vision with actors and his book offers excellent, personal essays and transcripts about how he worked. It's not a "guide-book" or "how-to," but I took great pleasure in reading it.

•  Name ten of your all-time favorite movies.

In no particular order:

Penelope Ann Miller in Carlito's Way (1993).

•  What's next for Jordan Kerfeld?

I am shooting Tears at Dawn this spring and am developing a few projects on the side. This is my final graduate film at UT-Austin and I'm throwing all of my energy and ambition into the project for the next 6 months.
   I also have a slate of shorts to edit in the spring. I'm excited about more opportunities to help directors communicate their ideas. In the Fall I will be editing my first feature film for my friend/therapist/filmmaker Andy Irvine. On his last short film, I recorded production sound and edited 13 hours of material into a final 7 minute piece. The short
(Hearts of Napalm) is an official selection for the Slamdance Film Festival this winter in Park City, Utah. 

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Anne Flournoy said...

Fascinating. I love the way you discover and profile these fresh and interesting voices. Jordan Kerfeld looks like someone to keep an eye on.

Henry Sheppard said...

Thanks, Anne. I think Jordan has a load of talent. He has an interesting career in front of him.

Unknown said...

Good luck to him.