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by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor [October 25, 2011]
[HollywoodInvestigator.com] German filmmaker Thomy Kessler has come out with a new Halloween-themed horror film. But instead of yet another 1980s style slasher, Kessler's The Preening Swan is inspired by the psychedelic fashions and art decor of 1968.
On Halloween night, 1968, Barbara (Jordana Oberman) visits some friends -- only to find herself alone in their house, with a slasher on the loose.
"I love the idea of a horror film in combination with Halloween," Kessler told the Hollywood Investigator, "since it's this time of a year where people love to watch scary movies, and a film that plays around that time brings you in the right mood.
"Since this is my first feature, and I knew it would be low-budget, my decision was to have only one location and only a few actors, and make it clear and simple, yet effective. To write the script was not that simple though. I didn't want a girl screaming and running around trying to hide from the killer. That's not very original."
Instead, Barbara spends much of the film's time alone in the house, discovering strange clues. Then she is alone with her (strangely behaving) friend, the audience's suspicions growing.
Despite some comedic scenes, Kessler strived for scares rather than laughs. "If you follow mainly one character throughout the movie, you better put some humor in it. I'd say my film is witty rather than comedic. You are not waiting for Barbara getting the next cake in her face. The humor consists in weird situations, together with Barbara's reaction to them. In an outright comedy, you are waiting for the next joke. Not in The Preening Swan."
"If one is expecting a slasher flick or a lot of gore, and considers that to be scary, this film is not for him. If you are willing to go on the ride through the night with the main character, Barbara, it will be scary, because things are happening."
The Preening Swan's distinguishing feature, its 1968 milieu, is irrelevant to the story. So why did Kessler go to the added burden of the retro fashion, art decor, and music?
"I like the movie glamour of the 50s and 60s," said Kessler. "I love taking the audience into another world, another period. I like to enchant them. The fashion of the second part of the 60s is a mixture of conservative style, but is also sexy. Weird and modern."
American audiences may be surprised to find a large actress -- Jordana Oberman -- in a lead role that's sexy rather than comedic. It's not how large actresses are generally cast in the U.S. Was her weight ever a consideration or issue?
"I did not cast Jordana for her weight, but for her talent," said Kessler. "Regarding her weight, my question was: Do I get away with it? Barbara's friend, Dorothy, was supposed to be heavy, and I didn't want to have two big girls together in one frame. That would have looked like I wanted to make a statement, and therefore take the film in a totally different direction.
"After watching Jordana's demo, and being thrilled about her talent, I could imagine her being good in portraying Barbara's corky character. Although I found her as too heavy to play this part, I invited her to audition anyway. She lost a little weight and played well, but still the question lingered if she could look slimmer in the right clothes, and I decided yes. In the film, we see a womanly girl who looks naturally healthy, and fits the part very well.
"Nowadays Jordana is much slimmer. Recently she told me her appreciation that, although not suitable for the part on first sight, I looked beyond that and had the insight and vision that she could do it.
"I believe Europe occasionally has a different view on films than does America, demonstrated in the different box office successes, sometimes. But I am sure both areas enjoy a leading lady that does not wear size zero!"
Although Kessler is German, he shot The Preening Swan in English to make it accessible to a larger audience. "I also lived in Los Angeles for a while. When I moved back to Germany in 2006, I wanted to keep a foot in the door of the L.A. business. The Preening Swan was shot in Topanga Canyon, near L.A."
Kessler strived to remove any California plants from the outdoor scenes. He wanted the locale to resemble a typical middle American town. It may even look so to most Americans, but not, I think, to observant Angelenos.
The film was shot on the HVX200, DVCproHD, yet some viewers think it was shot on film. Kessler attributes this to the color correction, lighting, and "that this film almost looks like it was shot in the 1960s."
The Preening Swan is currently making the film festival circuit. It was nominated for a music award at Los Angeles's Shriekfest 2011 (see the above music video).
"The budget was small. Microbudget. But I put much personal labor and effort into the film, like you can only do that if it is your very own project and creation, and you make it 'on a shoestring'. I even composed the opening song, just to make it right."
Kessler shot a lot of super-8 short film in the 1980s, but he's never studied filmmaking in a university setting. "I worked in different offices. At a publishing company for a few years. I quit to move to Los Angeles. I attended the two-years acting program at the Stella Adler Academy in Hollywood, where I graduated. I then took a short term course at the New York Film Academy.
"I love directing, acting, and writing -- and I hope to have the opportunity to do one or two or all three in the future."
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