Some people just amaze me with how talented they are. You can tell by their projects that they know what they’re doing and can deliver a story in a way that no else can. This can be said about director Aaron B. Koontz. Most know him from his bizarrely wonderful film Starry Eyes, but his upcoming horror movie Camera Obscura is his next big moment and everyone is raving about it. The film is set to release on June 9th and on VOD and Digital HD on Tuesday, June 13th. We talked with Aaron about what inspired him to get into filmmaking, his past films, how he came up with the idea for Camera Obscura, and more. Enjoy!
PopHorror – It’s great to talk with you again, Aaron! You started making films in early 2000; what inspired you to do so?
Aaron B. Koontz – I graduated from film school back then and immediately tried jumping into any production I could. I just wanted to be on set, and soak up as much knowledge as was available to me to better guide myself later in my career.
PopHorror – Seems like it paid off. Before we talk about your new film that everyone is raving about, let’s talk about some of your other movies. Your first big film was Starry Eyes, which is a beloved favorite among the horror community and also quite bizarre. Where did you get the idea for that story?
Aaron B. Koontz – Well, that was all Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch, who wrote a fantastic script. That film had one of my favorite lead characters in recent memory. I was fortunate to have met the producer there, Travis Stevens, a year or two prior at SXSW and when this opportunity came up I knew that I had to be involved. All the credit goes to that creative team there who made one hell of a film.
PopHorror – You guys made something truly unique! I also watched your short, Honor Student. That one is unique as well. Where was your mindset when creating that story?
Aaron B. Koontz – I think there are some loose parallels between Honor Student and Camera Obscura actually. I really enjoy flawed, lost characters hiding things from either the audience, their loved ones, or ideally both. And with Honor Student, so much of this stemmed from my girlfriend and I being at a drive through and seeing this rather wretched woman throwing a fit to the people working the counter. On the drive home, we wondered aloud what her life must be like to reach a point of anger and despair like this and then somewhere it clicked about what that then would do to another person in her life as a result. Say, a daughter, perhaps.
Composition wise, Honor Student also served as my warm-up film for Camera Obscura as we used a similar lens set called Cookes and wanted a gritty, lived-in feel that later permeated many scenes in Camera Obscura.
PopHorror – Speaking of your new film Camera Obscura, it is receiving a lot of love and praise. For those who haven’t seen it, can you give a quick synopsis of what it’s about?
Aaron B. Koontz – It is? That’s awesome. But sure, this is about a former photojournalist suffering from PTSD who has returned home from Iraq and is trying to start a new life with his fiancé. He had given up photography but after an extended absence, his wife-to-be gives him an old SLR camera as an anniversary gift and a small gig with her office taking photos. As Jack slowly gets back into this old passion of his, he begins to see what appears to be imminent deaths in the developed images. As one horrific event after another begins to occur, Jack is left wondering just how mentally sound he may be and follows a descent into madness and violence in a desperate attempt to keep his loved ones safe.
PopHorror – It is! This was brilliant filmmaking. It has similarities to your past films, but also completely different. What inspired you to make it and what was your goal with this project?
Aaron B. Koontz – First, thank you for those kind words. For me really, I wanted this project to be something high-concept so that it would be memorable and perhaps reach a larger audience, while at the same time be something mysterious and psychological. I want to reward those viewers who are willing to give me their time with hidden clues and Easter eggs throughout the film to help steer them in different directions. Those small details always mattered to me, so it was important to layer them in here as well. So in the end, this was to be something that I would want to watch and form my own theories about.
PopHorror – It definitely shows. Were you involved in the casting? Both Christopher Denham and Nadja Bobyleva were phenomenal in their roles.
Aaron B. Koontz – I was, and it was such an honor to work with both of them. Thankfully my producer, Andrew van den Houten, had worked with Christopher before so that gave me a great way in to secure him as the lead. Nadja had only done one American film at the time – Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies – and was one of the fantastic suggestions from Casting Director Matt Lessall.
PopHorror – I thought it was amazing how easily Denham’s character transformed into a killer. It’s as if he didn’t even blink an eye when committing his first murder. Is that because of his traumatized past or the demonic camera had taken over him? Or possibly both?
Aaron B. Koontz – (laughs) You tell me! I know that for some, ambiguity can be frustrating, but I assure you there are some hints hidden the film, as alluded to above, that do spell this out some. But for now, I prefer to let audiences draw their own conclusions and entertain their own theories.
PopHorror – (laughs) You tease! Do you think the story plays a lot on how far someone will go to protect the one they love or is it far more than that?
Aaron B. Koontz – That is actually a direct line said in the film. It is muffled and might not be very audible as it is on the videotape that Jack is watching from Charlie Hibbert. So yes, this is in many ways on the surface a metaphor for love. I joked with my writing partner Cameron a while back that the closing credits song should even be Meatloaf’s “I Would do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).” That was very much a joke though.
PopHorror – I think I do remember that! Camera Obscura reminded me a lot of Final Destination in the sense that he was trying to cheat death – over and over again. Were you inspired by that film at all?
Aaron B. Koontz – I am a huge fan of Final Destination and Jeffrey Reddick’s script, which I think is one of the most clever horror scripts in recent memory. So there was some of this tempting of fate and alike but not anything as deliberately overt as what they all do there.
PopHorror – Based on how the film ended, do you think there is room for a sequel? If the camera were to fall into the hands of someone else?
Aaron B. Koontz – If someone ever wanted more from this world, I’d actually like to explore a prequel with Charlie Hibbert and his story which I think would make for an interesting follow up. But yes, there is a pretty sound idea for a direct sequel if that ever was to come about. And if that were to happen, I would likely allow someone else to direct it as I am hoping to go to some different directions after that.
PopHorror – Ooh, interesting. On that note, any other projects in the future?
Aaron B. Koontz -I like keeping busy and have a number of pieces in the works. Two features that I am producing are in various stages with one hopefully moving forward in a few short months.They are an action/horror and then a noir drama.
As for writing/directing, I was lucky to collaborate with my co-writer Cameron Burns as well as another Austin writer Farrell Rose for my next directing effort, Dream Machine. It’s a sci-fi thriller that I am beyond excited to unleash onto the world, ideally later this year or 2018.
PopHorror – Thanks for talking with us, Aaron!
Stayed tuned for an interview with one of the cast members, plus our upcoming review of Camera Obscura!