Your upcoming movie Popsy - in a few words, what is it about?
Kessler: Morbid justice. The story follows Sheridan Briggs around the time
his gambling addiction gets out of control. It’s either pay off his debt
to some not so nice people, or gain some extra ‘elbow-bends’, and
probably worse. He’s provided the option of kidnapping children to
alleviate the debt, and does it. Where they go, the children, is a bit of
a mystery, but it’s certainly understood not to be a good place.
Benham: The DMV. He’s dropping them off at the DMV.
Ultimately, Sheridan does struggle with the situation, with his actions,
trying to reason that he’s an alright guy, but just in a bad way - and
you kinda believe that, as the reader. He just seems like your average
idiot gone severely out of control after a series of tiny missteps. He’s
far from being an alright guy, that much is clear, but, as the reader, you
kinda can’t help, or maybe hold out hope, that he’s gonna throw in the
towel and show us that he’s a good guy after all; you wonder, surely
he’s gonna stop with this kid stuff, right? There’s something in how
King presents him, humanizes this low-life, that makes us want to see him
come out on the other side okay.
he doesn’t. It turns out that the most recent kid Sheridan has nabbed
has a bit of a secret, preventing Sheridan from any further character
introspection. The kid, is, well, a vampire, and well, so is Popsy. And
Popsy, is very...very, displeased.
The beautiful thing about King’s work is, and always has been his
in and of itself is a quick read. What, it’s roughly ten pages? Less?
But in that small space we know Sheridan, we know why
he’s doing such atrocious actions, and yet we’re still able to feel
sorry for him on a human level, his back against the wall.
did the project fall into place in the first place?
accident, really. We (Pale Moonlight Cinema) were looking at what
project(s) to tackle next. We were discussing a few that were already
written, as well as some in the early stages, when the concept of doing a
Dollar Baby sorta, as Raymond Stanz (Ghostbusters) would say: ‘Just
popped in there.’
heard of the Dollar Baby thing years ago. Maybe over a decade. When the
thought came swirling back it was sorta a...yeh. Yes. That. Let’s do
that. King. Vampires. 80s. Yes, please.
It was definitely a “you miss all the shots you don’t take” scenario
for us. What was the harm in trying? We were all extremely pleased when
Jac got the go-ahead from the program.
Popsy being based on a story by none other than Stephen King, how
did you actually stumble upon the story, and what does the good Mr. King
and his writings mean to you on a personal level?
very memorable actually: Michigan. A cabin on the lake. 2002-ish. I was
reading from Nightmares
and Dreamscapes throughout
the week. On that particular afternoon, it was very hot, and I was laid
out in a deck chair, the lake creeping up and down the shore over my
shoulder. It was a droning silence, one of those stills that carry a
haunting quality. And it wasn’t because I was reading King, although
that certainly made that still more pronounced. That cabin was just...
way. We rented multiple scary movies each night, while there, and watched
them all. Well, I did. Most of the others fell asleep by, or during the
first one. Although my grandmother made it through most of them. I have
extremely fond memories of that cabin; I did a lot of reading and writing.
I remember Popsy
very vividly. It is a simple story, by quick absorption. However, it
wasn’t, and is not, all that simple to me. While it’s a quick,
rip-off-the-band-aid sorta piece that says: hey, you act like a shit, shit
gonna happen back, its crafting holds something that resonates. It’s
horror, fast and brutal. The set-up is quick, the pages turn quick, the
ending is quick. It’s a well-captured glimpse of what King talks about
in regards to the three levels of terror. There’s, from bottom to top in
the sense of ‘how scary’: Gross-Out, Horror, and Terror. Terror, the
top, the pinnacle if you will, is rare. It’s difficult to achieve the
pieces that make it effective resonate in perhaps uniquely different ways
to each individual. Sure, there’s the common understanding, or
acceptance, of probably what constitutes each level, but I do believe
there is some malleability. And specifically with Popsy,
some may very much disagree (and rightfully so) that it hits that
may be that addictive quality of horror, to so many). My goal is to pull
out the moments in which I believe terror exists within King’s vision of
When it happens, it’ll happen quick. And brutal. And it will be Sheridan
to feel it.
