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SxSW 2015 Interview: HE NEVER DIED director Jason Krawczyk

by Jason Whyte

"Jack is in a rut. Depression and severe anti-social behavior has whittled down his existence to sleeping and watching television. Seeing the human race as little more than meat with a pulse, Jack has no interest to bond with anyone. There's little purpose for him to make friends with someone he'd eventually eat or outlive by more than a millennia. The fuse is lit when Jack's past comes back to rattle him. Jack must now walk a tight rope of sobriety and try to eat as few people as possible in this violent tale of personal responsibility." Director Jason Krawczyk on his film HE NEVER DIED which screens in the Midnighters section of the 2015 South By Southwest Film Festival.

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

YES and I'm totally going. I want to scratch that city off my bucket list.

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

I always wanted to make movies as a child, but never thought it was a realistic career choice. Then Jay Sherman from THE CRITIC made a joke about having a PhD in film and it seemed more tangible. Shortly after that, I told my parents I wanted to go to film school. I think my dad's response was something along the lines of "We'll support whatever dumb decisions you make." Looking back, I think that's the greatest single thing a loved one can tell you. Seriously. Tell your loved ones.

I directed a short called HARD DAMN HITCH in 2005. It was a black-and-white 16mm silent film. That was apparently enough for me to believe I could direct a 90 minute continuation of that one minute short. After that, I began working as a PA and gripping on commercial, TV shows, and movies. Then came AUDREY in 2008. It was a comedy short starring the exceedingly talented Elaine Barrow. Then, in 2011, I directed the mobster comedy THE BRIEFCASE. Looking back, I'm still insanely proud of all of those films. I have been working with Zach Hagen since HARD DAMN HITCH and Eric Billman's shot everything since AUDREY. It's surreal and there are no words for how grateful I am.

How did your movie come together as a director?

I feel like we accomplished what we set out to do without compromising on the themes or tone of HE NEVER DIED. I couldn't really ask for more creative support from the producers, crew, and cast. This production definitely spoiled me.

What was your process in getting the film together?

I have been working with Zach Hagen since the first draft of HE NEVER DIED. He is a never-say-die producer, but first and foremost, he is a friend. You don't know what hard work looks like until you see him perform. It has been a LONG road for the film too, as the first draft of it was probably written in 2005 with Henry Rollins in mind. When we thought it was time to actually pursue it we sent an offer out and Henry got back to us in a day. The response alone made my palms sweaty. That was in 2012. That's a hell of a jump in time.

What was your biggest challenge with this movie?

Time. It is always time. It has never NOT been time and it will always be time. I always want more of it to execute exactly what was planned. You have to compromise what was planned for what is possible. It's a collaborative effort to find a solution and it forces you to think more pragmatically. Most of the time, the results are better when you are restrained and struggling.

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

We were preparing to shoot the last scene and we were incredibly short on time. So we rehearsed the last ten minutes as one long take. It is all about the ending. You do NOT want to botch the ending. It's the reason you sat in a chair for an hour and twenty minutes. Henry had to memorize about ten pages of dialogue and go through an emotional gauntlet that fluctuated between blind rage and soulful vulnerability. It was an absolute whirlwind of an evening, but I think that is the moment where I got over the anxiety of directing my role model. It was also the moment I realized how talented and passionate the cast and crew were. It was humbling to say the least.

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

"Cofftea," ice water, and push ups. If I drink too much coffee I get this confused un-focusable energy, so I cut about a third cup of coffee with hot water and a green tea bag. It is an acquired taste, but it seems to do the trick. If I'm starting to drag, I dunk my face in ice water for about thirty seconds followed by a bunch of push-ups. If you get the blood flowing, you can avoid those dumb mental lulls throughout the day..or at least try.

For the tech people who read us, I'd like to know about the tech side and your cinematographer.

Cinematographer Eric Billman is practically a wizard. I have worked with him several times and he's never not impressed me. He's a masterful storyteller. One of my favourite parts of film-making is shot listing, which is just sitting down with Billman and making the visual blueprint of the movie. I cannot stress how important shot listing is; the last thing you want to do is just record a movie. Everything you see has to tell a story so the visuals have to be inspired and evolve. The characters aren't the same at the end of the movie and neither should the photography.

The movie is shot at a 2:39:1 aspect ratio to help display Jack's solitude and uneven mindset. He is crammed into the sides of the frame leaving all this negative space with a very wide depth of field. As Jack starts to take initiative, he starts to creep into center frame with a narrower depth of field. Hopefully, the audience ingests this visual progression to help empathize with the character. Since HE NEVER DIED is a character piece, Jack's mind dictates what the camera is going to do.

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

Seeing it with an audience is a surreal idea for me. I have never seen anything I have written or directed in a theatre with an audience that was not involved with the movie. So, I guess I am looking forward to how I will react. Will I pass out from anxiety? I'm not going to say no.

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

I am not entirely sure. I would love for it be be seen by as many people as possible. I haven't been, but I always made sure to seek out the movies that have screened at Fantastic Fest, Toronto After Dark, and Fantasia. UK's Fright Fest looks amazing just for that ridiculously offensive "no-texting" PSA. If you haven't seen it, check it out. It's amazing.

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?

The Royal: Theater D in Toronto. HE NEVER DIED had post-production sound work there and at night they play genre movies and indie-films. It's a wonderful venue and it would just feel right to be able to screen there.

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

Most of the time I just bury my anger deep down into my subconscious only to unjustly explode it onto friends and family. If it gets really bad, it might be "EVERYONE HERE CAN HEAR YOU! EVERYONE!"

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?

Be patient, enthusiastic, and listen to everyone. As a filmmaker, it is easy to talk your head off, but best results come out of teamwork. Give all of the artists around you time to figure things out before you intervene. You are also setting the tone on set and everyone is working just as hard as you. Days gets long and stressful so make it a pleasant and relaxed work environment. Everyone works to their fullest potential if they're respected, appreciated, and involved. You can never really make exactly what is in your head, but you can make it worse or better.

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

My dad took me to TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY in a packed theater. I must have been eight-years-old and it sincerely changed my life.

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

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originally posted: 03/13/15 10:46:22
last updated: 03/13/15 10:57:07
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