Karl Krogstad: Saint, Sinner, Painter, Doctor, Oenologist, Writer, Humanitarian, Bird Lover, Butcher, Trumpet Player, Chef, Norwegian and Filmmaker.
His Brigade: a sprawling horde of Fellini-esque circus folk, armed with monstrous lights, aging cameras, tattered rolls of cellophane, buckets of diluted house paint and a woman dressed as a Giant Albatross. Fiery banners emerge! Behold! The blood and the smoke… Hooves pumping wildly – they follow him valiantly, into the breach once more.
This is Krogstad Studios.
To some, it is a spiraling vortex of ignorance and depravity. To others, it is nothing more than the vacuous remains of carnivale – a putrid byproduct of post-modern Americana. And yet some would say it is a true sanctuary; a temple to the fantastic, a shrine to the wondrous and absurd – the very heart of the spectacle.
Whatever you believe, Karl Krogstad will convince you otherwise.
Eleven forty five, Tuesday morning. Inside a historic brick building in Seattle’s Capitol Hill area, I stand in a dark and unusually narrow hallway. I open the door to Krogland. A cold, mid-day sun lies just beyond an old skylight. Old books and paintings cover these walls floor to ceiling. An endless assortment of bric-a-brac inhabits every nook and cranny of this place. Something smells good. I step into the kitchen.
Karl is serving lunch. He pours some wine. We sit down.
Interview by Alex Gonzalez.
Karl Krogstad (picking up my copy of I, Fellini): I would think Fellini would be a very difficult interview.
Alex Gonzalez: You think so?
KK: Oh, yeah, because he calls himself a liar and he proves it in his interviews. I think it would be very hard
AG: I love that Antonioni has a blurb on the back of the book.
KK: What does he say?
AG: “Brava, Charlotte Chandler!”
KK: Antonioni was an idiot, by the way…
AG: No he wasn’t. Are we going to start bashing Antonioni, now?
AG: Most people I know have never even seen an Antonioni film. Maybe they’ve seen Blow Up and not even realized they were watching one of his films. You, on the other hand… You have seen them. And what…? You find them boring?
KK: I don’t find him quite boring. I find the entire neo-realism-Italian thing boring, no matter who handles it – no matter who touches it. And whether you call his stuff that or not, a whole lot of it is. And you go
“Huh?” Even films like The Passenger, where people just think it’s brilliant … you know, if you see The Passenger without turning on…. first of all, I never turn on the special features to hear the actor or director drone their way through their own film. But if you do it with The Passenger, you can appreciate The Passenger. It’s the only film [for which] I think it’s worthy of doing. If you don’t do it, then you’re just sitting there in front of the screen, going, “Huuuhhh? Why doesn’t he just get up and walk out of the room now?” Just crashingly boring. Antonioni was very clumsy with English and I don’t think Jack Nicholson has much of a temperament towards trying to deal with Italian-speaking people. So, you know, I think Jack was just dealing with it in his own special way and answering his own special questions and he made it work. But for me, “making it work” doesn’t work unless you hear Jack explaining it in the commentary as we see him doing it. And then that poor, fabulous girl that was in it… I think that was after Last Tango in Paris and then she tried to kill herself. And then you go, “Wow.” And then there is Bertollucci. Same thing. He made one film in his entire life that is any good at all.
AG: Last Tango in Paris.
KK: And it is literally one of my favorite films. It is a drop-dead brilliant film. And then what happens to Bertollucci? Well, apparently nothing, in my book.
AG: [Rummaging through notes]
KK: Well, time’s up! Thank you for dropping by.
AG: There is a chapter in Chandler’s book called “Making films is more exciting than seeing them.”
KK: Ah! A lot of people believe that.
AG: You’ve talked about that.
KK: That changes. When I was younger I believed that, and now that I’m older I don’t believe that.
AG: Didn’t you say that it is the process that you love? And sometimes the film is just a kind of “byproduct”?
KK: Yes, it’s the fetus. The aborted fetus is the film itself! But again it depends on where your love falls… I am growingly disinterested in going into production. I find it to be more painful than I have ever found it before, and I’m certain that that’s because of aging. Due to that, I’m not too interested in the process anymore. But I used to be totally with that argument – that the process was everything.
AG: Are you talking about pre-production or the shooting of the film itself? Under the lights and all… You don’t even like that part anymore?
KK: No, I don’t like it much anymore.
AG: Really? Then which part do you like the best?
KK: There is no part I like the best now! (laughs) That’s the problem!
AG: So it isn’t just the editing that you hate.