a personal level, what King often means to me is simply, there’s more
out there. Is it actually vampires and other such things that may go
bump-in-the-night, well, probably not... but he makes you believe, in some
weird additional sense manner, that there could be. He makes you believe
in the made-up; he makes you want to believe that monsters exist, not
because we really want them to -- what we want, is for the heroes he
crafts that do battle with those baddies, we want them to exist. He makes
us find those heroes within ourselves. I really can’t thank him enough
for that level of craft.
from the actual story, what were your sources of inspiration when writing Popsy?
of horror. Years of reading. I thought on what has and what has not worked
in past King adaptations, and jumped in from there. It’s difficult to
put a number on it, but maybe the screenplay is 75-80% ‘King’ and the
rest is new material, added in to aide the leap from King-to-screen. And
material, it’s really just stuff that is found within his nuisance, and
re-structured to fit elsewhere within the story. I found, as the
adaptation got going (and any adaptation for that matter), that there
would be things lost, things King did via that nuisance, if I didn’t try
to maneuver them into the screenplay. And these things
were elements I thought could not be left behind. They served to tell a
more comprehensive story. So, my sources of inspiration, I guess would be:
Any time an adaptation glosses over something, all the things I’ve ever
liked in horror, and not wanting to make King or fans angry with what I am
trying to do!
talk about Popsy's approach to horror for a bit!
have tried to stay true to King’s approach in my approach. I think I
have a decent handle on both the type of horror, and the type of humor,
found in Popsy.
Now, it could just be my interpretation, but I think King has sprinkled a
dark sense of humor in the story, something I find regularly in his work.
I think it’s there to indicate, to the reader, that it’s okay for
Sheridan to receive the fate that befalls him. Now, it’s not overt,
it’s not anything that you’d walk away from and say: ‘now THAT was
funny.’ It’s more of a feeling. For instance, if say, a pickpocket
nabs your purse, or wallet, and then runs off only to get run down by a
car -- well, that’s pretty funny. Your senses, your emotions, they go
from ‘HEY! Hey, you sonnoffabitch, you get back here!’ to something
along the lines of an internal shoulder shrug where you say to yourself,
‘well, serves ya right, jerk.’ And maybe you snicker. Or... maybe
that’s just me. Morbid justice.
what I am going to aim for with the horror in Popsy
- practical effects, and less is more. I want the audience to feel a rush
as the climax approaches. And I want them to feel satisfied with the
conclusion, that it’s earned. Popsy
is a lot about set-up, but it’s there so the pay-off to really hit hard.
And to achieve that, I’ll be focusing on the characters. I’m not
actually approaching it as a horror, so much as I have a story about a guy
that nabs a little girl, that shows signs of feeling bad about it. I want
to pull out his mounting grief and hatred toward himself, and hover around
his sense of liking the girl’s spunk. He will grow to like her and
maybe, if it weren’t for Popsy’s arrival, maybe he WOULD be letting
her go. There’s something different about her, something that permeates.
And for her, she has a strong role-model in her grandfather, and surely,
at first, sees similarities in Sheridan as another ‘father-figure’
there to help her find her lost Popsy. It is incredibly sad, well, it will
be, to watch the realization befall her... that this dude sucks. Betrayal.
So, really, my approach is to examine their relationship. Trust. Betrayal.
Once that runs its course, well, it’s definitely a horror movie then.
And we have some very, very fun stuff to show you.
from a producer's point of view, where do you see the challenges of
bringing Popsy to life?
I work out of Los Angeles, with the majority of the Pale Moonlight
Cinema crew’s homebase
being Indianapolis/Muncie. So for me it was all the little things.
Communication, making sure everyone stays in the loop on where we’re
headed, what we’d like to achieve, and how we plan on doing it.
locations were an issue as well. I have some experience doing field
producing here in LA, but I typically am able to go scout them and get
eyes on them myself. I had to really lean on the team back in Indiana for
a lot of this, which isn’t always fair as they have full time jobs of
their own. One of the things I love about Pale Moonlight Cinema
is that they always
rose to the occasion. No one ever said “no”, they figured out a way to
make it happen. I found that to be reassuring when producing from such a
Pale Moonlight Cinema is indie filmmaking at its finest. Other than being a
lifelong friend of Jac’s, seeing what they are able to accomplish
through ingenuity, creativity, and sometimes straight up
was very impressive to me. There are effects and shots in some of
their previous work that I’ve never seen anywhere in other films, horror
or no. It’s that kind of work that makes all of challenges that come
with production seem pretty small.
