Adept painter and a graduate of Berlin's University of Fine Arts, Kevin Kopacka makes his mark on celluloid with his short film HADES. Join Stuart Willis as he discusses his work and influences.
Stuart: Hi Kevin, thanks for this interview. HADES was a great film. Let me begin by asking how you came to be involved in filmmaking. Was it something your studies touched upon at Berlin's University of Fine Arts?
Kevin: Thank you, glad you liked it. I guess the urge to make films was always present Ė somewhat in conflict with my urge to paint and make art. The latter prevailed at first and I moved to Berlin with 19 to study at the University of Arts. During my very liberal studies I did notice that all the courses I took were film related Ė be it in the field of theory or practical film studies. I directed my first short film with 22 in one of the university courses.
Stuart: As an artist, is it inevitable that you would gravitate to film? Is it the ultimate form of modern art?
Kevin: For me it was always clear that Iíll eventually shift full time to film. Painting still is something I love doing (and believe it or, has been my main income for the past 4 years) so itís a bit hard to put it on pause for the moment. Film in a way does have an ultimate art form vibe, because it can incorporate so many different mediums.
Stuart: HADES is a highly accomplished piece, filled with stunning visuals. Can I ask, how long does it take to prepare such meticulous shots? The lighting, the colours employed, the composing of the frame?
Kevin: Contrary to belief, Lukas and I have a bit of a "rock and roll" attitude, while weíre on set. Itís very intuitive and experimental. I think the background in painting helps with being able to quickly compose shots.
Of course it takes some time to set up the lighting to look the way it does, but weíre both not really pedantic in the way, that everything has to look perfect. Itís more of "Ok, letís try it like this" approach. The whole shoot took 4 days.
Stuart: Your actors must've been very patient, very diligent. Can you tell us a little about their backgrounds?
Kevin: Anna, a fellow Austrian, has successfully worked as a model for years. Although she is a good friend of mine, she was very professional on set. She perfectly knew all the subtle nuances of expression one would have needed for her role. Cris Kotzen is also a friend of mine, though this was his acting debut. Heís actually a musician and from his music videos, you can sense that he has a certain, unique charisma.
Stuart: Many including myself have drawn comparisons visually to Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA. That aside, can you point out any other cinematic references you've made in HADES?
Kevin: I find it very interesting how the neo gialli genre is developing. Mainly the efforts of Peter Strickland ,Forzani and Cattet. Taking elements of the genre but doing something completely different with it. Itís something Iíve tried doing with this project.
HADES also doesnít try to hide the fact that itís a European film. In fact, Iíve very proud of it. The film is obviously inspired by European (horror) arthouse cinema. Most of the influences were probably on a subconscious level, but thereís of course a lot of Argento, Bava, Rollin & Fulci involved, some Hausu, some Jigoku, some Gaspard Noť.
For some reason I was always a bit inhibited about working with elements of horror in my art (even though itís a genre Iíve been obsessed with since I was 3 years old), but Iím glad I did, since Iím way more passionate about my projects now. Itís such a great genre with so many different fields and subgenres and Iím so happy that I can contribute to it.
Stuart: There's a strong expressionistic feel to the film...
Kevin: That it true, there are a lot of parallels to German/Austrian Expressionism Ė especially in the way the surroundings are constructed and seen as an extension of the inner world.
Stuart: The soundtrack feels just as important to you. Can you tell us a little about its creation, and how it fits conceptually with the plot?
Kevin: I basically produced a large number of experimental songs and sounds before the shoot, to set the mood and then again did more specific songs, while I was editing the piece. There were many different versions of certain scenes and some songs just worked better than others. I also used my voice as an instrument, creating some of the more eerie breathing techniques. I also distorted some app and smart phone noises etc. A lot of little things that people probably wonít notice right away.
Stuart: I've watched HADES four times now, and I glean more from it each time. Can you speak a little about the symbolism throughout it? How much of that is you, and how much is attributable to its writer H K DeWitt?
Kevin: The original story the movie is based on, is only one page long and quite different to how HADES turned out. The fact that there are no dialogue, the gialli influences and all the elements of Greek mythology and the stages of relationships were not in the original story. But then again, the references to our current smartphone culture are taken from the original story Ė though not as critical. They way I see it, is thatís just how it is now. Itís in nobodyís control. H.K was on set during the whole shoot and we swapped ideas back and forth.
Stuart: How has the film been received so far? Have you attended any screenings?
Kevin: Iím happy to say that itís been extremely well received. It played at around 18 festivals, won 7 awards and got a lot of positive reviews. Itís literally a dream come true for me, and Iím very excited. I tried to attend some of the screening, I was in Cannes and at Raindance in London, but often I couldnít afford the tickets. Hopefully Iíll get the chance another time.
Stuart: On a personal level, what are your favourite films? And who are the directors who most inspire you?
Kevin: My favorite film is probably Resnaisí "íLíannťe derniŤre ŗ Marienbad" followed by Soaviís "Dellamorte Dellamore". I like films that manage to capture a certain feel of a dream. Michele Soavi especially is a master at the craft. His other films like "Deliria" or "La chiesa" are great examples. I basically admire any director who has an authentic, individual way of telling his stories Ė like Cronenberg, Linklater, Whit Stillman etc.
Stuart: What does the future hold in store for you film-wise? I understand you've been lending a hand to our friend Alex Bakshaev on his forthcoming film. Do you have any other projects on the go?
Kevin: Yes, I gave a (somewhat daring) acting debut in Alex Bakshaevís new feature film "S&M Ė Les Sadiques". It was a lot of fun. Alex and I seem like lost brothers, so we will definitely continue working on projects together. We are planning a series next, that will be inspired by the Italian Dylan Dog comics (comics weíre both huge fans of, so Iím excited!)
Iím also currently in post production with my new project "TLMEA" Ė the sequel to HADES. It stars the same characters, this time the focus is more on Schweitzer. It tells the story of two undercover cops, caught in a dream during a drug raid, in which they descend into the 9th circle of hell. The title refers to the Ptolomea, the lake of ice. The film will be around 30 minutes long and is in many ways a lot more ambitious than Schweitzer. Itís been incredibly challenging to edit (as with HADES, Iím editing this on my 7 year old, shitty laptop) You can watch the trailer for it here.
There are a few other projects Iím working on at the moment, including an anthology series called "Everyonce", where every episode is in another language and deals with shifts in reality. The first season will have 6 episodes (two are finished as of now) And by the end of the year I hope I can start working on my first feature film.
Stuart: Thanks again Kevin, and best of luck with your wonderful film.
Kevin: Thank you Stuart. Hopefully weíll get a chance to chat again soon!
Special thanks to Kevin Kopacka