Friday, August 19, 2005

Runners World Interview 8/17/05

Runners World Daily 8/17/05

A Brief Chat with . . . Kelley Baker
by Michael A. Musca

Kelley Baker, aka “Angry Filmmaker,” recently completed “Kicking Bird,” an independently made film about a teenager who turns to the sport of cross country as an alternative to school detention. Bird is the main character’s cruel nickname as a reference to his prison jailbird mother. Bird is manipulated by his cross country coach, by his all-too-few friends and by his seemingly numerous enemies alike. Running as a sport provides Bird with an alternative to just plain running away. Or, as the film’s initial screen displays, Run. Because there is nothing left to do. Baker has been making independent films for the last 15 years and his other features include “The Gas Café” and “Birddog.” He has also written and directed eight short films, three documentaries, and numerous commercials and corporate videos. Baker resides in Portland, Oregon with his daughter Fiona and his dog Moses. We caught up with Baker in the midst of his one-man barnstorm marketing tour for the new film. You can order the film “Kicking Bird” at Kelley’s website He will also be touring the U.S. this fall with his movies. Runner’s World Daily reviewed the movie in a Bell Lap on July 8th.

Runner’s World Daily: This is an independent film that feels like a much larger budgeted film. Without giving away too many of your secrets, how did you manage to make this film for about $6,000?

Kelley Baker: I called in a ton of favors. The cast and crew really believed in the story, so they all worked for free. I’ve been doing this long enough that I own a lot of my own gear, and what I didn’t have I was able to “borrow”. When I wrote the script, I figured I wouldn’t have much money, so I wrote the script with no money in mind. I used tricks like setting much of it outdoors so I didn’t have to worry about a lot of time lighting. I wanted the look of the movie to be dark and depressing so I shot it in January. I also wanted the bad weather that usually accompanies cross country season. With as much rain as we get in Oregon, the fall isn’t as reliable for bad weather as the winter is. The holiday season (November through the end of January) is always slow for crew people, so I know that I could get great people to help me for nothing. I also try to hire these same people when I do paying commercial work so most of my crew folks know that they’ll work on this for free and when paying work comes in, they’ll be on the short list to get it. I’m also extremely lucky in that my good friends always seem to come out and help when I need them. I also don’t believe in getting permits unless I really have to. I advocate the “it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission” way of doing things. The other thing is we are always very polite and respectful. If we get caught, we don’t make a scene. We leave and find another place to shoot. With some locations, we actually left them cleaner than they were when we arrived.

RWD: How long did it take to raise the funds and then to shoot the scenes?

KB: The fundraising was interesting. I had no money, but I wanted to shoot this script, so I wrote a letter to everyone I could think of asking for $100 each. In return, all I promised them were two “really nice” seats at the movie’s premiere. I called this group 100 People Who Should Really Know Better. I figured if I raised $10,000 I could pull it off. The group became 49 People, but it was enough to get it shot if I used every low budget trick I knew. The fundraising period lasted about two months. The movie was shot in 18 days; we usually worked ten-hour days.

RWD: You are selling the DVD on your website, but do you have any other distribution methods or large screen plans?

KB: I am self-distributing the movie, so the web site is just one part of the plan. I have been touring with my other movies over the last few years and this one is no different. Starting in mid-September, I will be driving around the country for about six weeks showing it in art house theaters, media art centers, and colleges and universities through out the country. (I also teach filmmaking work shops.) I do screenings and afterwards I answer questions and sell DVDs. I also hit small video stores and try to put my movies in the local libraries. So if anyone out there wants me to come to their town, just send me an e-mail ( and we’ll see if we can put something together. I’m also planning a tour of part of Europe in late February, and then another U.S. tour in the late spring. It’s really important for me to get this movie out there. People have really responded well to it. I tell people I am like a touring punk band, without the band, or the music. There will be more tour information on my website as things come together.

RWD: “Kicking Bird’s” strong character development and genuine dialogue are very non-Hollywood. There are no pat love story or boy meets girl plots. Tell us about your writing background.

KB: I am a graduate of USC’s Film School. I received both my AB, (yes it’s called an AB, not a BA, who knows why?), and my MFA. I have always been an avid reader, and so the writing thing just sort of came naturally. I really do labor over my scripts. I do a couple of drafts, put it away for awhile, then do a re-write, and then I give it to around ten people that I really trust for their feed back. I actually continue re-writing all the way through the entire process. Even when we’re shooting, I’m always trying to make the script better. As the actors start inhabiting the characters, then things change, and I hope that the dialogue becomes more natural, and I see certain things in the situations that maybe I hadn’t seen before, so I make changes. A lot of my dialogue comes from listening to people around me. I am the worst eavesdropper in restaurants, places like that. I listen to the way people talk, and as I’m writing I read a lot of my stuff out loud. I want to hear what it sounds like. It has to sound real. I also let actors make dialogue changes if it sounds more natural.

