Director James Townsend wanted to do something different. But Kissing Darkness wasn’t exactly what he had in mind.
“I wanted to do gay films that aren’t the usual – someone’s dying, or someone’s coming out,” states Townsend. “I wanted to do mainstream stories with gay characters.”
Like many young filmmakers, Townsend started out by writing scripts and seeking out production companies to help him bring his work to life. “I started writing Kissing Darkness in 2005 because at the time my sister was modeling. The film was for her. She was to play the villain, but it never got off the ground,” says Townsend. However, one day the spunky director got a phone call.
“They called me in and said, ‘what do you have?’ so I scrambled and pitched the script for Kissing Darkness. The pitch went very well and in about two weeks we were in production!”
With very limited time to react, Townsend began pulling favors anywhere he could in order to get his project moving. A very smart move in retrospect, the director cast most of his own friends to play the lead roles, which comprised a group of young gay men on a camping trip. Having natural chemistry with each other already, actors Kyle Blitch, Daniel Berilla, Nick Airus, Sean Paul Lockhart, and Ronnie Kroell were convincing as a group of friends. The group already knew how to work together and could easily own the script, moving from flirtation to ridicule to empathy, much like any group of college-aged males would.
“It really helped that we all knew each other already,” recalls the director. “We were promised 11 days for production, but we really only had 9 days to shoot everything. We were moving fast. And with only a $15,000 budget, there were days where we were begging the producers to let us work for free, just to complete the project.”
You read that right. A $15,000 budget. The average 30-second car commercial costs more than $15,000. Yet here is James Townsend, directing a feature length horror film on a shoestring budget. A clever director like Townsend often has a few tricks to make it work, especially in the forgiving gay horror film genre. However, it still leads one to wonder whether the true horror was in the script or in the film’s production.
“We were supposed to have the funds for b-roll and special effects, but it never happened,” states Townsend. “Instead, at the end of 9 days the producers took everything, and that was it.”
Shooting wrapped abruptly, with a few shots never having been completed. Believing the project had been killed by production, Townsend left the set of Kissing Darkness and continued to pursue other opportunities. That is, until…“People started coming up to me at clubs and saying, ‘Hey, I loved your movie!’ and I thought, ‘Really? What cut did you see?” Townsend laughs.
Much to Townsend’s surprise, Kissing Darkness was, in fact, completed. The production company had moved forward with James Townsend’s film and put the director in a very unusual situation where his work was edited, cut, scored to music, and distributed without any of his involvement whatsoever. Understandably, the end result was not exactly what Townsend had envisioned for the film.
“Whole scenes were missing,” says Townsend. “Stuff needed re-shot, we needed to shoot b-roll. It just seemed disjointed.” The tragic curse of villainess Malice Valeria had perhaps struck the director worse than the lead characters in his film.
So what does a director do in this situation? If you’re James Townsend, you move on. Already an accomplished actor, Townsend refused to let the disappointment of his directorial debut affect him. With the script for his next film, Throuple, written and awaiting the green light, Townsend is already seeking funding and casting talent. If Kissing Darkness teaches us anything, it’s never to let the demons of the past come back to haunt us.