Last week we had a chance to review the short film Fear. This week we were able to have a chat with Steve Kahn, the creative genius behind the project.
Modern Horrors: First of all, let us say thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Fear is your third short film, a medium that is often overlooked. What is it about short films that really interest you?
Steve Kahn: Thank you so much for doing this interview, Jacob. It means so much to me. I really appreciate your time first in watching “Fear” and now for going deeper in the film with me. I think one of the worst crimes one can do is waste someone’s time and I never want to be guilty of that.
While a feature length film is like prose, in the best of cases a short film can be like a poem. This is the very essence of what excites me about the genre. Like a great poem, a great short film often is intertwined with a deep meaning expressed with poignant imagery. To contrast this copious words and a drawn out plot and dialogue is the hallmark of most novels and films. That is prose. But it is poetry that inspires me. It intrigues me to work this way. It is beyond fun.
Now after just saying this I realize that poetry isn’t all that popular anymore. In fact poetry is often dismissed as pompous, a dead art form. But is it really? Maybe in the classical form. But, our world is obsessed with music. With song. And great songs are just poems set to music. Great songs, like great short films have poetic imagery set to music all working together to support universal human themes or issues of the day.
I find it the most powerful, emotionally, to strip away words and let the symbols shine through.
MH: Fear isn’t typical for horror. What was your inspiration for the film?
SK: No. Not at all. I could say my inspiration were my own fears in the world. How I too could let meaningless little things blow out of proportion in my mind. I mean we all can do that. We all have that capacity to spiral out of control. I could talk on about how society, and the news media, and governments, and cults, and people use irrational fears to manipulate and control others. And they do.
That was one inspiration for the film. True. But I want to talk about another. A girl. Ha. Doesn’t it always go back to love and sex? When I wrote “Fear” I was nearing the end of a long-term relationship. I could just feel that things were coming to an end so I wrote this film for her to star in. And yes, of course she is an actress. I wrote this for her perhaps in a silly and vain attempt to keep her and to keep us together. I guess I had fear that we would breakup. Which we did soon after I wrote “Fear” anyway.
So, I suppose the fear of losing her and being alone also contributed to me writing “Fear”.
Fear is everywhere. And the best thing, the most important thing we can do is recognize it for what it is. So it can not control us. That is the real reason I made this film.
MH: Color seemed to play a significant role throughout the film (white, blue, and red in particular). Could you share the artistic decision behind this?
SK: Yes. Thank you for noticing. My primary color consideration was to ask myself how could the color choices support and be congruent to the meaning of the film. And central to the theme is how my lead character is feeling. In the film she goes on an emotional roller coaster ride so I wanted that to be subtly reflected in her skin tones. Initially she appears desaturated and almost grey symbolizing an empty slate, perhaps as one who has an empty mind and feels nothing. But soon she becomes frightened becomes subtly pinkish making her appear weak and heightening her vulnerability. When she grows brave her face becomes olive and ruddy – like a soldier ready for battle. When angry she turns red. Confused, yellow. When frozen, blue. These colors, though subtle, serve to support the theme of someone twisting and spinning out of control.
Early on we see hints of all the emotions she will be going through. Her eyes are steely blue and pop out at us hinting at what’s to come. There is a coldness about them that we instantly feel. The bubble bottle is a delicate vulnerable pink and shares the curves of a feminine body. The black radio and shampoo bottle hint at the unknowns of what lies within. The yellow duck served to accentuate the true silliness of her reactions and her situation.
Strong control of color was also used to focus the viewer and minimize distractions. To illustrate this backgrounds are in general tonally neutral shades of grey so the subject whether the jagged blue shards of a broken glass or a yellow flying duck can take center stage and shine through.
Finally as a whole the film goes from shades of ultra whites in the beginning to ultra blue-blacks in the end which symbolizes her downward spiral.
MH: For Fear you were seemingly in charge of everything short of being in front of the camera. What presents the biggest challenge when undertaking a project like this?
SK: There are two. On set was a physical and mental endurance game. For each scene I faced the challenge of dressing the set, setting and balancing lights and exposure, setting the camera angle and sound. Then I faced the struggle of dealing with an actress who was on her first film. Jessie is quite smart and a hard worker which made things easier. The great acting teacher Stella Adler once said that the actor’s greatest gift was her mind and that is quite true. Jessie took to acting quite naturally and even when she doubted herself, as anyone new to anything often does, I knew she was giving me gold. And I am not always the easiest director to work with. It was literally just the two of us in alone with her naked half the time and the last thing I wanted to do was to make her feel uncomfortable. After the first shoot day I saw the dailies and knew I was onto something great but then grew fearful that I would lose her before I got all the footage in the can. Thankfully I never did. I think a lot of actresses would have bailed out on this difficult project but am quite thankful that Jessie did not. Still, there’s that word again. Fear.
The second type of challenge was in post production. With editing, visual effects, and color “Fear” was in post for almost a year. That’s a long time but it was necessary as I wanted each moment to poetically contribute to the theme. I wanted perfection. During this time I asked myself again and again does this film have a meaning? Does it mean something to me? Does it need to be said? Do I need to say it? Is it valid? Does it add meaningfully to the discussion of the human condition? Is it even good and fun to watch?
Perhaps because I did everything on this film by the time I was in post I had lost all perspective. Sometimes I didn’t know the answers to those questions. The crux at that point was not letting conflicting emotions get the best of me, not letting my fears dictate that I was wasting my time, but instead follow the script and believe what I had conceived of so long ago, in part to rescue an old relationship, was valid and press on until it was done.
MH: When can we expect Fear to be released for public consumption, and how can we see it?
SK: Right now “Fear” is on the film festival circuit and as such can’t be shown in wide release but of course after the run it will be available for streaming.