Interview with Independent Filmmaker Peter Dukes
It always brings a smile to my face when I happen upon an independent filmmaker who’s thought process is similar to my own. What’s more, listening to the passion and drive to make films serves as motivation for myself. Peter Dukes, an independent filmmaker based out of Los Angeles reached out to Reelybored Horror via our Facebook page as he was trying to spread the word on his new werewolf horror short titled, The Beast . The Beast is a short horror film about a father’s internal struggle (Bill Oberst, Jr.) with his boy’s affliction. What immediately struck me after my viewing was that Mr. Dukes took the craft seriously and was not about to let this film, or any of his others for that matter, fall into the film trenches that plague the internet. No, this is a film that will not go unnoticed.
Independent filmmaker Peter Dukes sits down with Reelybored Horror to answer a few questions and discuss some of his previous and current work as well as a few projects he has in the pipeline.
Reelybored: Tell us a bit about Dream Seekers Productions and the types of short films you have made?
Peter Dukes: Dream Seekers is a small independent production company where we finance all our own pictures. This means the budgets are tight, but it also means we have the creative freedom to do whatever we want. We don’t have to worry about financiers signing off on which projects we choose, or how we go about making them. Creative liberty is not something to take for granted!
We’ve pride ourselves on our diversity. To date we’ve produced Horror, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Thriller, Drama films and even a quirky animation, but we’re really open to any and all genres and subgenres, so long as there is a really interesting story to be told. Story, above all, is what drives us. We work really hard to produce material that engages and challenges the audience, ultimately reminding them (hopefully) how rewarding the movie going experience can be. This is a feeling that is, for the most part, lacking in today’s modern movie going experience and I feel that’s a shame.
“Story, above all, is what drives us. We work really hard to produce material that engages and challenges the audience, ultimately reminding them (hopefully) how rewarding the movie going experience can be.”
Reelybored: What initially interested you about film and filmmaking?
Dukes: I’ve loved stories since I was a little boy. Reading them, watching them, listening to them, telling them, drawing them, re-enacting them, you name it. Stories give us the ability to view our world, as well as our place in it, in new and exciting ways. To be able to harness these stories (become the storyteller) and use them to express your views, challenge people, teach lessons or just for pure old escapist fun is an incredible thing. It was only natural that it eventually lead me to filmmaking.
Reelybored: Tell us about some of the filmmakers that inspire your work and why.
Dukes: There are a lot of them out there! I’ll focus on just two: Steven Spielberg and Krzysztof Kieslowski, one representing mainstream filmmaking, the other pure art. I’ve always loved Spielberg’s older films. Films that were able to be big box office “summer” type films but ALSO top notch high quality filmmaking and storytelling achievements. Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. All critical AND box office smashes. You shouldn’t always have to choose one or the other. This was a lesson that was learned a long time ago, and in a perfect cinematic world, we’d see this lesson adhered to a little more often. Being that my films’ budgets are super tight, I should also point out one more of my favorite Spielberg films. Duel. If you haven’t seen it before, do so! It’s a must watch for me at least once a year. It’s young Spielberg at his best. No money. No effects. Just a bare bones plot that Spielberg, relying on his raw talent, turns into a masterful tale of dread and suspense.
Kieslowski’s films were so original and daring (in so many ways) that one can’t be helped but be swept up by them. The Colors Trilogy, The Double Life of Veronique, The Decalogue. Astounding creative work.
Reelybored: There seems to be an ethereal, fantastical world in your films that feature goblins, fairies and spirits; any particular reason why?
Dukes: To be sure we have a soft spot for genres that allow us to take reality and turn it on its head. There are of course a few different reasons why we tend to lean towards the ethereal, fantastical and paranormal, but who are we kidding? The biggest reason is that it’s just plain fun! One of my favorite things about being a filmmaker is having the ability to toy around with reality and what we consider the “norm”, and we certainly take advantage of that.
“We make films that have grounded issues and themes, regardless of what genre the story has been wrapped inside.”
Reelybored: Despite this fantasy, and sometimes horrific scenarios that some of your characters encounter, such as the Scientist, played by John Michael Herndon, in your short, Lanrete, or Michel (Bill Oberst, Jr.) in The Beast, the question of what it is to be human seems to be an important aspect that in some ways trumps the horrors being portrayed on-screen. Am I correct in my assessment that there is more than meets the eye in your short films or am I way off here?
Dukes: You are correct. There is always more than meets the eye in my films. We make films that have grounded issues and themes, regardless of what genre the story has been wrapped inside. These are more often than not layered in just under the surface, and not tossed on top of the plot. We don’t like to spoon feed our viewers every single message we want to convey. We aim to engage and involve them in the story, so they have to think about and discuss with others what they’ve seen. Even if they take something away from your film that’s completely different than what we’d intended when producing it, every filmmaker’s goal is to have his viewers think and talk about the film after leaving.
Reelybored: What are some of the films that speak to you?