RWD: Do you have a running athletic background to draw from?

KB: As I kid, I played some sports like all kids do. I don’t think I was particularly good at any of them, but I liked playing them. My father started “jogging” as he put it in the late 1960s and so sometimes I would get up early in the morning and go with him. In my late 20s and into my 30s, I ran, just for me. No races, usually just me and my dogs. I liked the solitude. I hurt my knee, so I stopped. It’s kind of funny, now that I’ve been doing all of this promotion for the movie, I’ve started thinking that I need to drop 20 pounds and get back in to it. So we’ll see.

RWD: Are there any particular running-theme films that provided you with inspiration?

KB: The obvious answer has always been “The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner.” I loved that book, and I liked the movie, too. But I think my movie is different in a lot of ways. Actually, the two movies I was showing my Director of Photography before we started were the German film “Run Lola, Run” and the Danish film “The Celebration.” And neither one of them really have a much to do with running. I wanted my movie to be some where in the middle. I wanted the intensity of the running scenes in “Run Lola, Run” mixed with the messed up family relationships of “The Celebration.” Those two films are also at opposite ends of the spectrum as far as style. “Run Lola, Run” is very stylized and beautiful to look at, where as “The Celebration” is sort of ugly in its look, its power is in its intense relationships. So I hope that we achieved something in the middle.

RWD: The running scenes on the track and through city parks were genuine. Did you recruit actors for their athletic abilities, as well as for their acting talents?

KB: It was a mixture. My main character Martin, (Ian Anderson Priddy), was an actor who had run cross country in high school. The other guys on the team were actors who were also athletes. When they’re running against the other schools, we looked for real runners to make it look as realistic as possible. A couple of actors slipped into the running scenes. It never took me long to figure out who had lied to us. They were the ones who complained about all of the different takes. The real runners were always ready to go. I think our shooting was probably just like training for them, you know, doing intervals. It was pretty funny though, with a few of the runners they never looked like they were working all that hard. Their stride was real natural, and I think that helped the realism. I mean, there are mistakes in the movie, and most hardcore runners will probably laugh at a couple of things that we did, but as some of my running friends say, this movie isn’t just about running, it’s about life. I also chose cross country because it fit in with our lack of budget. When I was in high school, I didn’t even realize that we had a cross country team. These were the kids who ran in the fall with bad weather and since they didn’t run around a track, I didn’t have to worry about crowds and other athletes for a track meet. I just had to have two teams and a few spectators. Ian (Martin) told me that once his team raced a school that had only one runner. So the smallness and individuality of cross country really appealed to me. You don’t run cross country to be in front of cheering crowds.

RWD: “Kicking Bird” in your film refers to the main character’s jailbird mother. “Kicking Bird” was also a Native American warrior of the Kiowa tribe. Is there any relationship between your character and the warrior?

KB: I wish I could give you some very smart and heavy intellectual answer about the similarities, and what it all means. You know, some quote that they would use in film school classes as they discuss the true meanings of things in my movies. But no, I wasn’t aware of the Warrior at all. I just used Bird as a nickname for jailbird. And Kicking comes from the fact that he gets the crap beat out of him by every one, until he finally stands up. It was actually a friend of mine who came up with the title and we found out about the warrior after the movie was shot.

RWD: The music soundtrack was high quality and sounded like original songs. Was the music provided by local bands, and will the soundtrack be available commercially?

KB: I really like the music in the movie. It is everything I wanted. I listen to music when I write, and depending on the story, the music influences what the characters listen to. With the music in “Kicking Bird,” I was listening to lots of angry, aggressive music by punk bands, metal, grunge, all sorts of stuff. When it came time to actually put the music together, I called a few friends that had songs I really liked and asked them if I could use them. And then I called two friends, Don Campbell and Al Lee, and asked them if they wanted to write some music for me. My hat is off to those two guys. They did a fantastic job, and I’m sure I was a pain to work with. I knew what I wanted, and I rejected a bunch of really good tunes because I felt they weren’t right for the movie. These guys wrote 15 original songs that made it in to the movie, and probably ten more that didn’t. And if you notice, as the movie progresses and characters start to change, there are changes in the music. I really used it to reflect the mood of the characters. I think the music is amazing and that everyone should buy the soundtrack (available at It would be a great addition to anyone’s workout library.


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