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An Interview with Jason Kellerman, Writer, Producer and Star of Hunter

by Mike Haberfelner

February 2019

Jason Kellerman on (re)Search my Trash


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Your new movie Hunter - in a few words, what is it about?


Well, without giving anything away, Iíd say itís about a homeless ex-MMA fighter who goes up against a supernatural death cult. If that sounds crazy - well, it is, a bit.


What were your sources of inspiration when writing Hunter, and was any of what the character's going through based on personal experience?


I havenít actually taken on many supernatural death cults (only the two, so far)... but really, I was interested in exploring why good, capable people generally donít act when they see something in the world they know doesnít look right. The doubt, the fear, the social isolation that comes from making waves anywhere, those things were very familiar to me, as I think they probably are too many people.


I also did study Krav Maga and BJJ for quite a few years, and fought in (small, amateur, local) tournaments, and that certainly played a role in how the premise developed.


Once the idea took hold, I did research - thatís the fun part about writing, it gives me an excuse to do fun things like volunteer at a soup kitchen for a couple months, for instance, to get a sense of the life of the character I was creating.


With Hunter being a vampire movie of sorts, is that a genre at all dear to you, and what do you think makes yours stick out of the crowd?


Good question. Spoilers, by the way :) I am a big horror fan, and an even bigger speculative and magical realism fan. Something that bothers me about most protagonists is that they usually have no trouble accepting that the reality they thought they knew is actually vastly different - we donít get to see an adjustment period. I wanted Hunter to react to the shattering information that ďmonsters are realĒ in a more nuanced, grounded, complicated way than the standard ďwell then, itís up to me and only me to destroy themĒ that you usually get right off the bat. Getting to that point, if your hero ever does, should be a journey in itself. The journey, really. The internal battle is always the more interesting and important one.


How did the project fall together in the first place?


We decided to see how little we could make it for, Rebel-Without-A-Crew style, signed on our director, David, and started doing crowd-funding. In trying to drum up support, I was lucky enough to stumble through mutual friends onto meeting Helen Caldwell, who runs Canal Pictures out of Chicago. She thought it had more legs than a zero-money production, and with her guidance and help, we managed to raise a decent indie budget. At the time, honestly, we really couldnít believe it. Even now, I still feel as though we got really, really lucky.


What were the challenges of bringing Hunter to the screen from a producer's point of view?


Well, there were a lot of pretty tricky technical elements. A lot of the challenge came from balancing my role as producer with the intense physical work and time demands of playing the lead.


We also shot outside in the cold, often overnight a lot. So cameras would freeze, and weíd have to take breaks to warm them up. Our color guy has to scrub a lot of rolling shutter noise stuff because of that. David, our director, fell and hurt his knee on some black ice, we had a car of someone outside production slide out on ice and run over our B-cam rig at one point. So, fun stuff there.


Post was a challenge too - we made an ambitious film, that I think thatís reflected in the sense of scope of the final product. The post-production crew was very small, however, and although they all worked amazingly hard, getting things done quickly just wasnít an option. We didnít have the coffers to hire enough people, so every aspect of post became this Herculean ordeal that we had to beg, borrow and steal to get done. Keeping everyone rallied around a consistent vision for close to two years is tough under those circumstances.


What can you tell us about Hunter's director David Tarleton, and what was your collaboration with him like?


David was the first person we signed on outside of Morgan and I and was a stalwart advocate and ally from the beginning of the process - before we had any money or had any idea how we were going to get it, we had David. I always found our collaboration really enjoyable. David did a great job of realizing the story, and making it look better than Iíd imagined. Heís a bit free-form to his approach on set. Thereís a shot list, which is more of a guideline, or series of must-haves, but a lot of our best stuff came out of being in the space and having him see something in the atmosphere or texture, an angle he found while were in the thick of it.


So, producers - hire David. Heís good people, and an excellent director.


You also play the lead in Hunter - so did you write him with yourself in mind, and what did you draw upon to bring him to life?


I did write it with an eye on playing it. My producing partners werenít always super sure about that - they actually made me screen test to make sure I wasnít terrible. Luckily, I was able to convince them.


In terms of drawing from life - weíve all experienced loneliness, despair, longing for connection, fear, righteous anger at some point in life. At first, I was weirdly intimidated, playing something you write is weirdly exposed and personal. But, like any part, itís just a matter of accessing those things and augmenting them to fit the scene and the story.


I did have the added benefit of having lived imaginatively with the character for a long time while writing it before I got to play him, too. The surprise, in a way, is that I found I still had to have a full process an actor, like with any part, to get to where I needed to get to and feel good about the performance.


What can you tell us about the rest of Hunter's cast, and as writer/producer, to what extent were you involved in the casting process?


Casting decisions were made by triumvirate, Morgan, David and I tried to come to consensus on everything, then if we couldnít, weíd vote. There wasnít a lot of conflict over casting though, most people we knew as soon as they walked in the room. Like Rachel Cerda - she auditioned, and David and I looked at each other like ďHoly crap, we just found Danni,Ē after the first 10 seconds. She steals the movie, in my opinion. Rachelís a star.


We got lucky with an incredibly talented cast. Nick Searcy was really fun to work with. Also, really very into pro wrestling. Spent 90% of his time on set enthusiastically reliving WWE highlights with our fight designer.


There's quite a bit of action in Hunter - was that at all a challenge for you, and how did you prepare for the fight scenes?


