Kira Bursky is a talented young lady, filmmaker, and musician. I always look forward to finding out what comes next from her. She splits her time between home in Ahseville, NC and Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. A boarding high school where she is in the Motion Pictures Arts program.
I love Asheville with it's mountains, rolling hills, and lush forests. Did you grow up in the area?
Kira: I actually didn't! I was born and raised in Upper Nyack, New York. It's about 30 minutes outside of the city. I've lived in Asheville for the past 5 years now and I really love it. It's such a beautiful and artistic place. Plus I'm a foodie and Asheville is crammed with amazingly delicious restaurants.
Photo Credit: Mida Chu
You've got that right. Asheville does have somewhat of an international flair to it. You go away to school. Tell me a little bit about that.
Kira: I'm about to start my senior year (and third year) at Interlochen Academy of the Arts. It is located in Michigan, about 25 minutes away from Traverse City, the cherry capital of the U.S. Interlochen is an arts boarding school, especially known for their summer music program. I am in their filmmaking program. It's a rare opportunity, as I get to spend half of my school day (from around 2:30 pm - 5:30 pm, and then occasionally some classes in the morning) studying film. It's a dream come true. Last year I made a thesis film called Girly. I'm currently brainstorming ideas for my senior thesis film. I'm thinking about making a live action film with stop motion animation integrated throughout. Also, Interlochen is an international school so I have friends from all over the U.S. and all over the globe! My roommate this past year was a visual artist, and my roommate for next year is an Oboist.
Oh, and the filmmaking program is called the Motion Picture Arts program.
That does sound like a dream come true. I've seen Girly and like the emotional feel of it. Your films have a certain transcendence to them. Where does the inspiration come from?
Kira: Wow... that is a big question. My broad answer is that I draw inspiration from different life experiences I've gone through like any other artist. But more specifically, I'm deeply impacted by human interaction and so I've found that subconsciously I pour into my screenplays characters who are greatly affected by their connections or lack their of connections to other people.
Almost all of my films feature a lonely protagonist, and the inspiration for that... well, that's pretty obvious. We all feel lonely once in a while, and for me loneliness is a constant struggle. At this point I don't even question whether or not my protagonist is lonely... they just have to be!
I'm also deeply inspired by the themes of suppression, repression, and norms. I'm a teenager and I'm surrounded by contradicting views on pretty much everything. I think through my films I try to sort out some of the views that really affect me so that other people can take a look at them and maybe re-evaluate their own views or at least absorb the emotional impact certain views have on people. I honestly am inspired by a ton of other things, but I can't think of it all. Ha.
I first became aware of you by way of Crystal Craven who was in Fools Paradise and I noticed you take drama in an artistic direction which is very refreshing. How did you first become involved in making films?
Kira: When I was younger I wanted to be an actress and an artist. But, I quickly grew to realize that I wanted more power... I wanted to be in charge. I realized that filmmaking was the one art form where I could practically pursue all art forms and have my own vision. Being a director, I have to work with the actors and understand the psychology of the characters. So it's a win win situation. Also, when I was a kid I was scarred and deeply moved by the works of Czech surrealist animator and filmmaker Jan Svankmajer. His animations triggered in me a yearning to create art that presented the darker and grittier sides to things that we can easily look over.
Also during my child hood I saw Beetlejuice. I became so fascinated and obsessed with it that I watched it over and over and over again. Again, at a young age I was drawn towards quirky and darker works. So at around age 9 I would make silly films with myself, my cousin, or my friends by carrying around my brother's old mac laptop which had a built in camera. I made films like that for about 3 years I believe. I finally got a camera and then I think the quality increased a bit... ha. But I actually started out with making a lot of animations rather than films at first.
Indeed, I think you are making art. I saw David Dietrich, Aislin Freya Pax, and Lisa Sain Odom in Clean, all fine actors. How did you cast for these roles? Did you already know them?
Kira: I have actually worked with all of these other actors before. I met David a year ago. He was one of the leads in a local independent feature, and I was a grip of set. We became great friends and a few weeks later he acted in a short of mine, then another, and then again a few weeks ago. We actually are currently working on a music album together.
Aislin was a part of those three same shorts. I saw her briefly in a short film, thought she was adorable, and then got in contact with her. She's so mature and great to work with. As for Lisa, it was my first time DPing, and she was one of the leads. About a year later I contacted her and she acted briefly in my short. Then a year later (a few weeks ago) I again contacted her and she was the lead in my film (Clean). All three of these individuals are really easy to work with and I feel really close to them all.
Where was Clean filmed?
Kira: It was filmed in various locations in Weaverville. The house interiors (the tub, the dining room, and the living room) were all shot at Wysteria Inn, a local inn. We also shot at a local park / waterfall, and on the property of a friend of mine (the bamboo forest, the field, and the bus interior.)
About your method of filmmaking. Are your films completely written before filming, then blocked out and performed as you film? Or is the process more loose? Do you have moments of serendipity where you discover another way to tell the story as you are making the movie?
