Over the weekend I had the opportunity to interview Dean Kapsalis, director of The Swerve (2020 – read our review here) starring Azura Skye (One Missed Call). It was true honor to speak with Dean about his amazing film and feature film debut.
PopHorror: Who or what inspired you to become a filmmaker?
Dean Kapsalis: I loved movies probably since I could walk. I used to draw pictures of the stuff I would watch on TV and in the movies. I loved stop motion animation, like King Kong (1933), which they were always playing on TV on cable. My parents encouraged me, and they never held me back on that. I started making little movies with my friends; I got a video camera when I was about 11. And I’ve just loved it since then. As I’ve gotten older, I started watching different kinds of movies, trying to understand them.
PopHorror: Was it always horror that you liked?
Dean Kapsalis: I loved horror from the beginning, but there were all sorts of different movies that I would watch. I started watching foreign movies with subtitles when I was a kid, too. I started seeing stuff, and I started understanding the difference between certain movies, like American ones or those in a different language. I just started becoming really interested in them. Not really the scary stuff until I got older, like Night of the Living Dead (1968). I saw that when I was way too young. My parents got really upset by it. I kind of snuck that in. I had nightmares for ages.
PopHorror: With The Swerve, where did you get that idea? I know that this is your first film since Sara Goes To Lunch (2004).
Dean Kapsalis: This is my first feature, but I’ve done short films. I had always made short films. I’ve worked in the film industry in various capacities. I made music videos, and I did all of this. I didn’t really like it, so I kind of left it. I met this producer, and we made a couple short films. I’ve written quite a few feature scripts, and I wanted to direct this one. We put this together. It takes a long time to make a movie. If you’ve never made a feature film, it’s really hard to get people to trust in you. So we put the movie together pretty much completely ourselves.
[The idea] came from a thumbnail sketch I did of this women at midnight in a supermarket, and I was like, “Why did I do this? What is the interest there?” And it all came around this character. From personal experience, I grew up around a lot of strong women, then as I matured, I began to see these cracks in their lives. They had dealt with abuse and mental illness, and that stored away in my head. It maybe was fueled by my love for gothic novels and Greek tragedies and Shakespeare. They kind of work together, and that’s where the idea for this character came from. I saw it like a haunted house of the mind.
PopHorror: You used a lot of diegetic sound. Do you feel that gets the audience closer to the world within the movie?
Dean Kapsalis: I do. For me, I think many movies, particularly big films, are constantly bombarding the audience with a soundtrack, a music soundtrack, to the point that you can’t think for yourself or feel for yourself. It’s always telling you what to feel. And I guess I had enough confidence in the material where I was like, “You don’t need a score here,” you know? It’s like a piece of music in a way, the way a movie is edited or built up.
There are quite a few movies that use silence and diegetic sound that really brings the viewer closer to the material. It really draws you in and makes you complicit with what you’re watching. So I personally like that and also with the sound designer, who’s one of the best around, also saw it the same way.
PopHorror: That’s probably one of my favorite parts of the film, the quiet moments, especially towards the end. There was something sort of relaxing about, but also something weird about it.
Dean Kapsalis: I’ve had a few people say that. You’re the first one to say relaxing. I agree with the relaxing part. That was the thing with the camera and the sound designer. I wanted it to be like a narrator, and the camera to also be engaged with the character in the movie. So we follow her, and we’re with her. And to feel like what she’s going through. That was a big thing, to be with her and feel the anxiety as it develops.
PopHorror: Making any movie, I’m sure there’s some hardships. Did you have any hardships making The Swerve?
Dean Kapsalis: Well, the tone of the movie when we were shooting it was pretty light. Everybody was really friendly, and they all wanted to be there. Yeah, it was hard work. It’s like the least glamorous thing. We had film studies there; it’s really physically demanding work, one or two them said they couldn’t take it. Not because of anything we did, but it’s a lot of work. It’s mentally taxing. I have to maintain the tone of the film. I have to constantly think about how the movie is developing and if it’s going at the right pace. Sometimes, people were mystified, like why am I doing things in a particular way?
It really can be very tough, and you’re also fighting against time. We’re only shooting it with a finite amount of time, and there’s a lot of material. You’ve got to get the trust. I hadn’t worked with any of the actors before, so you have to gain their trust. There’s always something going on, so it’s like constantly sweating. You don’t sleep much.
PopHorror: What’s your favorite scene in the movie?
Dean Kapsalis: I love the driving scenes that we did. I love the sequence in the bowling alley. I had a great time with that, and watching and editing that. I’ve seen it so many times that it’s hard to gain objectivity. But there’s a lot of stuff I’m very proud of. The scene in the van in the bowling alley, I was very happy with the way that came out. It took a lot of people putting it together and crew to get it to work and it worked really well.
PopHorror: What are some of your favorite horror films?
Dean Kapsalis: That’s an easy question! My favorite horror films are Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Shining (1980) and Dawn of the Dead (1978). I like the original Nosferatu (1922); I like the Herzog Nosferatu (1979), too. There are so many horror movies that I love, I like Deep Red (1975). There’s just so many. The Exorcist (1973) is pretty great and so is Halloween (1978).
I grew up with horror movies; I would just try to watch as much as I could. Especially, the weirder the better. A lot of European horror movies. Those are a really different than a lot of the American ones. I really like movies from the late ’60s to the ’70s.
PopHorror: I know we spoke about F.W. Murnau [director of Nosferatu 1922] over Twitter. Was he an inspiration for you?
Dean Kapsalis: Murnau is a great visual storyteller, not just because it was the silent era, but because he did things that with the camera that were more adventurous. The way Murnau would use the camera was always really impressive, how he would create characters.
PopHorror: That’s all I’ve got for you! Thank you so much; I really appreciate your time!
Dean Kapsalis: No problem! You’re welcome!
Watch The Swerve on Amazon now!
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