Filmmakers in Focus - Exists, Honeymoon & Starry Eyes

Written by Jim Kolmar | February 6, 2014
Filmmakers Eduardo Sanchez, Leigh Janiak, Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kölsch

In honor of yesterday's killer Midnighters announcement, today's Filmmakers in Focus talks to the talented people behind three of the films in our acclaimed genre section. Exists takes Bigfoot as its starting point, while the terrors of Honeymoon are a little closer to home. Starry Eyes, meanwhile, tackles the delights of body horror. Read more below, and view all of our previous interviews here.

Eduardo Sanchez on Exists

Tell us a little about your film.

I've been obsessed with Bigfoot ever since I saw the Patterson-Gimlin film as a kid. It was the SCARIEST thing I had ever experienced. It fascinated me and took over my world.

Since then, I've wanted to make a movie about the big guy...

But a movie where Bigfoot felt scary and REAL - like the Bigfoot that I experienced all those years ago. Not a comedic Bigfoot. Not a fake-looking, CG Bigfoot. Not an alien Bigfoot with super human abilities - just the creature I loved - a feature-length PATTERSON-GIMLIN film.

Exists is the Bigfoot movie I've been waiting to see.

Why did you start making films?

I saw Star Wars and that was it - I wanted to make films. But I didn't really take it seriously until high school, where I took a TV production in 11th grade that changed my life.

I still remember the moment: first day of class - first few sentences that came out of Mr. Baron's mouth about careers in television and film...

I knew what I was going to do.

Or at least try to do...

Have you been to SXSW before? Any tips?

Yes - I was at SXSW for Lovely Molly in 2012 and VHS2 in 2013.

Tips - figure out how not to drive into the downtown area during the day - it's tough love.

Most looking forward to - the filmmaker's lunch that Robert Rodriguez hosts every year...and the BBQ.

Tell us a random fact (or two!) that would help our attendees get a better idea of who you are.

I am probably the tallest Cuban-American filmmaker at this year's festival.

Leigh Janiak on Honeymoon

Tell us a little about your film.

My film tells the story of newlyweds who are terrorized on their honeymoon. Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) and Harry Treadaway (from upcoming Penny Dreadful) play the couple, Paul and Bea, who struggle to keep their relationship together amidst growing paranoia and fear.

Why did you start making films?

My brother and I had this VHS of The Goonies that we watched over and over until it started wearing thin. I was about six at the time and I loved the adventure and the fear and Cory Feldman. I remember feeling this sense of wonder that there could be this world that existed beyond my suburban Cleveland childhood. I love that movies create wonder -- for amazing things like underground tunnels and pirate ships or for terrible things, like thieves trying to stick a chubby kid's hand in a blender. That's why I love movies and that's why I make them -- for moments of wonder.

Have you been to SXSW before? What are you most looking forward to?

Nope, this is my first time in Texas. I'm excited to watch as many films as possible.

Tell us a random fact (or two!) that would help our attendees get a better idea of who you are.

I like to knit.
I like to swim.
I can beat Super Mario Brothers 3 in under half an hour (using warps).

Dennis Widmyer & Kevin Kölsch on Starry Eyes

Tell us a little about your film.

Dennis: Starry Eyes is the type of story we've wanted to tell for a while, and the type of movie that incorporates a lot of our favorite elements of horror. We always find both psychological and "body horror" to be more interesting than an actual monster, haunted house, zombie, or ghost. And as a big fans of guys like David Cronenberg as well as some of the Italian horror to come out of the '70s and '80s, it was a dream to fuse those details into a very disturbing and yet, honest, metaphor about being a desperate actress in Hollywood.

Kevin: Starry Eyes is a personal film for co-director Dennis Widmyer and I in that it deals with the horrors of chasing your dreams (which we went through making this thing!). Following your dreams is usually portrayed as a positive, uplifting thing, but sacrificing so many aspects of life in the pursuit of a singular goal can be downright scary. The obsession, anxiety and insecurity that come along with it makes one wonder if it's even worth it. But of course it is. Because despite these fears, there is one thing even more frightening, the thought of not doing it anymore. And this is plight Sarah Walker (the lead character of Starry Eyes) is in.

Why did you start making films?

Dennis: For as long as I can remember I was a filmmaker in my head. As a pre-teen, I specifically recall only selecting the G.I. Joe action figures that had green camouflage and looked like they could be in Vietnam. I'd then put on Def Leppard's 'Gods of War' and re-enact the opening scene from the film Uncommon Valor. Years later, my parents bought a gigantic VCR that came with a camera, and my friends and I were soon making our own home movies, this time pretending to be Steven Seagal and acting like our arms were getting broke in badly choreographed fight scenes. When I was 17, I met my co-director, Kevin Kolsch, and together we began writing screenplays. Starry Eyes is our third feature together and we continue to evolve with each project. I couldn't imagine doing anything else in life but making movies.

Kevin: All of my creative endeavors since childhood have been leading me towards filmmaking. When I was a child and I played cops and robbers or war, I never imagined myself to be an actual cop or a robber or a soldier, I imagined myself to be in a movie. When I began taking creative writing courses and writing short stories, I was always writing a film I saw in my head and was only writing in prose because I had no idea what a screenplay was. It seems I've always loved movies and wanted to make them, it just took me a while to figure out how.

Have you been to SXSW before? What are you most looking forward to?

Dennis: I have not. I think I'm looking forward to seeing as many films as I can (especially Midnighters) and maybe a band or two, if I can get into any venues. I hear the city becomes chaotic and I can't wait.

Kevin: No, I have never been to SXSW before. I look forward to seeing great films, meeting fellow filmmakers and eating Texas BBQ.

Tell us a random fact (or two!) that would help our attendees get a better idea of who you are.

Dennis: Besides being a filmmaker, I created and run Chuck Palahniuk's ("Fight Club") official website. I started it in 1999 and still do it to this day, on the side. Chuck helped us promote the Starry Eyes Kickstarter to his fan base and even offered up some awesome prizes to help incentivize donors.

Kevin: Maybe this is a continuation of my answer to the "Why did you start making films?" question, but some of my fondest childhood memories involve my budding interest in horror movies. Walking around my house, announcing "I've seen Poltergeist thirteen times!" Watching A Nightmare on Elm Street 1 & 2 double feature with my sisters. Peeking in on my older siblings watching Carrie and seeing THAT ENDING! Flipping through the channels and catching a glimpse of a woman in a bathtub being electrocuted when a boombox is dropped into the water. I didn't find out until years later that the movie was BrainWaves.

Or the time when I was a kid that I rented Mother's Day and watched it with my family. I loved it. The next day one of my friends was over and I wanted to show it to him. My mom made him go home and get a note from his mother saying he was allowed to watch it. I'm not sure why these horror movie moments had such an impact on me, but they stayed with me to this day and are the reason I am here at SXSW.

Photo credits:
Exists, courtesy Court Five
Honeymoon, courtesy ICM Partners
Starry Eyes, courtesy Snowfort Pictures, Inc.