Kira: I write the screenplay before filming and use it as a blueprint. When working with my actors I let them know that the dialogue is flexible and that after a few read throughs I'd like them to be comfortable with changing the phrasing of things so that is feels more natural for them.
Also, because of the nature of filmmaking, when time is in a crunch, sometimes I have to sacrifice dialogue, moments, or occasionally whole scenes. But sometimes those sacrifices aren't necessarily bad things, because then I can think a little harder and come up with a better alternative. So, yes, occasionally while filming I do come up with better ways of conveying a message or moment that I hadn't previously thought of.
Being on set surrounded by the actors really helps generate flowing ideas because of the natural and intuitive environment. I mean, the set is the world of the script and what better way to explore story possibilities than in the world of the script itself?
You mentioned that you and David are working on a music album. Have you incorporated your music into your films? I know you play accordion. Any other instruments?
Kira: Clean is actually my first short that I completely scored (there are three of my pieces in it). Occasionally in the past I have used some of my more circusy tunes in my films. One of my secret dreams is to actually become a film score composer. But, for now I'm satisfied with just scoring my own films.
I play accordion, ukulele, and piano, but occasionally I play bells and other various instruments in my songs. Dave is a brilliant guitarist and plays the banjo and harmonica. Our goal is to finish a complete album before I go back to school. Our current band name is The Runaways but alas, that's already taken so we are currently figuring out a new one.
You have a nice voice. Your vocals and Dave's compliment each other well. A secret dream to be a film composer brings me to the question what do plan for when school is complete and What best describes you best filmmaker, songwriter, musician, or artist?
Kira: When school is complete... well, there are lot of possibilities. I'm currently applying to colleges in California, NY, and a few in the Boston area. I'm most likely going to study filmmaking, but there is a slight chance I'll additionally study animation, linguistics, or music composition. But, I would like to take a gap year.
During that year my current play is to direct a feature. I already have my cinematographer, my assistant director, and two of my leads on board for it, so it's definitely in the realm of possibility. I'm going to write the feature screenplay during this upcoming year whether I actually produce it in the near future or not.
The last possibility is that I may not go to college depending on if by some fluke I succeed in the world of filmmaking and feel comfortable and confident enough to make it on my own. That sounds good to me, but we'll see how things turn out!
I would describe myself as a filmmaker and a songwriter. They are both separate parts of me that I feel equally invested in and passionate about. Songwriting is more of an instant gratification then filmmaking, so when I have a bubble of newfound inspiration, I usually write a song. But when I have been sitting on a thought for a while, filmmaking comes into play because I am able to expand my thoughts and get a bit more in depth with what I am feeling / dealing with.
What directors and songwriters do you admire?
Kira: Wow. I admire a lot of directors and songwriters. I'd have to say that my favorite directors are Tim Burton (especially his work with Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, and Nightmare Before Christmas), Jean Pierre-Jeunet (especially his work on Amelie and Delicatessen), and my all time favorite: Jan Svankmajer (especially his three-part animated short called Food).
Jan Svankmajer is a Czech surrealist animator. Practically all of his works have a dark and gritty feel to them. His work inspired me to become a filmmaker because his films provoked such bizarre and curious feelings that I had never felt before!
As for songwriters... I admire a lot of soundtrack composers. My tops are Danny Elfman (watch any Tim Burton film), Yann Tiersen (he did the soundtrack for Amelie), and Bruno Coulais (Coraline!). But in regards to actual songwriters... I love Norah Jones, KT Tunstall, Caravan Palace, Arcade Fire, Radical Face, I Monster, Detektivbyran, and many more. I like such an odd conglomerate of sounds and visuals. Is it quirky and whimsical? Then I probably like it.
Photo Credit: Mida Chu
Judging by the credits you had nearly a dozen crew members for Clean. How do you persuade all these people to work with you?
Kira: Well, I don't have to persuade anyone to work with me. Everyone who was on the crew of Clean I would consider a friend of mine, rather than a co-worker or someone who is working for me. So when I asked them each to be on the crew, it wasn't as though I had to convince them to be a part of this because for all of us making movies together is like a big friend reunion.
I genuinely feel so much love and admiration for everyone on the crew and cast of Clean. They are all so positive and lovely to work with.
Very nice that you have so many friends helping with your vision and that they are so talented. What do you find is the hard part of being a director on one of your productions?
Kira: The hardest part about being a director... hmmm... I can't think of any one particular thing that stands out as being consistently hard, but I guess it can be hard for me to make compromises. Since the overall vision of my films is inevitably mine, whenever we need to make compromises due to time or whatever random unfortunate variables pops up, I am the one who needs to decide on what sacrifices we must make. That can be pretty tough for me to do!
Tell me about how being in a 48 Hour Film Project. How crazy does it get?
