Interview: J. Van Auken Talks Movie Business, RevelatorOctober 2, 2017
Recently we had a chance to talk to J. Van Auken, who was a busy man for the movie Revelator, taking on directing, acting, writing and producing.
You’ve done acting, directing and writing. What was it that initially got you interested in the movie business?
J. Van Auken: I had been fooling around with cameras and making films since I was very young and so it was sort of the only thing that I knew. I think I was eight my grandmother bought me a little video recorder at a garage sale and sometime after that I figured out that you could make a career out of it so it was the only thing I really thought to do, I didn’t really consider any alternatives. When it came time to go to college it was like oh, obviously I’ll just go to film school and go from there, so it was more a lack of creativity in my career options.
Where did the idea for Revelator come from?
J. Van Auken: It was the idea sitting in the back of a notebook for a long time, just kind of a sketch, and it didn’t have anything to lay it over. In Minnesota I remember, that’s where I’m from, there are some very isolated communities further out west and out north, where the native language spoken in the community was the old Nordic languages like Norwegian, and so there are some macabre traditions in these cities and I would hear stories about people that were hired to come to local funerals and perform a lot of the same functions that happened in the movie. I was never able to verify too much about it but this idea of somebody who professionally goes to funerals was something that I culturally aware of for a long time and eventually, the framework of the plot got laid over that.
You wear a lot of ‘creative hats’ so to speak for the movie Revelator. Was there ever a time that you thought you had taken on too much?
J. Van Auken: Oh constantly, yeah. That was a worry shared by a lot of people involved but it was a decision born out of the economic reality of trying to make it how we made it, completely self-financed, and knowing that if it was my project I could at least count on me to do the job I needed to, well enough to work in the end. I worked for a cinematographer for about ten years and I’ve seen countless examples of directors not fully understanding every single part of the process and on a very limited budget trying to get a singular person for every department that they could, which is how you should do it. Unfortunately, at that budget level, you kind of end up at the mercy of other people’s interest levels and schedules and a lot of times things just don’t come off because of it so that was a major fear that kind of weighed on me. If I was going to spend my life’s savings and so much time, coming up on three years now, I didn’t want to depend on the charity of others to get it completed.
Revelator has a great tone, a great sense of dread. Was that hard to convey that and keep it constant from start to finish?
J. Van Auken: The difficulty came in not going too dark all of the time. There was a cynicism in the darkness that kind of weaved its way in, even going back to the script and so the struggle was how not to go comically dark all of the time and kind of break that overall tone. Yeah, I would say there was the intention to keep the tone across the board and convey that as often as possible but not push it too far so it doesn’t become a parody of itself.
How hard was it to find actors to fit the roles in this film?
J. Van Auken: I’ve been incredibly fortunate in that about eighty percent of everyone involved were people that I knew from working just around town as long as I have. When it came time to lay the plot over the concept I was able to gear a lot of the characters towards people I was going to beg to come out and help with it. For the people for whom that wasn’t true, I just got extremely lucky during casting that they happened to walk in the door. I believe the first person I approached with it was Mindy Rae, who I knew from a number of films in which we worked together and if she had said no I think the plot would have changed fundamentally. The plot was always designed around the strange relationship between these two people so yeah, it was a mix between getting incredibly lucky, especially with Greg Lucey who came in, who was the last guy of the day. It was not a good day and he came in and saved the whole thing. The character of Elias was built around going to and begging Alex Klein to come out because I knew from working with him exactly what he would do with it so yeah, a lot of it was built around the people that I knew.
J. Van Auken: Yeah, absolutely. I would say more than ever audience expectation weighs on how it’s marketed and where it’s put out and the interest level of distributors and platforms when it comes to people wanting to see it and how you do certain things. The struggle for me was how to incorporate enough elements that you could reasonably package it and market it as a horror film but not go so far in that direction that it becomes uninteresting to me. It was a fine line, a tough balancing act where we couldn’t trick people into thinking it was a horror film, and we’ve had a lot of feedback in the respect on whether it’s a horror or mystery or thriller but it was an experiment that way, for sure.
The film looks fantastic. How were you able to give the cinematography the proper amount of attention, seeing you were so busy with many other things?
J. Van Auken: I was very lucky to not only have my best friend Daniel Clarke in charge of the cinematography but he is ten times better at it than I ever was. He is incredibly talented and besides myself, I believe he was the only other person who was there every day, so I was able to leverage our decades-old friendship and make him do that. That was another situation where I happened to be associated with someone who is incredibly talented at what they do and then guilt them into helping me. It was great because with him I had no worries and we’d worked together for so long we have developed a shorthand that I could just give him a broad stroke and he would go and do that.
So creatively, professionally, what’s next for you?
J. Van Auken: I have a lot of material I’ve developed and now it’s this big, broad process where it’s ok, you have a movie out, now what? I’d say the principal purpose of doing Revelator was to show that I can do this, in general, complete a film and hopefully get someone to bankroll something else. In preparation for that, I’ve developed a number of other properties that run the gambit, including the fantasy scenario that somebody wants to see a follow-up to Revelator so we have a script for that. There’s a lot there, a comedy, a family drama, so it depends on who wants to work together and see what we can do with it.
I want to thank J. Van Auken for taking the time to talk with us