By: Nicki Legge
One of the most impressive projects I have seen bouncing around the wide world of Facebook is a feature film called Grief. With Kevin R Phipps at the helm, this film has snowballed into a substantial project with some of the most talented actors and crew on board. Grief delves deep into a surreal world of life and death, following a main character, Kari who unexpectedly takes her own life, leaving her friends and family to plummet through the unforgiving stages of grief. With the combination of impressive special effects, and phenomenal acting, Grief is sure to be a film that you do not want to miss. Kevin was kind enough to tell us about his inspiration for Grief and the long, rewarding path he has gone down to breathe life into his creation.
How long have you been involved in filmmaking?
I have been involved in filmmaking for about 7 years now. I started out as an animator doing motion capture etc. and then did comic book coloring for some major comics like X-men and Gi-Joe for about 6 months. Then I decided I didn’t want to be in a cubicle anymore so I said, “Let’s make a movie!!” I had no idea what I was getting myself into. LOL I have been professional AD for about 4 years working on some great projects like Oil of Olay, Kelloggs, Qwest, and Head and Shoulders among others, all while gathering more and more knowledge about directing, which is where my heart really lays.
What made you interested in creating films?
Well to be frank I asked this of myself about a year and half ago. I said, “Why the hell are you doing this?” The truth is when I started I wanted to feel worth it… to be validated. I was searching and giving pieces of me to the audience and hoping they liked it. If they did then I would find my worth through that. That wasn’t really healthy for me and since, it has changed. Mostly, it has been about challenging the audience, finding truth in acting, and I have learned you can inspire and change the way people see things as long as you tell the truth with your work. Mostly though, I want to let the audience lose themselves for a couple of hours and forget the craziness in their lives. They can smell and taste the truth in your work and if you’re lying or not willing to go down the rabbit hole fully, then they will be weary of your work.
What made you interested in coaching actors? How has this affected your writing/directing style?
This is a really great question. I got interested in coaching actors when, after seeing my first feature, I realized that I wasn’t there for the actors to allow them to feel like they could truly let go. I had no idea what I was doing, and I could have been more conscience of them and what a truthful performance in the imaginary circumstance is. So I started studying, acting with a passion because I knew actors were the face of the film, and without them being able to be their best, your film is dead… After learning the Meisner program, I realized I wanted to give back to AZ and share this powerful program to help actors find their truth. It really has become a huge part of my life, and to see them grow and change has been a blessing.
As far as writing and directing, it has definitely had a huge impact on my directing. I am flabbergasted that most film schools teach lighting, camera, art, etc. to directors, but they don’t teach how to work with actors… so many directors have no idea how to speak the actor’s language. In fact, most have no idea if the actor is really being truthful… I beg all directors to please learn how to work with actors; it’s a must. If you don’t know how, then you have no business directing…Too many beginning directors get focused on “I need you to cry here!!!” But what does that mean? Where do the tears come from?
Incidentally, I am working on an 8 week intensive program for just directors who want to learn how to work with actors… It will truly transform the way you see your films, and I can’t wait to see some amazing things the directors will come up with afterwards.
How many projects have you completed (rough estimate is fine)?
I have directed 1 feature (and I’m working on another right now), about 7 shorts, 4 music videos, and a handful of commercials. I’ve been an AD on about 8-10 features, 9 shorts, and about 12 commercials.
Have you received any awards or recognition?
I have a few awards, for my first feature. I won best audience award at the fear festival, which in turn got me distribution. I got 2nd place at the SCC film festival for my short, Sitting. I got best live action short at the Phoenix Film Festival about 6 years ago…. My favorite is the audience award; that is what I find to be the most rewarding because they are my target, to speak in marketing terms. If they are happy, then I am happier.
What do you love the most about film?
Film can be the most exhilarating, sometimes most frustrating drug addiction I have ever known. Mostly, I love the massive amount of creative people you put into a room… all fighting for the same cause. Artists can be known to be introverted, but here they are forced to speak a language together, and it just works. I didn’t understand the family thing until… a couple years ago… I saw the wave of emotions and personal journeys, and at the end we all loved each other. It was amazing. I also love it when the actors find their space and truth on film. They just get it, and it’s extraordinary; it can make the crew and me cry and laugh. It truly is a magical experience that can’t be traded for anything.
What is one thing you want people to know about you?
I love with my heart. I come from a place of love even when I may not be feeling well. That sometimes I’m introverted, and most of the time I get excited about just being around people and helping them on their journeys. Oh, and I love chocolate pudding on my pizza… Don’t ask. And Transformers.
Where did you get your inspiration for Grief?
