Monday, October 02, 2006

Filmmaker Focus: Patrick McKenna

Patrick McKenna, writer/actor, TWENTY MINUTE PROPHET

Patrick McKenna is a writer and director from Chicago, where has worked at the Second City for the last 13 years. He currently directs shows for the Communications arm of the empire. This year he also directed the hit show "58!" at the Annoyance Theater in Chicago. The show won the award for Outstanding Musical at the 2006 New York Fringe Festival even though it included only three songs. Other shows include "Sucker," "The Shadow" at the Athenaeum, "Kill the Messenger" at the HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Festival and a mess of improv shows at the I.O. Chicago, Second City and around the world. He wrote and co-starred in the films "Salt," "Holy Cow" and "Twenty Minute Prophet."

Briefly describe the film.
A caricature artist discovers that his drawings are prophetic. But he can only see vague tableaus of the future twenty minutes from when he begins. Most takers assume his drawings will reveal a future not very different from the present. They're usually wrong.

Your background is in improv. How do you use that in your writing?
It's where most of my ideas begin. We end up in some pretty ridiculous scenes because of the meandering and collective logic of improvisation. Unusual conflict and characters are tricky to trust when I'm sitting down to write, but onstage you don't usually have time to pass judgment on your choice or even your mistakes. Some ideas are too impossible to write and justify, but if you can back wire a cool improvised character into story or premise, it's usually pretty fantastic.

How did the initial idea for this story come about? How did it develop?
The idea came from a scene that a friend and I improvised in a late-night show about a caricature artist at an amusement park who was trying to get fired. He would draw smiling, huge-headed likenesses of people being killed on thrill rides.

You write, produce, act in your projects and maintain creative control. How do you go about choosing a director for your projects?
It's a little tricky, but I look for someone who shares a similar sense of what's interesting. They usually have a lot more technical knowledge and are willing to challenge the scripting and scenarios, but be willing to keep my characters and premise intact.

Describe the process of getting it from a written script to production.
It's the hard part for me. I don't like giving up control very easily, and unless I find someone I've worked with before or trust implicitly, I will do the footwork on my own. Allowing for the on-set environment to remain creative, interesting and light means that the technical features have to be in place and tightly prepared. On the shoot day, I trust my guys and just do my part, which is basically staying positive and laughing as much as I can. Even with all of the prep, we still understand and remind ourselves that the whole thing will look and sound different than what we guessed. So far the crews have been tiny, no more than six. It seems the fewer people involved, the fewer people there are to explain why something isn't possible.

Were there any memorable/unexpected moments on the set?
I had to convince a serious professional fiddler that a hoedown about an orgy wasn't defiling the form as much as celebrating the true nature of square dancing.

The narrative short TWENTY MINUTE PROPHET will be screened as part of the Shorts Program 2 at 7:40 pm on Friday, Oct. 20, and at 9:15 pm on Sunday, Oct. 22. Film passes to the Austin Film Festival are just $35 for admission to all screenings (space permitting).

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