I had the opportunity to interview Erik Kristopher Myers the director of Butterfly Kisses, a film which mixes found footage and documentary genres, we thank him for his lengthy interview.
Baron Craze: Please introduce yourself to the readers of The Horror Times. What is Butterfly Kisses about and why was this title selected?
Hi! My name is Erik Kristopher Myers, known as ekm to some, and Pretentious Filmmaker to others. I directed a dark, European-style arthouse thriller called Roulette, which was released by R-Squared Films in 2013; my follow-up, Butterfly Kisses, just came out this past Halloween courtesy of Gravitas Ventures.
Butterfly Kisses is essentially a fake documentary about a fake documentary – about a fake documentary. It asks the question of Found Footage-style films: What would happen if someone, in real life, actually discovered a catalogue of tapes or film canisters showing the death or disappearance of the filmmakers in an alleged supernatural incident? That’s the side of the story we never hear in other films of the genre. So Butterfly Kisses tells the tale of a wedding videographer named Gavin York (Seth Kallick) who has stumbled upon a box of mini-DV tapes from 2004 in the basement of his mother-in-law’s new home, and he thinks he’s found something he can edit together and launch his failed film career. The story on those tapes – two film students named Sophia and Feldman (Rachel Armiger and Reed Delisle), who go in search of a Maryland-based apparition known locally as either Peeping Tom or the Blink Man – is then scrutinized and largely dismissed by everyone Gavin tries to show it to. This pool of skeptics is made up largely of real people playing themselves, and my film crew documents his attempts to capitalize on this footage no one is taking seriously. So you have black and white Found Footage from 2004, and color documentary footage from 2015.
The title of the film has several meanings, none of which relate to Bob Carlisle. On the one hand, you have the legend of Peeping Tom as depicted in the footage Gavin has found. The way the story goes, if a person goes to the Ilchester train tunnel in Ellicott City at midnight and stands on the far side of the trestle that spans the Patapsco River below, and if they can stare down the length of the tunnel for exactly one hour without blinking once, then Peeping Tom will appear at exactly 1 AM. However, once you’ve managed to see him, you can’t unsee him – every time you blink, he gets one step closer and one step closer until he’s nose-to-nose with you. While you’re doing everything you can not to blink your eyes as he moves in for the kill, he reaches out with his very long eyelashes and tickles your face, forcing you to blink, at which point he quite literally scares you to death. Basically, like many good urban legends, we have a cute and innocuous concept that’s perverted, in this case something sickeningly adorable: “butterfly kisses.”
Butterfly Kisses is the name of the student film that Gavin York discovers; it’s also the name of the investigative documentary wrapped around it. We learn that it also takes on other meanings besides the ghost story of Peeping Tom, and may in fact represent obsession, self-delusion, and madness.
BC: Were you concerned at any point that 5 movies previously had the title Butterfly Kisses, and how do you get your movie to stand apart from them to avoid confusion?
EKM: It can be difficult to select a title that hasn’t been taken. We discovered during production that a UK film of the same name was in the works, and they released it not long before we did. Theirs was an arthouse drama; ours is this weird meta-horror flick. I considered a title change, but the name Butterfly Kisses wasn’t simply the thematically-correct title – it was baked into the narrative. Characters were talking about the Found Footage by name, and the subtext was constantly rising to the service, particularly in the third act. I had to just go with it and hope we weren’t confused with the other film.
BC: How long did it take from writing the script to completing of the movie?
EKM: I wrote the screenplay in seven or eight days. It was the fastest I’ve ever completed an original feature script. It was an ironic foreshadowing of the task ahead of me.
We began filming in the winter of 2015, on Valentine’s Day. Because of the film-within-a-film structure of Butterfly Kisses, we had to essentially shoot two movies, and complete editing on the first before we could start the second, as the “documentary” layer of the film features and directly responds to the Found Footage. I also wanted the opportunity to use two different seasons to distinguish the different eras, so that we’d revisit snowy locations during the height of summer. My hope was that the viewer would think, “Yeah, I can buy that these two storylines are separated by a decade or so.” So we shot the content that supposedly takes place in 2004 during a particularly stormy winter, and the 2015 stuff later that summer. It was a bit mind-bending because it was very much two separate productions featuring the same crew and subject matter, but different cast members, and largely new locations.
Where things became challenging was once we wrapped and I began editing. The first assembly was three hours long, and for about five minutes I entertained the notion of turning Butterfly Kisses into a five or six-part miniseries. However, the producers and I realized that a 90-minute commercial piece was our best bet, and it was a year of constant pruning to more or less amputate half the film’s body while retaining a strong skeletal framework. I think it went through fifteen or sixteen different cuts, each one a little shorter than the last. We had test screenings, and showed the various versions to other filmmakers for feedback. That was the longest, most arduous part, but in the end, we managed 91 minutes. That was literally as close as I could get!
BC: Which scene after you wrote it did you really want to or couldn’t wait to film and why?
