Steel City Styling: An Interview with Keitj T. Alin

Steel City Styling: An Interview with Keitj T. Alin

In the rusted metropolis of Cleveland, the heart of Rock ‘N Roll may still be beating, but there’s very few avenues for pursuing independent film making. There are a few that are hoping to change that, by making the most of what they have in the moment. Keitj T. Alin has been garnering a bit of attention with his short films. The trailer for A BARGE AND ITS WIND struck my eye when I stumbled across it on the Internet and I was thoroughly surprised to discover that this blood-splattered spectacle was homegrown in Ohio. And I wanted to learn more…

What does Cleveland mean to you as a filmmaker? How has the city and its environment affected your work? Is there something offered here you haven’t found elsewhere?

I’m from a hick town an hour southeast of Cleveland and it has always been the closest major city where I would in my prepubescent years ago and visit family for the summer then later in my teens go on to hardcore and metal shows. So Cleveland was the 1st city I really got to know growing up, as this magical urban kingdom that I wanted to live in, sooo bad. There is definitely an unconditional attachment I have for Cleveland and Lake Erie, especially now as an adult, trying to make films within Cleveland’s landscape. There is still a lot of this city I’m unfamiliar with or haven’t even been to.

Cleveland continues to surprise me and I see it’s gradual sluggish progression forward when I bike or bus to work every day. The city’s rawness has undoubtedly molded the look of both my films with a gritty moodiness. I’ve travelled the country quite a bit. I did a few year stints with a couple circuses and saw bumfuck hick towns of all sorts as well as a lot of major and minor cities. I really don’t think Cleveland offers too much of anything different than what any other city could offer other than its historical visuals and the people. The rust belt steelyard areas are so played out and milked. I’d rather just avoid them entirely and shoot a dirty gutter in some cesspool alley. Its history is probably more intriguing anyway.

What do you enjoy working with more: practical special effects or CGI?

Definitely so far, practical. Reasons being many. The whole process is such a pain in the taint and so time consuming, making it meditative in all sorts of unpleasant ways. It’s expensive and retakes are frustrating when you’re working within a tight budget, as well as schedule and to maintain continuity.

That’s why I like it. It’s a rough ride that creates experience and knowledge. Any type of knowledge is gaining insight to more wisdom. Lessons through and through. The challenge.
The knowledge, drive and patience in the people/my team who love to do the effects
And when it looks great, it is a celebration and guess what? It looks 1000 times better than what CGI can do.Bodies bleed a red substance, called blood. Not #FF0000 colored pixels. CGI has a place in my heart, big time. Don’t doubt that. As a hole patcher and an emphasis on stuff that would other wise be unfixable any other way.

What draws your attention to a project? Are you more concerned with story or the visual style to tell that story?

Initially it’s usually just a real simple verbal concept that springs up visuals that inspire me to such a degree that I feel as though I must make it and show it to as many people that are willing to watch it. Sound always drives my visuals after I get the basic idea in my head. So visually with certain sounds I whip up mental storyboards that drive that simple verbal concept into something that is a cinematically container exclusively waiting for the story’s content to fill it until it overflows.

I would say I’m a more visual guy but that Pedro Almodovar is a perfect example of how prestigious I would eventually like to be come in my filmmaking with the story aspect of the question.

What influences have affected your work?

I have quite a bit. Stanley Kubrick’s sense of humor has affected me since I was a small child. Gaspar Noe’s Cinematography is so self-indulgently ballsy that I feel I need to thank its presence, because it’s alive and breathing and giving me a spectacular ride. Andrzej Zulawski. I dare you to watch all of On the Silver Globe or write a comprehensible review on La Femme Publique. He doesn’t give a shit about the audience and I can’t sum up his films without accidentally slandering them. His film Possession is my favorite of his and it has a scene in it that inspired one of the scenes in my 2nd film, A BARGE AND ITS WIND.

Couple more: Richard Stanley’s diversity of chosen content and how he delivers it has been a big influence as well as Danish director/writer Ole Bornedal’s ability to create rich, original characters with awesome justified violence (94’s Nightwatch and Deliver Us From Evil, etc.) Michael Haneke’s ability to create the ultimately depressing awkward situations, The Piano Teacher to name a favorite and I give a nod to Harmony Korine in that light as well for creativity. I would not dare leave out Ken Russell’s Altered States, or Saul Bass’ forgotten classic PHASE IV. Right now I’m really looking forward to seeing what Italian director Paulo Sorrentino does next and I have my eye on Koen Mortier’s sophomore effort, 22ND OF MAY. Look into it.

What can you share about your cast and crew of A BARGE AND ITS WIND? How did that project come about?

Well the film would have never happened if I didn’t have such great volunteers. I think I had such great volunteers firstly for the cast and crew being my friends and secondly because they saw the progression of the basic idea of just expressing my interest in making a film, from an idea I had shot the shit about with them, to actually requesting them to come to rehearsals and production meetings and really show them we were doing something real. That there was a script and a schedule to shoot scenes, with stunts and hundreds of dollars worth of effects and long hours involved in pre and post production.

My production manager, John Friscat, who was a main producer and location manager is basically a scientist. The guy can build jet engines, meaning he can build anything. He is so resourceful and I swear a machinery Buddhist. His mechanical Zen and patience astounds me to this day. He really believes in my ability and I cannot explain how helpful, yet how blunt he can be. John just makes everything easier. On top of all that we share a love for coffee and cinematography and a childhood and upbringing of rural Ohio. We work real well together and the film would have never of happened without him.

