Monday, March 17, 2014

Interview: ArME/Lust Director Keith Voigt Jr.

One of the coolest things about the 2014 edition of Days of the Dead Atlanta last month was the increasing presence of the underground.  I got to screen some of my favorites at the Son of Celluloid event, I hung out with standard bearers like Jason Hoover from Jabb Pictures and Fred and Shelby Vogel of TOETAG, and I was fortunate enough to meet some of the fresh, new talents who are poised to carry the indie horror banner into the future.  One of those filmmakers ready to make their mark on the genre is Keith Voigt Jr.

His first DVD release is currently available from TOETAG’s website and store.  It features two excellent shorts, ArME and Lust.  ArME tells the story of Daniel, a recently discharged Iraq veteran.  He returns from war a changed man, and reassimilating into society may be more than he can handle as his mind and relationships spiral out of control.  Lust is a story of unrequited love.  Can Lily cope with her feelings, or will her obsession consume both her and the object of her affestion?  Both shorts feature some fantastic acting, good gore effects, and thought provoking stories.  The DVD comes packed with commentaries, a bonus short, and plenty of other goodies for only 10 bucks.  Hell, you’d spend more than that going to see the newest derivative, vapid crap Hollywood has shat into your local multiplex.  What are you waiting for?  Follow that link at the bottom of the post and get your own copy or pick one up when Keith and/or TOETAG invades a horror convention near you.  Nathan says check it out.

In the meantime, I’ve invited Keith to drop some knowledge on the Cellmates about his films, sex, gore, his directing process, and wielding automatic weapons on city streets.  Enjoy!

SOC: For the readers who aren’t familiar with you, please introduce yourself.

KVJ: My name is Keith Voigt Jr. and I am independent filmmaker.  My short films ArME and LUST were released by TOETAG INC. and I love Chinese food!

SOC: What was it that first piqued your interest in making horror films?

KVJ: I had always loved horror films.  I remember as a child I would sneakily watch them in the middle of the night.  Stuff like Friday the 13th and The Shining.  As I got older my love for the genre only grew.  I started watching more and more and seeking out pretty much any horror movie I could get my hands on. When I started making little skits on tape in 8th grade naturally I started making little horror films, mostly involving serial killers, and I have just expanded from there.

SOC: When did you discover the world of underground, independent horror?

KVJ: Well as I kept watching these movies I started to seek out more extreme stuff.  Like at the video store I would try to find the most extreme “R” rating or the craziest cover.  If a film said “Unrated” it was like a holy f**king grail.  But I didn’t really find out about the scene that I am in now until I was 16.  A guy at a video store I used to frequent told me about Cinema Wasteland and it sounded awesome so I went. I had a blast.  Then I met the TOETAG crew and the rest is history.

SOC: The use of extreme sex and gore can be very controversial in horror circles, and both ArME and Lust include some pretty graphic scenes.   What do you think the role of this kind of imagery is in telling a story, and is there an aspect of “shock for shock’s sake” in your work?

KV J: I think sex is a natural thing and shouldn’t be shied away from.  If I am making a realistic film (which most of my movies are) then I want to use realistic sex.  It has a huge role in my stories. The reason the sex scene in ArME is so graphic is because I am telling my audience “LOOK, she is sexy, these people are f**king, that’s her pussy, this should be awesome…but our main character is so f**ked up he doesn’t care”.  So it all has a definite meaning behind it and message that it is sending.  As far as shock for shock’s sake, I would say that LUST has a little of that but not ArME.  I was a little younger when I made LUST and I needed to get my foot in the door, so there was a little of that “what’s the most f**ked up thing I can think of” attitude.

SOC:  Do you ever have trouble finding actors/actresses willing to do some of the more extreme things in your flicks?

KVJ: Luckily I have not had any trouble.  The people that I get to be naked really believe in what we are doing and know that it’s all imperative to the story.  They are also comfortable with their bodies.  If I can give any advice it’s just not to be a f**king creep about it. Just be honest.

SOC: ArME and Lust are both very character driven.  With films that hinge so much on the lead performance, do you take a more active role in developing the character or rely on the actors to come up with their interpretation?

KVJ: I work very hard with the lead actors to come up with the kind of character I want.  I do give them free range to create certain parts of their characters and by the middle of production they usually know what their character would do better than I would.  I am an actor’s director.  Rather than focus all my attention on lighting or other production aspects I like to spend a lot more time with the actors making sure that we get the best performance possible.  I mean, I do light and sometimes I am even the cinematographer, but the performance comes first for me.

