Ken – The Movie – Interview with Ken Stringfellow and Claudia Rorarius

Claudia Rorarius’ last film, Chi l’ha Visto  (Who Saw Him), was nominated for Best Performance, Best Director, and Best Movie at the Torino Film Festival in 2009. It was also selected for many more festivals, including the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, the Montréal World Film Festival, and Film Festival Max Ophüls. Critics have called it “intense”, “touching”, and “grand cinema”. Her work grapples with how we understand ourselves, illuminating dark corners of identity while raising questions for the nature of filmmaking itself.

Ken Stringfellow’s life is music. A founding member of the legendary Seattle indie-pop band The Posies, Ken also played a part in the reformation of Big Star (in fact, we saw him play in Dublin a few years back, great show), one of the most influential bands in pop history. He has also toured with R.E.M. for 10 years, assisted with their albums “Reveal” and “Around the Sun,” and in 2005 he founded the garage rock band The Disciplines. More recently Ken has worked as a songwriter and producer for acts like Lagwagon, Damien Jurado, The Long Winters, Neil Young, Patti Smith, Mudhoney, and Death Cab For Cutie. To date, his discography spans over 200 albums. A recent solo record, 2012’s Danzig in the Moonlight, was warmly received by critics.

Now they’ve come together for a new project – Ken – The Movie.  The real life Ken and the film’s protagonist share the same name, but this isn’t a documentary. Rather, Ken Stringfellow acts as himself, reliving parts of his life and fraying the line between reality and fiction in the process.  The film is being financed via Indiegogo and we caught up with Claudia and Ken to find out more.

When did you first have the idea to make a movie together?

Claudia: KEN – The Movie grew from my desire to work with a particular person — Ken Stringfellow. Our first meeting was in 2004.  Ken was in Cologne promoting a recent album and gave a solo performance at a local bar. I was impressed by the intimacy he conveyed during the show, as he often got very close to the audience in an effort to make himself understood. At one point, he even pulled me onstage to answer some questions. We’ve spent our friendship discussing themes that we have in common, and the idea for the movie sprang out of that – there was no single moment where the decision was made.

Ken: The idea has been brewing for a couple of years now. Even before that we’d talked about working on some kind of project but it was more mundane, like I’d do some music for a film of hers. But she proposed something way more in depth and challenging, to make a fictional film about a character who resembles me in most respects.

I presume you knew each other before the film? How did you meet?

Ken: She was at a show of mine in Cologne some 12 years ago. I don’t know how familiar she was with my work before that…

Claudia: For the entire time I’ve known Ken, there was always going to be some form of artistic collaboration.

Looking at some of the Indiegogo videos it’s obvious that there’s a lot of respect and affection in your relationship – how has it been working together?

Claudia: Always, our relationship has been very open and trusting, which was a good platform for intense improvisational research sessions, which really helped us develop Ken’s character in the film.

Ken: It’s an exercise in trust. I have to believe and work from the understanding she knows exactly what she’s doing and will guide me through this craft that I have almost no background in. At he same time she’s not looking for a mannequin, she wants my creative input too, which means I have to get enough confidence together to feel like I have something to contribute to this art form where, again, I have almost no experience.

Ken, as a first time as actor what has been the biggest challenge for you?

Ken: There’s no aspect of acting I can separate out as more challenging. Acting is essentially being able to access your emotions. And that means being comfortable exposing your emotions at any time, something we’ve been told since childhood not to do. And to overcome that conditioning is really the whole of the challenge and it can not be broken down into bite sized aspects of that challenge.

Ken, the film is very much about you and it blurs the lines between fact and fiction – how difficult is it to create a fictional you? Did re-enacting or re-imaging scenes from your life make you revisit those episodes (or make you think differently about them?)

Ken: Of course, even if I was portraying a character in a total fantasy, like GoT or Star Trek, I would be using those episodes as places to access strong emotions. So in a sense his film is exploiting the core of what makes fiction and acting compelling–acting is being and doing, not pretending to be or do. In a way that we’re using aspects of my every day life directly in the story saves us a step. I’m not building an abstraction based on my real emotions. I’m just going into my real emotions and presenting them.