Kira: The 48 Hour Film Project is insanely crazy. I have done it for four years now. Each film acts as a milestone of my arc as a filmmaker. When I look back from the first one to the newest one, I can really see how I (along with my whole crew!) have grown as artists. I'll pull some stories from my blog (these are things that occurred while making Clean):
1. One of the shooting locations was a waterfall. My gaffer/A.C. Wayne (and actor actually!) prepped a Go Pro for time lapse in a bush next to the waterfall (we actually ended up not using it) but what we later discovered is that the bush was full of poison ivy. Furthermore, after we all left, Wayne actually went back to the waterfall to throw his water-proof camera off the waterfall for a cool shot. Unfortunately the camera wasn't rolling. But get this-- Wayne fell off the waterfall. He is okay. but the funniest part to all of this: he was actually just on American Ninja Warrior a few months ago. It should be airing this upcoming month. Oh Wayne.
2. Last shot of the shoot, it is 1:00 am and the following occurs:
I see a bat. I freak out. It attacks me. I run inside the house shrieking. It attacks every single actor, plus Kali among other crew members. Moments later someone shouts from outside to me: IT'S A BUTTERFLY--- to which we all discovered in unison that it was actually just a massive moth. Later I researched it and found out it's called a polyphemus moth. It's wingspan is an average of 6 inches. Also, the name polyphemus actually means "to be known" or "famous." Kali, Sam and I decided that this bat-moth was a good omen. Or so we hope. The best part? All of the shrieking and screaming during the incident was recorded on audio. Thank you Byrd!
3. I finished writing the first script at 11:00. Yes, I said first for a reason. I called up one of my actors and when I asked if she was comfortable with swimming, she said no. The problem? Her character was supposed to drown. So I wrote a completely new script and finally finished at around 3:30. I think the second script was better anyways, but alas, now I have an extra script that I can shoot if I ever need one. Ha.
But, aside from this film, here's a crazy story about Sleepyhead: So Sam (my assistant director and editor) and I had just exported the movie, only to discover that we had not exported it with the audio. We only had 15 minutes before the deadline to re-export and burn it onto a disc. The time starts ticking away, until: there are 10 seconds left and the DVD is still "verifying." Every other team had gotten their film in already... except us! I was about to cry. They started counting down 10-9-8-.... and then, the disc came out, we turned it in, and the rest is now history! It was pretty intense and I would never want to go through that again! (That's why this year we were the second team to turn ours in.... instead of last!)
That's quite a dramatic ending to the making of Sleepyhead. Do you know what your project is going to be before the time starts. At what point do you begin writing, calling in the actors, finish the last scene, edit etc...? Give me an idea about how that timing might go.
Kira: So the only things you can do before the 48 hours are find possible locations, possible actors, and a crew. I mean, you could brainstorm possible ideas, but you will not know you genre until the start of the event. At 7:00 pm on Friday each team randomly draws out a genre. Then, the city draws out a line of dialogue, character and prop that must be included in all films from that city. For example, this year all Asheville teams had to use the line "I don't trust her," the character Joe or Joanna Moroney (a dentist), and the prop of a wallet.
So right after all of the elements are drawn, I rush back to my house and spend the night writing. I contact all my actors by 11:00 pm, but this year my second lead was not comfortable with water (which was detrimental to the role) so I had to write a whole new script that night- I finally completed it around 3:30 am.
Next I plan out shots with my cinematographer- my assistant director shows up at 7:00 am and we make a schedule for the day (but the shot list and schedule has to be pretty flexible because ANYTHING can happen). Then we shoot the whole day. This year we finished shooting at 1:30 am I believe. Next my co-editor and I import footage and spend the rest of the night and the next morning/day editing and then we turn it in by 7:30.
Thanks for taking me through that. You and Katie Larson wrote Bye Bye Lullaby. How did that come about?
Kira: Katie Larson is actually one of my best friends- I love her more than I could ever express. She is a songwriter, but is also interested in film. We decided that it was inevitable that eventually we would have to work on a project together, and that finally happened with Bye Bye Lullaby. I came up with the original concept. At the time I was writing my children's book The Last Yaya which had the theme of a "monster under your bed." I really wanted to make a film with that concept. So I presented that I idea to her, she told me her music ideas, and then we sat down and wrote it together. While I edited the film, Katie recorded her score. A lot of it was done in my dorm room actually!
What are you working on now/next?
Kira: Quite a few plans. I may participate in the Indianapolis 48 Hour Film Project. I have family that live there. But, the catch? I would go with either one or two other people- so it would be a 2 to 3 person team... an interesting challenge in it of itself. I am currently planning out my senior capstone project (the same as a thesis film). I am having a doll designed by a local artist named Cindy Riccardelli because half of the film will be stop motion animation, and the other half will be live action.
Also, I plan on directing a feature film, not this year, but the year after, so I have just begun planning out the screenplay. My plan is to write it this school year, fundraise and do pre-production next summer, and then a few months later go into production.
I'm applying to colleges, but I plan on taking a gap year in order to make a feature film and see how that goes. But right now at this very moment I am editing a short documentary about this Chinese artist who made a graphic novel about the cultural revolution.
Busy schedule, busy girl. I've enjoyed talking with you Kira. Best of luck and keep in touch so we can be sure and see what's next from you.
Kira: Ha, yes, quite busy but loving it! Thanks Dan and we shall definitely keep in touch!
For more information about Kira see:
Fool's Paradise by Kira Bursky
Fool's Paradise by Kira Bursky