By Eric Kohn | Eric Kohn June 8, 2009 at 3:39AM
Filmmaker David Kaplan's shorts, including the expressionistic masterpiece Little Red Riding Hood, recently became available on DVD. I reviewed the new collection in NY Press and dropped a line to Kaplan via e-mail to get some additional thoughts out of him. Check out the trailer for the collection above. It's a fascinating survey of Kaplan's distinctive interests. His first feature, the Cinderella-inspired Year of the Fish, comes out on DVD in a few weeks.
To the larger public, fairy tales are generally associated squeaky clean Disney narratives. Your work explores the darker side of these stories. Given the Disney pedigree, do you find that it's difficult for audiences to see what you're getting at?
One of the fun things about adapting these stories is that an audience approaches them with so many preconceptions. It appeals to my mischievous side to subvert those expectations. The DVD version of “Little Red Riding Hood” includes a commentary from folklore scholar Jack Zipes, who talks about the very old roots of the story, before the Brothers Grimm and Disney effectively bowdlerized it, and how this film's darker, playful take on Riding Hood is probably truer to the original story.
On the DVD, you discuss the ways that you regard "The Frog Prince" as an "interesting failure," but you've re-edited it. What was the impetus for including it on the DVD?
I always find it interesting to see the early works of directors, even if the works are flawed and unpolished. It’s insight into the development of their artistic voice.
I noticed that Lodge Kerrigan worked on "Little Suck-a-Thumb." Do you identify with a particular filmmaker community?
I have some close friends here in New York who work in film (such as Frank Keraudren who edited "Little Red Riding Hood" and is also a director) and it’s nice to have that support – plus, there’s much inspiration to be found here: good voices, faces, stories. Last summer I shot an Indian Food-themed feature in Jackson Heights, and for “Year of the Fish” (which is out on DVD later this month) I worked in hot, bustling Chinatown. But to be honest, I would work anywhere. I would happily work in LA if the opportunity arose.
Now that you're making features, would you ever consider returning to making short form narratives?
Actually, the next film I’m going to make is a short! It’s going to be a 15-minute science-fiction story called “Play.” I’m working on it with independent game designer Eric Zimmerman.
It seems like the Internet is a great place for distributing shorts. Do you agree?
Yes, the 3 short films on the DVD “Little Red Riding Hood and Other Stories” will be available to a much wider audience through Amazon [VOD] and other web venues. However, I’m still partial to the old-fashioned theatrical experience – a dark room filled with people having a shared happening.
Your first feature, "Year of the Fish," starred a name actor from television. Now you've made another movie with TV actors. Any connection here?
I always thought of Ken Leung [star of "Fish"] as a film actor because I knew him as the bad guy in “Rush Hour,” and now he’s probably even better known for his role on “Lost.” Last summer I directed Aasif Mandvi from “The Daily
Show” and Dean Winters from “Oz” and “30 Rock.” I’ve noticed that there is more crossover with good film actors doing TV, and vice versa. It used to be that TV actors weren’t taken quite as seriously, but today there is really some top-notch work being done in that medium. Hugh Laurie (“House”) comes to mind.
Does your upcoming film contain fairy tale elements?
Well, it’s a pretty mainstream comedy about Indian food and family – but yes, in the sense that it’s a hero’s journey into a strange land, and there’s a magical helper, and an enchanted potion of sorts.
You mention on the DVD commentary that you have written a "Hansel and Gretl" screenplay. Any plans to move forward on that one?
I would love to! It would be a wonderful, scary, delightful movie, similar in atmosphere to “Little Red Riding Hood and Other Stories.”
In general, how do you feel about the state of independent film? Are you getting the opportunities you think you deserve?
I think it’s always been tough. To be sure, I would love to be making a new feature film every year, but it’s always a struggle.