I worked out a lot. Too much. I wanted to get back to my fighting weight for shooting - 155lbs, and Iím right around 6 feet tall. I lost about 20 pounds, working out 2 hours a day, 5 days a week for a good four months.


I already had the fight experience and the fight choreography experience, but getting in the type of shape it takes to shoot fight scenes for 11 hours straight is a different beast entirely.


And I did fight training every day. At least 100 round-houses on each leg, and 100 boxing combos, every day.


What can you tell us about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?


The atmosphere on set was blindingly cold, mostly. The joke was ďHunter 2: Hunter takes Hawaii,Ē or, more often ďwho wrote this?Ē 


In all seriousness, we had an awesome team of people. Chicagoans are hard workers, first and foremost, and not afraid to go the extra mile to get something done they believe in. So, other than the cold, Iíd say we had a good time. Itís a fun script, lots of really intense locations and fake blood. I was one of the ones signing checks though, so I desperately hope that ďwe had a good timeĒ was as true for everyone else as it was for me. I believe it was.


The $64-question of course, where can your movie be seen?


Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, PSN, Xbox live, Fandango Now, Redbox, is what we know so far. Weíre waiting on confirmation for a few retail outlets, and other large streaming services, but as soon as we know for sure, those will be up on our site and social media. So, go check it out!


Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Hunter?


So far, itís been really very positive, and hereís hoping that trend continues. We did pretty well in our festival run, couple ďBest FeatureĒ nods, which is always nice.


Itís definitely a genre flick, youíre either going to be excited by headline: ďHomeless ex-MMA fighter takes on Supernatural Death Cult,Ē or you wonít. But, if youíre the type that is, youíre going to love our film.


Any future projects you'd like to share?


Well, my next writing project is a feature that starts with an office-worker finding out his wife is pregnant by a coworker he hates and ends with he and that coworker battling to the death in a Mad Max thunder dome style arena in the midst of a perpetual drug rave/orgy. Itís called Toxic, and itís absolutely bonkers.


I have a high-fantasy series Iím developing as well, but Toxic is the thing Iíd self-produce next. And I wouldnít play the lead, by any stretch.


I always have a couple things cooking. When something emerges as a front runner, thatís when I see if I have the resources available to get it done.


What got you into acting in the first place, and did you receive any formal education on the subject?


I started acting at 10 years old doing community theater with my dad. He got me into it, really, and Iíve been hooked since. Iíve done 3 shows a year every year since then, at least. My dad actually has a cameo in Hunter, he plays the property manager that rents Luke the storage space (and he had to screen-test too!!). I went to school for theater and screenwriting at Northwestern, and now thatís Hunterís out, Iím considering an MFA somewhere.


What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Hunter?


Honestly there really isnít a lot of it. Iíd done a couple small parts in indies and webseries, but Hunter was really jumping into the deep end. Iíd done really extensive stage work before that, but not a lot of film. Since then, Iíve been one of the leads in another indie feature and had a short I acted in go to SXSW, couple spots on series here and there. The experience has made me a better writer, too. Now I think ďwell sure, but how much would this scene cost? Is this where we want to spend our money?Ē Once you see firsthand how it all fits together, you have better perspective when youíre crafting things from scratch.


What prompted you to pick up writing with Hunter?


Iíd written before, especially in school - shorts, stuff like that. Honestly Hunter was the first thing that I couldnít get out of my head to the point where it grew into a feature. I tried writing it as a short, but there was more story there, it didnít want to be shorter than 90 minutes. Who am I to argue?


How would you describe yourself as an actor, and how as a writer? And do you thing there are synergies between the two?


Iím going to answer this as best I can, although itís hard to assess yourself accurately, I think.


As an actor, I gravitate towards classical work. Iím obsessed with Shakespeare, because I love the complexity and challenge of the language. Iíd love to combine that with film work sometime in the future. Itís fun to take on dark, complicated characters and plumb the depths of your soul, go places you donít really ever go in everyday life.


As a writer, I tend to write deeply imbedded in genres. Youíll never get a down-to-earth, quirky indie coming of age dramedy from me, because thatís just not what my brain makes. Writing for me always involves a bit of escapism, burying something true in a fantastical metaphor.


Hopefully those things play together well in Hunter. I think they did, decently enough at least.


Actors, writers, whoever else who inspire you?


My wife inspires me. Sheís the sunlight after my storm (and a brilliant artist in her own right.)


As an actor, I hope I turn into someone like Cranston, or Mc Kellan, or Pacino. Someone with an interesting face, known for playing the morally and emotionally complicated roles, with a voice like ground glass and distant thunder. Hereís hoping I can manage a career thatís half of any one of theirs, too.


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Modern writers, there are too many to count. Thereís so much amazing episodic content right now, itís hard to keep track. Jordan Peele is really moving different forms forward. Iíve never seen something Iíd his that wasnít just staggeringly smart.


Your favourite movies?


Iím a dork, so ... Lord if the Rings, Nolanís Batman trilogy (well, the first 2), anything Alfonso Cuaron shoots is brilliant, most things by Del Toro. In Bruges, too. McDonoughís great.


... and of course, films you really deplore?


Not a huge fan of the recent crop of DC movies. But who is? A lot of the modern spectacle-based cash grabs that get churned out make me sick to my stomach. Theyíre just boring. Youíd get as much from watching a strobe light for an hour and a half and could have spent the multiple millions of dollars they cost on something that does some kind of good in the world.


Thanks for the interview!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

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On the same day
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and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD