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SxSW 2015 Interview: EXCESS FLESH director Patrick Kennelly

by Jason Whyte

"Jill is obsessed with her new roommate Jennifer, a promiscuous and sexy hotshot in the LA Fashion scene. New to the city and recently single, Jill is unable to keep up as she binges and purges to stay thin; eventually hating herself and everyone around her. Her jealousy and rage spiral out of control; Jennifer has everything, and Jill wants to be just like her. If Jill can't BE Jennifer, she must destroy her." Director Patrick Kennelly on his film EXCESS FLESH which screens in the Midnighters section at the 2015 South By Southwest Film Festival.

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

Yes, first time in Austin and at SXSW! I will be there for the full duration of the festival, and at all the screenings of EXCESS FLESH. Another piece I directed for the noise-rap group Clipping, called "Body & Blood" is playing in the music video section of SXSW, so I will be there for those as well!

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

I am originally from the Chicago-area, but have been living and working in Los Angeles since 2002. I studied Visual Art & Film/Video at CalArts and then did an MFA in Theater Directing at UCLA. I thought originally I was going to follow a typical trajectory into the motion picture industry, however because of my interests and my sort of "alternative" ideas, I ended up exploring other things, knowing I would eventually get back somewhere around there. So, its been a bit of a circuitous path. The majority of the last 10 years has been working in the experimental theater, performance, and visual arts communities of Los Angeles and outside the area. I have designed video installations for theater, served as director and/or editor on experimental film/video projects, performed, and most significantly, created a number of large-scale original theater pieces and installations. For many of those years, I have been the Co-Artistic Director of Highways Performance Space, which was the original radical experimental performance art venue in Southern California.

How did your movie come together as a director?

I had been trying for a year to get off the ground another script and one that was quite complicated. So I was kind of hanging in limbo. So, being stuck financially, technically and creatively with these things, I pulled out a one-page treatment I had written a decade-ago. There were themes within it that were calling out, particularly based on the previous project my co-writer Sigrid Gilmer and I collaborated on, an all-female live pop musical called PATTY. That work used the real-life stories and myths surrounding pop cultural icons, Patty Duke and Patty Hearst, to examine contemporary issues around female identity, celebrity, cults, mental illness, and faith. The EXCESS FLESH treatment seemed a logical extension of that project; also, because it was basically two characters in one space it could be done on the cheap! I pitched this idea to Sigrid and we started formulating a script, merging in a lot of the genre-play and style we like. As ideas bounced back and forth, it started expanding, and what was originally a short, became, in the matter of a month and a half or so a feature script.

What was your process in getting the film together?

Leo Garcia, who I have been working with for years on a number of projects, read this and said we have to make this movie! Now, granted what was originally a small piece had grown into a different beast in the writing with fantasy sequences, tons of supplemental characters and a lot of extra stuff. But he believed in it and so we took the chance and pitched it to our executive producer, Dennis Garcia, who was a huge supporter of PATTY and who we had recently done a short documentary about South Sudan with. Every element of this project was new for us and unproven, but our producing partnership has been so successful with these previous difficult, unusual projects that pretty quickly it became a no-brainer to make EXCESS FLESH.

Then it was about assembling the key team, and for many of them this was their first or second time as department heads on a feature film. The main job for a director is casting; not just the actors, but the whole team. If you get that right, 80% of the work is done. Part of that, for me, in the behind-the-camera team, is finding creative people who are not just doing a job, but are artists in their own right; people like our production designer Liz Toonkel, costume designer Amanda Lee, cinematographer Ben Conley, and particularly sound and music guru Jonathan Snipes; who supervised the sound and music from beginning to end, all the way from production to the design & scoring and into the final mix. I also have to single out my co-producer, Simona Kessler, who has been the glue keeping a lot of things together from early on till now. Though she is young, you will be hearing a lot about her and the projects she herself is producing for some years to come!

What was your #1 challenge with this movie, and how did you over-come it?

I am the pre-production and post-production rat. So the #1 challenge for me is always the actual production, which is gruelling, particularly when you know you won't have the possibility for re-shoots. That being said, production is also the most exhilarating part of the process.

If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be? The moment where you thought "I had something"?

When you have crew members walking off a set because its just "too much to handle", then you know you have something good.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

Sheer adrenaline. Because when you are working on a tight-schedule and low budget, there is no time to eat, drink, or even smoke cigarettes, and I am usually a chain-smoker.

For the aspiring filmmakers who read our site, 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.

We decided to shoot on the Alexa as we were going for a really particular look, which the Alexa afforded. After the fact though, I think it could have been something else. If I were working at the same budget-level, schedule and crew size again, I would choose more manageable and cheaper cameras; because of my shooting style, I prefer to shoot multi-camera. And on this, we only had the one Alexa, which is what we could afford, based on the great efforts of producing team to secure us a reasonable rate.

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

The reactions of audiences to what this movie is. It is a very different kind of thing than I THINK a lot of people are expecting!

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

We are playing the week after SXSW at the Boston Underground Film Festival.

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?

For nostalgic purposes, I would say the Music Box Theater in Chicago as this is where my movie-mad coming-of-age happened in the 90s. The re-issue of Jean-Pierre Melville's LE SAMOURAI was one of those.

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?

Do NOT do it, unless you are insane and/or don't want to have a "real life." Otherwise, by all means!

And finally, what is the single, greatest movie that you have ever seen?

Once Upon a Time in America.

Be sure to follow EXCESS FLESH online on Facebook at excessfleshmovie or on Twitter at @ExcessFlesh!

We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview in our now 40+ filmmaker interview series. We will have interviews posted all throughout the festival so be sure to visit us often for more coverage!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2015 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 13-21. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the SxSW GO App for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

link directly to this feature at
originally posted: 03/13/15 08:56:56
last updated: 03/13/15 09:00:55
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