Multi-hyphenate filmmaker Eric Michael Kochmer’s name, face & work is littered all over our WMM site. Whether he is acting in brash comedic sketches & films (Jimmy Paradise Returns, All Roads lead To Paradise, Hipster Backlash series), directing Film Noir Fridays for Broad Strokes, or is making avant garde films (Way Down In Chinatown) he is putting his indelible stamp on things. Equal parts jovial jester and serious scholar, he oozes passion and sincerity in person and in his work. Meet the prolific & eccentric Eric Michael Kochmer.
WMM: Where are you from, what is your background, and how do you think that informs what you do as a filmmaker?
EMK: I’m from a farm outside of Scranton, Pennsylvannia. I grew up kind of out of place –kind of always doing my own thing. Living in the country, I used to wander in the woods, hunting and fishing, working for my father in his machine shop sporadically … a lot of times however I would wander the property and imagine different worlds. I was a strange kid. I was never really into school and didn’t do very well in high school, except I taught myself how to play the guitar my senior year. Mostly, the kind of stories that I create revolve around a strange atmosphere or a character who feels out of place.
WMM: When did you know you wanted to pursue your craft as a career? Were you supported in your dreams?
EMK: My folks and my brother have always been supportive. Though they probably think I’m a little off, they’ve always believed in me. I’m lucky to have an amazingly supportive girlfriend who is constantly pushing me to be better and take my work to a deeper and greater place. As far as what’s made me want to be a director … I’ve been an actor for a while — And it is what it is. Things have been good at times and horrible at times. The constant up and down and the anticipation game, and constantly pitching yourself and dealing with an agent and manager. I was cast in a film after I was here for a year and I ended up producing it only because I wanted to help the filmmaker get the film finished and I was interested in putting another project on its feet – and I worked on a script and pitched it to a friend of mine who had directed me in a feature and a short film and we worked on it. We shot the project and he edited it and it turned out fine but what drove me nuts through the whole process was that I saw it. I saw the images and they weren’t coming out the way I wanted them to – but that’s the thing: he’s directing, its his film and his vision. Not mine. And that’s when I knew I wanted to be in charge of the images. Not to sound like some kind of jerk but that’s when I knew that I’d rather be the General instead of the Soldier.
WMM: Did you study anywhere in your field? Where? Any notable stories / experiences / peers / teachers?
EMK: After I graduated High School, I briefly joined the military. When that didn’t work out, I when to junior college and was going to originally study journalism because I liked to write. I ended up taking a theater class in my first semester and became interested in all things acting. I applied to a theater program in New York City at Marymount Manhattan College and got on the alternate list for their BFA acting program. I went there and learnt everything I could and got into the acting program. When I came back for the second year, Elizabeth Swados (experimental theater director who started the career of Diane Lane and directed stars like Meryl Streep on Broadway) cast me in a musical theater workshop at La MaMa Theater in the East Villiage (the workshop was in conjunction with my college). The workshop lasted a year and consisted of directing, writing and acting out assignments that she assigned us. Eventually this all led to compiling the material we created over the course of six months into a play, which we then toured around the city and performed at La MaMa theater. This was probably the most important collegiate experience because of what it taught me about putting work up on its feet. Writing is great, but I’ve never been one for taking a writing class and talking about if it’s to succeed or fall flat right in front of you.
WMM: What else do you do besides your craft? Day job?
EMK: I was for a while bringing in income from acting, but I’ve basically been super focused on directing and producing and only acting in select projects, so I have been working as a manager at a call center raising money for progressive causes like the Democratic National Committee and Naral.
WMM: What is the lowest budget you have worked with? Highest?
EMK: As an actor, I’ve worked on a few multi-million dollar films like “From a Place of Darkness,” “Across the Universe,” “Year One,” “Duel of Legends,” and “American East” – to no budget films like “Everything Unspoken” (which cost $1000) and you know, for free. As a producer, the biggest budget so far has been “Dialogues” which was $50,000. So far as a director, my first film was less than $10,000, my second has been barely anything (but we are in post and have re-shoots) so we’ll see. My third though, hopefully the budget will be at least 30-50k. It would help.
WMM: What is the most stressful situation you have found yourself in as an artist? Most rewarding? Most memorable?
EMK: My first film, Way Down In Chinatown, was the hardest thing that I ever did. I did so much at the last minute. I had no idea what I was getting into. Luckily I was obsessed with the look and got along great with my DP Kiko Suura, and we both ended up liking work at the same pace. It was the only way we could possibly make the film. It changed me. We shot it in six days. We literally shot over 15 pages a day. At first it seemed like chaos, but by the last day it moved well. I’ll probably never want to have to move that fast again, but the experience was dynamic. I learned how important and vital every member of the cast and crew are.
WMM: What are your current project(s)?
EMK: My girlfriend and I have started a production company called Elegant Grotesque and we are going to be producing, hopefully, a slate of films at one time instead of just one production at a time. Right now we have one film in post-production “Blackstocking Jenkins” (which we are still grabbing some more footage for). I don’t want to say too much about what it is other than it should be a radical social film that should shock people. We have another film called “The Killer The Singer and The Woman Who Ran” that we’ve been developing with WMM’er Brian Gaskill and are getting ready to raise money for. The third film is still up in the air. We have three incubating but can’t decide which one makes more sense to make now. The idea is to produce a slate of films at first at a very micro-micro budget level, and then for each slate to grow the budget and scope of the projects.
I’m also getting my first film “Way Down In Chinatown” distributed on VOD and DVD in the fall (look for it on www.366weirdmovies.com) so that should be exciting.
