Hollywood-bred writer and filmmaker Jon Keeyes used the skills and contacts he made as entertainment journalist to help launch his filmmaking career. Thanks to well-known actresses Brinke Stevens and Debbie Rochon, the horror movie fan was able to start making his own. By the time Keeyes made his third movie, "Hallow’s End, " he was even taking home a salary. His latest film, the chilling "The Harrowing " arrives on DVD on Christmas Day from Film Mode Entertainment.

Jon recently discussed his work on this movie and more via an exclusive interview

Filmmaking, technology and stories

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get inspired you to become a filmmaker and what was it like to find your feet in the industry?

Jon Keeyes (JK): I grew up near Hollywood and my grandfather was a bit actor back in the 40’s. As a result, I grew up in a family of movie fanatics. I started off wanting to be a writer, inspired by anything Alfred Hitchcock along with the great slasher films of the 70’s and 80’s. I loved how Movies could make you feel and wanted to tell stories that would evoke emotions in others. The natural progression was writing to directing; taking a story and then telling it visually.

I was an entertainment journalist and had written a script called "American Nightmare" that I intended to sell. I first handed it off to horror icon Brinke Stevens to get some feedback and she suggested I make it myself. I was friends with Debbie Rochon and thought she’d make an incredible Jane Toppan – the serial killer in the movie – and after she read it, she was immediately onboard.

I spent a year working to get it off the ground and when it came out in January of 2001, it did so well that other companies started contacting me asking if I’d direct movies for them.

My first couple of movies were low budget and we didn’t take salaries in order to get them made. It was my third movie, Hallow’s End, that I got my first paycheck for directing.

While I’ve been making a full time living as a filmmaker since then, I still think back to the second day on American Nightmare. Arriving on set that second day was pure magic, a complete rush. I knew from that moment on that I could never do anything else again.

MM: What kind of technology to do rely on to make your films and, if you couldn’t make movies what would you do with yourself?

JK: I’ve been fortunate enough to have been through many phases of technology in filmmaking. My first movie was shot on Super 16. When we got to the second one, HD cameras were just coming out and we were offered one by a company to use for free so they could claim to having had the first movie shot on HD in Texas. I’ve tried to stay up with the latest cameras throughout my career. Nowadays, I tend to shoot on the Red though we have jumped back and forth between Red and Alexa depending on the story being told and the ultimate look of the movie.

If I could not make movies, I’d probably be teaching. I always loved history and literature growing up and imagined myself as a struggling novelist teaching to make ends meet. I can even imagine not working in the movies but I’d probably be a teacher.

MM: How did "The Harrowing” come to you and what was so appealing about the story?

JK: I wrote "The Harrowing” specifically for Matt Tompkins who stars as Ryan Calhoun. We’ve done a number of projects together but I hadn’t directed him in a leading role, and he’s such an amazing actor. After I wrote it and presented it to him, he jumped all over it and set about - from the producing side - to get it made. I’ve always been a horror fan, but within that, I’ve always been intrigued by the darker side of human nature and the struggles within between sanity and insanity. I find psychology to be so intriguing. With The Harrowing, the entire metaphor of the harrowing – the journey to hell and back – was a perfect fit for what I like so exploring that theme and the disintergration of of a noble man fighting his demons – whether real or perceived – was fantastic.

Casting, advice and the entertainment industry

MM: How did the casting go and, overall, have you had a lot of highlights while working in the entertainment industry?

JK: Completely. Like I said, I had written the main role for Matt Tompkins. As we started the rest of the casting process, I had previously worked with Michael Ironside and Arnold Vosloo. Matt and I knew that each of them were legends within the horror community, and perfect fits for the roles we offered them. Thankfully they both read the script and wanted to dive right in. We’ve been making movies in Texas for almost twenty years so the rest oft he cast was rounded out by actors we’ve known and respected for years. It really became like a big family reunion when it came to the cast.

Getting to tell stories is the best part of working in this industry. That’s what I live and breath for. Whether I’m directing, writing or producing, I love being involved in the process of story-telling from the birth of an idea to seeing it born through the final moment that you say that the movie is done and send it off into the world.

MM: In ten years, where do you hope to be stationed career-wise and what advice can you deliver to others who are breaking into the business?

JK: In ten years I see myself continuing to grow as a filmmaker, and continuing to make bigger and bigger movies. I’m living my dream of writing, directing and producing so from here, I’m just going to continue climbing that ladder.

I get asked this question about advice a lot and my answer is always the same – be persistent and never give up.

There are those out there who happen to get lucky in their break but for the mass majority of us, it’s been about rolling up our sleeves, putting our heads down and charging forward. Anything is possible as long as you never give up.

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