The extremely well received cautionary horror film, STARRY EYES, has made quite the splash over the last year and every piece of acclaim that it has gotten has been definitely well deserved. It’s a viscerally shocking and well written film, filled to the brim with standout performances from everyone from Pat Healy, Noah Segan, Marc Senter and the film’s led, Alex Essoe, who absolutely steals the show as an actress faced with sacrificing parts of her self and her soul in order to gain the role of a lifetime. Easily one of the best films of 2014, Co-directors Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch were both nice enough to chat with us for a bit about the film and how it’s a project and film tha many people find to be extremely easy to relate to. Read on!
Widmyer: Hey Jerry, this is Dennis here, how’s it going? I’ve got Kevin (Kolsch) here as well.
Kolsch: Hey Jerry, how it’s going?
Icons: I am doing great, yourselves?
Widmyer: Great man!
Awesome. Well before I ask you two any questions, I just wanted to tell you both that you just knocked this one out of the fucking park. The film is well deserved of any acclaim it has gotten.
Widmyer: Oh wow thanks, thanks so much man.
Can you tell me how the project kind of came up for you two?
Widmyer: Yeah. Well Kevin and I have been writing together and directing together for around 15 years, in between 15-20 years now. We had already a film together back in 2006, which was kind of a glorified, post-graduate film school film, you know?
Widmyer: So prior to STARRY EYES, we made a lot of short films, and for a while Kevin was living in New York, so when we were kind of bi-coaster for a bit. We were working on different stuff, but we continued to write scripts. We wrote the script for STARRY EYES and quickly saw that it should be a feature. We quickly made it into a feature and then we asked ourselves, “Well, how are we going to get the money for this?”, because until then, everything we had done was very DIY. We had always raised the money ourselves, and we had already did a Kickstarter for a short film that I had done that Kevin helped me out on. It was tough doing a Kickstarter, because mind you, I was only trying to raise $2,000 for that one, so we weren’t excited to jump back into a Kickstarter. It became a film where we would have to raise a lot of money and I didn’t know if we could do that. What happens though, is that if you start working on something and start pushing that boulder up the hill, things fall into place and that’s what happened to STARRY EYES. We approached it with a “fuck it” mentality and tried to do a Kickstarter for $50,000 and tried to see if maybe we could make it for $50,000 and thought that if Kevin and I did EVERYTHING, write it, shoot it on Canon 7D’s, edit it ourselves, then maybe we could pull it off. Then, Travis Stevens came on board, I was friends with Travis for about a year, and one day he like, “Hey, what’s this thing you’re working on, let me see it!”. I showed it to him, and he was having a good year, he had just done CHEAP THRILLS and JODOROWSKY’S DUNE and was looking to do something like this. We were already friends with the guy and he said, “Let’s do the Kickstarter, but Dark Sky Films might be interested in it”. Shortly after the Kickstarter ended and we were able to raise around $53,000, Dark Sky Films came on board and kicked in some more money and we suddenly had more to work with and a little more leeway and production value. We were suddenly able to do something that was a lot bigger than things we had done before. So that was how it all came together, it was very organic.
What instantly stands out about the film is how easy it is to identify with. From the very first taste I watched it, I found myself relating it to it, profoundly. We’ve all been working at places that we didn’t want to and have had dreams of doing something we wanted and have all made those sacrifices to get there. Pretty much every review I’ve read for them film said the same thing. Were you guys surprised at all with how many people just latched on it?
Kolsch: Yeah it was surprising. We were basing it on some of our experiences, trying to be filmmakers, so we expected some people to be about to relate to it, but we had never had that much of a reach for anything before, so you never expect for all of that happen. We really never expected for it to reach as far as it had, but we did write it hoping that it would be something that people would relate to. People who don’t even like horror movies, like family members, they’ll go see the movie and find something that they relate to, like Pat Healy’s character. He’s a good guy who is just trying to take care of his business. We tried to find something in each character that felt real. Even the jerk friend kind of becomes concerned in the end is like “I know we’ve had this competition and we’re frenemies, but you’re kind of sick right now…we need to get you to the hospital”, we tried to make every character feel not only relatable but somewhat real, so whether or not you’re on board with or even if you’re a straight laced non-horror fan, it would resonate in some way where you’d be “well what about that restaurant manager, she’s stepping on HIS dream!”.
The cast in the film is absolutely great, did you have any of them in mind when you went out to cast it, or was it just a huge stroke of luck?
Widmyer: You always have people, as a director, that you have in your head that could fit a role. A lot of the cast though, was due to having a great producer like Travis Stevens, you know?
Yeah, Travis is awesome.
He had worked with the competitive friend, Fabianne Therese, before on THE AGGRESSION SCALE, and with Pat Healy on CHEAP THRILLS. Some of them were through mutual friends, who had worked with other directors we knew. We were really lucky to get all of those actors because they really sort of legitimized that supporting cast. They really brought a lot, and we knew a lot of them through the festival circuit. Alex Essoe, who plays Sarah, she had never really had a leading role in a movie, and had only done a few things, so yeah, I would say a lot of it was just finding the right people for the role and rehearsing with them a lot. We’d hear their input on the script and just kind of immerse them in the character. When you have a leading role like Alex does, it really brings it all together, everyone really gravitated towards her performance. There were people walking up to us on set, asking “Where the hell did you find this girl?!” and I really think everybody upped their game when they saw just how much weight she was bringing to the role and how much emotion she was bringing to it.
She did a hell of a job with it. 2014 for me, was just an amazing year for not only just horror, but for well written, almost allegorical storytelling. Films like STARRY EYES, THE BABADOOK and another one of my favorites, HONEYMOON bypassed just the gory genre film approach and were really story-driving films that people seemed to latch onto. Why do you think that is?
Kolsch: I don’t know what it was about the year. It’s always something that Dennis and I like and what we strive to do with our films, and as fans, those are the kinds of films we’re always looking for.
Yeah, I’m the same way. I’m big on story.
Kolsch: I’m a horror fan, but when I go see one, I want to find something that actually has something to say, you know?, Like they did in the ’60s and ’70s. That’s what we like, what we’re into and what we’ve always tried to do with our projects. I think, like you said, it WAS a year for that, and I think maybe that’s why we were able to finally get this one off the ground when we did, because of what was in the air. I’m not sure why it happened in the year, but I am glad it did (laughs). Like I said, it might have been why we were able to get this one made and as horror fans, it was great, because I loved HONEYMOON and I loved THE BABADOOK. I’m not sure why it happened though.
Widmyer: I think sometimes the industry gets stagnant, and the audience gets bored, and the producers and execs see the films that people like and what makes a lot of money, and they say: “Lets make more of those movies”. I think people like all of us, the fans of the horror genre see the same old thing and we all get a little bored by it, and we want to see things more subversive and go against that flow and that’s when we have that little sea of change that happens.