In an exclusive interview with Villain Media, writer/director Jeremiah Kipp talks about the mysterious connection between a boy and monster in his hypnotic thriller, Slapface. During our in-depth discussion, Kipp reveals how he created the suspenseful action through minimal dialogue.
A boy (Joshua Kaufman) deals with the loss of his mother by creating a relationship with a dangerous monster.
Before the film’s screening at the Steel City Underground Film Festival and Austin Revolution Film Festival, Kipp reveals how the premise for Slapface came about, directing the cast, and creating the monster of his movie. If you love director’s commentaries on DVDs and Blu-Rays, you’re definitely really going to these filmmaking tidbits Kipp has for you.
Villain Media: Tell me where the inspiration for Slapface came from.
Jeremiah Kipp: I grew up in rural New England with my grandparents and frequently imagined monsters living out in the dense woods. Years later, after re-reading Frankenstein, I was struck by the sequence where the monster is observing a human family from afar. Since human relationships are complicated and love is expressed in many ways, sometimes frightening ways, I wondered how that close encounter between a supernatural force and messy humanity might be dramatized. We all need love, but we’re complicated and dangerous animals; out of those themes emerged Slapface.
VM: Slapface deals with the loss of childhood innocence, grieving, and child abuse. With these mature themes, tell me about how you wanted to hit the emotional points.
JK: Our producer, Natasha Straley, put me through the paces. Once we decided we were filming a short proof-of-concept based on the feature script, I diligently outlined the story and wrote draft after draft. Whenever I write anything, I have to know the ending and drive towards it.
The narrative beats were all about dramatic action and minimal dialogue, implying the sense of loss and grief and anger. There’s a lot these characters have trouble discussing. But by the end of our confrontation, they’re forced to.
We had three great actors who I knew could say so much with just a look, or one sentence instead of a monologue. And our director of photography Dominick Sivilli is very emotional and feels his way into the world of the movie; so our shot selections were about the best way to create a strong feeling for the audience.
VM: Tell me about working with Joshua Kaufman as The Boy.
JK: He’s the smartest guy in the room. Joshua’s mind is like an encyclopedia of information, and he talks fast in real life because his mouth is trying to keep up with his big brain. He has a manic energy like Robin Williams.
But in the films I’ve directed him in, when you call action, he summons a focus and commitment that is almost frightening in its quiet intensity. He lasers in on the role and is entirely living in that moment. He’s not a child actor; he’s a proper trained actor who can rehearse, improvise, and play different intentions.
On Slapface, he kept a photo of his mother Stacey in his pocket. I think he used it to stay connected. That was his way into the character.
VM: Tell me about working with Nick Gregory on The Father, who has to appear brutishly distant and yet he’s also grieving.
JK: I had directed Nick the previous year in a feature and we felt like allies. We’re very dear friends. But in this role, Nick shut out everything and was very remote. He based the character on a friend of his, whose wife died in a terrible car accident; everything was kept tight.
As for the violence, we rehearsed it carefully with Josh so everyone was safe; but Nick never thought of it as abuse. The dad wants so badly to connect with his kid, to shake him up, to get him to feel something. The slapface game was a ritual to bring them together in a way audiences find troubling, because to the father it is a gesture of strange love.
VM: The Monster comes across as a mix of vagrant and zombie. Was the design written in script beforehand? Or was that worked out with your special effects artist?
JK: While we describe the creature vividly on the page, the special effects artist, Beatrice Sniper, created dozens of sketches to pin down the exact look. Hair, skin tone, protrusions, distortions were all considered in minute detail.
Once we settled on the design, we had FX tests with actor Lukas Hassel, who I’d been workshopping the feature script with for years. Lukas, Beatrice and I shared responsibility for building this character, and having the makeup reflect the monster’s inner life. We settled on this hulking shambolic creature that feels like a modern rendition of the troll under the bridge…but Lukas’ eyes remain human allowing us to empathize with the tormented beast.
VM: Where can readers find your movie?
JK: We have been touring international festivals and update social media regularly to keep folks updated. In September, we screen a 16mm film print of Slapface at the Steel City Underground Film Festival in Austria and we are up for a bunch of awards at the Austin Revolution Film Festival. Some of our team are traveling to Austin for that one; we’re very excited!
VM: How did this project change you as an artist?
JK: I hadn’t been a writer/director in many years. The five features, all my TV work, and almost all the short films I’ve directed were work-for-hire jobs. When the script was great, like Pickup, written by esteemed playwright Jessica Blank, you’ve been given a gift from heaven.
Slapface was my own script, and in some ways it felt like blindly following my nerve endings. It was a very different, more personal experience that had great value for me.
VM: What are you working on now?
JK: We just sold our HP Lovecraft inspired sci-fi horror feature Black Wake to Sony Pictures. That has been opening a few doors for a longer version of Slapface. I just wrapped directing a crime show for Discovery ID and there are a few other short films navigating the festival circuit. I love making movies, and if you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work. You’re just living your life in a different way.
Readers can find more info here from the official website.
[Writer’s Note: This interview has been edited for clarity. Links highlighted in bold.]