Interview by Carl Marsh - May 2015
congratulations on winning a Grand Jury Prize at the Dallas International Film Festival in the last few weeks, the first of many awards no doubt for your film Echoes of War?
Thank you! It was humbling to be acknowledged in such a way at our very first festival. When you’ve been working on a film for so long, it’s like you’re in a dark cave with it, watching it over and over again and then suddenly you show it to a real audience. It was a little nerve racking, but very rewarding to have the audience engage with it the way they did, ask us all a bunch of really insightful questions that showed they cared and they were in to the film. But you know, the award was for “Best Ensemble Performance” and so I take my hat off to our cast. They’re the ones who deserve the praise for that one!
The film is being compared as a cross between Pale Rider and Unforgiven, so did you take inspiration from these films and it's star Clint Eastwood?
Unforgiven is one of my all-time favourite films and Pale Rider was definitely watched a few times during pre-production, mostly for certain themes those films deal with and some story/structural elements. But in terms of overall films, I definitely think those movies fit more neatly in to the Western genre than we do. We equally took inspiration from books like Wuthering Heights, Andrew Wyeth’s paintings and Jane Campion films like The Piano. We were trying to make a period piece drama as opposed to a straight Western. Not to take anything away from Westerns - those are great films. And if you want to read our film as a Western, that’s fine with me too. It’s just that our inspirations, for the most part, lay elsewhere.
It must have been hard getting this film made, as I know the Western genre has not been touched a lot recently?
It might sound strange but it was never really about making a Western or any kind of genre film. Sure, my producers and I talked about it but it was always about telling this particular story, which we felt hadn’t been told, at least not in this way. We felt we had a strong script and people began reading it and believing in it, like our casting director Emily Schweber. She read it and championed it from the beginning and we met with a lot of great actors who were interested in portraying characters they felt were more left of centre than what they normally get to play. In the film world, especially in Los Angeles, as soon as known actors become attached to a project, it makes it a lot easier to raise financing and get it made. Of course there are still all the challenges of mounting the production and making the film before time and money runs out, but having a great cast certainly helps get peoples attention in the first place.
Ethan Embry, I know he is in it, and I am a big fan of him and his work. So what was he like to work with, and did he take to losing his hair for the part in good spirit?
Ha! Shaving his head was actually his idea. I was resistant to it at first but he convinced me. I remember he came to set on the first day of shooting, just to check it out as he wasn’t set to start filming until day 2. He pulled me aside in between takes, proposed the idea and I think my face turned white. I had lived with this character in my head for years - this moralistic, God-fearing farmer - and thought he had to appear a certain way. My assistant director was calling me back for the next take and Ethan slyly was stepping away, thumbs up, saying it’s going to look great. I was completely torn. I went with my gut, trusted him, gave him the approval and he came back ten minutes later with a shaved head! And you know what? It’s my favourite thing in the whole film. The way such a little gesture informs this character from the moment you lay eyes on him, is really unreal. And that’s Ethan as an actor - totally committed and always looking for another way in to the character. He doesn’t walk through the front door. He checks the back and if that’s not open he’ll go through the windows!
There must be plenty of stories you can tell me about when you filmed Echoes of War?
Of course! Shooting a movie is like disappearing into this weird and fantastical world for a couple of months. There was a scene where James Badge Dale was to go swimming in this lake, completely naked. He’s standing there in his birthday suit, we’re ready to roll camera, and we think we see a sea snake skimming across the surface. Badge grimaced for a moment, naturally, then just asked someone to keep an eye out and walked waist-deep in to the lake. He was pumped to do the scene. Turned out it was an Otter!
With yourself Kane, what is your story, how did you get into film making?
I went a pretty typical route. I did an undergraduate degree at University back in Sydney, Australia, where I majored in film studies, then packed my bags for Los Angeles, studied another two years at film school and stepped out in to the industry. I assisted a producer on The Great Gatsby, a huge Hollywood film, and then poured everything I knew into making a movie that cost about the same as Gatsby’s catering budget.
Besides Echoes of War, what can we expect from you in the near future, perhaps the next 12 months or so?
I'm producing a film from a script I co-wrote for a South African director friend, Anton du Preez. It’s called MR THE FASTEST. We’re looking to shoot it in South Africa later this year or early next year. It’s a wonderfully strange, dark comedy in the vein of Napoleon Dynamite. Other than that I am finishing up a couple of scripts I’ve written and planning to direct one of them as my next feature.
You must read a lot of books, scripts, etc...; so for you, it is the norm, but as you know, I like to encourage more to read via this website, so why do you think people should read more?
Because reading is everything! I cannot stress this enough. Reading teaches you to engage your mind, your imagination and once you can do that, your life becomes richer and more opportunities will open themselves to you. It saddens me that the world, in a way, is moving away from reading. Maybe that’s not true - I hope it isn’t. But it definitely feels like people are more consumed with television and social media. There is some great TV these days, but nothing beats reading. And EVERYTHING beats staring in to your phone or tablet for hours and having life pass you by. All the movies and TV we watch is rooted in things like Greek theatre and we only learn of those things through reading, whether it be factual, historical texts or fictional re-imaginings. How are we supposed to move forward as a society if we have no understanding of our past? We can get all of this from books. It’s pretty incredible when you think about it, how much we can learn from paper and print between our fingertips. Libraries should be sacred buildings.
Still talking books, what is your favourite book, and why is that?
My favourite book is “An Imaginary Life” by Australian author David Malouf. My dream is a filmmaker is to one day adapt this book. It’s about the poet Ovid - the author of the famous text “Metamorphoses” - who was cast out of Ancient Rome. There’s no documented history about what happened to him, so Malouf imagines his journey through the wastelands, his joining an indigenous tribe and assimilation in to these people. We’re talking about a civilised man of the highest order, from Rome, which, at the time was like being from New York City, and here he is taken in by “savages” (as he refers to them at first.) However after learning about them he realises they are just people with their own way of governing themselves that is not too different from what he came from. Then the tribe finds a truly “savage” boy that’s been raised by wolves and is, for all purposes, an animal. Ovid and the boy leave the tribe and go on an epic journey over desert and ice in the pursuit of understanding each other and in turn, humanity. It’s truly epic in a real ethereal and spiritual way.
I also love “On The Road” by Jack Kerouac, a book that, like thousands of other people, changed my life after reading it.
For a powerful statement, why should people read more books in general?
Books contain our history, our exploration of "the human condition”, which is integral to understanding our place in this world. That is the mission of true art, at the end of the day - to find reason for our existence, or, at least to explore it. Books have always done this, since the earliest civilisations known to man. We forget that there was a time before newspapers, television, or the internet. Books have always been there and they continue to enrich our lives. If you don’t read, you’re truly missing out on a full life.
What advice could you offer anyone that wishes to start with a career in the movie industry like you have?
Don’t do it for money, fame, respect or anything other than because it’s the only thing you want to do with your life. It will consume you, test you and try to destroy you, but if you love it more than anything in the world, you will never want to do anything else.
Last question, if you were an animal, what would it be and why?
I asked my girlfriend this and she said a buck - as in, a male deer. Now, that could be because it sounds good, but I like to think it has something to do with foraging through the forest with a head as hard as antlers, never being the obvious choice to win in a fight, but always in with a chance.
Occupation: Director / Producer
Based in: USA