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Food For Thought - Interview with Patrick Kennelly, Director of 'Excess Flesh'

A huge part of why 'Excess Flesh' caught my attention originally was it's visual style. Frenetic, disorienting and, off-kilter; I knew whatever the film had in store for me thematically, it would be wrapped in a style and aesthetic that would leave its mark after the credits began to roll. Patrick Kennelly is the sick kind of genius that gleefully uses every color of a gruesome palette to paint us a story rife with poignant subtext and social commentary. Our interview with Patrick allows us a peek inside his mind, giving us the chance to gain better understanding of the themes in 'Excess Flesh', as well as the film-making process; hopefully unscathed!


‘Excess Flesh’ is really the first time we’ve had the pleasure of experiencing your work (we’re especially fans of your visual style chosen for the film). What other projects have you been involved with before this one?

I’ve worked across a number of mediums over the past decade, though principally devised theater.

 

The casting for this was critical, as we can imagine. What was it about both Mary Loveless and Bethany Orr during auditions that made you say, “Yes, she is perfect for the part”?

Mary Loveless (Jennifer) I’ve known since my undergrad studies at CalArts. Both my co-writer and myself had her in mind immediately once we finished the script. It was difficult to find the right Jill. Bethany Orr came in towards the end of a long audition process.
My casting director gave me the short film, Agorable, which Bethany she wrote/directed/starred in. After seeing this work, I knew immediately that THIS was the artist who would be willing to GO THERE with me. I subsequently met her and was completely won over by not only her acting chops but also her keen intelligence and passion. It was important that the actor I work with not only be a great performer, but be a collaborator in the truest sense of the word. Bethany went above and beyond on this picture, developing an intensely intimate (and immersive) relationship with the character. She WAS Jill during that shoot, and surprised me every day on set.

 

We’ve spoken with other directors regarding the development of their first major production and the common theme is tough, exhausting, but very much rewarding. Would you say that theme continues here with ‘Excess Flesh’?

I definitely learned a lot in making this movie – both about myself as a person and my work as a director. The process was both exciting and exhausting, as all moviemaking – well artistic creation in general - is. However, being able to do this stuff, no matter what the circumstances, is intrinsically rewarding. I don’t believe it’s going to change the world, but you DO have the potential of getting people to think about things they might not have otherwise and in ways they might not have thought of.  It was always my goal to create a challenging, thought-provoking work – not just an entertainment. Those are the kinds of movies, theater, literature, what have you, that I’ve responded to the most in my life.

 

Talk about the film’s story a bit, and what it’s themes are. What do you hope its viewers gain from it?

I don’t want to get too specific here, There is a lot swirling around in this movie. Its different things to different people – based on what you bring to it, and I’d like to keep it that way! Suffice it to say, the large segment of my work deals with identity and the shaping of it. So, I’d say, watch the movie closely – not everything is as it might appear. I WILL say that the world of EXCESS FLESH is the headspace of Jill. In that way, it can seem preposterous, repetitive, confusing, uneven, extreme, disgusting, etc. If its working, it places the audience in a place of mental duress, as well as depicts the external pressures that feed into this duress, as well as its physical manifestations.

 

What inspired you to tackle this particular subject matter in ‘Excess Flesh’? Was there any worry about handling something as sensitive as this, especially considering the entertainment industry’s history with it?

That was actually the particular appeal of doing it – to take a challenging subject matter and depict it in a way I’ve never seen before. As you mentioned, many of the themes in this movie have been explored before (and perhaps better!), but I’ve often found, particularly recently, these works to be ‘problematic’ to say the least. A big part of my mission with the project was to make a feminist genre piece. Some people believe this was accomplished while others believe its quite the opposite (ie. a work of ‘misogny’ – whatever that means). I relish this opposition – it stirs up discussion.

 

The close-ups of the devouring of food; whatever appetite we had before the film started, those scenes were effective in eliminating. Intentional?

Absolutely. I said during the making of this – particularly when we were doing those shots - that the real source of terror in this story is consumption.


Would you classify ‘Excess Flesh’ as a horror film? If so, what were its most horrific elements?

Depends on how you classify ‘horror.’ Some of my favorite works of ‘horror’ most people wouldn’t necessarily put in that category. I’m partial to works that mash-up genres and fuck with conventions. I was looking to do that here. In that way, I’d say EXCESS FLESH is a satirical psychological horror thriller. Take what you will from that! As I said earlier, the movie is intentionally over-the-top and drawn out in its themes, so it upsets the expectations of each of these genres – satire, psychological horror, thrillers. However, these were all the things that went into best explicating my experience with the themes.


Do you have any horror films you can point to as an inspiration for this film or your involvement in other productions?

Touchstones for this work are non-genre based works, particularly the cinema of Todd Haynes, (and specifically SAFE) and Ingmar Bergman (specifically PERSONA). Also Zulawski in its performance styles and cinematic recklessness and Polanski in its claustrophobia and psychology.