I had just got done doing a program in the mountains called the Mankind Project. I had hit rock bottom, lost my home, my car and my job all at once. I had to rebuild, and that meant becoming more aware of who I was as a person and learning to let go of my past to find my present. So, after I got done with the program, moved back to AZ, and started teaching again, I started to become interested in how you can really find your own truth by hitting the bottom. So I started writing Grief to help actors go the deepest they have ever gone. It started out as one story, then ended up being six stories all tied into each other.
Did you do any research on the stages of grief while you were writing the script?
I researched a couple of different takes on the Grieving process. Of course there was Kübler-Ross’s take on the grieving process and her five stages. There is a newer thought that it’s seven stages, but I find that Kübler’s has those seven, she just condensed them…. It was absolutely imperative to research it because each stage is the “theme” of each of the characters stories. So whenever I felt I was getting off track, I would read my research again and go noooooo, she wouldn’t do that that’s more like Denial.
Each of your characters seem to have such different and unique personalities; did you base any of them off of people you know, build them around their stage of grief, or did you have another method of breathing life into them?
I did a ton of things when doing this script. They are very unique and different, but Kari, the main character bonds them all. I used some people I knew or know, I used myself in a few different places like anger and the alternate version of Kari. I even did this great thing where I had two actors improv some scenes that I outlined, watched them work, and recorded it. It was amazing, and they came out to be some of the most fun characters in this film. They are going to get a special thank you because they really brought a new awareness in my work.
How long did you spend in preproduction?
I guess about 3-4 months. I am not really sure because it was a back and forth thing. Part of the purpose of this film was to go on a raw journey for myself and see what would come out of it. We are flying by the seat of our pants sometimes, and other times we do heavy pre pro. We are shooting this film a few days at a time every two weeks. That gives us time to do some more pre pro for the next few days that are coming up. Sometimes you just have to do it, and the footage has been amazing! The producers and most of my crew I have worked with before and we trust each other. It’s their journey as much as it is mine.
How long do you anticipate production and post-production will take?
We are editing as we go. We finish scenes; they go to the editor for a rough cut. I have scenes we shot the day before rough cutted the next day. It’s awesome!! I highly recommend it because it would tell me immediately if we missed anything or if we want to get more. Post production is estimated at 3 months I believe. We are trying to hit some festival deadlines.
It looks like you have some impressive special effects in the film. Are you working with an effects artist and if so, who?
There are some awesome effects, and we are doing them live; no CGI. The film is about not only what is going on inside, but each character has a manifestation on the outside as well, a more physical denial or anger if you will. My effects team is collaboration with three talented ladies, Vicki Xericos, Vanessa Siler, headed up by Dania Garza who has been amazing at the makeup and visual effects. I like having a makeup artist doing the effects too because Dania understands painting with makeup so she uses layers to find the realness… these 3 have been awesome to work with; I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I keep challenging and they keep meeting me with awesome results. We puked up another person the other day but that is all I am telling you.
I know that you had an Indiegogo campaign back in 2012, have you utilized any other means of raising funds for your film?
We did! It went well. We also did a home auction and donations. I have sold things to make this film. Most of the stuff is just material things, stuff I don’t touch anymore or don’t need. It has been great in simplifying my life. The amazing donations have kept us a float and we are almost done so it’s working. But you are always hustling. Make no mistake my producers and I are always thinking of new ways to do this or do that. If you have a passion for something, you will find a way; if not then you may have to ask yourself if it’s what you really want.
Have you learned anything new from your experiences with this project?
Do everything from the heart with a little sprinkle of logic so you’re not flying blind. If it’s not from the heart, then no matter how much cool stuff you do it’s going to be missing something. I also have discovered that if you have a great project, you will be humbled and honored at the gifts you will get from the world around you. I am an AD by trade so I understood my limits and how much we should be shooting a day as to not burn us out and have a quality project. Some people think it’s great to burn though a film as fast as possible; unfortunately I have seen the results, and I know they could have done better.
Do you have an estimated premiere date?
January. Earlier for festivals, but I believe we are shooting for early January.
Do you have any other upcoming projects planned?
Next up is “Iniquitous,” with my good friend and partner Andre Payton as the exec producer, and my friends and partners, Ruben Angelo and Jason Wiechert, helping on the production side. It’s great! It’s about a troubled woman who lost her mother when she was young. She then decides to purposely get possessed with her mother’s spirit to save her, and of course it all goes wrong and she ends up with a different person inside of her. Andre had approached me with the film, and I wasn’t sure at first because I didn’t know what I could offer to the genre. When we decided to make it so that she purposely possess herself, that was where I was like, “I don’t know that I have seen anything like that! LETS DO IT!!!”
Then we are working on to a couple of others. I have “107/Juliet,” my first action film and an awesome film written by my personal friend Josh Mathieson… and another personal project called “Mend.”
Is there specific contact information you would like us to list in the article for interested parties?