As far as acting, I’m mostly involved in projects that come through the WMM network. I met this amazing director a few years ago – Jon Rannells – who made a fantastic feature film called “Ruby Booby” with WMM c0-founder Tara Samuel. Jon and I became fast friends and we’ve been shooting a low to no budget feature called “Georgie” and also are going to start shooting a UFO film in the fall.
I’m in a few other films that are about to come out on Netflix and iTunes. Pixar’s Bill Kinder directed me in “White Rabbit,” a gritty film in which I play the lead as a dirty cop. Also, “Virginity,” directed by Saeed Khoze, is a political thriller in which I play another villainous character.
I am helming (not the urban dictionary definition) a We Make Movies Screening Series at the Three Clubs, that’s going to start in September. I’m trying to pair We Make Movies films with great music and outside filmmakers to hopefully spread out our brand and bring in new and amazing artists.
WMM: How has WMM influenced / shaped / supported you with this process/project?
EMK: For one, it’s an amazing community of artists. A lot have become my good friends. One of the main ideals is to make the film that you want to make, which doesn’t always happen here in Hollywood… but it can if you have vision and strong leadership skills AND surround yourself with great people. The big philosophy that I’ve gained from being with WMM, and also talking a lot with co-founder Sam Mestman, is the basics in DIY philosophy, which is really the more roles you can take on on-set, the better. Not that you necessarily need to run around and do everything, but knowing what goes into each job goes a long long way. Coming from in front of the camera gave me a bit of a handicap when it came to post-production. On my first film I was lost when it came to post, which is why I’m now learning how to edit. Not so I can necessarily edit everything I make, but being able to cut a lot of the prep work for a great editor goes a long way when it comes to cost.
WMM: Who are your biggest influences? Directors? Actors?
EMK: I grew up loving Monty Python and “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”. My mother never allowed us to have cable, so it was PBS programming, radio plays like “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” and library rentals like “The Third Man” that I remember making a big impression. My brother and I probably watched “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “Abbot and Costello Meet the Killer,” “My Favorite Year” and “The In-Laws” (the original not the remake) hundreds of times. Today I look for anything out there with a unique look. Its usually among my DIY comrades that I find the most intriguing work. The money movies all look alike.
WMM: Who are your top 5 actors? What are your top 5 films? Top 5 directors? Books?
EMK: Actors: Marlon Brando, Klaus Kinski, Kim Stanley, Cate Blanchete & the late Bob Hoskins.
Movies: “The Best Years of Our Lives” by William Wyler / “Do The Right Thing” by Spike Lee / “The Seven Beauties” by Lina Wertmuller / “Metropolis” by Fritz Lang / “A Funeral Parade Of Roses” by Toshio Matsumoto
Directors: Orson Wells, Carl Dryer, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese
Novels: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald / The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway / The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass / The Empty Space by Peter Brook / Slaugterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegutt Jr.
WMM: What is your favorite project you have worked on and why?
EMK: Really, since I’ve been with WMM for the last four years, I’ve had so much fun on numerous projects: working with Sam Mestman on Jimmy Paradise is more and more fun every time we revisit it. Luke Federoff’s “Hunt the Maguffin” was a blast and my two films were great particularly for some of the great folks I got to work on with WDiC. Jon Haloosim and Maria Olsen and James Cotton were so much fun to work with… and finding Kiko Suura who I just love collaborating with… and my girlfriend as a producer on “Blackstocking Jenkins” was really vibing well with me … hard to say which one I would say I loved more. And this new project, Kiko and Sapna are on it, and Brian Gaskill and I have been playing around with this script for over a year and have only begun to have fun… so I don’t know. I think I just like making things. Period.
WMM: What would you change if you could, about your career trajectory?
EMK: Things happen the way they do. Sure regrets happen too. Now I’m Dr. Seuss. If I went to England on a scholarship I had, maybe I would have turned into a Shakespearean actor. But that was also when I started creating my own work. So while I’m not world renowned, I’ve made a lot of things happen. And I have more on the horizon. That’s all I can ask of myself. In the future … I don’t know I’d like to maybe teach for a day job. That would be fun.
WMM: Any advice for filmmakers?
EMK: Meetings and trying to get big budgets are great and we should all be doing that on one hand, but at the end of the day, its all about what you’ve made so go out and MAKE SOMETHING. Leave the talk for the talkers.
WMM: What is your favorite thing about WMM?
EMK: The constant embrace of new ideas and new thinking. It’s a forum to succeed but a forum where its safe to fail as well. “You have to be ready to make yourself look like a complete fool in front of a stadium of people.” I think Marlon Brando said that.
WMM: If you were stranded on an island for 6 months, what 5 items would you wish you had on your person?
EMK: A guitar, a notebook, a shovel, a net and matches … lots of matches.
WMM: If you were not doing what you do now, what would you want to be doing?
EMK: I would have been in the military or a farmer or maybe some kind of evil right wing businessman.
WMM: Describe yourself with 3 adjectives.
EMK: Stubborn. Thoughtful. Focused.WMM: What’s next for you now?
EMK: Well I just had a much needed vacation so I’m full steam ahead now. I have a lot on my plate from getting the production company off the ground to post production on “Blackstocking Jenkins” to finalizing the cast on the new project and working on a few scripts to hopefully sell. It’s all about organizing at this point and a lot should be getting done.
WMM: What, other than your craft, brings you joy?
EMK: Spending time with my amazing girlfriend and my family and friends. Fresh air. The ocean. Dogs make me happy.