Filmmaker Kenlon Clark was recently chosen as the winner of the inaugural Bootleg Universe Contest, in collaboration with Adi Shankar’s Bootleg Universe and Buffalo 8 Productions.
Kenlon’s winning script will be produced as a short film and distributed online for millions of fans to enjoy and share on the Bootleg Universe YouTube channel. The details of the project’s subject matter and storyline will remain confidential until the release of the film in early Summer 2017. We're dying to tell you what it's about, but Adi Shankar has decided to keep it a secret until then!
Though we can't reveal details about the project, we're thrilled to share this one-on-one interview with Kenlon, a talented writer/director you'll be seeing much more from very soon.
ScreenCraft: Where and when did your storytelling roots begin?
Kenlon Clark: I found my storytelling roots early in life. To say storytelling has been a "manageable obsession" for me might be an understatement.
I was raised far from Hollywood in a small town in northern Alberta, Canada called St. Paul. I've always loved art, drawing and comic books. When I was 10 years old, my Dad brought home a VHS video camera from his office for Christmas vacation and my brother and I starred in our own homemade action movies.
That continued through my teenage years, having fun making films with my friends. I also began animating my own movies on a white board. This was a few years before the Internet had become prolific and white board animation had become more common. Some of these animated pieces were up to 30 minutes long. What can I say? I didn't party much in high school! I was also an avid writer and did well in contests in school, usually writing elaborate action/fantasy stories.
I'm fortunate to have parents who encouraged me to pursue my interests, and when I was 15 they sent me to a summer camp that specialized in filmmaking called NHTV in Edmonton, near where I grew up. Those were my first real lessons in the production process of screenwriting, directing and acting. To this day, I still approach a lot of what I do using methods I learned at those camps.
One of my white board animations won me a scholarship in high school to study film. I attended the Victoria Motion Picture School in beautiful Victoria on Vancouver Island for a year. That was another impactful experience that resulted in the production of the student film I wrote, directed and edited called Housecoat Man. Ultimately, that film was selected to screen on national television in Canada on a station called YTV.
SC: And what was the path like that led you to doing it professionally?
KC: Like anyone else trying to make it in this business, I can assure you it hasn't been a clearly-defined path! After film school I returned to northern Alberta and worked various jobs for two years while trying to figure out how in the world I was going to make films professionally. While working those jobs I was always using my spare time to make my own movies, shoot tourism videos and anything else I could do. In an unrelated series of events, my family thankfully wound up moving near Los Angeles and I tagged along!
I eventually found my way into freelance work for many years. Over the years, I've had the opportunity to write/direct/shoot or edit pieces for Adidas, the Los Angeles Center Studios, Hollywood Locations, Extra Space Storage, Chrysler and directed seven movie themed music videos for the EDM group (and best band ever!) Above & Beyond.
During that time, I was always writing screenplays, sometimes 2-3 at a time. Screenwriting was a fun escape while working on freelance projects and the endless stories clamoring in my head seemed to beg to be written. Needless to say, winning the Bootleg Universe contest is very exciting as, not only have I been a big fan of the Bootleg films, it's in a filmmaking discipline I'm extremely passionate about and hope to do much more of in the near future.
SC: Do you consider yourself a writer first or a director first -- or both equally?
KC: I would consider myself a storyteller first. I enjoy the process of telling stories through writing and/or directing, depending on the opportunity that's presented. For me, writing is the ultimate escape. When you're putting words on the page, you get to be an actor, director, cinematographer and experience the movie being born. I believe collaboration is incredibly important to shape a script and make it better but the process of being "in the zone" is so fulfilling. I never feel as though I've wasted my time if I took the time to write that day.
SC: What would you say are your biggest influences?
KC: My influences are diverse. I enjoy quiet independent films that challenge my perspective as much as summer blockbusters, and I feel no shame for it! Some of the writers and directors I admire are: Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Lumet, Steven Speilberg, Robert Rodriguez, Kathryn Bigelow, Shane Black, Edward Burns, John Woo, Joe Carnahan, Steven Soderbergh, Nancy Meyers, Kurt Wimmer, Terrence Malick, JJ Abrams, Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan. I also feel I've learned a lot from reading comic book writers like Mark Millar, Brian Michael Bendis, Scott Snyder and more recently, Chelsea Cain...and the list goes on!
On the television side, I've been a big fan of mockumentary/satirical/tangential humor of television shows like Arrested Development, Community, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Man Seeking Woman.
SC: Do you have any tips, tricks, or advice for newer writers and directors who are looking to develop their own unique voices?
KC: I think understanding story structure is incredibly important, mainly because audiences have been fed it since birth. Structure is like a language that even an untrained audience inherently comprehends. The more fluent you become in it, the more freedom you have to express yourself within its confines and explore.
Also never stop learning. I know writers who stop reading books on filmmaking and writing in general, because they feel they've found their groove. I have always believed you should be a never ending student of the craft. I still read every book, article and listen to podcasts on storytelling and filmmaking. You never know what piece of information might keep flipping that switch in your mind. Also read Screencraft's articles!
Above all else, I think the most important thing a writer should cultivate is a curiosity and an interest in the world around them especially in areas of history, psychology and human behavior because that is where the best material comes from, alongside living a more fulfilling life.
SC: In your career thus far, what craft or business lesson has made the biggest impact or was the hardest won?
KC: There are three big lessons I've learned. First, you must be a self starter to get things to happen for you. The more you can take responsibility for your creative endeavors the faster you will move forward and people around you will want to help.
Second, learn as much as you can about every aspect of the filmmaking process. The various disciplines inform each other and you can reverse engineer a great script in many ways by understanding other areas of filmmaking.
Third, don't be afraid to put your stuff out there! It's easy to fall into what I call "Perfectionistic Paralysis" but at some point you have to show others. Feedback is a good thing!
SC: And what’s next for you, career- and project-wise?
KC: I recently finished post production on an independent feature, co-produced with my brother, Cameron, and Hollywood Locations called Synapse which employed every filmmaking trick I've learned over the years. The film is a sci-fi thriller that takes place in a world where trading memories becomes an addictive underground drug culture that is then regulated by a quasi-government agency called Synapse. One of the Synapse agents wakes up to realize that he had his memories altered and knows a secret that could bring down the agency. Watch for it!
I'm developing multiple projects and (obsessively) writing a number of scripts. I'm also looking forward to the continual expansion of the Bootleg Universe! I love what I do and I'm excited about the future!