Through typical late night internet browsing i this particular night stopped by Kickstarter, which i do from time to time, i’m interested in what current independent film productions are on show, looking for funding to make their dream come to life on the screen. I found, ‘Dennis’, a short film written/produced by Phil Duncan and to be directed by Kyle Aldrich.
Dennis is a grim story about a child-eating monster who is, ‘Crippled by his addiction’ and his encounter with James, a ten year old boy who is neglected at home and in general is living a lonely, miserable life. Dennis wants to help James all the while the addiction inside of him is intensifying.
Here’s a short chat with Phil and Kyle about the film:
How did the idea, the genesis of ‘Dennis’ come about?
Phil Duncan: ‘Dennis’ was originally written as a one-act stage play. I needed a break from my longer-term projects and had the idea of writing an adult fairy-tale for some time. The actual story came together rather quickly. There was something about Dennis and the boy, James, that resonated with me. When I finished, I gave the play to Kyle to read for me and he offered great filmic insight into the story and convinced me (rather quickly) to adapt it into a screenplay. He’s taken off and ran with it, along with co-producer and director of photography Roland Sarrazen, both of whom have some really exciting things percolating for production.
What’s the short’s Demographic?
Kyle Aldrich: Hopefully everyone. That seems a bit ambitious but that’s what’s great about short films – and this film in particular. A wide variety of people are going to see ‘Dennis’ and we’re hoping there’s something in it for all of them. There’s some dark humor – which I love – that is wickedly tongue and cheek, almost so much that you laugh because you don’t know what else to do. There are dramatic elements, especially when it comes to James and his plight, not to mention Dennis and his addiction. There are going to be elements of horror – aesthetically as well as content-wise – and obviously some fantasy. That’s why I was originally drawn to it. It’s got a lot of layers that people can appreciate.
What’s your writing process?
[PD]: The story always begins with characters, for me. Obviously, Dennis was the impetus for this particular story. I started by mapping out his personality, his traits, his voice – before moving to other characters. Once I felt like I knew them, I moved into the actual story. I’m very tactile. I like printing each draft and running through them with a red pen. It gets me away from the screen which can stand in the way of progress at times.
What was your inspiration for Dennis?
[PD]: The idea of writing an adult-fairy tale has always interested me. Something based in fantasy – almost cliched fantasy – and playing with that fantasy by infusing it with reality. ‘Dennis’ really plays with people’s sympathies and hopefully they’ll come away with a muddied moral. I really enjoyed the stageplay ‘The Pillowman’ by Martin McDonagh. The stories within the story in that play are so dark, yet they possess the innocence of a children’s story.
[KA]: I’ve always been fascinated by the tragic-hero; Dennis fits really well into the tragic-hero skin. There’s something about these types of characters that makes you want to reach out and help them and it’s terribly emotional when you can’t. There’s literally nothing you can do but watch them spiral downward. Too me it’s a million times more emotional to watch Willy Loman delve headfirst into the insanity of the American dream than see him overcome his character flaws and have a happily-ever-after ending.
Is this your first foray into you’re writing being actualized into film?
[PD]: Outside of documentary work, this is my first true foray into production. It’s very exciting.
[KA]: I’ve written scripts and have been given scripts from others that have been turned into films, but this is the first time Phil and I have collaborated together. It’s been great to dissect the story with him and try and delve deeper into the mind of this monster. The source material is brilliant, it really is.
How did Kyle get attached to the project?
[KA]: Phil and I were exchanging work for feedback and he let me read ‘Dennis’ the stage play. After I read it, my mind was racing. What’s the monster going to look like? How theatrical will the set dec. be? How are elements of sound going to be incorporated into the atmosphere? Having a filmic background, I slipped pretty quickly into movie mode and told Phil that he should consider adapting ‘Dennis’ for the screen. I can’t remember how quickly it happened after the initial idea was conceived, but at some point I had managed to weasel my way into the director’s chair.
With Kyle as the director, has Phil’s original visions for Dennis been true or evolved into something different for production?
[KA]: I think the film has more or less stayed the same – at least in tone and message – since the first draft. After the initial read, we were messing with alternate endings that would translate better to film and Phil created – what I feel is – the most appropriate ending that we could have have. There were talks of animation and even some whispers of making the Dennis costume the most horrific thing you’ll ever see, but in the end, we came up with a concept for this monster that will envoke both fear and empathy.
[PD]: I think they’ve been strengthened. Kyle and Roland have both done a superb job of putting air in Dennis’ lungs. When writing the character of Dennis, I left his physical description purposely vague so that someone more artistic than myself could truly ‘build’ Dennis. I think people are going to be in for a shock.
Was it all along the plan to self/community fund the film?
[PD]: No. We were actually a little lost on how go about funding, so Kickstarter has been a godsend. It’s such a great resource for creative people and a superb place to create a fundraising hub. While it’s been nice to raise the money and get a lot of people involved online, it’s almost been more beneficial just to meet like-minded people. I think we’ve both made strong acquaintences with people we’ve met through Kickstarter.
Your planning on submitting Dennis to multiple festivals, is the end goal to gain enough interest to develop the short into a feature?
[KA]: We will be submitting Dennis to festivals worldwide. The main goal is to get a many people exposed to this story as humanly possible. If a feature deal came out of it, I think we’d all have a hard time saying no.
What initially struck me about the short was the vivid concept art for the characters, particularly Dennis, through reading on and finding out that the film is going to be live action i felt compelled to contribute as this is something that i want to see, it’s exciting to think how the renderings will translate into reality with textile materials not paint. That’s partly what the funding is for, the materials and atmosphere. The goal being $3,700 (nearly there already) and only a few days remaining. If this sounds like an interesting project for you, head over to the Dennis Kickstarter page and see the video introduction by Kyle Aldrich and the cool contributor rewards to the right.
Links of note: