New indie company, Immaculata Pictures, works to resurrect forgotten storytelling

Writer/radio host Patrick Coffin and writer Dustin Kahia are in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to help finance their film, "Call of the Void"

Tired of the non-stop uncreative schlock Hollywood churns out each month? Hungry for movies you can get excited about the way you used to? Able to support a new Kickstarter campaign to make it happen? Read on.

Writer and radio host Patrick Coffin, who pens The Cinephile for Catholic World Report, and his writing partner Dustin Kahia are starting to see a dream come true. Immaculata Pictures was founded this year to reintroduce and recombine classic storytelling with the latest techniques and equipment. CWR sat down recently with the two San Diego-based filmmakers to talk about their company, dream, and the plan to actualize it.

CWR: Patrick, since your name is better known to CWR readers and because of your work in Catholic radio, let’s start with you. Where did the idea for Immaculata Pictures come from?

PC: The name and the legal status as a company really came from Dustin, who had been working for some time to set up a production platform from which to start making movies. I graduated from the well-known Act One: Writing for Hollywood and have worked on a number of writing projects that ended up in what the industry calls Development Hell – the dreaded limbo status of a script that isn’t rejected (and could even be sold) but is not yet filmed or distributed. I also worked at Paulist Productions for the late Father Ellwood Kieser, CSP, as a creative development executive, which gave me a real world sense of how projects go from zero to one. When I met Dustin, not only was the synergy and sympatico there, but so was the timing.

CWR: Dustin, what is your background in the film industry?

DK: I came into filmmaking the tried-and-true way: I interned, first at Morgan Freeman’s Revelations Entertainment and then at Village Roadshow Pictures in Los Angeles. Although no one knew it, I was commuting all the way from San Diego to LA each day. But the training and experience was well worth it. It was a crash course in the entertainment business.

CWR: Did you go to film school?

DK: I began the famous USC School of Cinematic Arts program in earnest, but was very disturbed by the prospect of graduating in debt to six figure amounts. So I was soon asking myself whether I wanted to throw a ton of money that I didn’t have at an expensive program — or get in the game directly and raise money to actually make films. I devoured the syllabus of textbooks recommended by my professors in my first semester, pored over the sources every day and most nights, watched every Hitchcock movie I could get my hands on, and just began. My first two film shorts won some film festival awards, and I was inspired to keep moving forward.

CWR: Patrick, you’re producing the first feature film of Immaculata Pictures, Call of the Void. Why a Kickstarter campaign to do it?

PC: Great question. We looked at the financial realities of loans, capital investments, and even studio collaboration, but in the end, decided to cut the Gordian knot by appealing to the public through Kickstarter. It has two immediate benefits: it’s direct and it’s fast. You have only 30 days to reach your goal so it’s a little nerve-racking. The good thing is, most people who see the campaign video are also movie-goers. And most movie-goers I talk to are really fed up with the $12 junk they see at the theaters. There is a great hunger out there, and Immaculata Pictures was founded to feed it with high-quality, commercially successful movies and documentaries. A good Kickstarter campaign enables you to resolve the dilemma of “no money without a film and no film without money.”

CWR: As names go, “Immaculata” is very Catholic sounding. Are you going to be making Catholic movies?

PC: It’s a fair question, but the honest answer may disappoint some people. It depends on what “Catholic movie” means. You have a movie like A Man For All Seasons about St. Thomas More, which was written by an agnostic and directed by a Jew. Is that a Catholic movie? Turn it around: if a believing Catholic makes a movie about an atheist character, does that qualify? If a movie has lots of cathedrals in the background, is that a Catholic movie? We believe art should stand on its own, with its own evidential power. We want to tell stories that have universal appeal. We also believe that to effectively tell stories, you have to speak the vernacular of the culture.

CWR: Sounds like the Pope Francis approach.

DK: Absolutely! One of the great charisms of the Holy Father is his willingness to connect with ordinary people in and out of the Church on a visceral level. He knows he’s the Pope of humanity and not just of Catholics. If we’re going to compete in the creative field our standard has to equal or excel what other artists are creating. And there are some incredibly talented people in Hollywood with no particular faith perspective who are yet telling stories that people all over the world relate to. That’s our competition.

PC: Another point is that religious faith and creative effort exist, in a sense, on separate tracks. Ideally, the two can coincide — with tremendous results as Saint John Paul II said in his 1999 Letter to Artists. But the thing moviemakers must have is storytelling ability and business savvy. Faith, you might say, is necessary but not sufficient. Why should art created by Christians be judged according to a lower standard? When people of all faiths or none walk into St. Peter’s church or the Louvre and behold the work of Michaelango or Leonardo DaVinci, my guess is their first impulse is not to ask, “Is this Catholic art?”

DK: Look, there are plenty of films made by Christians for Christians – and thank God for them – but they’re not necessarily seen by many people outside the grassroots networking groups and church sponsored screenings. We have no message-sending aspirations. Writer Moss Hart is credited with the saying, “If you want to send a message, call Western Union.” We hereby confess our allergy to anything resembling a telegram or bullhorn.

CWR: Tell us about Call of the Void.

PC: Well, Call of the Void is our first film project. It’s an exploration of the consequences in the life of the main character, Steve, who succumbs to that neurotic self-destructive thought that pops into your head from time to time. The term “call of the void” is the English translation of the French term L’appel du vide, which describes that fleeting impulse.

CWR: You mean like the sudden urge to leap over the railing of a tall bridge?

DK: That’s the one – totally irrational, right? Yet most people admit to having that experience. It’s like a jolt out of left field. The story explores what would happen if you gave into it. In Steve’s case, he suffers from a strange condition of memory loss that keeps him (and us the audience) a bit off balance and disoriented but still leaning forward to find out what happens. Think Alfred Hitchcock meets Dean Koontz.

CWR: Why shoot in black and white?

PC: We’re not trying to be retro for retro’s sake. Quite honestly, though, some concepts can be better communicated in black and white than in color. In the case of Call of the Void, it’s a classic noir story set in New York City in 1951. There’s a dark dimension — a moody ambience — to the story that is very attuned to seeing the story unfold in deep blacks and bright whites, which are symbolic in themselves. The word noir is French for black, so there’s a natural fittingness there.

CWR: Where are you going to shoot it?

DK: Thanks to my internship contacts in Los Angeles, we’ll be able to shoot on the back lot of Warner Brothers in Burbank, which has a gorgeous “New Yawk naybahhood-looking” sound stage.

CWR: How can readers find out more?

DK: The best way of all, in addition to prayer, is to go to our Kickstarter link and give what you can. We have some fun “Thank you” gifts for donors at different levels. The clock is ticking on our campaign, and unless we cross the finish line by September 9th at 11:08 PM PST/2:08AM EST (not that we’re counting or anything), your credit card won’t be charged. 

PC: We hope people will be inspired to support us once they see the vision over at Kickstarter and be part of a creative solution to the dearth of memorable, emotionally engaging movies.

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