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Filmmaker Spotlight: Interview with Writer/Director Mischa Webley of The Kill Hole

This week's filmmaker spotlight is on Director/Writer Mischa Webley of The Kill Hole. Webley's film was selected to be part of the NewFilmmakers Los Angeles screenings at Sunset Gower Studios this month. Learn about the film, his inspirations, goals and current projects.

Name/Position: Mischa Webley – Writer/Director
Film: The Kill Hole

Tell us a little bit about your project and how long you’ve been working on it.

The Kill Hole is my first feature film. It’s a dramatic thriller about two troubled Iraq war vets suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and forced into a battle of sorts that plays out in the Oregon wilderness.

The original story for it came to me after I had been a cab driver in Portland – like the film’s protagonist – and was editing a short documentary about my grandfather, a World War II vet. Those experiences sort of gelled in my mind as I was writing the script. I really wanted to get inside the experience of returning home from war, and I was interested in how these soldiers do – or don’t – make the adjustment.

I wrote the script about four years ago, and it was green-lit about a year after that. We shot the film in the summer of 2010 and have been playing the festival circuit since January this year, when we premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Is there anyone you'd like to thank for helping out with this film?

Well, that’s a long list! But more than anyone else, my wife, Elena, has made it possible. Seeing a feature film through is a long, arduous process with a lot of ups and downs and a lot of stress. She was there for me through all that, and somehow didn't think she’d be better off with someone in a saner industry.

How does it feel to have your film part of the NewFilmmakers Screening at Sunset Gower Studios?

It’s really exciting! NewFilmmakers has a great reputation in the industry and this will be our Los Angeles premiere, so we’re looking forward to it.

What inspires you?

I've been writing stories in some form or another most of my life, and to this day I have absolutely no idea where they come from. The feeling it gives me is something that just takes over me. I get really obsessed with one concept, or theme, or even little idea, and I just dive in and the story eventually reveals itself to me. But when I’m asked where it comes from, I really don’t know. And that mystery, that feeling that I’m tapping into something much bigger than myself, and the respect I have for the process as a result, that inspires me. Stories are our oldest form of communication, it’s how we understand the world, and being a tiny part of that age-old tradition energizes me.

Who are your influences and who do you admire?

I’m influenced by a lot of directors for different reasons. Two of my favorites are Terrence Malick and Stanley Kubrick. Malick was an especially big influence for this film, in how he incorporates elements of the natural world in his films to inform the story, and his strange ability to make violence beautiful.

Both of them are perfectionists, but they come to their perfections in kind of opposite ways. Kubrick lays it all out ahead of time, Malick sort of discovers it later, but by the time they’re done it’s perfectly executed. There’s something to be said for both of those approaches.

I really admire Steven Soderbergh. He makes consistently great films, and seems to have found a way to get away with making whatever movies he wants. And he seems like a cool guy. Also on that list are John Cassavettes, Spike Lee, Steve Jobs, and Oscar Micheaux.

What lessons have you learned from the industry so far?

I've learned that it’s necessary to really understand how the business works and build your place inside of it. And it’s a complicated business that defies a lot of common sense. But the more you know, the better position you’re in.

I've learned the overnight success story is a myth, and behind that story is actually years and years of hard work.

I've learned that it’s a game with rules, like anything else, and you have to understand those rules if you want to play. But then, once you understand the rules, it’s important to break them.

I've learned that, like William Goldman said, nobody knows anything. It’s really true.

If you could collaborate with anybody, who would it be?

Christopher Doyle. He’s Won-Kar-Wai’s cinematographer, and his imagery puts a spell on me.

And I really just wish I could have been in the same room as Stanley Kubrick when he was working. That guy is something.

What is the toughest experience you've ever had to overcome?

In the last three years, there was a day, two days before production, when it looked like our financing had fallen through. Then there were two weeks during post-production when we thought all our footage had been irreparably damaged and could not be recovered. Also, there’s been falling-outs with friends, arguments with producers. I don’t remember the last time I wasn’t exhausted, and I started having anxiety attacks sometime during post-production. I’ve collected more rejection letters than I care to admit and each one of them stung. I feel like I’ve had two full-time jobs this whole time, but my bank account has a different story. There’s that constant, nagging self-doubt. And the waiting. There’s so much waiting.

Making this film was by far the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced, but I am so proud of the outcome and everybody that contributed to it, and I would do it again in a second. Filmmaking is, by far, the best way there is to drive yourself completely insane.

What is the best piece of advice someone has given to you?

I saw Spike Lee talk once and he said something like, ‘once you learn the craft, it’s all about time management after that.’ I didn’t really get it at the time, but I do now.

What advice would you give to new filmmakers starting out in the industry?

Well, sort of what Spike said: first, learn the craft. That’s a big one. It’s easy to come up with a great idea for a film, and these days it’s easy to point a camera at two actors talking and call it a scene. But you gotta learn the craft, and it takes a long time. I like to tell people that every filmmaker has a set amount of crappy movies in them. No one just starts out making good movies. It’s a very difficult art form. So the best thing you can do is just keep making movies, and get the crap out. And eventually, what you had in mind in the script and what ends up on screen will start to resemble each other. And that’s when things start getting interesting.

Also, don’t quit your day job.

Where can we expect to see you next?

I just finished making revisions on the script for my next feature, The Candy Store. It’s a unique take on the financial crisis, from the perspective of the pre-teen son of an investment banker.

Also, I’ve been writing a web series based around my time as a cab driver and hope to be shooting that soon. It’s called Black Cabbie.

Let our readers know where they can find more information about you and your projects. 

Info about The Kill Hole:
I’m on Facebook – pretty sure I’m the only Mischa Webley there.

For more information, visit:

About the Author

Formerly an editor at Demand Media, writer at Citysearch, The Examiner, LA Youth Newspaper and proofreader at The Los Angeles Daily News, Christy Buena decided to start Disarray Magazine because she missed writing what she wanted. From hiring writers, to contacting publicists and making assignments, Christy is responsible for the editorial strategy of Disarray Magazine. Get to know the team of talented contributors.
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