Jac, what can you tell us
about your (intended) directorial approach to your story at hand?
probably accidentally touched on this a bit already, but here’s this: Be
true to King and true to my interpretations of his nuisance. These
are characters experiencing a regular day in their lives, first and
foremost. Neither know they are in a horror-story. For the kid, while
there’s certainly an element of horror there for a while, the conclusion
is almost an action movie, or superhero tale. Not for Sheridan. The goal
is to create two separate and individual experiences for each lead, ones
that resonate as true to the audience -- and then tie those into the
conclusion seamlessly. It might sound weird, but this story, and how King
told it, and by extension how I will be telling it, is a fun, demented,
little dance. It’s fluid, but concrete. It’s mesmerizing, but
you can tell us about your projected cast yet?
I don’t know Nadia (the kid) all too well. But so far, her enthusiasm
and dedication have been extraordinarily impressive. I’ve been told, by
her parents, that she walks around school with the script in hand. So,
she’s clearly on her way to be the coolest kid there (and any kid there
that disagrees, well, I’ve got a whole crew that’ll disagree right
Oh, where do I start. There’s a lot of constructively awful things I
could say about Alex, but, they’ve probably been said before. He’s
great, short and sweet. A perfect actor to bring the miserable existence
of Sheridan to life.
will have a lock on the rest of the cast in the coming days.
As far as
I know, you're currently running a fundraiser for Popsy - so do
talk about your campaign a bit!
campaign has turned, or is turning, into a mini-movie of itself. Kyle and
I have been trading short notes/screenplays back and forth in between our
own busy lives, Pale Moonlight’s daily demands, and the pre-production
itself. Somewhere in the mix, the idea of the campaign video grew into
a... well, I kill the crew. The whole crew (and maybe not nothin but the
crew, we’ll see).
really are just having fun with it. There’s the supposed demand that we
present ourselves as formal, and competent, in those sort of videos. But a
lot of those videos seem false, to me. I wanted, and I think it’s safe
to say so did the crew, something that was more ‘us’. So that’s what
It would have been very
for us to throw up an iPhone and film Jac at his desk. Other crowdfunding
crews do that, the videos are
and sometimes they achieve their fundraising goal. We wanted to use our
fundraising films as a showcase - “Hey, look at the time, effort, and
care that we’re willing to put into this three minute video that’s
sole purpose is to entertain and educate you on our campaign.” Now
extrapolate that to what we have planned for Popsy. These were
basically our “job interviews” to everyone watching the campaign. And,
I say as humbly as I can, I think we knocked it out of the park.
Once the budget's in
place, what's the schedule, and any idea when and where the movie might be
released yet (however tentatively)?
will shoot a bulk in November, and another bulk in December, isolating
whatever we know is bite-sized for 2019. Stuff like inserts shots, maybe
some isolated SFX. Just whatever we know can wait, or needs a different
sort of focus.
hope it will be all wrapped and ready by late spring. From there, it’s
off to festivals, maybe a private showing, too. Hopefully, Mr. King will
like the finished product and a wider sort of release can be arranged. Far
too early to say.
Any future projects
yes, indeed. Pale Moonlight Cinema will return to short-shapes (micro-short focusing on the
various forms horror can take) for a spell. We have several ready and
waiting. There will be some new talent behind some of these, so something
to keep an eye on.
will be just as involved as ever, but a little less frequently behind the
camera. I’ll be at my desk working on, well, something I am particularly
excited about. Let’s just say, I think it’s something horror and dark
comedy fans will be particularly interested in seeing.
Your/your movie's website,
Facebook, IndieGoGo, whatever else?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
- the campaign is live through October 31st at 11:59pm - please help get the
word out, donate, and join us as we make Popsy one hell of a film.
Anything else you're
dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
As before, thank you Michael. Thanks for taking the time to do this. All
the best and more.
for the interview!