KURTIS M. SPIELER INTERVIEW
By Frank Reynoso
Writer, director and producer Kurtis M. Spieler trekked from Connecticut to New York’s West Village, braving the chilly October rain to attend the screening of his short film Sheepskin. A group of young suburbanites abduct a man who they claim was responsible for the murder of one of their own. Armed with chains, bats and a gun, they drive him to an abandoned drive-in where tension thickens and moral doubt creeps in. The subtle thriller was one of the many shorts that pointed to a new crop of filmmakers – at this year’s New York City Horror Film Festival – who are forging new territory, making the beloved genre their own.
After a program of shorts that included Spieler’s short along with the feature presentation of Hershell Gordon Lewis’ notorious Two Thousand Maniacs, the young filmmaker took some time out to answer some questions in the lobby of the Cantor Film School of NYU.
How did you get into filmmaking?
It’s always been something I’ve been interested in ever since I was younger. I got my hands on a video camera when I was younger. My friends and I actually started off by making mostly skate boarding videos and we sort of learned how to cut them ourselves. It was just always a passion and I kind of ran with it.
It took me a while. I didn’t originally go to school for it; I have a degree in criminal justice. When I was in the working field, I realized that that wasn’t what I really wanted to do and that filmmaking was. So I stopped what I was doing and went to film school here in NYU and that’s where it’s taken me.
How did you come up with the idea for Sheepskin?
Basically the idea behind Sheepskin sort of spawned from [asking] what if somebody killed a friend of yours or a family member? You would ultimately view them as a monster and so you would see them as not human in a way. So what I was trying to do was take the idea of this person being a monster but actually, literally making him a monster.
Why are people so interested in mythological movie monsters like the werewolves, vampires…?
I would say because it’s fear of the unknown. (Sigh) Frankly, there’s a lot of fear that we have amongst each other as people but it’s scary to admit that. People can be the scariest things. I think sometimes we create these monsters to distract us and make us be afraid of the unknown instead of what’s in front of us.
So stand-ins for our own fears and anxieties.
What social/cultural function does horror serve aside from the one you just explained right now?
For me, I think it allows people a safe environment to express how they feel, both for filmmakers and for the viewers. Movies are fake; they’re not meant to be real. You know, horror in real life is scary and it’s ugly but this allows us a safe environment for people to act out fantasies and enjoy things that in society are wrong and taboo.
I think for filmmakers it allows us a chance to just express ourselves in various ways by creating monsters that may represent other things. I think for the audience it allows them the chance to sort of indulge in those fantasies in a safe place as well as be scared and face things that maybe they are afraid to face in real life.
How would you explain particular horror films like Halloween or vampire movies that stand the test of time?
As far as what?
Well a particular film speaks of a particular fear and anxiety of that moment? So why would something like George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead still stand the test of time?
I think some of the classics have universal themes and they are expressing things that are universal throughout. Sort of what I was saying before about us being afraid of, really, each other, that’s definitely what’s in Night of the Living Dead. There’s a lot of social commentary in [that movie] but that for example is taking people, dead people but still people, and making them the monsters. So I think [in] things like that, there are themes that can go throughout. [In] Halloween, you have the nameless, faceless killer. He can represent any nameless, faceless killer that you see on the news. [In the news] they give them names, they give them faces but in the movies we don’t. Those are themes that go throughout because that’s what everybody is afraid of. It’s that guy who’s lurking behind you, lurking in the closet, looking in the alley. I think they have universal themes that stand throughout.
Any last thoughts you’d like to add?
No. It’s a great experience for me here at this film festival. I sort of upped and stopped my life and decided to pursue this career of filmmaking full force. I finished at NYU at the beginning of January and since then I’ve shot a few short films and have really put myself out there and it’s a great honor to be here at the New York Horror Film Festival.
Are you working on a film right now?
I have a couple of shorts that I have shot and now cutting and I’ve also been working on a couple feature lengths.
Thank you so much.
© Frank Reynoso, Oct. 2007, All Rights Reserved.