26th Raindance Film Festival 2018
Thomas Kuntz is a legendary horror and fantasy model maker and automata creator. In this film, he gives us a rare look into his workspace and 'spirit room' where he draws inspiration from the occult and classic horror films.
Hey Ronni, thanks for talking to TNC, how is everything going?
I usually tell people my hamster just died when they ask me that questions, but I'll just be honest with you. It was my dog.
As this is going to be the World Premiere of Clockwork Monsters are there any nerves ahead of the screening?
It's funny - I've screened at many festivals, and frequently at Raindance who I just love, but until recently I NEVER attend my own screenings. I used to say it was because I didn't have the time, but that was bullshit, I'm terrified of seeing the audience reaction. It's the most honest a review you can ever get. My last film premiered at Tribeca. I felt like such a dork.
What does it mean to be screening Clockwork Monsters at Raindance 2018?
It means a lot but not for the reasons most filmmakers would find a festival screening meaningful. I make tribute films. The only reason I make these films is to pay honor to someone or something I have an ultimate respect for. Not that Thomas, the subject of the film, needs the exposure... He's a well respected and seasoned artist in his own right. But to see his work on the big screen, that's always something.
Tell me a little bit about Clockwork Monsters, how did the film come about?
Thomas Kuntz, the subject of the film, had once reached out to me to tell me how much he'd appreciated the work I did, my film series The Midnight Archive. Here is a guy who I was a huge fan of who randomly found my films and reached out to ME... His automata work is like nothing else in the art world. He blends pop culture, horror, the occult, sculpture, and engineering. So we travel in the same crowd for a while and then I find myself in LA. I asked him if I could pop over and spend an hour and film some stuff. When I walked in the door, I knew it was going to be a long night. Poor Thomas. He certainly regretted agreeing to let me come over. I spent far more than 1 hour.
But I think he understood my pesky nature was a product of being a detail-oriented artist. And I suppose an occasional asshole. Hahaha. But really - it was like all my films - I was overwhelmed. So, if you look at a picture of the pyramids and read a book about ancient Egypt - and then you actually see them in person - it's a much much more profound experience. That's the feeling with nearly every film I've ever made.
What was the inspiration behind your Midnight Archive project?
I'd been doing lectures at a space called the Brooklyn Observatory on 'weird things'. These lectures were spearheaded by Morbid Anatomy creator Joanna Ebenstein. So one day, Joanna and I were hanging out and she said, 'Hey, why don't you film some of the lectures here'. But I thought that might be boring for me. So I said, why don't we make little films about the subjects... It was perfect. I got to see and experience my childhood dream. Taxidermy, shrunken heads, ouija boards, spirit photography... It's been a really wild ride.
Who was the first artist/collector you found fascinating?
Haha - I'm not sure how you mean the question - if you mean in my life? It'd be a mixture of Jean Cocteau, Dee Dee Ramone, John Waters, and James Ensor. But as for my work, they are all equally fascinating - but Sigrid Sarda, who makes wax sculptures was an instant obsession. I have 2 of her pieces in my collection, one of which is myself from a mold she made during our documentation of her process. Currently, I am working on a film on my latest artist obsession Candice Angelini. Here work is uncanny. she makes masks, dolls, and head-dresses. I am obsessed with masks. And her story and process will mystify you.
What was it about their work that spoke to you as a filmmaker?
It starts with the visual almost always, with the exception of the work of my friend and long-time collaborator Stephen Coates of The Real Tuesday Weld. I don't filter how I feel about something visually. If I am attracted to it, I pursue it. So works like Candice's or Sigrid's just speak loud and clear to me. There are others too. I am trying to get out to Cincinnati to film a dude named Steve Casino who makes amazing sculptures out of peanuts. He'd made a peanut sculpture of Bad Music for Bad People by The Cramps and I won it at an auction and just had to know more about this guy. So it's got to be unique first, one of a kind is important. too much shit is mass produced in this world and I am always starved for something real. But I generally hate 'art'. I like folk art. I like outsider art. I like to craft a lot. But most 'art' is pretty benign to me.
What was your most challenging part of making this film?
Hahaha - trying to keep Thomas from kicking me out of his studio with the butt of a shotgun. That and the editing process. I am a professional editor but I absolutely HATE editing. It is a supernatural thing editing. And lately I've been doing everything by myself - me, my camera, my mics... then I get back and I have to face the footage. It gives me an endless amount of anxiety because that's where the race to perfection really starts. You never get there, but you start trying to get there at that point. Plus, I had 1 hour between 2 gigs in LA to try to cover this massive warehouse of fantastical objects. And my crippling self-doubt. Also, I'm deaf dumb and blind so right away...
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
Yeah but nothing pretentious. I grew up on video store horror films. I and my friends would do our own versions of Texas Chainsaw, and our most favorite, Faces of Death. they'd be really funny and stupid and I wish I had copies of them... I do have a copy somewhere of me and my friends doing Rock and Roll High School where we all played the teachers, the students, and the Ramones simultaneously.
How much has your approach to your filmmaking changed since your debut short?
I'm a shit ton better than my first short and I am still learning. I am self-taught. I make films the way I play guitar. I'm a very good guitar player but I have no idea what I am doing because I taught myself. So I do it my way. It certainly ain't the right way but I don't give a shit. Sometimes people watch my films and like them, sometimes they ignore them...
"Failure is something you can work extremely hard toward or something that comes effortlessly."
I am going to pretend that the latter part doesn't drive me crazy, so I'll just say it doesn't, but it does. Every artist wants their work to be viewed. And I've been lucky to have found a small audience. Personally, I still think I suck. I watch my films late at night, the old ones, and the new ones, and I just hate myself afterward. However, I am ETERNALLY grateful that I've been afforded the opportunity to show my films and have people by and large enjoy and appreciate them. I will never lose sight of how humble I am in the presence of an audience.
How would you describe Clockwork Monsters in three words?
Hickory, Dickory, Dock (laughs to himself)
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this film?
Very importantly - do what you want, do you what you love and do it well. Thomas makes an excellent point in the film, several in fact, but the overall notion is to get to work. You can theorize about it all day, but as soon as you start working, you know very quickly what works and what doesn't. Follow an impulse and see it through without making excuses. I always say - and this is a good one - I feel very smart to present you with this riddle... I say "Failure is something you can work extremely hard toward or something that comes effortlessly" - meaning, you can work your ass off at something and still fail, or you can sit back and do nothing. The key difference is when you work hard and fail, you've learned something. Having said that, I will confess that I am a very lazy person.