Interview With Stephen Kessen, “How Can I Help?”

By Ruth on August 23, 2016 in Uncategorized
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I always say, “There’s nothing like a good indie film.” Well, at least, that’s what I say this year. I have only discovered the wonderful world of indie films in the past few months, but I’m sold. When I happened upon the film How Can I Help? I was intrigued by the title and the premise. Furthermore, when Stephen Kassen (director, producer, writer, etc.) agreed to answer a few questions about the film, I was even more fascinated. With pleasure, he apprised me to a variety of things concerning the film’s purpose, the filming of it, and even what its future may be.

With William Kenny Behind the Scenes

With William Kenny Behind the Scenes

RH: First of all, please tell us how you got started in the entertainment business and how you transitioned from acting to directing.

SK: I have always wanted to be an actor. I grew up watching television and behind-the-scenes footage. When my dad transitioned to buying DVD’s, I watched the special features and listened to the director’s commentary, which I recommend to anyone who wants to pursue film. In high school, when I got my first job, I would save a little money, and the rest went to college level textbooks. When I told my dad I wanted to go to film school, he loaded up the car, and we went across the country to look at schools. When I was at college, one of my professors saw that I responded to screenwriting really well. I was inspired by {Sylvester} Stallone, who wrote Rocky for himself and then Matt Damon and Ben Affleck who wrote Good Will Hunting for themselves.

To be honest, the transition to directing was made out of necessity. I had written scripts for other directors, and I got tired of them losing interest once they received the scripts. So I took all my scripts back, and now I am directing myself and being a one-man crew most of the time. Adrienne {Stephany} has done co-producing and helps organize the set, so it doesn’t feel like I am one hundred percent alone. That helps with getting stuff done because I spent money on a college education, and I’m going to use it.

What is the premise of your film How Can I Help? What is the inspiration behind the story?

The premise for How Can I Help? is about a man who is so fed up with Christmas being about gifts and the pressure of buying the right thing that he makes a promise to his friends that he will do one favor for them. He says that instead of gifts, he will do favors for all of December. Some of the favors go well, while others backfire in spectacular fashion.

This is actually something I did back in December when I got fed up with the consumerism of the holiday. I went to the movies on Thanksgiving and saw all the pressure of buying, and everyone looked miserable. Kids were throwing tantrums because of the gifts, and people were running around frantically, yelling at retail workers because they were out of stock. So I decided to give my friends the one thing I couldn’t get back–my time.

The idea for making the movie actually goes to Mark Clinton Sanchez, an actor I worked with. We were at a mutual friends’ Christmas party and he had been following what I was doing and he knew I was a writer, and he told me to make it into a movie. I was hesitant at first because I was already telling people on Facebook about what I was doing. I thought making a movie about it would be the most self-congratulatory thing I could do. He told me that people know who I am and wouldn’t think I was being self-indulgent since the message of the movie is to help others. This movie would not have been made without Mark Clinton Sanchez.

Please tell us about the cast and crew you have involved and how you went about casting them.

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William

The crew was small. It was me and Adrienne. Adrienne and I met at a film function almost two years ago and truth be told, completely forgot about her until she agreed to help my friend Michelle LiBrandi with a scene for her reel. We started filming more and more and getting more complicated films done, and then we agreed on a feature. I wrote Help and sent it to her, and she loved the concept and wanted to be there for casting. The role of Ellen was written for her.

The cast was mostly people I had worked with before, except for William Kenny–he was someone we had not worked with before. We did the first day of auditions, and Will came in smack dab in the middle of the auditions and nailed Nick’s desire to help and yet frustration at being taken advantage of.

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Becca Lynn

Becca Lynn was someone I did a commercial with, and when she saw the post that we were doing auditions, she asked to audition for Liz. Lots of the others had auditioned for Liz, and I did not feel any of them were right. Becca came in and gave one of the best auditions ever.

The role of Peter was based on my friend, Marc Decrosta, who had a health scare during auditions, so I was hesitant to cast him, Adrienne mentioned Daniel Blunck. We screen-tested him, and he got Peter’s sarcastic sense of humor, and yet he could be heartfelt when needed.

How long did it take you to film this movie? Where did you film? What was the atmosphere like on set?

We filmed the movie on the weekends from the middle of May to middle of July. We had to take a couple weeks off as our main actor was cast in another project, and we let him go do that movie. We filmed in several cities. The main character’s house is in Tempe, Arizona, but we also used Mesa, Chandler, Phoenix, and Avondale. We filmed all over, and since it was about a guy who helps people, we wanted to get as many locations as possible.

When directing a comedy, I try to keep my atmosphere on set as light as possible. You can laugh and joke, but when I call action, I ask for it to please be quiet. I gave the actors the freedom to try new things, and a lot of what they came up with will be in the film. I also shoot quickly, and I never did more than seven takes of a scene. It was nice to see the cast smiling.

Now that the film is in post-production, what is the next step for the film?  When are you projecting this film will be able to be seen by the general public? 

I am editing it now, and I am doing the festival route and will continue to do that route until we find a distributor, or we run out of festivals to try. I would love to have a cast and crew screening, but that is further down the road.

While this film is probably your primary focus, do you have any other upcoming works you can mention? 

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Adrienne

I have a lot of other projects going on as well. I am in the midst of writing Archer’s Paradox, which is being directed by Daniel Blunck and stars McKenzie Jones. We will probably be holding auditions in September. I also wrote an action film for Adrienne called Louder Than Words and a drama about a stand-up comedian called Hack, both of which I want to film in 2017.

I also started a group called “Casting Against Type” where actors and writers will get together and work on stories and give actors a chance who are typecast to break out of that and play something different. That group will be more productive once I finish Help.

What do you hope viewers will take away from your film?

How Can I Help? is a comedy…It’s a comedy that does contain adult humor, but there is a lot of heart in it as well. I want the audience to appreciate the friends they have. Nick is an everyman…he is the definition of an anti-hero, and he accomplishes so much. I hope this film has the power to make people reflect on what they think is important.

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The thing I always appreciate about indie films is that they are typically “outside the box,” and that definitely holds true for How Can I Help? Stephen has taken a simple idea and crafted it into something that has the potential to touch the hearts and lives of many people, and if nothing else, make them think about what the true meaning of giving is. Stephen’s passion is certainly apparent in the way he speaks about his films and concepts, and he is one of those special people who can do it all. I only wish the best for him on this film that is certain to be a thought-provoking, heatfelt journey, and I can hardly wait until everyone has the opportunity to see it. Until that time, be sure that you follow Stephen and the film below at the various links because if there’s one thing indie filmmakers like Stephen appreciate, it is fan support. And after all, you want to know when his film is out, right?

FOLLOW STEPHEN

Facebook

IMDB

FOLLOW HOW CAN I HELP?

Facebook

IMDB

 

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth
42-year-old single mother of an active 13-year-old girl Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA Entertainment Writer Available For Interviews and Reviews Substitute Teacher

2 Comments

  1. Mariangela August 23, 2016 Reply

    Just wanted to say that I really enjoyed your article, it was well written and very informative can’t wait to see the movie when its available.

    • Author
      Ruth August 23, 2016 Reply

      Thank you so much for those kind words!

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