PROFILED:: Keegan Uhl

Meet Keegan Uhl, the director of LONACONING, releasing on WMMoriginals May 28th.
3718072_300x300WMM: Where are you from, what is your background, and how do you think that informs what you do as a filmmaker / actor / writer…?
KU: I grew up in Boston and majored in Film Studies at Middlebury College in Vermont. I took amazing classes like “Hitchcock,” “Surrealism Cinema,” “Novels into Film” and “Japanese Cinema.” That was the basis of my film education.  The hands-on film production instruction was slim, so I’m largely self taught on that end of things.
WMM: When did you know you wanted to pursue your craft as a career? Were you supported in your dreams to become a filmmaker?
KU: It was in college, when I abandoned the medical school track and started taking film classes that I knew this was my destiny. But even earlier in high school I would make little films whenever I could as final projects instead of writing a paper or making one of those awesome[ly lame] explain-er poster things.WMM: Did you study anywhere in your field? Where? Any notable stories/experiences/peers/teachers?KU: When I got to Los Angeles, I did the one year program at the LA Film School. It was a brief intro to the town and how film production and the industry worked. It was helpful from a nuts a bolts perspective, but didn’t do much to educate the artist side of me.WMM: What else do you do besides your craft? Day job?

KU: I’ve had many odd jobs over the years – real estate agent, cookie delivery guy, photographer, editor, and now I run a handmade leather goods business. All over the map really — something to pay the rent while working on film projects.

WMM: What is the lowest budget you have worked with? Highest?

KU: The lowest budget is zero, and I’ve done a lot of that. The highest budget I’ve worked with so far is still close to zero – on Lonaconing we had a couple grand. I directed and produced a 110 minute web series that we only had about $8K to work with. Not ideal. That project is just about wrapped up and we’re ironing out a deal to sell a version of that show to a major TV network. So sometimes working for nothing can be worth it, if it gets you to the next place.

WMM: Describe your first foray into professional film making/acting? First screening? First show?

thebeach1KU: I guess we need to define “professoinal.” I mean, was Sex, Lies and Videotape “professional?” What about “Mean Streets?” Making money and making art don’t always intersect, especially in the beginning stages of a career. So if we define “professional” as making money – I can’t say that I’ve made any money as a director yet. I’ve made things that I am very proud of, but nothing that pays my rent yet. Probably the closest thing would be a spec commercial I made for $200 that won a contest and was awarded a couple thousand dollars that I paid the crew out with – maybe that counts. But then that commercial was shown at Nascar events and on billboards in Asia, and I didn’t see another penny. So perhaps not.

WMM: What is the most stressful situation you have found yourself in as an artist? Most rewarding? Most memorable?

KU: I made a short film for a competition a few years back, and it was hours before the deadline. I received a cut of musical score back from the composer and was listening to see if one note I had made had been implemented. When it got to that part and it had not, I slammed my fist on the desk. The hard drive containing my film jumped about 3 inches, crashed back onto the desk and click… click… click… click… I spent the last 6 hours before the deadline piecing the film together from what I could recover from that hard drive, barely making the deadline. I remember calling my wife and telling her I was pretty sure I was having heart palpitations. That was the most stressed I’ve ever been. The film won the contest and that lead to many other opportunities, so taking a few months off my life expectancy might have been worth it in that instance.

WMM: What are your current project(s)?

KU: We are just finishing post on a 10 episode web series (110 minutes) that I co-produced and directed. It looks like we might have it sold to a TV network, so that could be great. Lonaconing is the short film that is playing the festival circuit now and is being well received. I’m editing a music video art / documentary project I shot in New York in 2012. I have spent months outlining my first feature film and am just starting the actual writing of that, which I am very excited about. I’ll try to raise money for it when the script is done, but if I have to shoot it for $20K, then that’s that and I’ll find a way to make it happen. Lastly, I’ve also teamed up with a couple other writers to develop two other features and a short film which I hope to direct as well. Helping other people with their visions is almost as rewarding as trying to communicate my own.

WMM: How has (if at all) WMM influenced / shaped / supported you with this process/project?

