Kurtis Spieler is a filmmaker who delights in the creepy and macabre. His debut feature film was titled “Sheep Skin” and gained somewhat of a cult following after its release in 2013. Recently, Kurtis has been working on “The Devil’s Well,” another horror film which he is creating in conjunction with Wild Eye Releasing. “The Devil’s Well” is shot in a found-footage style reminiscent of a documentary. Exploring a film with different angles – so to speak – really appealed to the former NYU student, and Kurtis recently gave an exclusive interview discussing this experience and more.

Horror movies, cameras, and the industry

Meagan Meehan (MM): What inspired you to seek a life as a filmmaker and how did you get your start?

Kurtis Spieler (KS): Movies have always been a passion of mine. My parents were big movie watchers, so I was raised watching movies. I actually became interested in directors at a young age. There was a book in our local video store that was basically a movie reference book. If I saw a movie I liked, I would look up the Director and then try to rent their other movies. I started to notice the different styles of certain directors, and that’s how I become more interested in filmmaking.

I didn’t really become serious about trying to make filmmaking career until after college.

Up until then, I was just making short films for fun. I then decided that I wanted to see if I was any good at making movies and if I could try and make it a career. So, I took some filmmaking courses at NYU and then went out and tried to make more legitimate shorts. My first short film after I left NYU was called “Sheep Skin.” It was accepted into several film festivals and premiered at the 2007 New York City Horror Film Festival.

This was really encouraging to have my first real short get accepted into so many festivals. I then kept making shorts for a while trying to build my resume and get better at being a director. It wasn’t until 2013 that I made my first feature, which was a feature-length version of “Sheep Skin.” It was distributed by Unearthed Films in 2015.

MM: Do you remember the first time you got paid to shoot something and what sort of equipment do you typically use?

KS: The first time I got paid to shoot something legitimate was a TV commercial for a local business. I probably needed money at the time, because I cashed the check so fast there wasn’t time to frame it! I have shot with several different types of cameras. In film school, we did a lot of shooting on 16mm. I love shooting film and would love to work more with it, but it’s so expensive. I did, however, shoot one short on 35mm, which was really fun. Now, it’s mostly digital. Most of my projects have been shot with a RED camera, but I’ve used other things as well like Blackmagic cameras and DSLRs.

MM: If you weren’t a movie maker, what another career path might you have taken?

KS: I actually have a degree in criminal justice, so I suppose I would be doing something in that field. I was actually worked as a counselor in a juvenile detention program for a few years before deciding to leave and go to film school. So, maybe I would still be doing something along those lines if I was not working in the movie industry.

Premises, plots, casting, and advice

MM: How did the concept for the plot of “The Devil’s Well” come to you?

KS: After signing the distribution deal for “Sheep Skin” with Unearthed Films, I was trying to figure out what was next. I was talking with my producing partner, Nicholas Papazoglou, and we were actually considering doing a horror documentary.

As I was researching “haunted” locations for the documentary, I came up with this premise of a paranormal investigator that goes missing while conducting an investigation. I thought it was an interesting concept that gave me a lot of material to work with. I was already in the mindset of doing a documentary, and I thought that presenting this movie in a similar style would really suit the story. After that, everything sort of just fell into place.

MM: What personally appealed to you about “The Devil’s Well” premise?

KS: I thought the concept was something interesting that I could explore from a couple of different angles. First, I liked that the idea was scary. The thought of someone going to one of these places and then just disappearing was unnerving and created a strong mystery that I could work with.

And secondly, I liked that I could explore the concept from an emotional side. The first part of the movie is set up like a documentary with interviews with the friends and family of the missing woman. I thought this gave me a good chance to add some emotion that you don’t always see in these types of movies.

MM: When it comes to the movies you’ve made to date did you get a big say in the casting?

KS: My producer and I pretty much raised the money ourselves, so we were able to have most of the say. The casting for this movie was a little tricky though. We needed to find a wide variety of actors that not only were good but were also believable as “real” people. This actually allowed me to work with different types of actors, some of which I probably wouldn’t have been able to use if it was a different type of movie.

MM: What have been some of the high points of working in the movie industry and do you think you’ll still be entertaining folks in ten years’ time?

KS: The best part of working in the movie industry is the people that you meet. I’ve been really lucky to have worked with some talented people both in front of and behind the camera. Also, I’ve made a lot of friends and have met some really great people. It’s a really unique experience when you have all of these people (who don’t know each other) come together to create a single vision together. I hope to be still making movies in ten years. This isn’t an easy industry to get involved in, let alone make a career out of! Honestly, I feel like I’m just getting started.

With each project, I feel like I grow and become a better director and I hope I get more chances because I want to be in this for the long haul.

MM: What projects are upcoming and what advice can you offer to fledgling filmmakers?

KS: I’m talking to a couple of different companies right now, and I’m hoping to get another movie going sometime this year. Nothing is set in stone yet, but I’m feeling pretty hopeful that I will be back in the director’s chair very soon.

When I first started film school, one of the first pieces of advice that I got was this: “If you want to be in this industry, it’s not just about loving movies…it’s about loving the process of making movies.” Long days and a lot of stress can sometimes take the fun out of movies, but if you embrace the process, then you learn to love movies from a whole new perspective.

For me, it’s really about creating something that brings people together; not just those who work on the movie, but the audience, too.