Andrew Darley talks to the young director Kai Staenicke about how his short films navigate the terrain of queer personal relationships, and how that plays out in his latest, It’s Consuming Me.
Kai Staenicke is a rising film director. With both critical and public acclaim, winning accolades at LGBT film festivals across the world, Kai is just at the beginning of an exciting career. The German-born director has an academic background in Film and TV Production and has made a handful of stunning short films. His music video Cold Star and an upcoming stop-motion feature, Own Drum, examine the social constructions of gender and sexual identity. In 2012, he released an intense three-minute emotional journey called It’s Consuming Me, which captures the dynamic of a loving relationship and the places love can take our minds to. I spoke with Kai about the inspirations in his work, his thoughts on queer portrayals in film today and how an infamous teen horror film started it all for him!
Hi Kai! Thanks a million for taking the time to talk with me today.
Thank you! I feel honored to be featured on your site. You’ve got a great magazine here.
Your latest short film, It’s Consuming Me, captures the wide-ranging emotions of love in just over three minutes. What was the inspiration behind it?
After Cold Star I had the urge to do something completely different. Cold Star was very slow paced and took its time to evolve. With It’s Consuming Me I wanted to go in another direction. I wanted it to be really short and packed, an essence, where everything happens at once, where there is too much information to get every detail the first time you watch it. Still you get the whole picture and what it’s about though. When you watch it a second or third time there are still new things to discover. Someone once told me “If films are like wine, It’s Consuming Me is a shot”. And that’s exactly what I wanted it to be.
The pace and style of the film portrays the exciting, troubling and everyday moments of a relationship. What was the filming and editing process like?
It was planned as a three minute short from the beginning but I knew that it was going to take a lot of time to shoot it. Mostly because we had at least forty different scenes at various places, sometimes with extras. So I planned nine shooting days for everything (which is a lot, considering Cold Star had only three). In the end we had thirteen shooting days, going all around Berlin.
Afterwards we had tons of footage to go through. And of course the first cuts were a lot longer than the film is now. I kept saying “It needs to be shorter”. I wanted things to just fly by, that you get a glimpse and when you’re trying to grab it, it’s gone already. Of course the music helped to keep the fast pace of the film. My composer and sound-designer, Florian, and I tried to create a restless and energizing piece that still underlines the emotional part of the film.
It also taps into an uncontrollable desire for the people we love. Does the concept come from personal experience or observations of relationships around you?
Yes, actually the concept is based on personal experience. One of the basic thoughts when I was making the film was “What exactly was it that kept me so involved in relationships?”. And a huge part was the fact that they introduced me to their world. I think that’s the special thing. To learn about and discover things the other one cares about, to maybe see things you haven’t seen before. Religion, work, art, everything. And I tried to put that in the film.
The film is about imagination and wishful thinking as well. Maybe not everything this boy tells us really happened in the end. It somehow goes back to my personal experience too. I had a crush on a friend of mine, although I knew he had a boyfriend all along. Afterwards the whole thing fascinated me. How could I have been so involved in something that didn’t really exist?
There has been quite a strong positive reaction to the film and you’ve won many awards in your career so far. How does it feel to have people connect to something you’ve worked on?
Well, it’s everything. I’m very insecure about my work when I first put it out there. It’s like a baby. You’ve worked on it for so long, you’ve invested everything and of course you love it but you never know what people will think. Especially with It’s Consuming Me, since it was very personal. To receive such positive feedback from people and festivals is overwhelming. It’s what keeps you going. I’m really grateful for that. I’m happy about every like on Youtube and I check for comments every day. It’s really important to me and it gives you a boost to work on new projects.
You have just started shooting a new stop-motion short film called Own Drum, which is your interpretation of a very well-known figure. Can you tell us more about it?
We haven’t actually started shooting yet. The financing for this project was very difficult and we’re still waiting for the last bit of funding, that we’ll hopefully get within the next days. If they say yes, we’re able to do the film.
