Tonya’s Talks: A Conversation with San Diego Film Festival Documentary Winner and Filmmaker Kyle Tekiela.
Recently, Tonya Mantooth, SDFF’s Vice President of Programming, sat down with Kyle Tekiela who credits his 2012 Best Documentary win at San Diego Film Fest for helping launch his filmmaking career. He’ll be premiering his first feature film in LA in a few weeks.
TONYA: You won best documentary at the 2012 San Diego Film Festival for your documentary, A SISTER’S CALL. Tell us a little bit about the film and what that experience was like for you?
KYLE: A SISTER’S CALL was a documentary that followed the dramatic journey of a woman’s search for her missing brother, then when he is finally found – homeless with severe paranoid schizophrenia – the journey becomes one of recovery as she seeks treatment for her brother and struggles to integrate him back into the family and society. Incredibly, the footage was shot over a 15 year period so there are enormous ups and downs that occur over that amount of time. I spent 5 years in edit before the film was complete, partly because some amazing things happened in those last years that we were able to capture and integrate into the edit. If there’s one thing I learned about documentaries, it’s that you are never finished until the ending presents itself to you. It’s not like a narrative where you can tie everything into a nice bow in one scene.
TONYA: What happened next for you?
KYLE: Not only was the film endorsed by many mental health organizations like NAMI which is one of the largest, we spent the next two years touring the festival circuit and ended up winning at a dozen festivals, including our favorite festival of the tour – the San Diego Film Festival. Shortly after I produced a feature film called BURYING THE EX, and executive produced a thriller called INTRUDER. I recently wrapped editorial on Eli Roth’s remake of his first hit film CABIN FEVER. This summer I’ll be in production on a fantastic horror film called MIDNIGHT MAN with Cassian Elwes and Voltage Pictures.
TONYA: Have you always wanted to be a filmmaker?
KYLE: No, I actually wanted to be a musician, but after the band broke up in college I turned to documentaries and short films. I quickly discovered a talent for storytelling and was fortunate to be a part of a student run TV show in college that aired on PBS once a month. By the time I was a senior I had 5 Emmy Awards under my belt and hours of content on my reel. I was offered a great job editing commercials and trailers for TNT, TBS, and CNN so I dropped out of school and took the job.
TONYA: What is it like working on your first feature film and what was your role?
KYLE: The success of A SISTER’S CALL gave me the confidence to pursue the next step of filmmaking – feature narratives. I committed the next several years to developing a film and after a million setbacks we finally produced BURYING THE EX – a horror comedy directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins, The Burbs) and starring Anton Yelchin (Star Trek), Ashley Greene (The Twilight Saga), Alexandra Daddario (San Andreas) and Oliver Cooper (Project X). My business partner and I Produced the film along with some other great Producers, with Voltage Pictures (Dallas Buyers Club, Hurt Locker) financing and leading foreign sales. Legendary producer Cassian Elwes was a huge supporter of the project and opened a lot of doors for us.
The experience itself of making a film and all the crazy stuff that goes with it was fascinating. There’s no greater pressure to succeed then when there’s millions of dollars on the line. Fortunately we had a great cast and crew of seasoned professionals. It was the greatest learning experience of my career and I’m forever grateful to those who helped us get it in the can. Shameless plug – BURYING THE EX is in theaters June 19!
TONYA: What has surprised you the most about working in the film industry?
KYLE: This should come as no surprise but 99% of success is being in the right place at the right time with the right people and the right attitude. The biggest surprise was how much transportation and proper craft services costs, that was nearly half our budget!
TONYA: What inspires you as a filmmaker?
KYLE: Honestly what inspires me is the need to do something unique and exciting with my life. Creating stories that move people is an amazing feeling and one that drives me every day. There’s nothing like being on set for a month as 100 creative people all focus on a single unified goal, and the feeling of watching a scene come to life in edit is pure magic. The old saying is true, it’s never work if you love what you do.
TONYA: How do you handle disappointments or set-backs?
KYLE: Unfortunately, overcoming set-backs is most of what a career in filmmaking requires. It’s just part of the job. As a creative problem solver I see it as a challenge rather than a disappointment. If it was easy everybody would do it.
TONYA: What has been the most amazing experience on your journey as a filmmaker?
KYLE: Every experience is amazing in its own way. From finding the right script to signing a director to finally locking down financing. The first table read with the cast or even just the little phone calls and meetings that get the project one more step in the right direction. Even the negative experiences teach me something which makes me better and more confident in what I do. My favorite moments are in editing when it’s just the director and me (I edit my films) and we can craft the scenes until they are perfect. Editing is an incredibly intimate and exciting experience. But if you really want to know, the most amazing experience so far was premiering BURYING THE EX at the Venice Film Festival in Italy. It’s one of the greatest finish lines in the business and everything a young filmmaker dreams about. My wife was pregnant at the time so to have these glamorous photos of us on the red carpet that I can one day show my son is a very cool thing.
TONYA: When you are screening one of your films, what is it like to sit in the audience?
KYLE: It’s a very unique blend of excitement, anticipation, and terror. I like to sit in the back to best gauge the audiences reaction. To hear a hundred people laugh and scream and cry at the moments you want them to is the best feeling in the world.
TONYA: Who have you met that made you “star struck”?
KYLE: I’ve seen many famous people in person but only been star struck once. I was at a sushi restaurant in Hollywood and Bill Nye (the science guy) was sitting at the next table. He had such a positive impact on my childhood that I totally geeked out. I won a science fair in fifth grade by ripping off one of his experiments verbatim.
TONYA: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
KYLE: My company Artimage Entertainment has a bunch of films in development. I would love to be making two or three films a year consistently by then. Fortunately I’ve been lucky enough to get a great start.
TONYA: You are 30 years old. What advice would you give to “you” at 18?
KYLE: First I would tell myself to quit drinking Mountain Dew with every meal, the dentist isn’t cheap. But in regards to everything else, never quit. Keep fighting. Keep learning. Persistence is key. Oh and don’t forget to have some fun too.
For more information on Tyler and his latest work, visit http://www.tekielacreative.com/ , follow him on Twitter @TekielaCreative or Facebook!