Cinema's Renaissance Man
Today’s Twenty Questions is with a virtual Renaissance Man, Rolfe Kanefsky. From writing/directing (THERE’S NOTHING OUT THERE), to writing/directing/producing (JACQUELINE HYDE), from comedy (the double threat of PRETTY COOL and PRETTY COOL, TOO), to horror (THE HAZING, CORPSES, NIGHTMARE MAN), to his latest project, the surrealistic thriller, 1 in the GUN, due for release November 8th.
Rolfe, thank you for this interview.
Matchflick: Rolfe, with so many types of films under your belt, what attracts you to a project?
Rolfe: Well, I've always enjoyed a challenge. I watch a lot of movies, sometimes for fun, sometimes for inspiration and sometimes to see what's been done before so I can try something different. Since I have written everything I've directed thus far, I am attracted to seeing what's in my head projected on a screen. Every project has a new set of rules and hurtles to overcome. I became a horror fan around the age of 14 when I knew I wanted to be a director. So, I started watching every horror film on video and that led to writing THERE’S NOTHING OUT THERE. When I moved to California years later, I met a producer who was doing a slate of movies based on comic books by Milo Manara. I knew the comic books and liked the idea of doing these sexy comedies that I consider to be RED SHOES DIARIES meets "Benny Hil" so that was an assignment that I turned into my own and made four films for him. "The Hazing" started because I was trying to do a project with a producer named Joseph Wolf. His three big producing credits were HALLOWEEN, A NIGHTMARE on ELM STREET and HELL NIGHT. They had never made a sequel to HELL NIGHT so I wrote a treatment. We didn't do it together but later I took the idea and turned it into The HAZING to make a throwback to NIGHT OF THE DEMONS and The EVIL DEAD. Very few people were making films like that at the time. My PRETTY COOL movies were my attempt to go back to the days of PORKY’S, WEIRD SCIENCE, and RISKY BUSINESS. To make a cool R- rated teen sex comedy. TOMORROW by MIDNIGHT started as a concept to shoot an entire movie through surveillance cameras and turned into my most personal and favorite film to date. CORPSES was a work-for-hire based on a one-line concept the company had developed. I wrote it as a black comedy horror film that the producers never quite understood. 1 In The GUN came about when the producers contacted me about wanted to make a film noir feature and let me run with it. Basically, I'm attracted to different genres and the idea of what I can do with the genre that twists it somehow while honoring the traditions and audience. But at the same time I want to reinvent it to some extent and give the viewers a ride that takes them places they don't expect to go. I use formula to invert the formula. Sometimes it's to parody a subject or genre (which I've done quite often) and other times it's to honor it while turning it on its ear. I feel a movie should be able to work on three levels. 1) As a form of entertainment. 2) As a commentary about a certain subject or situation. 3) As an analysis of the world or people around us.
Not everyone gets all the levels that my movies play on but they don't have to. It's there if you want to really dissect the film but it can also just be enjoyed for what's on the surface as well.
Matchflick: You're celebrating the 20th Anniversary of your first project comedy/horror feature, THERE’S NOTHING OUT THERE, what do feel is the attraction to this film that it has this type of longevity?
Rolfe: THERE’S NOTHING OUT THERE came from a few feelings I was having at the time. I was still in high school and had been watching a lot of horror films, studying the genre of what worked and what didn't. The few greats like John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN and Sam Raimi's The EVIL DEAD and EVIL DEAD 2 stood out as being something special but there were so many rip offs and retreads of those films that I was getting frustrated watching a lot of bad horror movies where it was obvious the producers were just trying to cash in on the trend and the filmmakers didn't have the interest and inspiration to do what Carpenter and Raimi had done. I mean, why does every film have to have a cat scare? Why do you always know who is going to be the final girl? There was a formula and nobody wanted to alter it.
My other thought was, Why hasn't anyone in a horror film ever watched a horror film? Why do they always do the same stupid things that gets them killed time and time again? So, when I wrote the first draft of THERE’S NOTHING OUT THERE, my goal was very simple. Create a typical situation with a typical group of kids but add one guy (myself) who has seen every horror film and warns the others what they should and shouldn't do. Basically, put the audience in the movie so instead of them yelling at the screen, a character in the film would actually say and do all things that they would do or think they would do if they were in that situation. So, I wanted to set-up all the cliches to make fun of all the cliches. But I wasn't making fun of horror films. I
was making fun of all the stupid things people do because the lazy filmmakers and producers don't want to change up the formula. I was hoping that if I made everyone aware of the overused cliches then other horror filmmakers would have to work harder to create better horror films with more interesting situations and smarter characters.
