Last month I was sent a copy of the short film Six Grand for review - and I loved it. I really fell for this short, something I wish happened more often but unfortunately does not. It's a truly bleak, atmospheric and psychotic trip through the mind of one incredibly crooked police officer as he hunts down the deepest and darkest shades of criminal behavior. We're given the character of Detective Kowalski as our vehicle into this insane world and I trust you, you've never seen an anti-hero quite like this guy. You might as well strike the hero from that moniker because this guy is anything but. So, after watching the short I wanted to know more so I contacted Mike for an interview. He and his crew at Darkheart Visions are fun loving people just interested in making good movies with as much technical know how as they can possibly squeeze in there. After the interview, track down this short because it's absolutely worth it.
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RC: For those who aren't aware of Dark Heart, can you explain a little bit of your backstory and how long you've been making movies?
MB: First off I'm only 24 and it was my thesis project for school. I took a one year video production course from Glen Berry at the NW film school, which is an extended program at Western Washington University. The requirements for the project was that it had to be around ten mins and I had to either direct or produce. I wrote the Script along with some developmental ideas from Jeremy Banks, Mike Koltowski, and Steve Koltowski over wings and beer at a local bar. My duties after all was said and done included, Director, Writer, Producer, Production Design, Costume Design, some Music Production and Actor (the tweaker that wears the vest and gets a chair through the head from Kowalski). Not too bad for a school project I'd say.
So Darkheart Visions officially started Jan 2009. I was two semesters into my video production program and I was gaining respect from my mentors and peers and decided I could probably do this for a business and be fairly successful at it. Darkheart Visions won a local Commercial contest for KISM radio station and that quickly gave us some street cred in our little town of Bellingham WA. Also we did some promo videos for Big Bands such as Strung Out and Death by Stereo. All great guys by the way. Darkheart Consists of Three individual owners and two other employees. The owners are myself, Russell Baker (actor who co-starred alongside Christopher Walken in "McBain" and John Cusack in "True Colors") and Jeremy Banks (a good friend who's full of great ideas and a hard worker). Then we have a great editor and D.P. named Sean Leonard (who is a genius for his age of 19) and a SFX and VFX guy named Langley West. We are trying to bring clever film making to our community because its a great place but lacks any sort of entertainment industry.
RC: What was it that really inspired the Six Grand project? How did it all start off?
MB: How did Six Grand Start? Well Steve Koltowski (detective Kowalski) said he wanted to kill somebody in a movie. So we said ok.... you look like an asshole so you should play one. The way the story was originally written Kowalski wasn't a main character and he reveals himself at the end as a cop, but after several changes I decided to make Steve the main character. I've always loved movies about crime, Godfather, Batman, The departed, among others and its always been something I've wanted to tackle so that's what we went after. Mike Koltowski, developer, is heavily into Horror movies and so am I so we decided to try to do something that hasn't really been done yet by crossing the two genres together. From there it all just seemed to fall together. And gave us visually stimulating and grotesque imagery. We love it.
RC: What was the budget for the short like?
MB: The budget? Well since I was a poor college student and I believe credit cards are the devil, Myself and Russell both sold our guitars and anything else we had to raise cash for the movie. the budget for the movie was roughly 800 dollars, not including distribution stuff. We shot on a panasonic HVX and used the letus extreme adapter with older minolta lenses. Just the Camera gear was 600 dollars. so I payed our editor and or Sfx guy and everyone else worked for free. Roughly 1000 hours of work from development to finished product. We shot in the whole project in Four full days. I feel our budget translated well to the screen. with those numbers we could easily do a feature for under 20,000 and make it way more fantastic.
RC: The first thing I really noticed with Six Grand, was the really polished look of it. I mean, it's gritty but it has that manufactured LOOK of grit - instead of just being cheap. What kind of visual sense were you hoping to achieve with Six Grand?
MB: As far as the feel of "Six Grand" goes, I wanted to create a dirty grungy environment that left the audience feeling uncomfortably amused the whole time. I spent a good portion of my time finding the right locations and developing the production design. The look was very important to me and I feel like we pulled it off ok for the most part. And I really tried to avoid the look of cheapness at all costs. I wanted it to look like lots of time and effort went into the movie. I wanted it to be a movie you could watch at a theater and think this was no rookie that did it.
RC: I don't know your particular film preferences, but I definitely got a real "horror" or "genre" feel out of the movie. Was there any particularly film that you had in mind as far as a tone you were maybe hoping to achieve?
MB: As far as movies go that I took influence from...... I wanted to create kind of a comic book environment with over the top characters that could actually be real but still retain that comic booky feel. I really liked Batman and Sin City. As far as other influence goes, The movie "Spun" is one of my favs and I wanted to give it that crazy barrage on the senses that "Spun" had. And as far as the horror aspect goes, we just liked blood and we liked suspense. We felt that the really violent stuff is the crazy stuff you can do with just regular objects. Anything is a weapon if you use it right. lol. We wanted to give the illusion that at any given time anything in your house could kill you violently if those objects ended up in the wrong hands i.e. detective Kowalski. No real Horror movies come to mind but some of our Favorites include, Toxic avenger, Dead Alive, House of 1000 Corpses, The Devils Rejects, Friday the 13th movies.