It’s a stop-motion animated short about Barbie. It tells her story from a different point of view. After all, Barbie is not happy in the life she leads, she’s longing for something else. Actually she’s attracted to a girl, but is forced into a relationship with Ken by society. Of course this ends in a disaster. Stop-Motion is a very complex and time-consuming type of animation. It will take ages to shoot this 8 minute short, since we only can do around 1 second a day. That’s why it’s so expensive and we had to apply for a lot of funding to get the budget together. So cross your fingers that we can start soon!
From the trailer, it adopts a very different tone to It’s Consuming Me and is shot in a very unique way. Is it important to have each work distinctive to the last?
I’m not sure if it’s important but it’s something that I really like. I want to try new things and different styles. I want my work to be special and different. But I don’t think it’s necessary to have every work distinctive to the last. I just love the variety. If you can find yourself in the project at the end, no matter how different it is to everything you’ve done before, then it’s perfect.
In 2011, you made a music-based video called ‘Cold Star’ and more recently you directed a video for The Hidden Cameras. Do you have a different approach when using music as a narrative?
In music videos, I create a film for the music, not music for the film as I do in short films. I listen to the song and try to get inspiration from it, try to transfer the mood and lyrics to a story. I love that, it’s very special for me. To collaborate with an artist and give a new dimension to their work, creating something new together.
You have embraced social media outlets, such as Facebook and YouTube, to get your work out there. Did this feel like the natural thing to do or did you have any apprehensions about using them?
All my films were made and intended for the Internet. The fact they have been so successful with festivals was a surprise for me. A great one, though. After a few festivals I put my films online. Some festivals don’t want to show them anymore once they were online but there are still a lot of festivals that do. Cold Star has been online for nearly 2 years now and is still featuring at festivals. Social media gives you so much feedback, I love it. You get a raw and direct reaction from the viewers.
Did you always know you wanted to be involved in film?
Yes. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. It’s the story of this little nerdy boy with the camcorder we’ve all heard before. I’m very thankful to my family though, especially my mother, since they’ve always supported me in this. I’m not sure if she really knew what it meant back then (namely that I wouldn’t have a real income until I’m 45, if I’m lucky), but she’s always encouraged me. Although she doesn’t have much herself, she always helped me out while I was studying or financing my films, when it came to that.
Have your university studies in Film and TV Production shaped your aesthetic and the way you create?
It helped me mostly in terms of producing my films, financing and getting a team together. Of course it showed me how films are made in general. When I started studying I didn’t have a clue about film production at all. And just because of my studies I got an internship in Berlin. And that’s how I got here and started doing what I do. But I wouldn’t say it shaped my aesthetic since it was financial/production-oriented studies. There was hardly any creative input at all.
Growing up, can you remember any films or videos that really inspired you to make film?
Okay this answer might make me look stupid. I was obsessed with films when I was a kid, especially horror films. There was one film that inspired me to do my own films. It was Scream. I was very young when I watched it and of course I couldn’t sleep for weeks. But I was obsessed with it! I still am somehow. It’s just such a clever, funny and very scary film. I think there are films that just never leave you because you’ve got so many memories about them. I started doing my own versions of Scream with my friends. I think there are around 5 different ones (I don’t think a single one got finished) and I literally forced all my friends to take part in it. It’s hilarious to look at the footage today. I’ve still got it on VHS.
What are your thoughts on queer cinema today? Do you think it’s becoming more acceptable to depict LGBTQ relationships in film?
Films like The Kids Are All Right or The Perks of Being a Wallflower show us that it’s possible to have a successful film with a queer relationship in it. I think there’s still a long way to go though. In mainstream films, queer relationships are often stereotyped and just for sidekicks. But as LGBTQ awareness extends more and more in society, so it will in the film industry too. And there are a lot of people working on that, all over the world.
Your films appear to have a strong focus on gender, identity and sexuality. Do you feel your work is a statement or an exploration of these themes?
Obviously it’s a theme that I’m very involved with, that’s why it’s part of my films. I want my films to transfer something, whether it’s a message, an impulse or an emotion. I don’t want them to be meaningless. So of course I’d like to think of my films as statements. For all different kinds of things. Mostly for being who you are.
To watch It’s Consuming Me as well as Kai’s other films, please visit his official website www.kaistaenicke.com