Celebrating its 20th Anniversary
I was also going to a lot of horror conventions at this time and quickly became aware that horror fans are actually very intelligent people. They want to like the film but get annoyed when people do stupid things. So, I wanted to give them that respect with the character of Mike who's one of them and knows the rules and points them out. At the time, I had never seen it done. I had seen Student Bodies and some of the other full out parodies of the genre but it wasn't the same thing. None of them had Mike.
So, I think the film has become a cult film now because the horror fans realize what I was trying to do. I love horror films and I think that comes across in the movie. There is a smart innocence to the film and it is very honest in what it's attempting to accomplish. Unfortunately, it's taken 20 years for many people to even be aware of the film. Most people still have never heard of it but with the Troma release this year, it's slowly catching on and there's some talk about having some L.A. screenings soon.
Matchflick: THERE’S NOTHING OUT THERE has been attributed to being the inspiration to Kevin Williamson’s SCREAM. What parts of that film do you see that you could say, That’s mine - that’s also mine - they got that from me?
Rolfe: I'm always asked about this and I basically go back to comparing Mike from THERE’S NOTHING OUT THERE and Randy from SCREAM. They come from the same mold. Throughout SCREAM there are lines and moments that ring a bell. One night when I was feeling particularly frustrated, I decide to edit a comparison piece of scenes from THERE’S NOTHING OUT THERE followed by scenes from SCREAM and vice versa. But it's stupid to do this and never amounts to anything good. Some people see similarities between the films and others don't see it at all. So, I just leave it up to the viewer. SCREAM became a horror icon and brought back the slasher film. THERE’S NOTHING OUT THERE is now a small footnote. I'm okay with that and happy to be included at all.
Matchflick: Though you’re attributed to being a horror writer/director, you’ve also done comedy. What made the PRETTY COOL series such an attraction to audiences?
Rolfe: Well, I tried to make a teen comedy like PRETTY COOL five years before the first AMERICAN PIE because nobody was doing it anymore. All the teen films were these PG-13 stories. Now, I love the John Hughes movies and don't think they needed any nudity, except for “Weird Science”. That should have been an "R" rated comedy. I mean, come on, with that storyline! But I was missing the days of PORKY'S, RISKY BUSINESS, PRIVATE SCHOOL, REVENGE of the NERDS...You know, the light-hearted sex comedies. So, I wrote something called HORMONES...The MOVIE! and we almost made it but the money fell through at the last minute. So, I never got to make my teen comedy. Years later after AMERICAN PIE the genre was suddenly popular again. A producer came to me and wanted to make a teen sex comedy. This resulted in PRETTY COOL. It took five years for the film to get distribution but when it did, it surprised everyone by being a pretty popular straight to video title. It was renting as well as some of the National Lampoon titles and nobody understood it because there was nobody name-wise in it and it didn't have much of a publicized release. It was performing so well strictly by word of mouth. People liked it.
I think there's an innocent sexuality about the film. There is almost no sex in the movie but some very pretty and talented girls. There's a lot of old-fashioned slapstick in both movies and I worked in many of my comic inspirations. There are gags inspired by Buster Keaton, Abbott and Costello, The Marx Brothers, Danny Kaye, Peter Sellers as well as the 80's comedies like SCREWBALLS, THE PARTY ANIMAL, HOT DOG...the MOVIE. But the whole film works because of the cast. You like the kids and care about their situations. That's what the audience picked up on and that's why it was a modest success. PRETTY COOL TOO was the same deal with an added commentary about cell phones.
Matchflick: You studied film at Hampshire College. Looking back, what is the difference between college filmmaking and Hollywood filmmaking?
Rolfe: Everything. Hampshire College hated all things Hollywood. They want their film students to experiment and make arty films. Now, that is fine but they didn't teach the basics of how to tell a story and make something that has a beginning, middle, and end. There was almost no training ground or even a how to use a camera and a tripod lesson. So, I fought with my teachers all through college. And the short films I made were knocked because they were horror stories. However, during the summers I worked on some independent
features and the producers and directors loved my shorts. So, I quickly saw the difference between the real world and the academic world.
Comedy Double Feature
My main advice is film theory can be useful but there's nothing better than hands-on experience. Get on a real set if you want to know what movie-making is about and keep making films. The more you do, the better you get. Also, finish everything you start. That shows responsibility.
