Movies & TV / Columns

Jason Kellerman Talks w/411 About His New Action-Horror Film Hunter

February 7, 2019 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Hunter Jason Kellerman

The 411 Interview: Jason Kellerman

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Jason Kellerman is an actor, writer, and producer who has worked in movies, television, and regional theater productions since the early 2000’s. Kellerman has appeared on such TV shows as Betrayal and Master of None and appeared in the short films Brunch Town and Yearly Review. Kellerman’s latest effort is the action horror flick Hunter, in which he wrote the screenplay and stars and which hits Video On Demand starting February 12th, 2019. In this interview, Kellerman talks with this writer about making Hunter, working with Nick Searcy, and more.

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Bryan Kristopowitz: Why did you want Hunter to be your first movie as a writer/producer/and star?

Jason Kellerman: I’m a big believer that as a filmmaker you shouldn’t invest time in a story that doesn’t keep you up at night. Hunter was a story that, once I had it in my head, wouldn’t let me go. I’d ride around on the CTA, or drive around Chicago, thinking, “This is where this could happen, or this is the perfect spot for this moment. Look at the lighting here, the texture, etc.” After a while, it just seemed doable. And then, because we worked hard and got very lucky, it became doable, and we did it.

I wanted to make it as a short film first, but people who read it kept telling me, “There’s more story here,” and eventually it became a 20-minute short, then a 45 minute pilot, then a feature film. You might almost say it hunted me down, so to speak. I’m almost sorry for saying that. Almost.

BK: What was the inspiration for the Hunter story? How long did it take you to write the screenplay?

JK: It actually came out of an argument with another filmmaker friend who thought I should watch a very long-running series in the “plucky-hero-hunts-things-that-go-bump-in-the-night” genre. My argument was that, in the modern world, you couldn’t have a regular life, and have a job, or attend school during the day and hunt baddies at night because they’d track you down and murder you, and your friends and family, because that’s what baddies do, what they’re good at. I distinctly remember saying, “You couldn’t have an address, or a cell phone, anything traceable. To be effective, you’d kind of have to be homeless.” And the idea went from there. If you give your hero very few resources to do something dangerous with, I feel like it effectively raises the stakes of the conflict. How do we ground this normally pretty schlocky genre in something that feels more real? The idea really came out of that.

BK: How long did it take to get Hunter made, from finishing the screenplay to completing post-production?

JK: Too damn long. A little under four years. A year of that was fundraising, about six months of production between principal photography and pickups, and then a solid two and a half years of post-production.

That thing where everyone says to save half your budget for post? That’s very real. We did that mostly, but blew a big (well spent) chunk on Nick Searcy, which gave us a lot of post (more than 2500 individual clips!!!) to edit, color, and do a full sound process on. It was exhausting. We wouldn’t settle for anything less than professional quality, but didn’t quite have the budget to make that happen in a timely manner, so, things moved very slowly in post. There just weren’t that many people working on it, compared to most films.

We also didn’t have quite enough money to keep the really talented people we hired to remain focused on us before other, better paying things. Our edit took forever partially because we lost an editor to a gig on The Walking Dead. What do you say to that? Kinda hard to hold it against someone when they get a job offering to pay in a month what we can offer for the entire contract.

BK: Did you always intend to star as the Hunter character?

JK: Oh yeah. Come on, I’m going to go through all this trouble and not do that? My producing partners didn’t always know that. They actually made me screen-test to make sure I wasn’t going to be horrible. Luckily, I was able to convince them.

There were practical concerns, too – what we would have had to pay another actor to do the shoot schedule and stunts/fights that I did would have had us maxing out credit cards to pay for the film. My pitch was that between writer/producer/actor, you only have to pay me once. Plus, I could do the fights, and I already knew the part better already than anybody else on the planet.

BK: How did you balance your duties as lead actor and producer?

JK: It was tricky, especially during production itself. I had a lot of help from my producing partner, Morgan, especially during production and the few weeks leading up to it. There were a couple times in there, though, where I’d drop off an equipment van at night outside a location, cab back to my place for three hours of sleep, and go shoot twelve hours of pretty physical days. The only reason I could do it at all is he made as much space as he was able to for me to just be an actor on set. When something wasn’t going horribly wrong, it worked. And when things did, we just found a way to shoot anyway.

So, Morgan Eiland and I muscling my way through sleep deprivation, really. Things got easier after we wrapped. I cut my hair and shaved, and suddenly it was just a matter of managing post.

BK: How did David Tarleton get involved as the director of Hunter?

