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2014, 72m, crime, drama, film-noir
A drifter with a violent past comes to the city to kill somebody for money. On his way to do it, a young woman crashes into his life, giving him the choice - to continue on this path of self destruction or leave it all behind and start again.
10 questions with Palmdale director, Erich Kemp at the half-way mark.
Sunday, June 5th, 2016
1Hi Erich! Thanks for being a part of our 2016 Spring Festival. First, what was the initial inspiration behind Palmdale? Hi Fandependent Films, thanks for having me in your 2016 Spring Festival.
"Palmdale" came about due to a few factors - first off, I grew up watching all those great crime dramas, cop thrillers, and heist movies of the 70's & 80's, so I knew it was going to be in that genre. Everything I wrote when I was younger had a briefcase of money or drugs, hitmen, someone on the run, and a shootout leaving behind many bodies. "Palmdale" was all of that influence fused with a particular sequence I'd had in my mind for years: a man arrives by train to a city at night, and waits at the empty platform. I have no explanation for it, but I knew the story started there. And then maybe the most important factor as far as the film's production & completion was the fact that I had to do SOMETHING. I had to make some kind of film. So after spinning my wheels for a while, coming up with many different stories, I stuck with "Palmdale" - that was going to be the film I spent the next few years on, for better or for worse.
2You wrote the script as well. What was your writing process like and do you think it's important for directors to write their own scripts? The writing process, for me, is completely solitary. I tried coffee shops: can't do it. It requires distancing myself from distractions, especially social media, and being a shut-in for weeks or months. It took me a while to commit to this, but now that I accept the process, I am much happier and productive while writing. "Palmdale" changed a lot, and I think it was me changing from my younger self into someone (a little) more mature. It started off as a summation of filmic influences, but then evolved into something personal.
As far as whether or not directors should write their own scripts - I don't think it's important. In fact, I'm eager to take on stories that have originated with others, because then you must find something which you can relate to, something you share in common with that other author. But until something comes along from the outside, I'll continue writing my own scripts.
3This was your first feature film. What prepared you and which filmmakers were your biggest influences on this film? What prepared me was a few years of producing short films in Los Angeles. My previous short before "Palmdale" was a nightmare of a production, and I'm very glad to have gone through that trial before I took on a feature.
One big influence on the production of this film was Robert Rodriguez' book "Rebel Without a Crew." After I read that, I felt like I could do everyone's job - I even insisted on manning the camera. "Palmdale" took two years to shoot, 2012 & 2013, and when we came back in 2013, I let my DP Steve do the camera work, having realized that while I had read a very motivating book, he and others had been actually working in those positions for years. A valuable lesson learned.
4This film all takes place over the span of one night. Is it easier or harder to make a film that takes place all during one night? I set out to shoot a film entirely at night, in Los Angeles in the summer. You've got maybe eight hours of actual darkness. Not the best conditions but it kept the work days within normal working hours, which I'm sure my underpaid crew appreciated. I would say production-wise, it was difficult, and with many exterior scenes, I had time only for 1-2 takes, whereas I'd have preferred 5+ for every shot. But editing it all together, no, it was quite easy - everything is dark! Shoot your whole film at night and never worry about anything matching in regards to sunlight.
5Your lead actor (Lakos) did a great job. How did you two meet and how did you know he was right for the part? Lackos came in very late, I think less than 2 weeks before shooting. We had a lead actor ready to go, but then they got in a car accident and broke their shoulder. All of my crew had to shoot during the schedule we set because they'd booked gigs after. It looked very much like "Palmdale" wasn't going to happen, and so I furiously put breakdowns on every actor's site for the role of Kurt, and Lackos was submitted. We met and I knew he was perfect to play Kurt. In the next few days, we had very quick rehearsals, and then we filmed.
Lackos was great to work with - he'd show up at the beginning of each day, then disappear for a while, and come back as Kurt. He's very intense and incredibly hard working. He's authentic in the part, which is everything - if you didn't believe this guy is capable of the level of violence in the story, well, it all falls apart. He carries the movie. I'm very grateful that he came in at the last minute and saved the whole thing.
6What's the film that made you want to become a filmmaker? There are so many influences on my films, 50% is other films, the other half is life - I needed an outlet, and for some reason, film was it.
7Can you share a war story from the shoot? The scene where Kurt turns and looks up at Marie's window, after he's left her, and he's filled with regret that he can do nothing to help her... there were three or four homeless men in a fight across the street. We were shooting on a street in Skid Row where the guys in their sleeping bags and tents just wanted to sleep, but some rowdy guy shows up and starts stirring up trouble. Testament to Lackos' focus and courage - he delivers an incredible reaction, one of the strongest emotions felt in the movie in my opinion, while yelling and chaos has erupted about twenty feet away. We grabbed the shot and then ran inside and watched from safety. The homeless men who had been bothered by this rowdy guy all defended themselves and the antagonist was sent running away. They then went back to sleep and we went back outside and continued our filming, no more problems that night.
8It must have been very challenging lighting these scenes. Did you light heavily on this shoot or did you use a camera that was better equipped to shoot at night? We did not light heavily for exteriors - instead, scenes & blocking were planned around existing light. We shot on the 5d Mark II and fast L lenses, and shot at higher ISO's to get the image. Los Angeles is very well lit.
9What's your favorite scene in the film and how long did it take to get it? I love the ending the most, with Jonathon Fessenden's music accompanying. It's very hopeful and stylish while also maintaining the grit.
10What's next? I'm shooting my second feature this fall/winter, a drama set in LA.
About the Interviewer: Ben Hicks
Ben Hicks is a writer/director and co-founder of Fandependent Films. Ben is currently working on making Fandependent Films awesome and is finishing up his first feature film entitled Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time. The film is about the evolution of a couple's relationship, and was shot in three different countries over the course of a decade.
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