Matchflick: At what point in your career did you transition from Who’s Rolfe Kanefsky” to Get me Rolfe Kanefsky?
Rolfe: Well, I'm not really sure that has happened yet. I've basically had to fight tooth and nail for every directing job and many of them are my own projects. I've been hired a few times but it is never easy and to keep my vision and style on the film is always difficult. However, I have been mostly successful. I make Rolfe Kanefsky flicks and have developed a style over the years. It takes time to find your own voice but almost all my movies reflect who I am. Fans know when they're watching one of my movies. Non-fans know as well and can turn them off quickly.
Matchflick: You’ve also done a little acting. What was the muse that put you in the mindset to pretty much play yourself in two features (sorta), and a butler (who we all know in murder mysteries is cliched as the one who did it)?
Rolfe: Well, I started out wanting to be a clown and then a comedian. I always liked making people laugh. So, I took acting classes when I was young and in high school. I went to USDAN Camp for the Performing Arts and HB Studios in New York City. But in high school, I got very upset with some bad plays I performed in. I thought if I work this hard and the final result isn't good, what's the point? So, I moved behind the scenes and concentrated on directing.
The films you are talking about my "acting" are either documentaries where I'm interviewed about films or my career so I wouldn't call that acting. The Butler credit is a background extra for a movie I was a P.A. on a project called POSED for MURDER. I did a pratfall into a swimming pool but the camera missed it. So, it's not a real part.
Matchflick: Do you see yourself as doing more acting? Would you write a part in a movie with yourself in mind?
Rolfe: I enjoyed acting but when I'm making a movie, there is just too much to do. I've had Hitchcock-like cameos in some of my movies but that's about it. If I was offered a role in someone else's film, that's another story. I think it's good for directors and writers to take some acting classes. It's important to be able to talk to your actors. Since I did that, I know what actors do and appreciate their craft. I like working with actors and consider myself somewhat of an actor's director.
Matchflick: How did your EMMANUELLE series come about?
Rolfe: I met Alain Siritzky, the producer of the original EMMANUELLE film back in 1996. He was doing a slate of sexy comedies called CLICK and BUTTERSCOTCH. He liked THERE’S NOTHING OUT THERE and hired me to write and direct a bunch of these films. We got along well and he made money on my movies. So, a few years later he wanted to do a new EMMANUELLE series and came to me. I have no problem with nudity in films but you don't want to get type-cast in this genre if you want to make other kinds of films. So, I've jumped around a lot. And the recent EMMANUELLE movie I made is very different from any EMMANUELLE film in the past. First off, it's not a softcore movie. It's a crazy musical comedy that's a love letter to musicals and a throwback to the late 70's flicks like The ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. I've made a cult movie but we'll see how long it takes for it to get discovered. We are now just starting to submit to film festivals. It's called EMMANUELLE in WONDERLAND. It's Naked GLEE meets Disney on Acid. For Children of all ages...over 18!
Matchflick: Let’s talk about 1 in the GUN. This film, although you’ve done other thrillers, seems to be a wild departure from your standard thriller. Where did you come up with the idea?
Rolfe: Steven Man, the lead actor and producer, came to me and wanted to make a modern film noir. I had never done anything like that before and like I said, I love a challenge. So, I wrote a treatment, he loved it and hired me to write the script. I then spent two weeks watching some of the greatest film noir movies of all time and came up with 1 In The GUN. There are a lot of influences for this movie.
The short list would be DOUBLE INDEMNITY, BODY HEAT, SHOCK CORRIDOR, JACOB'S LADDER, and AFTER HOURS. So, it's not your traditional list and therefore the result was not your traditional film noir.
Matchflick: Mickey, the lead character, is a very unhinged man. Where did his back story come from?
Rolfe: I wanted a character who the audience could relate to but to keep his true identity a bit of a mystery. You don't know if he's a good guy or a bad guy for quite a while and the truth is there is no good or bad guys. It's a constant grey, like most film noirs. The story is told and then untold and then told again as the story progresses. It's a endless string of truths and lies that audiences have to decipher for themselves. Much of his back story is explained. You know how he got to where he is and why he has so many regrets. I think you feel for Mickey by the end of the movie. Someone said about the script that Nobody gets what they want but they all get
what they deserve. I like that description.
Buy It and HANG ON!
Matchflick: It seemed that the story drove him rather the opposite, as if he wasn’t in control at all during the entire film. Do you see people like this in real life?
