INTERVIEW: Mickey Keating, Director of Psychopaths
The prolific director answers some questions about his experimental horror flick.
I very much dug Mickey Keating’s horror movie Psychopaths, which is out now on all major digital platforms. His film is a wonderfully gruesome, beautifully photographed horror film that leaves us with more questions than answers. It’s a bold experiment, and one that I think worked quite well. I was very happy to have the opportunity to ask him a few questions over e-mail.
How much of the movie’s mood and visual style was planned in the writing stage?
Most of it. We get lucky sometimes during the edit, with a song that wasn’t planned during the writing phase, or a cut that works much better than what was storyboarded, but I plan my films heavily during the pre-production phase so that everybody knows what they’re working towards on set.
Does having an acting ensemble that you use regularly make it easier to get down to the job of creating your movie?
It makes it easier to take risks and have a shorthand in direction, certainly!
There wasn’t a weak actor in the film, but Ashley Bell was particularly mesmerizing, especially since she essentially had to play several people in the same body at the same time. As a director, what intrigues you about her performances?
Ashley is a force of nature and every time the camera is on her, I’m just lucky that I get to watch. She’s brilliant, magnetic, and incredibly professional. She was born to star in movies and she does an incredible job at it.
Character is so important in a movie where everyone is a “bad guy” in some way. How much input did the actors have in the creation and formation of their characters?
When I’m writing, I have ideas and directions that propel the scene, but when the role is cast, I pretty much give the actor the keys to the car and say “This is your character now. Do what you would do in this situation.” I storyboard meticulously, and we discuss the trajectory of the scene but, on the day, the frame is their stage and anything that happens on it is their decision to make. I encourage improvisation wherever it feels right, but write every scene carefully, so that there’s always a map and goal to any particular scene. That’s a process I find very interesting.
Your experimental sound design was one of the highlights of the film. Do you have any influences in that area? Are there specific films that influenced you? Did Shawn Duffy and Eric Miller contribute any major ideas? How important was it having them on your team?
Eric we call “Dr. Chill” on set because he’s always calm, and always captures really great sound, even when you don’t see him there! He’s also very patient when figuring out ways to get all my overlapping dialogue, which is a sound mixer’s nightmare! Shawn and I have been collaborating for five films now, and I can’t say enough good things about him. He brings my ideas into the cinematic realm. Influence wise, the works of Kenneth Anger, Gaspar Noe, and many Altman and Scorsese films, had a big impact on the ideas for the design.
Were the works of David Lynch (I’m thinking especially of Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive) an influence on Psychopaths’ visual style?
I think David Lynch always has an influence on me, whether I actively call on it or not. I was really inspired by those colorful, sleazy films of the 70’s and 80’s, like Hardcore and Body Double, but then also Bringing Out The Dead, and some films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder – especially Lola – and Douglas Sirk.
Despite its bleak subject (or maybe because of it), the visuals are particularly striking, and maybe the best part of the film. There’s almost too much to talk about here, so I’ll ask just ask about a detail that I quite liked: What was the impulse behind the artistic use of blood spatter? Were you influenced at all by abstract painters?
Unfortunately when it comes to practical blood FX, wherever it flies that’s how it ends up, and so I can’t claim it to be an homage to Pollock or anything. But it was important to juxtapose all of the film’s violence to the cinematography, blocking, and composition. How can something so violent look so beautiful? Does it soften the impact or make the viewer more complicit in being able to watch it? These were questions we wanted to ask.
There’s a lot of information that’s left for the viewer to figure out on their own. There seems to be a kind of love of the vague in this film. Were you influenced by any particular directors in this area? What attracts you to mysteries that cannot be definitively solved?
I think most of the films I adore and that have stayed with me over the years are the ones that left me thinking long after the credits rolled. Look at something like The Shining, which is a film that is still being disputed to this day. That’s amazing to me. Today, films are in danger of becoming completely disposable entertainment because, somewhere along the way, it became easier to spoon feed the audience answers than to have them think. Watch any superhero movie and you’ll see exactly what I mean – for every interesting scene, there’s a scene that explains to everybody what just happened and why it’s important. That’s so boring. I like films that bury themselves into your brain and sit there, so that one day, while you’re driving, or at work, or falling asleep, you find yourself thinking about them again.