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SxSW 2016 Interview: I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER director Billy O'Brien

by Jason Whyte

"Small town weirdness in the snow, strange kid, family drama, murder most foul, nerve shredding tension, black humour and the unbelievably good performance of 17 year old Max Records in a witty supernatural thriller." Director Billy O'Brien on I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER which screens at the 2016 South By Southwest Film.

I am thrilled to hear your movie is showing at SxSW and this is your first time here! Are you planning to attend your screenings?

Yes. Arriving the night before SxSW Day One and looking forward to the madness. We only finished the film VERY recently so this will be, well, interesting.

Talk to me a bit about how you got your start in the industry and your previous work!

I went to art college then film school in Dublin. Loved drawing, but not good enough to be a comic artist so I started storyboarding. I loved camera and film so I became a production designer and decided directing looked easier, less technical drawing, which is true for sure and realized I loved directing. One time, I directed a B&W short film set in Victorian London with puppet rats and a pretty scary Horror film with animatronic cows.

So how did I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER come together from your perspective?

I read the book by Dan Wells and loved it, thinking it would make an amazing film which it has. Thought we would make it in a year. That was 2009. And here we are.

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

Barry's Tea. Sorry, I'm from Cork and it's the law. It has got so bad that on the shoot in Northern Minnesota I brought a box of teabags and a travel kettle with me. Greg Anderson, the Funeral Home director who kindly let us shoot in his Mortuary tried some Barrys and is now I believe addicted.

What drives me? Lack of time. Time the great director killer. The Evil God of Shoots. Never enough time.

What was your biggest challenge with making this movie?

Getting it off the ground. Shooting in Minnesota in minus 20-30 celsius was fine actually and good fun, and shooting it in the mining town of Virginia, Minnesota after 5 years trying, that felt special. But raising the finance when nobody seemed interested & nothing I could do would make them interested...that was hell.

I am about to get technical, but I would love to know about the visual design of the movie?

We shot on film, Super 16mm, on Fuji stock stored in my garage for two years since Fuji shut their doors. The cameras were Arri 416 & SR3. We always intended to shoot it on film, despite the prevailing winds. This film was all shot on location in a paint peeling mining town that felt like a William Eggleston photograph. The beautiful haunting grainy feel of 16mm suited it perfectly. I was in film school with Robbie Ryan the cameraman in Dublin (from Dun Laoghaire College of Art and Design) as was producer Nick Ryan his cousin. The three of us wanted to make this film together. Robbie shot all my shorts and my horror film ISOLATION.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing the film here in Austin?

Seeing the film with a real live audience! No idea what to expect but really looking forward to it. Then after that seeing what is going on! SXSW looks weird with all the tech and music stuff. Should be exciting. And to relax with a beer or two and a game of pool in a bar. Did a lot of that in Minnesota so I want to see how Texas compares.

After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next? Any dream venues?

I do not know yet. I have been totally blinkered in getting it finished in time for SXSW. Will definitely be screening it in the small town I live in, maybe once spring has really kicked in and we get better weather so can have a party. Have everyone see what the hell we have all been up to for so long. With a great crowd who have had a drink and are in the mood for an adventure.

What would you say to someone who was talking or texting through a movie?

Well they are the one missing it if they are texting! If talking, yeah I don't want to be near them.

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business as a piece of advice?

One piece is tricky. It's easy to shoot today and easy to learn editing so go make something and keep making. And drink plenty of tea. But actually the best thing I got told years ago is a director has only to get two things right; Where to put the camera and what to say to the actors. It's true! Get both right you have a film.

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

Generally, what blows me away is when I see an old film projected off a print. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is nothing like on the telly. It's pure Opera and astonishing. Murnau's THE LAST LAUGH, a silent B&W film; saw it at the BFI London years ago and realized we have learned very little since then. Seeing a film with a crowd and up big is such a pleasure when now everyone watches things on their iPhone on headphones. And BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK I keep coming back to recently for some reason.

We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview as part of our coverage of SxSW 2016. To see the entire series click on the Live Report sidebar on your right. 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 2016 SXSW in Austin, Texas taking place March 11-19. 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

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originally posted: 03/10/16 19:43:25
last updated: 03/10/16 19:47:22
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