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South By Southwest 2014 Interview – STARRY EYES director DENNIS WIDMYER

by Jason Whyte

“STARRY EYES tells the story of Sarah Walker, a determined and desperate actor who would do anything to land her first big role. Unfortunately this leaves her prey to a satanic cult who has been operating as Hollywood’s gatekeepers since the Golden Age. What follows is an occult tale of paranoia and possession that explores themes of transformation, body horror and a woman going through a psychotic breakdown. It’s Ira Levin meets David Cronenberg.” Director Dennis Widmyer (who co-directed with Kevin Kolsch ) on STARRY EYES which screens at this year's South By Southwest Film Festival.

Is this your first SxSW/Austin experience and are you going to attend your screenings?

Hell yeah it is. I hear it’s basically a parade of people going from one screening to the next and squeezing into bars along the way. I’ll try to attend as many screenings as I can. It’s a good way to distract me from the fact that HOLY SHIT I HAVE A FILM PLAYING AT SXSW I HAVE TO GO VOMIT NOW.

Your favorite barbecue/food in the city?

This is my sixth trip to Austin. I’ve been previously five times before for Fantastic Fest. Bit fan of Smitty’s and Salt Lick BBQ.

What do you love the most about showing movies in Austin and Austin in general?

It’s easily one of the most film-friendly cities in the world. Not to mention it houses the Alamo Drafthouse, which I sincerely think is the best chain of theaters in the country.

Tell me a bit about your background and how you became a filmmaker. Also what have you worked on in the past?

Well, I should stipulate that you’re currently only talking to one part of a two-headed monster. The other head is Kevin Kölsch, my co-writer and co-director. I started working with Kevin in 1994, making this a twenty-year relationship. We met as teenagers in New York and both had an affinity for screenwriting that soon developed into directing.

We’ve both done the film school route and had a series of jobs on big and small films shortly after college. I’d say the film of note that I got to work on was ZOOLANDER, where I was an Art PA. I did a few other Ben Stiller films and then in 2003, Kevin and I stopped doing industry gigs and formed Parallactic Pictures, our company. This is when we set off making feature and short films. STARRY EYES is our third feature project and probably our twenty-fifth collaboration; this includes screenplays, of which we’ve written over a dozen together.

How did this whole project come together from your perspective?

Kevin and I both wanted to explore a story about transformation, and liked the idea of setting it in the desperate world of actors. We’re big fans of David Cronenberg and films like POSSESSION and BLACK SWAN, so we liked the idea of body horror as a way to explore deep-seated psychological and character issues. The film started as a short, but after the fiftieth person read the script and said it should be a feature, we finally wizened up and went back and rewrote the thing from scratch as a feature.

What was the biggest challenge, or challenges, in making the film?

The Kickstater we ran for it was successful, and went smooth enough, but man, was it nerve-racking. I don’t wish it on anyone. You lose sleep over it watching those numbers. Other than that, I’d say that the production in general was just very ambitious for its budget. We had a very large ensemble cast and over fifteen locations. It’s also a very SFX make-up intensive shoot, with all practical effects. So that too, was very taxing on our schedule.

If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be?

Probably the sequence we shot on Hollywood Blvd, late at night. It was done very run-and-gone and guerrilla style. Reminded me of my college days.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you? How much coffee?

Lots of coffee, yes, and I’ll usually keep a stash of Red Bull in one of the trailers. But no, it’s really just that I’m pretty focused on set to the point of almost starving myself. I don’t want to stop working, so people have to remind me that it’s lunch time and I should go put food in my body. I falls so in love with the process, that when it’s over I have a form of nostalgia like I just got torn away from a large family.

I would love to know about the technical side of the film, your relationship to the director of photography, what the movie was shot on and why it was decided to be filmed this way.

The film was shot on two cameras; the RED Epic and RED Scarlet, by an amazing cinematographer named Adam Bricker. Funny enough, Adam saw our Kickstarter and just reached out to us via email. We were so impressed with his reel, but what really made him stand out, was how well he understood the content. Working with Kevin and Adam, we drew up a 20 page ‘look book’ for the film that would guide the aesthetic of the movie, and how it would change as the character’s arc changed. I love that shit and Adam was so into helping us create that world and palette.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie at SxSW?

I think I’m mostly looking forward to seeing it with a crowd, and seeing how they respond to the horror, the drama and yes, the laughs. On the one hand this is a very dark tale, a metaphor about selling out in Hollywood. On the other, it’s a very quirky, “Lynchian” film, in some ways. So I hope people know that they’re allowed to smile during it.

After the film screens at South By Southwest, where is the film going to show next? Anywhere you would like it to screen?

So many places we’d love to screen. I can tell you though that our next festival will be The Boston Underground Fest in late March.

Alamo Drafthouse and Paramount theaters in Austin aside, if you could show this movie in any cinema in the world, which one would you choose and why?

Probably Cinefamily in LA. I think that would be a riot. They know how to put on great screenings.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking or texting during a screening of your film?

I’d probably go all Charles Bronson KINJITE on them and force them to eat the phone.
There are a lot of up and coming filmmakers both at SxSW and reading our site. What would you want to tell them if they are aspiring to become a filmmaker?

Learn when to compromise and when to stick to your guns. And outline your damn script.

And finally, what is the single, greatest movie that you have seen at a film festival?

Probably THE BROWN BUNNY at The Toronto International Film Festival. But only because Jim Jarmusch and his wife were sitting in front of me. And during the Vincent Gallo and Chloe Sevingy blowjob sequence, my knee accidentally hit the back of Jarmusch’s wife, and he turned and gave me the dirtiest look.

This is one of the many films screening at the 2014 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 7-15. For more information on the film’s screening, point your browser to

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jasonrcwhyte

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originally posted: 03/08/14 05:01:31
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