JK: David was a connection I made through an old college professor named Patrick Holland, who taught me at Northwestern. David took a look at the script, and signed on way before we had any money, or knew how we were going to get it. He was the first person outside of Morgan or I who signed on in an official capacity.

Beyond being a brilliant director and all-around good human, David was also able to bring a lot of production resources to the table from Columbia College, where he teaches, in Chicago, which allowed us to stretch our budget out quite a bit and do some of the flashier stuff that ends up really making the film look great.

So, any producers reading this- hire David. He’s been an awesome friend and collaborator.

BK: Where was Hunter made?

JK: Hunter was conceived, written, funded, shot, and finished entirely in Chicago, using Chicago locations, by Chicago talent (with the exception of Nick Searcy, who’s from South Carolina). We’re very proud of our Chi-town pedigree, and personally I think it contributes indelibly to the identity of our film. We couldn’t have made the same movie anywhere else.

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BK: What was the hardest part of making Hunter? The easiest?

JK: Oh, man. The weather was really hard. We shot quite a few scenes in -10-degree outdoor overnights, not quite like the recent polar vortex, but not too far off. Fake blood having to be re-applied because it kept freezing and flaking off. Wind sprints in that weather on the Kinzie Street Bridge for the chase sequence with cop cars. Filming 12 hours straight of physical activity to get the opening fights because we only had the location for 1 day. The aforementioned sleep deprivation. Keeping the ball rolling on post-production with rapidly diminishing resources. Driving across town to be part of editing sessions twice a week for a year. Doing ADR for big, emotional scenes two years later and trying to get it right- take your pick. Not to say I wouldn’t do it again. I absolutely will. It was the most fun I’ve ever had, and I absolutely loved well…most of it. I would absolutely do it again. If I had a bigger budget.

Oh, and there was no easiest. Nothing was easy about making Hunter.

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BK: How did Nick Searcy get involved?

JK: Weirdly I sent him the script, and he liked it, and his agent called me. He was always at the top of the list- I’m a huge fan of his work in Justified and Shape of Water. Nick is a legend. We had about three different pretty well-known actors we were talking to, but he was A) our first choice and B) the only one who agreed to do it for something we could afford. He’s a pretty big champion of indie film, and I think that played into his decision a lot. I was working as a personal trainer at the time, a day job that helped me get into shape for the part, and negotiated the contract with his agent in between client appointments. I actually had to cut the call short to go make people do burpees. Honestly, I couldn’t really believe it was happening at the time.

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BK: The Hunter character is an MMA fighter. Do you have a martial arts background?

JK: Six years of Krav Maga, three of Brazilian Ju Jitsu, and a couple years here and there of Hapkido and Tang Soo Do. I actually did fight in (local, amateur, non-televised) tournaments for a little bit, but got hurt doing it and had to stop. Luckily, fights in movies aren’t quite as hard on you. Almost, but not quite.

BK: Is Hunter intended to be the first in a series of Hunter movies, or is this a one and done kind of thing?

JK: It’s an origin story. If I had my brothers, I’d make five seasons. I have them mapped out, for any Syfy/Showtime/Netflix executives currently reading this. Get in touch through my agent.

BK: Any moviemaking heroes?

JK: Jordan Peele, Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro, Chris Nolan. Story first.

BK: Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

JK: The feature I recently finished a reasonable second/third draft of starts out with an office worker finding out his wife is pregnant by his co-worker and ends with the two of them battling it out in a Mad-Max style thunder dome to the death in the middle of a drug-soaked perpetual rave/orgy. It’s called Toxic. People who read it either love it or hate it, and it’s absolutely bonkers.

I’ve also got a couple series I’m developing, and I’m not sure which will take precedence. I tend to write things deeply genre-specific, and usually have a few things cooking at any one time. Toxic is the next thing I might seriously consider self-producing, though. And I wouldn’t play the lead, by any stretch.

BK: What makes the Hunter character the Hunter character? Is it the coat, the knives, or the attitude?

JK: Oh, the boots. 100%. The coat a bit, too, but honestly, I strap on those combat boots, for whatever reason, and I’m ready to kill some…well, no spoilers. They’ll have to watch it to find out!

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A very special thanks to Jason Kellerman for agreeing to participate in this interview and to Liz Rodriguez for setting it up.

Hunter hits Video On Demand starting February 12th, 2019.

Check out my review of Hunter here.

Check out the official Hunter website here.

Check out the official Hunter Facebook page here.

Check out Jason Kellerman’s imdb page here.

Check out Jason Kellerman’s official website here.

Al images courtesy of Jason Kellerman and Random Media.

article topics :

Hunter, Bryan Kristopowitz


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