RC: Action and crime films are kind of few and far between for me as someone who reviews a lot of independent films, I take that it's more than likely because of how intimidating such a project can be. Were you ever nervous about doing a movie for so little money but with such a larger scope than your average?
MB: I was never nervous about doing the project. I was more disappointed that I couldn't make the story longer. I had lots of limitations for schooling and funding so it had to nestle in at 30 mins. Our goal was to shop it as A T.V. pilot to premium channels (hbo, Showtime, Sci Fi, IFC). The idea of "Six Grand" in my opinion is really amazing and could potentially be a ground breaking flick if it ever got the proper chance. I feel like we accomplished what we set out for......leaving people in shock and wanting more. hopefully that bodes well for the Future plans for "Six Grand"
RC: Kowalski... KOWALSKI! Great character! I have to say, it's kind of refreshing to find an anti hero who really lives up to the term. What was the genesis of such an unrepentantly BAD character?
MB: So Kowalski, like the rest of the movie, is a total slap in the face to traditional cinema. Everything I was taught in film school was so traditional, 3 acts, a good guy, a climax, Wide shot, Medium shot, close up, no handheld camera. So the idea of "Six Grand" was to do the total opposite of what I was taught and make it just as stunning if not better. Just make it an assault on your brain. Tons of close ups and lots of handheld camera give it a very voyeuristic approach and puts you right in the action. I'm a huge fan of nontraditional movies (Tarantino is the MAN!!!). So For Kowalski, I wanted to create a character that you are forced to cheer for, a cigarette smokin, F bomb droppin, Jerk with just a tiny soft spot that rattles off one liners like an action hero. Hes the epitome of every dirty cop stereotype but taken to the extreme. Yea he's a bad guy but he's got his reasons. Kowalski isn't killing innocent people he's killing degenerates and then taking his rightful share for cleaning up the streets. All in all hes a guy you love to hate but strangely identifiable within us all. He is the animal that's dying to get out of all of us.
RC: What's next for Mike Barbero and Dark Heart Visions?
MB: Whats next for us? Well We've already started developing a full length feature, The best movie about marijuana ever made. I don't wanna give too much away, but its already being talked about by several people. Its gonna be full of great comedy, great shots and packed full of mind blowing philosophy, and there will be three short films placed throughout the movie all by different directors that will progress the story along. With talks of Legalization be around every corner, it's time for a culturally moving movie about the lifestyle, no hollywood glits or glamor but real life with some shenanigans. As for me, Mike Barbero, I've got prospects right now to go work on the upcoming movie "Green Lantern" that's being filmed in Louisiana. Also Darkheart Visions is developing a series of web commercials for products but they will be super outlandish and way too ridiculous for t.v. but not too ridiculous for youtube. We are trying to stir up some buzz because I realllllllllllllly want to do a feature length movie. It's been my dream since I was tiny. I love acting and directing and I feel its my calling.
RC: What are the chances of us seeing a full length Kowalksi film some day?
MB: For "Six Grand" as I said, we are trying to market it as a T.V. pilot., but I wouldn't refuse making it full length. I've already got the story lines developed for either or. I can guarantee though that either way, it'll be chock full of crazy characters and lots of blood. I would love to take "Six Grand" further, but we need finance really bad. If we could sell the idea for a show or a movie that would make my life. I'm very passionate about my work and with "Six Grand" I don't think I can rest until I can further develop the story. It got cut very short at 30 mins. Could very very easily be a 2 hr epic tale about the dirtiest cop to ever walk the streets. Hey if anyone wants to donate or knows any great name actors or producers, let me know, because I want to see this mother happen. "Six Grand" however will be playing nationwide soon at all Cinebarre locations as a double feature I'd assume. I'm super excited because already my thesis project in school and my first real work, will be playing nationwide. It's a lot to wrap my head around. It is one of the best feelings I could ever have though.
RC: Before we go, is there anyone you would like to thank?
MB: People I'd like to thank....... the whole cast and crew of "Six Grand" Jeremy Banks, Russell Baker, Sean Leonard, Langley West, Steve Koltowski, Mike Koltowski, Myrriah Train, Kristen Geleynse, Glen Berry and the NW Film School, Wilson Large, Mike Cerar, Daniel Salinas, Vince Cooper and Ian Hahn for letting us turn their house into a drug infested bloodbath.
And my Dad for always believing in me and lending a much needed hand.
and to my mom and sister and the rest of my family for being so supportive of my dreams.
The only person who didn't get to see this that was always one of my biggest fans was my grandpa John who died three years ago. I dedicate this to him. He would have hated it. lol.
and a special thanks to Rogue Cinema for picking up on the movie and letting people know about it. We couldn't have asked for anything better.
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Like I stated above, if you get the chance to see this short - absolutely do so. It's a violent assault on the senses that I think any genre film fan is going to enjoy. You can read my review for it here: http://www.roguecinema.com/article1977.html and you can check out more from Darkheart Visions at their official site at: http://www.darkheartvisions.com. Thanks to Mike for the interview and I really hope to see more from these guys very soon.