I recently had the chance to sit and chat with Kevin Pontuti, the director of The Yellow Wallpaper, which is one of my favorite films this year. Read my review here. Learn more about his beginnings in the arts, the filmmaking business, and more!
PopHorror: Thank you, Kevin, for taking the time to chat. I see that you come from an extensive art background. Can you tell us more about that?
Kevin Pontuti: I studied painting, photography, and sculpture in art school. Then I worked as a digital artist and creative director in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Soon after, I started a fine arts production company, Studio P Inc. I produced projects and editions for a bunch of amazing artists like Paul McCarthy, Mike Kelly, Sharon Lockhart, Charlie White, and David LaChapelle. In addition, I did prints for people like Annie Leibovitz, Steven Klein. It was great fun, and I learned so much from working with all these inspiring people.
PopHorror: Wow! All of that sounds like an amazing experience! How and when did you get started in filmmaking?
Kevin Pontuti: As fulfilling as it was running Studio P, I had lost a sense of what sort of work I wanted to do as an artist. When I started really considering that, I realized film was where my main interests were leaning, so I started working down that path. I directed my first film in 2013, North Passage. It was a great experience, and I really was inspired to keep going. Since then I’ve directed 3 other films—Onere. Pescare and Vanita—which are part of an ongoing series of short films.
PopHorror: That is great you were able to discover a passion in filmmaking. Which directors inspire you?
Kevin Pontuti: Claire Denis, Andre Tarkovsky, Ben Wheatley, Darren Aronofsky… So many others….
PopHorror: Definitely some great ones! When did you read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, The Yellow Wallpaper, and when and why did you decide to create a film based on it?
Kevin Pontuti: I had read the story in college but then lost track of it until a few years ago when Alexandra [Loreth – read the PopHorror interview with her here] brought it up. She was super passionate about the story and kept mentioning it. Once I re-read, I was completely blown away by both the relevance and the creative possibilities. I immediately was on board. We researched the other adaptations and felt that we could do a different version—our version—and that it would be a worthwhile project. We floated the idea with some of our English faculty friends, and they were all excited and encouraged us to go forward with the film. They were very helpful consultants on the adaptation.
PopHorror: The passion for this project is evident in the film. The casting fits the story well. Can you tell us more about how you found cast?
Kevin Pontuti: From the beginning, I knew that I wanted Alexandra to play Jane. She had the passion, and we’d been working so closely together, it was just a given. She has this super subtle way of portraying feelings and a screen presence—things just flow across her face and it constantly amazes me. Initially, we were going to film in the US, but once we shifted the film to Ireland, we worked with Emerald Giant Productions and Robert Gill on casting the rest of the small cast. We knew that Jane’s husband, John, was going to be key and we had some really great actors read for that. We kind of wanted somebody with a contrast to Alexandra. Joe Mullins nailed that for us. Alexandra’s tiny and Joe is so tall and has this wonderful expressive face which is such a contrast to Jane’s. We thought that would help reinforce that Jane and John are really living in these different worlds and these different realities and so that contrast was really important. All of our other actors were amazing, too.
PopHorror: The scenery is stunning in Ireland and helped create the look of the period. Each performance is just so spot on and true to the times. With period piece films, there must be some challenges. What are some of those challenges?
Kevin Pontuti: Creating a period piece is a challenge in itself. Then, creating a period piece on a small budget adds an extra level of difficulty to that. The costumes, locations and props were some of the most challenging elements. Due to the fact, of course, that we want to be as accurate as we can within our restraints while also having things be visually appealing. Emerald Giant Productions, based in Ireland, did a wonderful job helping us with that. The other challenge was figuring out what kind of language, tone, and speaking pattern worked best for us and our actors and our story, especially with all of our actors having different accents.
PopHorror: I can definitely see how all that is challenging. The finished film is fantastic, and you handled those challenges well. I’d like to ask some questions for fun, starting with: What is your favorite film genre?
Kevin Pontuti: I don’t know that I have a favorite film genre. I really enjoy all kinds of films, but sometimes I have a tough time with comedies. I love dark humor, though. That being said, I’ve been a Stephen King fan since I was a kid, and I think his writing has influenced me in a lot of ways, including my tastes.
PopHorror: Dark comedies are so much fun, and I’m myself a Stephen King fan. How about as a creator, your favorite film genre?
Kevin Pontuti: All of my films so far have been in a sort of psychological horror kind of space, and that’s where I feel most comfortable and best about my work.
PopHorror: Are you a horror film fan? If so, what are some of your favorites?
Kevin Pontuti: I’m definitely a horror fan. I’m teaching a horror film class right now at the University of the Pacific. My students were actually the ones who asked for a class like this, and I probably enjoy it as much as they do. They tell me about their favorites, and I tell them about mine, and it’s great to talk about horror from so many different perspectives. Some of my favorites are the psychological ones: Carrie, Antichrist, Black Swan, and Misery. I’m also a huge Hitchcock fan. I have 3 cats named after Hitchcock films.
PopHorror: That class is a class I’d like to take! Hitchcock is one of my absolute favorites as well. So, tell us, what do you currently have in the works? Future plans and goals?
Kevin Pontuti: A few years before we started The Yellow Wallpaper, I actually wrote another script, another period horror, called The Witch And The Burning Branches. It’s been on the back burner for a few years, and we’ve been super slowly chipping away at it. It has a feminist horror element to it, too. It’s set around the 1400s and focuses on a witch who ends up at odds with the men of the village she lives outside of. Her main adversary is a man 100 times worse than John from The Yellow Wallpaper. So, my main goal at the moment is just to keep making more films and hopefully make some bigger ones while I’m at it.
PopHorror: That project sounds like my kind of film! Keep chipping away at it so we can see it! Thank you so much for chatting with us. All the best to you!