David Ryan Keith has had a lifelong love of movies and when he got a camera at the age of 12, he knew what he wanted to do with his life. Since then, he has created several shorts, and three feature length horror movies; the first two films being Attack of the Herbals and The Redwood Massacre. To help produce his films, Keith co-founded a production company called, Clear Focus Movies. Now with his third movie, Ghosts of Darkness, set to be released soon, Keith allowed me to interview him about his career and his latest horror film.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, when did you know you wanted to pursue a career in film production? Was there a movie you think pushed you in this direction the most?
David Ryan Keith: I was obsessed with movies when I was younger, it’s fair to say I wasted a large portion of my childhood sitting in front of the TV watching all the classic films that came out in the 80’s and early 90’s. Me and my friends started making movies when we were twelve years old, as soon as I got a camera in my hand I knew I wanted to be involved in the film industry.
Yanes: Most of the movies you’ve written and/or directed have been horror films. What is it about this genre that appeals to you?
Keith: Horror lends its self perfectly to independent film production. It’s really a visual genre that works within any budget if done right and can be very rewarding film making wise.
The other benefit to horror is the fact it has a well-established loyal audience and strong international market. When you’re making a low budget movie like Ghosts Of Darkness these two factors are so important, and I think fans of these types of movies are a little more forgiving when watching these direct to DVD/VOD films. We’re obviously not working with the same kind of money as the big studio films, so it’s nice to know horror fans will still give you a chance regardless of budget.
Yanes: You set up Clear Focus Movies Ltd. How do you think having your own film company has helped you produce your movies?
Keith: Being able to do all the post production in house saves us a hell of allot of money. We’re set up now so we can deliver every element needed when handing a film over to distributor. Making a movie obviously costs allot of money, I think it would be impossible for us to produce films if we had to rely on other post-production studios to finish the movie, it would defiantly push the budgets up and make us less appealing to potential investors. It takes us a little longer to get to the finish line, but the money you save is unbelievable.
Yanes: On this note, how has running the business of Clear Focus Movies helped you improve as a film creator? Do you feel you have a better understanding of where the money goes when producing a film?
Keith: Luckily for me my producing partner has a great grasp on the ins and outs of how this crazy movie game works, I try and stay as far away as possible from the financial side and just concentrate on the actual creative side of it.
Yanes: Your latest film is Ghosts of Darkness. What was the inspiration for Ghosts of Darkness? While developing the story, was there a character or element that developed a life of its own?
Keith: Our last film, The Redwood Massacre, was a straight out slasher, and our distributor decided to take a risk on that film but pointed out the market was still leaning strongly towards paranormal. Ghosts Of Darkness is only my 3rd feature, so I felt it important to listen to all the advice I was being given. I think I finished the script in three weeks, years of watching paranormal movies obviously made it easy for me to bang out a story, but a lot of the credit has to go to the two lead actors for spending a huge amount of time adapting the dialogue to suit their characters, it was a very fun collaborative process which I think helped the movie greatly.
Yanes: A central thread to the movie is how the main characters – Michael Koltes’s Jack Donavan and Paul Flannery’s Jonathan Blazer – have different viewpoints of the supernatural. Could you take a moment to discuss how the characters were shaped? Additionally, were there aspects of the characters that the actors brought out in unexpected ways?
Keith: I really wanted to have the two characters be the polar opposites of each other, it would have been an easy choice to just have them be part of an already established ghost busting team like in so many other movies, but I’m not sure that would have worked quite as well. The budget didn’t allow us to go all out crazy on practical and special effects, so it was important the two lead characters had enough going on between them to try and engage the audience. Paul Flanney and Michael Koltes were a pleasure to work with and brought so much to the movie, it’s amazing what you can come up with when you’re locked in a real haunted house for sixteen days.
Yanes: A substantial part of this movie is the setting. How did you go about finding the right building? Did the building influence the story at all while shooting?
Keith: From receiving the finances to make the movie we only had four weeks to cast the project and find the main location. We set off on a mad road trip round Scotland looking for the perfect haunted house. Unbeknown to us at the time, we’d actually already seen the location in another indie Scottish horror movie, but what really sealed the deal was the fact it worked with our budget. The house is a filmmakers dream, what you see in the movie is what you would get if you rented it out for a vacation for your family, it’s a spooky setting and wasn’t hard to make it look creepy on camera, it defiantly helped the actors and their performance.
Yanes: Many ghost movies have stories of unusual activity taking place on set. Did anything unexplainable happen when filming Ghosts of Darkness?
Keith: Our sound man would often complain about hearing people walking about above us upstairs while we we’re shooting, to be honest I never heard any of these phantom sounds while doing the sound design, so who knows. One day we had to stop filming because we heard a loud crashing noise coming from the kitchen area, when we investigated we found all these various spice jars smashed on the kitchen table, we really couldn’t figure out what made them jump off the shelf.
Yanes: When people finishing watching Ghosts of Darkness, what do you hope viewers take away from it?
Keith: Ghosts of Darkness was designed to be a classic ghost story. We’re not re-inventing the wheel with this one, but I think its mixture of paranormal, horror, and light hearted comedy complement each other to make for a fun movie to watch.
Yanes: Finally, what are you working on that people can look forward to?
Keith: We just started work on a horror film called The Dark Matters, Ghosts Of Darkness was a light hearted take on the paranormal genre, now I want to see if I can make a genuinely scary unsettling movie, something a little more serious. We’ve just shot a ten minute intro to try and attract investors, so fingers crossed we get to make the film sometime this year. It can be a frustrating experience trying to raise funds, but we’re all confident the new film would be awesome if we can get it made. Hopefully Ghosts Of Darkness preforms well on its release so we can keep producing these types of movies J