A Conversation with Aaron B. Koontz

Purely Kino has had the pleasure of receiving positive feedback from successful independent filmmakers who are willing to share stories behind-the-scenes on their past and upcoming projects. The process of working in the industry has changed so much over the course of the last couple years, and it's as important as ever to support some of the up and coming production companies that have to accommodate to the unexpected trend of current film landscape. This website has come quite a long way from its humble beginnings last year, with new writers on board weekly and new opportunities to branch out to people in the industry for conversations.

For this interview, I had the pleasure of speaking with Aaron B. Koontz, who is the CEO of Paper Street Pictures located out of Austin, TX and the director of a few killer indie horror flicks. Aaron B. Koontz was extremely kind and receptive to the website when I reached out to interview him, and I hope through this article you find a new director and some great film recommendations to follow! Before speaking with Aaron I watched his first feature film from 2017, Camera Obscura, which chronicles the downward spiral of a veteran's grip on reality when his photos turn into haunting premonitions.

Purely Kino: I just had the pleasure of renting and watching Camera Obscura. The lead performance from Christopher Denham is really solid. What inspired you to tell the story through the perspective of a veteran?

Aaron Koontz: Thanks...Chris is a machine and it was such an honor to work with him (and I am hoping to do so again, and soon, if our schedules can align). As for the veteran angle, that really just came out of finding avenues to add more conflict to our characters plight. I had read about these war photographers taking their work home with them in such a horrific way, not being able to shake the images they had captured and it just stuck with me. What if you took a photo that you couldn't unsee? And what would that do to you if your entire life up until that point had been as a photographer?

Aaron went on to work on the collaborative project Scare Package (2019) which I picked up on Blu-ray, and was my first exposure to his work. Scare Package is available for streaming on Shudder.

PK: Scare Package seemed like it was a lot of fun to make. Working with six(?) other directors, did you get a good amount of flexibility to tell the story you wanted while connecting it to the whole anthology? Tell me what it was like working with an ensemble team on the film.

AK: Yeah, so my company created all of SCARE PACKAGE and hired the directors so we really had the run of the asylum if you will. Every idea was on the table and nothing was too outlandish. I just reached out to all these amazing filmmakers that I admired and was friends with and asked them to be a part of this gooey weird world and we had an absolute blast making it. Some of the most fun I've ever had with a film. But there was a desire to keep it as cohesive as possible while still allowing my colleagues to tell the stories that resonated with them. I waited to direct and finish writing my piece (the wrap and finale) until the very end, to be able to customize it to what everyone else had done which gave us some refreshing creative freedom.

Hawn Tran alongside Jeremy King in Scare Package

PK: Do you have a close relationship with actors like Jeremy King and Noah Segan to name a few? It's nice to see their talent utilized in the very different performances. Do you plan on working with them for future projects?

AK: Ha, I don't want this to get to their heads but yes. Those are two of my favorite people on the planet and the only two to appear in every movie I have made to date. Jeremy I even have a side thing I am doing where I kill him as a different member of the Buckley family. (Tad Buckley in CO, Chad Buckley in SP and Bill Buckley in TPD), there is a long term plan there too with that which is a lot of fun. Noah I met after Starry Eyes which I was a producer on and we just hit it off and became fast friends. I have every intention of working with and killing these wonderful people in the near future as well.

Next, we talk about his film The Pale Door, which was my introduction to the director. The Pale Door is a very original genre-bender Western involving a group of outlaws and their ambush in a town secretly run by witches. This 2020 release is available on Shudder and is one of the most excitingly fun horror projects I've seen in years.

Zachary Knighton and Devin Druid in The Pale Door

PK: The Pale Door is extremely original. Where did the concept come from?

AK: This was a mix of two different scripts from Cameron Burns (my co-writer) and me. I had become fascinated with the Salem Witch Trials and wrote a script about a story loosely based on the facts of that era and Cotton Mather. And then separately from that I also had a dark western script about a group of cowboys that had to hold up in a mysterious ghost town for the night. Neither script really resonated for me, for one reason or another but when combined they presented an idea that was unique and fun and that got me excited to explore more.

PK: The reveal of the witches was very jarring. Did you work with a large visual effects team on this film? Tell me about that.

AK: Yeah, I am big on practical effects for every film I make and I was lucky to work with the same team I had on Camera Obscura here, lead by Beki Ingram, and really focus on making the witches something unique and terrifying. I loved the idea of taking the Roald Dahl style witches and then burning them at the stake, it created our own folklore that hadn't been seen before and that got everyone on the team excited. But yes, it was a very heavy lift with some days having 15 or more witches that all took 4+ hours to make was not an easy ask on a smaller budget.

The Pale Door

Aaron B. Koontz is working with a favorite director of mine, Lucky McKee, who's known for his cult classic May from 2002, and his critically acclaimed feature from 2011 The Woman. The project on the horizon includes a screenplay by Marc Senter and a promising performance from Stephen Lang (Slang as I learn).

PK: You're working on a new project! How is it working with Lucky McKee?

AK: Lucky and I became friends a few years ago and I have always wanted to find the right project to work with him ever since. And when Marc Senter approached me with the script for Old Man and said that Lucky might be a good fit, I read it loved it and then immediately jumped at the opportunity. It's an honor to work with Lucky and learn so much about his process and the way he approaches a scene and blocking. I'm learning a lot as a director and filmmaker.

PK: Stephen Lang is an incredible actor. He commands the movie Don't Breathe for example. Should we expect another terrifying turn from him?

Slang Commands the Screen in Don't Breathe

AK: "Slang", as he prefers to be called, is a revelation. I don't want to give away too much here but I think this might actually be a different side from the Slang folks are used to seeing. He is off-kilter in such a wonderful way and while he can and does tow the line between utterly terrifying and unhinged there also is something vulnerable about what he is doing here that I think is going to resonate in an unexpected way.

PK: Any other future projects to look out for? Is there any way we can support or follow something down the road.

AK: Thanks for asking! Yeah, we have two other films that have yet to be announced. One is a shark thriller film and the other is a feminist 80's slasher from a couple amazing comic book artists. I just produced both with my company, so didn't write or direct these, but they are great additions to the Paper Street roster and both will be coming out in 2021. We also are starting production in April on another Horror film, this one a bit of a coming of age Horror-Comedy from one of my favorite directors. And then lastly there is a big announcement that we can't quite make yet, but are very excited to do so soon. It's been a busy stretch for us and we feel lucky to have so much fun on the horizon.

Aaron B. Koontz can be followed on Twitter @AaronBKoontz and his film The Pale Door can be streamed on Sling. Scare Package is available on Amazon Prime for streaming and Camera Obscura is currently on Hulu. Follow Paper Street Pictures on Facebook or IMDB to keep track of their upcoming projects.

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