Do the events in the film (loosing you voice, losing your popularity) reflect real-life fears that you have?

Ken: Probably. Maybe I don’t fear such drastic extremes of those notions, but part of what I do in music is physical and relies on one of the smallest most fragile muscles in the body. I’m always pushing myself and can wonder if my voice is tired or aging or damaged. It can be a real mind fuck.


The Posies – Eindhoven 2000 / Effenaar – KEN-THE MOVIE – Indiegogo campaign from Claudia Rorarius on Vimeo.

Claudia, you say the story is written, is the script complete?  How do you put that together?  Will that change as filming progresses? Do you leave space for improvisation?

Claudia: There will be no complete script for the film. Rather, there will be some form of open document that will transform from one day to the next. Written scenes and real moments will entwine – it’s an experimental process.

Is this your first time using Indiegogo? What drove that decision?  How has it been so far?

Claudia: No, I used it already once, but finally decided to work with Startnext, a German platform, for my last project Chi l’ha visto. But Indiegogo is an international platform that gives us maximum global coverage, which is important because Ken’s fans are spread all over the world.

You mentioned the excellent Chi l’ha visto, I’ve just watch it  – Ken has a similar theme of childhood abandonment, is there a particular reason you are returning to that again?

Claudia: After I finished it, I realized there was many layers to the ideas around family and identity, layers that I couldn’t cover in a single film, and Ken appeared then as a new way to express these ideas.

Ken, I see you’ve sold quite a few song performances as part of the fund-raising – have you performed any of those so far? What’s been your favourite?

Ken: As long as the crowd funding campaign is active, which it is for another 3 weeks , I have yet to fulfill the obligations that the fund raising has generated. Plenty of time for people to get involved.

Claudia, female movie directors are still very much in the minority, do you think there are more obstacles for you as a woman when it comes to getting a new project up-and running?

Claudia: Definitely. I already started to shot films in my teenage years and it never came to my mind, that making a career in the film business is so much harder for female then for male directors. But after 15 years in the business I have to say: Yes, it is! There’s no doubt that the industry is ruled by male directors. Robert Redford said: “There’s always been a deficiency in the number of minorities and women in film. When we talk about diversity, it’s clear there’s an imbalance.” According to a recent report by Pro Quote Regie (nonprofit org) on the German film industry, women represented only 19% of directors for theatrical feature films produced in 2014.There is a number of reasons why woman are held back from making movies, but definitely there is no lack of skills and originality. According to Ben Kingsley, female directors have “an extraordinary ability to put [male vulnerability] on screen” that male directors lack… and understand its value as a currency, as a character trait, as something that has its place in our humanity and must always have.” By getting Ken – The Movie out there, we hope to inspire many more female directors to pick up a camera!

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Chi l’ha visto received a lot of critical kudos – is important is it to be recognized by your peers? Does that help in getting new projects off the ground?

Claudia: Yes, it’s very important. The more people watch the film, the easier it is to finance the next project.

Beyond getting it made and released, what are your hopes for the new movie?

Claudia: I hope that it communicates something, and, if people can relate to it, that they consider their own relationships, fears, dreams…

What happens once you achieve your first phase funding via Indiegogo? Do you have a target date for release of the film?

Claudia: It’s still too early to talk about the release date of the film. When we receive the first phases of funding on Indiegogo we will start shooting.

Are there new original songs in the movie?

Ken: There will be, yes, I’m working with the other actors in the film on some music.

How does your photography work inform you as a movie-maker?

Claudia: Photography and filmmaking are different art forms, but for me both of these disciplines developed simultaneously, so on some level there’s an intense dialogue between the two.

Ken, what next for you in the world of music?

Ken: We are still touring the Posies album in Europe and North America this year, and I’m doing many shows with Marky Ramone, singing the Ramones music. Definitely a summer of movement. Next year not sure if another solo album is in the works or if we want to get a Posies album out ASAP on the heels of the current one….

The Posies – Utrecht 2005 / De Helling – KEN-THE MOVIE – Indiegogo campaign from Claudia Rorarius on Vimeo.

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