EKM: Honestly, I’d say everything that made up the 2015 documentary. In the case of the Found Footage, it was a blast making a fun little horror movie about an urban legend, and working with a great cast largely made up of theater folks and fresh faces who wouldn’t be immediately recognizable. The film wrapped around it was an entirely different animal. With the exception of our lead and the actors playing his wife and mother-in-law (Eileen del Valle and Janise Whelan), everyone who appeared on-camera was a real person, playing themselves. We had Eduardo Sanchez (co-director of The Blair Witch Project), Steve Yeager (Sundance-winning director of Divine Trash) and David Sterritt (Chairman of the National Society of Film Critics), all of whom were there to comment on the tropes and convention of the Found Footage genre, many of which were consciously incorporated into the student film Gavin has discovered. Matt Lake, author and editor of the Weird U.S. series shows up to talk folklore and fakelore; Andy Wardlaw brings his experience editing shows like Finding Bigfoot to scrutinize the footage allegedly showing Peeping Tom. We have a group of paranormal investigators called Inspired Ghost Tracking who also weigh in, and DC101 DJ Mike Jones takes live calls from listeners who have previewed Gavin’s assembly of Sophia and Feldman’s lost film. I even appear on-camera myself, along with my crew, which creates a third meta-textual layer. All the stuff that made up the “real” story in 2015, which was a response to the 2004 footage, was a blast, because we treated it like an actual documentary about a guy who was peddling a film that may or may not be real. It was a surreal experience, and I’ll probably never work on such a crazy film again in which the boundaries of reality were so blurred.
BC: What challenges did you face working on the film? What was the overall mood on the set?
EKM: The challenges were always time and money, which is the case with any independent film. You’re working evenings and weekends. Everyone has day jobs. Some of us have kids. It can add stress to already stressful conditions. Yet for all that, it was such a fun and unique experience that the set was a fun place to be, especially once we got to the second half of the shoot and had all of these non-actors bringing this weird sense that we were in a parallel universe where the story of Butterfly Kisses was actually happening for real. This was further enhanced by the fact that cinematographer Kenny Johnson and I went for a genuine documentary aesthetic, and specifically chose to avoid shot lists and storyboards. We gave the actors free reign to play the scene out, and we just got in there with the camera, capturing the action as you would if it were actually happening in front of you. Again, this was a wholly unique and sometimes bizarre shooting experience, and unlike anything I’ve ever attempted.
BC: What film hooked you on working in the film industry?
EKM: It was always a dream from the time I was a small child and became hooked on movies. This was in the early days of HBO, which served as an open door to unedited, 24-hour content. I’d watch films over and over again, and started haunting video stores and scouring the shelves, particularly the Horror section. I became hooked on Hammer flicks, and the Universal monster stuff. Later I moved on to Slashers. At the same time, I was a voracious reader, and found myself obsessed with gothic literature and Tolkien, and then writing short stories, screenplays, and drawing comic books. Everything I did growing up revolved around creation, or absorbing art to better understand the creative process. So the desire to make films was always there, and was cemented by the terrible gangster movies I made with friends in high school. I’d like to think my work has improved since then.
BC: In your opinion, why does the horror cinema attract so many fans?
EKM: It’s a rollercoaster. A release. We liked to be scared. Cinematic boogeymen tend to be archetypal, universal, and often allegorical. We can see our fears or problems personified, and watch characters interact with and defeat them. Horror films are so often morality tales in a very Puritanical sense, and that person at school or work who pisses you off for so many reasons immediately recognizable to any and everyone are then punished for it, on-camera, in delightfully appropriate ways. But above and beyond all that, these films offer the opportunity to wade out from the safety of shore and paddle out beyond the point comfort; but we’re tethered, and there’s no danger of not making it back to dry land. The TV or cinema screen becomes a voyeuristic window through which we see the things we never want to experience ourselves, but wish we could see happen to someone else. We all have a streak of cruelty, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, and it’s a caged animal demanding to be fed. Horror movies are the healthiest way of doing it without losing a hand.
BC: What is the appeal of the Found Footage genre? Do you consider it a genre or a filming technique, both?
EKM: Definitely both. We discuss it in Butterfly Kisses, and how many independent filmmakers are drawn to it due to its low-budget and very commercial nature. There’s also a sort of snuff film quality to it all. If you suspend your disbelief, it’s possible to imagine that we’re seeing something we shouldn’t be watching; that isn’t pretend. That’s why Cannibal Holocaust caused such a stir, and The Blair Witch Project after it: people believed what they were watching. And that’s what Butterfly Kisses is all about, and asks many questions, including why someone would shoot a film of this sort, and what power it has over the viewer.
BC: Why is the camera only set at one end of the tunnel and not from the other or even both? Disapproving skepticism?
EKM: These are the sorts of questions I love, because the film actively encourages you to ask them. Paring the three-hour cut down to 91 minutes forced me to remove content of this sort in which we further address issues raised by the Found Footage, and pursue a line of skeptical inquiry into the provenance of the tapes themselves. It wasn’t necessary content, but it was the stuff like this that I love debating when dealing with paranormal or cryptozoological claims. Every time we screened Butterfly Kisses for festival audiences, hands would shoot up during the Q&A to ask for answers to the film’s purposely unanswered questions. I love being asked, but I prefer to hear the viewers’ theories, particularly when they go down a rabbit hole I never saw for myself.
BC: What’s next for you, other projects?
EKM: I have several projects sitting here, waiting to be tackled; right now, I’m trying to determine which one is the best option. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the reviews that are still rolling in, and interviews such as this, for which I’m very grateful.
BC: Thanks for the interview, is there any social media accounts for you and where can the readers of The Horror Times find your film?
EKM: Check my out on Twitter @ekmyers, and @BKMovie2018. We’re also on Facebook, so give us a like, give us a follow, and remember not to blink!