When and where can everyone watch ‘Excess Flesh’? Plans for a DVD and/or Blu-ray release?

EXCESS FLESH is coming out in the U.S. March 8 on VOD/DVD via Midnight Releasing.  Hopefully there will be a special edition BluRay release in the near future.


What’s next for Patrick Kennelly?

I’m at work on 2 more off-genre features. The first one is a coming of age drama wrapped in the cloak of a captivity thriller (again). The other is a thriller based on the true story of a serial-killing couple.


Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions; we wish you continued success in the industry!


Food For Thought - Interview with Bethany Orr, star of 'Excess Flesh'

It's been 2 years since we happened across a darkly comedic short film by the name of 'Agorable'; a tale about an introverted shut-in who's apartment becomes haunted with the ghost of her dead neighbor. Written, directed, and starring the humorous Bethany Orr, we were introduced to a talent that proved she had the chops to not only do it all, but do it with style and substance. Smitten with her work, as new fans, we began to check up on (stalk) her twitter account and look for news on upcoming projects. That's when we caught wind of Patrick Kennelly's subversive film 'Excess Flesh' which would see Bethany Orr star in a lead role; needless to say, we were elated. Fast forward to 2016. With the pending wide-release of the film (due March 8th), and our own review of it completed, we were given the opportunity (and pleasure) to have Bethany Orr herself, indulge us with an interview! 


 First off, congratulations on ‘Excess Flesh’!

Thanks yo.

 

Tell us a little bit about how you got started in film.

I started making camcorder “movies” with my older brother Nate when I was, I don’t know, 7 or 8. They mostly starred this creepy hand puppet named Beakley who would murder people. So things haven’t changed a whole lot.  

 

It’s your first starring role in a feature length film, right?

Yes. And I feel like I hit the lottery with this one. The director Patrick Kennelly is the darkest kind of genius. I mean, Jill is not a flattering character, that’s what I love about her. And the movie is alarming, messy, unorthodox… it’s visually weird and just generally turnt. Everything I stand for.

 

Were there any ways in which you identified with character, “Jill”?

More than I’d like to admit! I had actually created a short film a couple years earlier with a character very similar, a kind of endearing psychotic. I wrote ‘Agorable’ to help exorcize some personal demons in a creative way — Excess Flesh in many ways was an extension of that for me. It was a little scary, I guess. It felt like Patrick [Kennelly] and his co-writer Sigrid Gilmer had written the part specifically for me. Which was not the case at all.

 

The physicality of the role was something we took immediate notice of. Even when Jill wasn’t speaking, we felt her anguish just from body language and facial expressions. Was this something director Patrick Kennelly emphasized for the character, or is this more Bethany Orr’s interpretation?

He worked with me a lot in the casting process before offering me the role, I think to test my instincts and limits so he knew what he was getting. [Co-star Mary Loveless and I] went through an intensive rehearsal process before shooting, then Patrick gave us a lot of freedom to do our thing once we were on set.

Speaking of interpretation, how much leeway was there in how you played Jill? Was there room in the script for improvisation?

Yeah, which was great. In fact, the dialogue at the beginning of one scene — the one where Mary and I are licking cake off our fingers and listening to a voicemail together in the dark — was entirely improvised. We had a lot of fun.  

 

You two have a natural on-screen chemistry. How much of that came naturally; did you and Mary Loveless work off-screen to develop that relationship?

I think that was a product of the rehearsal process.

 

Was it a tough shoot? It looked pretty grueling.

It was aggressive, yeah. A short shoot, I believe 18 days… we didn’t have the luxury of a lot of time or money so we never did more than a couple takes for each setup. But hard and dirty is how I prefer to work. I ate it up (pun intended).

 You’re a fan of the horror genre, we know, but you’re also pretty damn funny and inject that humor into your work. Is that a result of your background in improvisational comedy?

That follows. I just think everything is hilarious. It softens the blow of being human.

 

How important is comedy, to horror?

Fear and laughter are really brothers, right? Because they’re the offspring of discomfort. That’s what we have, like Ricky Gervais and Donald Trump for. Comedy and horror. It’s a whisper-thin line just begging to be straddled.

 

You’ve directed, produced, written, and acted – what would you like to do next or focus on more?

This year I’m focused most on my writing, for multiple reasons. But I’ll always love acting the best.

 

That’s great; we definitely want to see more of it!

Thanks, yeah. I’m not going anywhere.

 

Do you have any advice for aspiring talents in the industry?

Find a way to enjoy the process of getting honest with yourself. It’ll suck, and be the best thing ever. Oh yeah, and get a pet turtle or tarantula or something to focus on keeping alive besides just your dreams of being rich and famous. I mean, I’m not rich and famous. But I suspect that the tarantula is more important.


If you'd like to follow Bethany Orr's antics with the rest of us, her Twitter page is here

You can check out our review of 'Excess Flesh' here