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Interview with Jon Knautz director of The Cleaning Lady
By James Whittington, Friday 24th August 2018
HC: What made you decide that your short film The Cleaning Lady would work as a feature?
JK: Actually we had already written the feature before we made the short. We wanted to make a proof of concept to see how people reacted and to try and raise some awareness of our feature script. It was also a great way to experiment with the tone of the film, so we would be ready to tackle the feature.
HC: How did you and co-writer Alexis Kendra work on the script?
JK: Alexis and I had written several scripts together already so we had our system down pretty good at that point. We start by smoking cigars and just brainstorming for a while... then eventually we create a basic outline of the story. Then we flesh out a treatment so we have a guide to follow. Then we add a bunch of dialogue into the treatment. Then we use the treatment to hammer out a first draft of the script. We sort of pass it back and forth, tweaking things here and there until we're happy.
HC: Both characters of Alice and Shelly are broken in different ways and just want to be loved, would you agree they're two sides of the same coin?
JK: You could say that. I've always seen Alice and Shelly as two ships passing in the night that should have never crossed paths. They share similarities but together they're a recipe for disaster. But more of a disaster for Alice. From Shelly's perspective it's probably some demented form of accomplishment.
HC: Both leads are amazing, did they rehearse much together?
JK: We did one rehearsal. I didn't want to over do it. Since Alexis had written the script with me, she knew exactly how I wanted Alice to be portrayed. I knew she would also bring a ton of her own ideas to it as well and it was really fun to watch her play with the role. We had both worked with Rachel on our previous film so we already had a bit of a rapport, though it was only a short scene. So it was really a matter of letting Rachel play until she found the right note to hit for Shelly. I was very particular with Shelly's tone - if Rachel was just one octave too high or too low I would stop her. Once she picked up on it we just stuck with that note through out the whole shoot. And it actually got easier as we went along because she would instinctively know if she was on it or not.
HC: The intensity of the movie continuously cranks up during the full duration, what was the atmosphere like on set?
JK: It was an ambitious film for our budget so the atmosphere was stressful, as it often is. But for the most part everyone got on real well. At least from my perspective. Some scenes always end up being harder than the cast and crew anticipates - but when you finally pull it off it kind of unites everyone in a really cool way. By the end of the shoot I really felt that everyone was proud of what we had accomplished.
HC: Mykayla Sohn who plays young Shelly is outstanding, did you audition many youngsters for the role?
JK: Yeah we did. Kids can be tricky to cast. And a lot of them were just missing the mark during their auditions. But then Mykayla and her sister Hanna came in and they were both really great. It was a tough choice but in the end I went with Mykayla. She had a ball playing that part. I was worried about her having to wear some pretty intense make-up but she handled it like a pro. She had a wonderful attitude on set and seemed to love every second of her job. In fact, when we finished her last shot she didn't want it to end. I would assume most adults having to wear that kind of make-up all day would want to bolt when it's over but Mykayla would have went on for hours. You gotta love that youthful energy on set. She was a real pleasure to work with.
HC: Karma seems to play a big role in the movie, are you a believer in such things?
JK: I wouldn't say I'm a huge believer in it. I never really thought about karma with this story, though I can see how it could be interpreted that way. I think life is too complex to have a pattern of results. To me, certain actions may have certain repercussions, and in the case of this story there are some pretty bad ones. I always enjoy tragedy in film. It's so much more interesting and thought provoking than when everything turns out great.
HC: You've already delivered several FrightFest favourites, do you still get nervous when one of your movies is shown?
JK: It's impossible to not feel at least a little nerved up because you've spent a year of your life (or more) whittling away at this sculpture, constantly making fine-tuned adjustments so that the audience will be entertained - so by the end you're undeniably curious to see if you've succeeded. So yeah, I'm a bit nervous. But it's all part of the thrill of making films.
HC: So, what are you working on at the moment?
JK: I'm directing a true-crime documentary and I'm neck deep in it. It's one of the most interesting experiences of my life so far. I never imagined I would get a chance to direct a doc like this but the stars aligned and I dove in full speed. It's called Two Shallow Graves and it's one hell of a story. Alexis and I also have a few scripts on the go that we're pretty excited about. More on that as things develop.
HC: Jon Knautz, thank you very much.
JK: Thank you for your interest in my film. Much appreciated.
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