SOC: In Lust, the character of Lily can really be interpreted as both monster and victim of herself.  Which do you see her as?

KVJ: I see her as a little of both, but more a victim.  She has been so overcome with lust that she can’t control what she is doing.  I find that sad.  Some people are weak minded, but for someone to do what she did she must have some deep rooted problems.

SOC: You said in the commentary on ArME that at least one military veteran consulted on the film.  Have you shown the completed flick to any vets and what was their reaction?

KVJ: Yeah I have shown the film to a couple of veterans and have gotten very positive feedback!  I was worried about that.  I totally respect every brave soldier out there.  I just disagree with the war.  When I was in pre-production on the film I talked to an Army Soldier and a Marine.  They told me some horrific stuff, and I tried to keep it as truthful and respectful as I could within the horror film structure.

SOC: One of the special features on the DVD is a short called Sandwich, but there’s no information about making it/when it was made/etc.  Could you give us a little background on that one?

KVJ: Sandwich was a crazy idea I got one day while hanging out with my fiancĂ©e.  It was made after LUST and ArME.  It was very fun to make and I was excited to show it to the world.  It can also be seen for free on our youtube page.  As far as an explanation of the movie, I will never tell.

SOC: Both Lust and ArME have horrific stories that are firmly rooted in reality and very personal, but Sandwich is pretty out there.  Do you enjoy doing the more bizarre concepts or do the other two represent more of your direction moving forward?

KVJ: I do enjoy the bizarre but I prefer the more real dramatic stuff.  I would say ArME and LUST represent the direction I am heading in, but you never know. Just like with Sandwich,  I can throw my audience a curveball every now and again.

SOC: ArME is a much more expressionistic film in terms of lighting and editing whereas Lust is more naturalistic.  Was this just a representation of your growth as a filmmaker or was the difference intentional based on the nature of the stories?

KVJ: I would say a little of both. With ArME I really wanted to show how our lighting has improved so I wanted to do cool things with that, but at the same time the structure of each film is completely different.  LUST follows a much more narrative structure with a clear point A and point B whereas ArME is sort of built up of micro scenes.  Instead of focusing on the scene as a whole I focus on little moments, so it also changed a bit with the nature of the stories.

SOC:  What’s your favorite guerrilla filmmaking “I can’t believe we just pulled that off” moment?

KVJ: Probably in ArME when we were on the streets with real illegal automatic weapons. We had cases of guns lying around and it was very intense.  I was worried that we were going to get arrested because we had no permits and we didn’t let anyone know, so when we wrapped I was so excited that we actually got that.  And when it was all edited together I was even more excited.  It’s a chilling scene.

SOC: Do you see short films as smaller features or is the short an art form all its own?

KVJ: I see it as an art form all on its own. You know what you need to move the story along and they are usually fast paced. I love making shorts. There is a real science to making short films.

SOC:  How did you hook up with the TOETAG crew, who are distributing ArME/Lust?

KVJ: As I was saying above I was a 16 year old kid at Cinema Wasteland. I had heard of August Underground’s Mordum and I bought it there and met the crew. When I watched it I knew that these guys were the real deal. I kept going back to Wasteland and formed a friendship with them, which has only grown in time.  Fred Vogel told me to go to college and make some movies, and I listened. When I got out of college he was very proud of me and I showed him the movies. He loved the shorts so one day I got the balls to ask him if he wanted to release them.  He said yes. TOETAG supports every independent filmmaker.  I owe them the world. We are all a family. I am glad that I did ask them to release my shorts because I have opened the doors for other filmmakers to do the same and I can’t wait to see what TOETAG puts out next.

SOC:  Have you decided on your next project yet?

KVJ: Yes I have.  It’s a feature called Haze Period, and it’s a new take on a drug movie with horror elements.  It reflects young contemporary drug culture. We will have an Indiegogo campaign up soon to raise the final bit of money we need to start shooting. It will be my best work yet.

SOC: Any last words?

KVJ: Thank you for having me and asking some brilliant questions. I hope everyone had as much fun reading as I had writing.

ArME/Lust is available HERE.

It will also be available at HorrorHound Weekend (Cincinnati, OH March 21-23), Cinema Wasteland (Strongsville, OH April 4-6) and Days of the Dead (Indianapolis, IN June 27-29).

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