Dukes: Some of my films speak to me more than others, but I will make a special mention of just one, and only because it never gets any attention. Yet, it perhaps best represents what it is that we do best. It’s called “Memory Lane”. It’s perhaps the least polished, and certainly the cheapest, film we ever made, yet it remains one of the most emotionally effective. Those few who actually check it out are more moved by it than by any of the others. It’s also a love story, the only one we’ve done to date. It’s the story of a man, haunted by his past, who must face an uncertain future. It’s as short and simple as can be, but is arguably the very best example of what dream seekers has built its name on. Telling a complete and moving story in a very short amount of time, with little to no money to spare.
Reelybored: Any favorite horror films or books and why?
Dukes: Oh, boy! I could go on and on. For books I’m a huge fan of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, HP Lovecraft’s “At The Mountains Of Madness”, as well as a few of his remarkable short stories, “The Haunting Of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson and “The Turn Of The Screw” by Henry James. There are others to be sure, but these ones always pop in to my head immediately. They aren’t all the scariest books you’ll ever read, nor the most brutal, but they are absolute classics of the genre. They represent the very best of what horror has been and can once again be.
For films I enjoy Carl Theodore Dreyer’s Vampyr, Dario Argento’s Deep Red and Suspiria, Tobe Hooper’s Poltergiest, Ridley Scott’s Alien, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In, Ron Underwood’s Tremors, the original The Poseidon Adventure (which isn’t technically a horror film, but it scared the heck out of me when I was a kid!) Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys and Joe Dante’s Gremlins. There are many others, but these represent to me a nice range of horror.
Reelybored: Can you speak on any rookie mistakes you have encountered as a filmmaker on or off a set that can speak to others as a “lesson learned” scenario from your perspective?
Dukes: [laughs] You learn lessons on EVERY film you undertake. We’re all students of the medium until we retire or die! There’s a book of advice I could write, but for you indie filmmakers out there who are just starting out, here’s a big one; A film shoot is almost ALWAYS going to take longer than you think, so be sure to schedule accordingly. It’s natural for productions on super tight budgets to try and stuff a long shot list into one or two days, but be careful that you do so without sacrificing the quality of your film. Otherwise, all the hard work and money is being wasted, right? You’ve got a vision for your film. Take the time to achieve that vision. Spending the time and money to use that extra day or two (if needed) won’t stop the world from turning.
Reelybored: Any funny or awkward situations while on set that you can now look back on and laugh about?
Dukes: Many, but most I can’t share for some of the people involved might very well see this interview! [laughs] I do, however, remember a situation long ago when I was filming a scene involving one character leading another character into a field, rifle in hand. I was young and had a malformed brain I suppose, because I’d decided to shoot this scene in a small field well within view of houses and streets so before not too long a cop pulled over and approached us. He’d been called by the residents of one of the houses who thought they were witnessing a crime in progress. The cop, quickly realizing what was going on, just got annoyed and told us to take off, but not before radioing to his back-up that he was just dealing with “amateur filmmakers”. At the time I remember not being relieved at having avoided a potentially nasty misunderstanding, but being irritated that he’d called me an amateur. Of course, I WAS an amateur at the time, but still…
Reelybored: [laughs] That’s a great story! I can relate to the craft not being taken seriously by others who just don’t seem to understand. Where do you hope to be in the near-future?
Dukes: Writing and directing feature films, and being paid to do so! Then, one day, producing them as well. Getting a feature under your belt is HUGE in this town and until I get that first feature I’m sort of spinning my tires. I’ll continue to produce short films, because I love to, but we have a rapidly growing fan base and are definitely eyeing bigger things down the road.
Reelybored: What’s in the pipeline for you and Dream Seekers Productions?
Dukes: We love short films so I’m sure we will continue to produce them, but we’re also working on a couple of different projects that would be either independent or in partnership with Dream Seekers. Those are kind of under wraps at the moment. We also have a feature screenplay that’s recently come out of option so we’ll soon be pushing it out to new producers.
Reelybored: Any parting words or word of wisdom to aspiring or upcoming filmmakers?
Dukes: The advice I always offer here is to make sure you love it. The IDEA of filmmaking and actually being a filmmaker are two very different things. It takes a tremendous amount of time, effort and money (not to mention determination, perseverance and sacrifice) to build up a body of work, and there’s little to no guarantee that you’ll ever stand out from the sea of other filmmakers for the chance to be a PAID filmmaker. If you’re doing it to be rich and famous, you’re in for a rude awakening. So, make sure you truly love it and are getting into the profession for the right reasons. If you ever DO become rich and famous, that can be the icing on your cake.
“If you’re doing it to be rich and famous, you’re in for a rude awakening. So, make sure you truly love it and are getting into the profession for the right reasons.”
For more information on Peter Dukes, Dream Seeker Productions and to stay up to date on their latest projects you can visit their official website www.dreamseekersprods.com or visit them on Facebook here. You can also follow them on Twitter @dreamseekerfans or subscribe to their YouTube Channel to watch all of their short films by clicking here.