Rolfe: Well, this is where the AFTER HOURS influence comes in. I like the idea of Mickey being a human pinball spiraling out of control. There's a lot of luck and chance in this world. I think people need to be responsible for their actions even though it is out of their control much of the time. You have to deal with the situation you're dealt. Mickey does or tries to but sometimes you don't make the right choices and if you don't learn from your mistakes, you're going to do it again and again.
Matchflick: In my review of the film, I claimed that nothing was real. Was that an accurate assumption, or was some realities for Mickey buried in all the stories?
Rolfe: Oh, all of Mickey's realities are buried in the story. You're just not sure what is real and what isn't which is why you might want to check it out again. The film gets much funnier the second time around and all the pieces fit in place. I believe 1 In The GUN is one of my tightest scripts. I'm very proud of it. It's a big jigsaw puzzle and even if you guess where it's going, the fun part is watching how it gets there. I know everything about Mickey and all of the characters in the story. Not all of it is stated but if you read between the lines you can get it. There's a lot of detail but at the same time, just enough open-endness to allow the viewers to interpret the film themselves. I think that's actually a really good sign of a successful movie. If people talk about it and think about it a few hours later after they've seen it, I've done my job.
Matchflick: What did your want the audience to walk away with after watching 1 in the GUN?
Rolfe: I hope they had a good time, were taking on a weird ride, and given a little to think about. The film shift gears but if you go along with it, you can have a good time. A thinking person's thriller with some cool psychological moments. Play the game. It's worth the effort.
Let’s now transition into my Lightning Round:
Matchflick: Who were your role models that inspired you to do film?
Rolfe: Abbott and Costello, Steven Spielberg, Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, Sam Raimi, John Carpenter, John Landis, Blake Edwards, Preston Sturges, Tom Holland, Richard Franklin, Joseph Ruben, and most of all, my parents.
Matchflick: What would you say was THE film that made your decision to do this for a living?
Rolfe: It's a tie between E.T. and The Blues Brothers.
Matchflick: What would you say is your signature film, or have you yet to make it?
Rolfe: Have yet to make it.
Matchflick: Given unlimited funding, total casting and story control, what would be your dream project?
Rolfe: This is always changing depending on my mood. I have a Hitchcockian-like thriller entitled EXIT, an Edgar Allan Poe-inspired script called NEVERMORE and a big love letter to the horror genre entitled HORROR WORLD that I would love to make one day. They are three very different projects but all really cool. I would also love to make the off-Broadway musical play Weird Romance into a movie.
Matchflick: What’s next for Rolfe Kanefsky?
Rolfe: A rest. I'm exhausted. After that, I have no idea. Doing something that pays so I can continue making movies. I've got literally over fifty projects I could make tomorrow if someone writes a check. I have no shortage of ideas or scripts complete with cast, budgets, shooting schedules and artwork. I'm only lacking the funding. You can check out www.rolfekanefsky.com for more info on some of these unproduced projects. In the meantime, check out 1 In The GUN when it comes out on DVD November 8th and EMMANUELLE in WONDERLAND when it premieres at the Queens World Film Festival in New York next March, 2012.
Matchflick: Lastly, I hand the mike over to you. What would you say to the World - they’re listening now.
Rolfe: I'm available both professionally and personally. Looking for work and a relationship with a good woman. If anyone's interested, contact me at Rolfe30@yahoo.com . Come on, take a chance. What do you have to lose? I come with credentials. I'm also looking for distribution for EMMANUELLE in WONDERLAND and my brand new James Bond parody feature entitled TODAY is YESTERDAY TOMORROW Screeners are available for both projects. Oh yeah, and when visiting Universal Studios...ask for Babs.
Help Rolfe celebrate the 20th anniversary of his inaugural film, THERE’S NOTHING OUT THERE, and look out for his upcoming feature, EMMANUELLE IN WONDERLAND, at a festival near you.
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This column will explore my taste in film. I watch all kinds of movies - all kinds - but likes science fiction/fantasy - action, animated, funny, even stupid. He will speak of his experience and his encounters with science fiction and the way it colors his - and our - everyday life.
Mike Thomas was introduced to science fiction when he first watched 2001 - A SPACE ODYSSEY, and was hooked ever since. But he doesn't just watch the gee-whiz, gollee-gee special effects. He watches the costumes quirks, evaluates the musical scores, even identifies favorite actors of directors. He collected comic book, but has moved on to weapons: he currently owns the Mj?llnir - the Hammer of Thor, Electra's Ninja Sai's, Mace Windu's Light Saber, and a couple of Batarangs.|
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