The 1st day was hell. Our original lead actor over slept and we replaced him last minute. We rehearsed 4 or 5 times all the scenes and some angles in my living room. But that all went out the door once our actor overslept. Fortunately for me and my crew, we had a back up, Douglas. An old friend that I had been discussing a project that has since been pushed to the waaaay back burner, called Roadkill, ha. Douglas is an aspiring actor, so he has the knack, skill and personality to pull off roles. Without even knowing the script he showed up at like 3:15am at my place, smelling like booze. He learned the script and story within in minutes. He had never met Nick before who in the film plays the blowhard asshole in the chef pants. I remember as soon as Douglas walked through the door I pointed over at the then, stranger to him and said, “You want to fucking kill that guy, you hate him.” They began rehearsing. It was awesome.

Another thing about Douglas Arthur Hall, was his ability to get physically carried away with the 120 lb co-star Nick LaRich. I can’t even count how many times Nick was badly hurt due to Douglas getting so into the scene we were shooting at the time. At one point Nick was inches away from breaking his back and being paralyzed… I’m not even exaggerating, seriously.


As with anything, the more you do it, the more familiar you become with it and the better you’re going to get at it. We shot every other weekend, starting in February 2010 and ended on the weekend of April 9th, 2010. We had 7 different locations we shot at 4 of which where I was the only crew member other than the actor I was filming. Basic interior filler stuff that helped really develop the characters, after the fact, in the films ending credits.

Perry Barbarino one of my good friends really helped bring a sense of comic relief and intrigue to the film with his ability to improvise dialog. With going back so far with Nicolette Ironwing the two worked great together with crafting a natural sounding dialog. I’m very easily pleased when it comes to other people’s performances, especially under the circumstances we were under and with Nicolette’s kind hearted catering, (fine wine, cheese and crackers, French press coffee). We just had so much fun and stayed on top of our game for the most part.

The film’s nightmare sequence was the film’s original basis and how the story was birthed. Aaron Davis who plays Nick’s father in the nightmare sequence told me about this messed up dream he had about the devils coming to him at night before his son was born. It gave me goose-bumps and inspired me to shoot just that scene. I ended up developing the story based around that, loosely and wanted to tie it in with a social commentary on human emotion and a government cover up involving weapon technology that didn’t involve zombies. Sorry but I hate Zombies. Don’t get me wrong the classics are essential and there are some good ones like Robin Campillo’s “Les Revenants” or Edgar Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead” to name a couple, but the genre is just so played out, that I find myself repulsed by how stagnant it is. I want to avoid that entirely, always.

I’ll never do a zombie film, ever. Okay, I’m rambling.

What do you enjoy the most as a filmmaker: the writing, the directing, or the post-production?

When I think about it, I cannot narrow it down. They are all so important to me personally. There is no such thing, in my mind at least, of one of the three existing without the other. I wrote a film and had someone else direct it and though I thought on a technical scale it was handled well, I don’t feel close to the final product. When you write something you have a vibe in mind and it when it’s handed over to someone you immediately are throwing that original feel out the window. No matter how well you explain or how well you connect with that person. One’s own truth is the only absolute. It’s one of the many ideologies, I live by.

So in the end I would say I enjoy all three. I love developing the story, and I LOVE directing what I will be eventually editing. Because with that story I’m writing I always write with sound in mind. It helps dictate everything visually which ushers the story and pacing.

Do you have plans on leaving Ohio or continuing to use it for your base of operations?

I have never in all my years of existence have ever wanted to always live in Ohio, let alone Cleveland, especially since I’ve been to hundreds of small no name towns across the country. There are still a few places I have yet gone that are important to go to before I make any final decision of where I eventually want to move to. But I can safely say that I will be in Cleveland for another 4 or 5 years. I want to make a mark and/or a strong impact on the city before it forgets me or hates me when I leave.

What can you share about your next set of projects?

A lot of exciting projects in the works. In my head I have about four to five features I want to make before I die and about 3 more shorts in between, possibly. My next project is a collaborative effort with Perry Barberino from A Barge and Its Wind and also a close friend of mine.

Let me just say it’s great to have a writer. The writer is almost the director in my opinion. I don’t want to give too much away but let’s just say it’s about a psychic-vampyre bum who is over 200 years old. He absorbs people’s life energy to keep himself youthful and has the ability to implode your head and travel inter-dimensionally. The film is called “HEY, OLD MAN“. And will be released in February 2011. It may be 30 minutes. It may be an hour. Perry hopes it is 8 hours long. He wrote it and the screenplay, and we both wrote the story. I’m producing and directing.

Hey, Old Man” will act as a prequel/epilogue of sorts to my 1st feature film that I’m shooting next year in August 2011 called, “LAST PLAIN”. The film is a period piece, an existential western full of atmospheric minimalism and a cut and dry metaphoric narrative. I’ll sum it up by saying, Seraphim Falls/El Topo,/Once Upon a Time in the West, meets Cannibal Holocaust way of Edgar Allen Poe… But nothing like any of those films if that makes any sense.

Add a little Cormac McCarthy in there, okay? I need more producers!!! I have horses so far… Ha!

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Born in the steel scrap-yards of Lorain, Ohio, Zach Shildwachter is a VHS Vagabond wandering the Cleveland landscape in search of the perfect Horror movie and Banana flavored snacks in preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse. Until the Dead walk, our Hero remains an Aspiring Filmmaker, Compulsive Writer, Self-taught Artist, and amateur Super-Hero.


  1. […] by Cleveland, Ohio based filmmaker Keitj T. Alin, stands as the feature debut from Keitj. In my interview with Keitj Alin he announced the news here first of this next endeavor and expressed his excitement about […]

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