It’s pretty rare to meet people in Los Angeles that are as cool and laidback as they are talented. In this case though, Jon Knautz is an anomaly both in talent and personality. The Canadian film director has made his name directing cult favorites such as The Shrine and Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer and he sat down with SOCIAL to discuss his newest release, Goddess of Love premiering at Fright Fest in August. In addition, we cover Led Zeppelin, his inspiration from Fatal Attraction and what it was like to work with the Freddy Krueger.
Jon, can you tell us where you’re from originally?
I was born and raised in Ottawa, Canada.
Awesome. Did your childhood have any effect on the types of films you create?
Definitely. I basically grew up watching crime dramas and horror films. I watched a ton of Scorsese films, P.T. Anderson films, Sam Raimi films, Peter Jackson films, etc…
How did you get started directing?
I used to put on plays when I was a kid with my friends, and force my parents to watch them. One day my Dad filmed it on our home video camera. He let me play around with the camera and after that I pretty much filmed everything, I was hooked.
When did you know you were going to make a career out of this?
It became all-consuming by my early teens; there was really no other choice but to make a career out of it. It’s all I wanted to do.
COMPLEX Magazine dubbed you one of the best up and coming directors, what is it about your style of directing that makes your films so unique?
Film is such a subjective art form, so it’s hard to say. I always try to bring my own voice to my work and just hope that people enjoy it. Obviously the more people that enjoy it the better, but you never really know how your film will be received.
What is the premise of the film Goddess of Love?
The short version – It’s about a woman who goes insane. As simple as that sounds, that was the initial idea – To focus on an individual who is on the verge of insanity and then watch them tip over the edge. I wanted something to happen to her that everyone could relate to and that’s heartbreak. At some point or another we’ve all been through it. Heartbreak can mess up even the strongest individuals. So what happens if you already have a few screws loose?… That’s what Goddess of Love is about.
What inspired you to create Goddess of Love?
I was watching Fatal Attraction and I thought, “What would this film be like if you experienced the story through Glenn Close’ eyes?”
Where do you usually get inspired? How do you know when you have a film-worthy idea?
It’s usually some subtle little thing — Perhaps a decision someone makes, or a decision I make…I think about the possible consequences, and then start imagining what would happen. Sometimes it’s a character trait I see in someone and I start developing a character in my head. I often have these little bits of storylines in my head and then I’ll pop that character into one of them and see where it goes. I also think about the “energy” of a film. Some films are fast, some are slow…they’re like rides. So I’m always thinking about what kind of ride I want to give the audience.
How long does it typically take to complete a feature film?
It’s usually at least a year, often times it’s more. That’s why it’s important to be directing a project you’re passionate about, cause you’re gonna be with it for a while.
Which of your projects have you enjoyed creating the most?
They all have their moments. My first film Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer will always be an awesome memory, probably because it was my first feature. Goddess of Love was a pretty incredible experience. It was really interesting to have a small, intimate team. We could be really creative and there were no annoying politics.
Why did you choose Fright Fest to premiere Goddess of Love?
They chose us. I’ve never played Fright Fest, so it’s very exciting.
As a director, who inspired you while coming up in your film career?
Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Billy Wilder, John Huston, P.T. Anderson, Akira Kurosawa, Robert Zemeckis…this list goes on
What has been the biggest challenge in creating Goddess of Love (or any of your other films)?
Having a large group of people all focus in on your vision can be difficult, but it can also be amazing. You have to do a lot of explaining; it’s all about communication. Sometimes communicating is harder than you think. The more discussions you have with your team, the better.
What’s your favourite movie?
That’s always a hard question, there’s just way too many to pick one. I guess The Godfather has always been the sort of God of all movies for me, but it’s really just one of my favourite films.
Who are your biggest influences?
I’m influenced by all sorts of things, but it often comes from listening to Led Zeppelin. Their music is so fascinating to me. They inspire a lot of ideas for me. My father is a huge influence as well; he’s the one who introduced me to filmmaking, more on the technical side. My Mom was the one who introduced me to great cinema, like The Godfather.
Can you tell me the leads for your dream cast?
Unfortunately he’s been gone for a while but in fantasyland I would love to work with Humphrey Bogart.
Where do you stand on the film vs. digital debate?
I’m always gonna love film, that’s what I grew up with. There’s just something magical about it that can never be replaced. But I’m all for Digital, I think it can look fantastic. Ultimately filmmaking is about telling good stories, so I don’t get too caught up on what camera was used.
Do you see a difference in production or your direction with studio financing vs. private financing?
I have yet to experience a studio-financed film, so far it’s been private financing. But I hope to get to the studio level at some point, that’s kind of the dream. Maybe I’ll hate it and come back to indie films, who knows? But I’m sure I’d like the pay checks.
What do you look for casting for a new project?
Natural talent. But the actor needs to physically suit the role too. Sometimes it can be so frustrating to find someone who is so talented but they physically just don’t suit the role. You really gotta find someone who embodies the two.
What is the best thing about your role as a director?
Just getting to see the ideas in your head come to life. I really enjoy working with a great team of people. It’s such a collaborative process. I never really see myself as the boss, I just see myself playing an important role in the process.
What do you think the biggest surprise about the process of filmmaking would be to an outsider?
How long it takes to go from idea to release. It’s insane.
What is the toughest thing about getting a project done?
Getting the money in place is always a good challenge… Finding the right team of people is tough too. You have to find the right group that’s going to gel throughout the process. It can be tricky, but when you get it right, it really shows in the end product.
What advice can you give to people wanting to get into the business?
Don’t. Ha ha, I’m kidding. Best advice I have is learning all the positions. As I said before, it’s all about communicating and you’ll be able to do that better if you understand everyone’s position.
What do you feel is missing in entertainment today?
I don’t believe anything is missing, but I do feel there are a lot of bad movies out there, probably because of how accessible digital filmmaking is now. The market just seems so saturated. I think filmmaking should always be done properly and not just rushed out there to make a buck. But unfortunately there are a lot of people doing that, because at the end of the day it’s a business. Personally I don’t care what kind of film you make as long as it’s done well.
How have things changed since you got into the business?
Everything, and I mean everything, seems to be based on something that already has a following: toys, comics, old tv shows, prequels, sequels… I wish there was more original stuff. When Boogie Nights came out it was just so fresh and exciting. I find it hard to get excited about Iron Man 12.
How is illegal downloading impacting your business?
I’m not sure really. Obviously it’s a bad thing, but I have no idea the number of people doing it and the number of people not doing it. It’s an unfortunate repercussion of the internet. But the internet has also made it possible to get your film out there for the whole world to see.
What is the best thing that ever happened to you while shooting?
For me my best memory is getting to direct Robert “Freddy Krueger” Englund. Freddy was a huge part of my childhood so getting the opportunity to work with a guy I used to dress up as for Halloween was pretty surreal.
What do you love about directing?
I think directors have a lot of ideas in their heads, and film allows us to release those ideas and manifest them in reality. It’s like the ultimate challenge, to try and get it right, like it was in your head.
It’s an exhilarating experience.
What areas or genres would you like to explore in the future?
Crime Drama is where I’m heading now. I’ve been holding back for too long.
What’s next for you after the premiere of Goddess of Love? Can you share some details
about your next projects for 2015-2016?
I’m shooting a proof-of-concept for a feature film I wrote with my partner Alexis Kendra. I’m beyond excited about this one. It’s a hell of a ride. The characters are so much fun. It’s a bit of a new direction for me and I’m so pumped to get it on the screen. I’ve never been more excited about a project in my life.