KU: Quite simply, WMM was the reason Lonaconing happened. The script was written for a deadline they imposed, I met Keith (the writer) because I saw the script read and thought “I gotta find a way to direct that.” And then we were able to shoot it because of the funding WMM organized. It was a WMM production from top to bottom.

Lona_still_titleWMM: Who are your biggest influences?
KU: Alexander Payne is really speaking to me lately. There is a Turkish director I am studying right now who is simply incredible: Nuri Bilge Ceylan. His films are regulars at Canne and are often very low budget. Steve McQueen is just crushing right now. Other directors that inspire me include David O. Russell, Soderberg, the Coen Brothers, Hitchcock, Fincher, P.T. Anderson, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Darren Aronofsky, Spike Jonze as well as newer directors like Jeff Nichols, David Michôd and Behn Zeitlin. I mean, anything that’s good and thoughtful and well crafted is educational and inspiring. Whether that’s a book I read or a TV series like Breaking Bad or True Detective or great poetry or photography or music.
WMM: What are your top 5 films?
KU: A top five list is tough, there are so many great films. So instead I’ll give you my 5 desert island flicks. As you can surmise, the 5 movies you’d bring if you were stranded on a desert island: UHF, Back to the Future, The Fifth Element, Snatch, One Crazy Summer.WMM: What is your favorite project you have worked on and why?KU: For me it’s all about the final product and connecting with an audience. So I’m most proud of the stuff that clearly moves people. There is one music video that I made in 2009 with just me and the actors – no crew and all available light. There was zero budget, but it has over a quarter million views on the internet, blew up huge on the Russian Facebook and still gets glowing comments all the time. That means a lot, to know that I touched thousands of Russians from a world away.WMM: What would you change if you could, about your career trajectory?

KU: Largely I believe the Universe is unfolding as it should. I have a way to pay my rent and a fulfilling life outside of the film space. I’m developing the films I want to make and writing the stories I want to tell. I’m not locked into a big mortgage and I’m not beholden to other people or a studio – so I’m living the dream really. The one thing I would change would be to have more hours to put towards my film projects, or just more hours in the day. I’d like to be able to accomplish more in the time that’s given to me.

WMM: Any advice for filmmakers?

KU: Don’t wait if you know what you want. Don’t rely on others to open doors to your dreams. Figure out, clearly, what it is that you want from this industry and this pursuit. Sometimes this takes years. Before you find it, say YES a lot. It will help you figure out what you DON’T want as much as what you DO. But once you figure out what you want, say NO to anything and everything that is not clearly a step towards your goals. Above that, find a way to make money while you’re making your art so those two things don’t get jumbled up and start messing with each other. We all need to pay our rent, but its so easy to get distracted by the every day and lose track of what will really fulfill us in the long run.

As you go, don’t compare yourself to others. I picture a giant fruit tree orchard: each of us has a tree, our tree, that we are climbing in pursuit of the fruit we seek. It’s your life, it’s your tree. Don’t begrudge someone else’s tree if their fruit hangs lower than yours or their branch structure is more forgiving. It’s not your tree. Neither should you belittle the person who’s tree has few fruits or is a tangled, thorny mess. Climb your own tree and don’t concern yourself with the journeys of others. This will only lead to vanity or bitterness, neither of which will help you.

WMM: What is your favorite thing about WMM? Why do you come, or did you come?

KU: The community. That’s why I moved to Los Angeles, and why groups like WMM are so great. Surround yourself with people who are doing it and you’ll be more likely to stay on track and the fire will burn hotter. WMM is an awesomely supportive community that just wants to make great art and see people succeed. Bravo.

WMM: If you were not doing what you do now, what would you want to be doing?

keegan-e1289201021484KU: I am also a photographer and really enjoy trying to capture a person or event or location or story in one frame. I used to shoot weddings and now focus on wilderness landscapes when I can. But I find film medium to be a better way to discuss the human spirit and its infinite iterations.

WMM: What’s next for you now?

KU: Writing my feature script and developing material in collaboration with others. I would love to have this feature shot in the next year or two.
WMM: What, other than your craft, brings you joy?KU: I find joy anywhere I can, often from the natural world. The mountains, the ocean, the smallest creature or flower can overwhelm me with wonder. Also, people. People watching never, ever gets old.
instagram: @mkeeganuhl
twitter: @keeganuhl