Q+A With SLIFF Filmmaker & Director Hieronymus Cole
Meet one of this year’s St. Louis International Film Festival directors: Hieronymus Cole. His film, “Splatter,” takes on a subject matter that we’ve all seen, lived and felt: relationships. With a background in music video work (having worked with local groups such as the Illphonics, Bob Reuter’s Alley Ghost and Bassamp & Dano), Cole has an affection and dedication to the city he’s from and the creative people who make it valuable. “Splatter” is his first short film to be featured at SLIFF, but certainly not his last.
ALIVE: How long have you been interested/involved in filmmaking?
Hieronymus Cole: I’ve been shooting videos since I was 15, so I’m actually going on 10 full years now, which is actually a scary thought. I started doing videos in high school; it’s how I kind of built my main high school group. I stole my dad’s video camera and we started doing mock videos just for fun and to entertain our friends. Film is the one thing that hasn’t changed in my life. A lot of things have changed—the people that I know, things that I do—but the only consistent thing is film. That’s why I have it tattoo’d on my chest. (His tattoo reads “I DO FILM.”)
ALIVE: Where/when did the idea for the film originate?
HC: I co-wrote the film with my really good buddy, Richard Ulrich. He just got out of a five-year relationship. I have a six-year anniversary coming up with my girlfriend, and we were hitting the five-year woes [at the time].
You know, everyone has them—the strains, the difficulties. Essentially, when you’ve been together with someone for five years, you know every terrible thing about each other and you can really push each other’s buttons. So when he came to me with this script about a relationship, we completely reformed it and combined both of our experiences, you know, from a guy’s perspective. Everyone experiences difficulties in a relationship and we thought, “How can we express that?” We really wanted to create a film that everyone has some experience in.
ALIVE: Where did you find the actors/actresses for the film?
HC: I believe in the people around me ten-fold the amount of the standard individual. Richard (cast as Jack) had never acted before. I didn’t give him that role until two weeks before filming. I knew this film was going to rely on good acting. A lot of coaching and a lot of directing was involved. Nicole Ogden (cast as Jess) also starred in “Sophie,” which won three awards at the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase and will also be at SLIFF.
ALIVE: Which scene was hardest to tackle?
HC: The biggest issue that we had is in the end scene where Richard is lined up to throw a can of paint. I sent him off to get him really worked up, and I said, “Come out whenever you feel like it; I’m just going to roll camera.” I rolled camera for about five minutes before he even came out. He came out in just a ball of sadness and depression, and it was really great. It was so fantastic, we kept working past the original stopping point. He actually ended up throwing the can of paint at the floor and it exploded all over my apartment. So that was a setback just because of sheer clean-up effect. Every towel in my apartment was used. (The accident can been seen during the blooper reel at the end credits!)
ALIVE: What did you use to shoot the film?
HC: The opening sequence in the beginning relationship, I shot on an iPhone in Tower Grove Park. And then I shot that footage with a Sony handicam from 1996, to give it that old-style, video recorder look. I read somewhere that the best camera to use is the camera you have.
ALIVE: What is it like having a film accepted into SLIFF?
HC: It’s the largest festival we have in St. Louis. It is a qualifying festival for the academy awards, which a lot of people don’t realize. So it’s really cool to have local feature films, short films, documentaries, being put right in the middle of these films that are going to get the highest awards in the country at the end of the year. So that’s really cool to be a part of. It makes you realize your dream of being a recognized filmmaker could happen.
ALIVE: Are you nervous about the competition?
HC: I just hope that mine can hang in there. I am really happy to be representing the St. Louis film community. The original goal was just to get a film into the showcase, and now we’re in the international festival, and we’re still getting a lot of praise. So it’s nice; it’s encouraging.
ALIVE: Did you find it hard to enter the St. Louis filmmaking scene?
HC: I am still entering that scene. This is my first film. I submitted to the St. Louis Filmmakers showcase in college and was denied. I am definitely a newcomer, and it’s hard to wrap my head around that because I’m the expert at film and video with all of my friends. But even 10 years into film and video, I am now officially a rookie in the St. Louis scene.
ALIVE: Do you find a lot of support in other filmmakers in the city?
HC: Sometimes we’re hesitant to reach out to others because we don’t want to mess with each other’s creative flow. But there are a few directors I talk with: some people from Webster, my really good buddy Wolfgang Lehmkuhl—who I worked with on his film “Strumpet” that was at SLIFF. His whole film was shot at Lemp Mansion like 1920s noir with title cards.
I guess the biggest thing that I’d say about the St. Louis filmmaking community is that with anyone that’s not involved in film, anytime that you tell them that you have a film going on, or a project, they want to be involved. That’s a great thing about St. Louis. And you don’t have to bother with permits and regulations for shooting like you do in other major cities.
I’m still really new to the filmmaking community; really nobody knows my name still. So [“Splatter”] is a fresh step and I’m really glad to put out something that is purely from my creative mind.
ALIVE: Any advice for aspiring filmmakers in STL?
HC: There’s only so much planning you can do before you have to do. It can take years to make a script, but if you don’t shoot it, no one’s ever going to see it. You have to keep doing. You have to keep making. You’ll use this project as a stepping stone to your next one, and then that one to your next one. You’re never fully done.
ALIVE: Where does your creativity come from?
HC: My creativity really comes from my depression and my personal pain. Any great teacher will tell you to tell stories that you know. I really let worldly issues affect me on an emotional level, and that’s what I hope to get into in the future—addressing more worldly issues. With depression and pain, it can inspire creativity but it can also be the thing that completely destroys you, so you have to have an outlet. Film has kind of been my personal therapy.
ALIVE: Where do you find the most creativity in the city?
HC: Anywhere where people respect equality and diversity. Just don’t be afraid of people.
ALIVE: Do you think St. Louis is represented in your film?
HC: Yes. I wanted to make a film about a call to relationships, the feels, but I also wanted to include a realistic approach to what it’s like to operate as a standard couple in St. Louis. Jack works a struggling bartending gig, Jess is currently studying and pursuing school. I thought about what pieces represent St. Louis that are telltale to a lot of our experiences—the Delmar Loop with the Vintage Vinyl scene.
St. Louis has a story to tell. And it’s a shame that the only stories we’ve had to tell lately are terrible ones, but there’s so many glimmers of good and people that are coming together.
Keep an eye out for these signature STL spots in the film: Tower Grove Park, South Saint Louis Hills neighborhood and apartments, Ted Drewes, Van Goghz Martini Bar, Frida’s, STLCC Degree Prop, Cardinals gear, Stan Musial Book, Imo’s, Vintage Vinyl and Delmar Loop.