KK: The editing is the graveyard of films. But it’s just that production has to keep you engaged or else you get bored. I’m not so sure that right now you could put enough balls in the air so that I wouldn’t get bored. I remember shooting one film where I had everything. I had a huge crew, and we were shooting in 35mm. It
was one day only in a big studio with anything I wanted. I mean it was all HMI crap. And I went “wow!” And I caught myself in a dressing room in the middle of the afternoon. It was like I was almost talking to myself. I asked myself “Are you happy, now?” And I could hear myself say, “No. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be here.” And I’m the director! You know, I’ve got everything in the world in front of me. It’s like I hit the lottery. And I’m going, “I hate this. I want to get out of here.” Oh, dear. That’s a problem. If you’re a film producer / director, that’s a problem. I didn’t want to go through the process. I didn’t want to deal with all these fabulous people anymore on that day and I was bored. I could see what was coming. I call the shots. I know what is supposed to happen and I know how long it takes to go between the shots. I mean, what was I supposed to do? Walk in circles? I wasn’t cooking. I couldn’t cook there. Usually if I’m on a fairly big production, I can always go into a kitchen and I can start cooking for people. Even if it was food that would come out later in the day. That would keep me occupied. That would keep me busy.
AG: When you were standing there in that dressing room wishing you where somewhere else, were you also picturing the thing you would rather be doing? Writing? Producing something else…?
KK: No! That’s the problem. You know, I have a dream life. I’m a painter. I’m a successful painter. I’m a filmmaker. I’m a successful filmmaker. In my own level, I’m a champion at filmmaking. I often times ask myself what I would rather be doing. Today when I get up, because today I can get up and do anything I want, I ask myself what it is that I want to do today. And I say, “I don’t know.” It’s really a nightmare. I just don’t know.
AG: You’ve got a real problem.
KK: I’ve got a problem! And it would take two years of serious therapy at two hundred and fifty dollars an hour to even begin to touch the problem. Curiously enough, I live with a psychotherapist, but she’s not there for this. We’ve sort of said that we are not going to talk about this (laughs.) “This is your damn problem, leave me out of this. I just married you. That’s all I’ve got to do with this!”
AG: In 1998 I was sitting in the audience at the Seattle Art Museum for the premiere of The Gigabyte Trilogy. It was a huge turnout and during the Q&A, someone asked you what was next for you. You went into great detail about the “Albatross” film you were planning. That concept would later become Poet of the Night. But it would take you more than ten years to get there. Are these ideas floating around in your head for years at a time, or do you tend to go with what inspires you at the moment?
KK: [French poet Charles] Baudelaire’s Albatross idea is part of a feature-length film called Poet of the Night, which I know I’ll never make. At some point, not too many years ago, I thought that I ought to do is just one scene. I can’t do the last scene. The last scene would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. But I thought that I could do a scene right before the last scene. And it does involve the Albatross. I knew I had the people to do this, and I even knew I had the location to do this. So I thought, ok, I should actually write it up, get the gang together, and make a short film that we will call Poet of the Night. It will have nothing to do with the feature, really, except this one little scene. It’s out of context. So, you know, we have our main character and he’s “Uncle John” in the movie. I always thought it would be Donald Sutherland, who would be great for Uncle John. Uncle John is a religious fanatic, so there is this one line, which of course I can’t cut because it’s in the actual film. He says, “Don’t blame God.” And you go, “Where does this come from?” I mean this guy hasn’t been talking about God, this has nothing to do with God. But this is what the big movie deals with, and this is the finite scene for this character. So I decided I was not going to cut the line. I’m going to leave it in. So it is in the actual short film Poet of the Night. I didn’t want to completely give up on the idea of making the feature film without at least making a short version of it. I don’t like that approach. I think it’s a very wrongful approach. It wasn’t like it was a way to try and get money for the feature. I knew that was out of the question. Nevertheless, I wanted to just try and do this. To try and put some, just a wink, of Poet of the Night on film.
AG: The last film that you’ve made that even resembles a feature is Great Uncle Jimmy, at least in scope and in the size of the production. Swing dancers, cars on fire… And that was ten years ago.
KK: That’s a 46-minute film. That was a scene that we were going to cut radically down. Those were the characters that were going to be in the feature version of Great Uncle Jimmy. I think we were going to cut it down to 5 minutes. Sadly, I think we would have lost the ‘car shot.’ The car battle at the end is comedy and the film itself is not comedy. The feature is not funny.
AG: Did you set out to shoot a feature and then it got cut down?
KK: Oh, no. I was shooting a short film. I was shooting a 46-minute film. What I wanted was to make that film, the short version, and then I knew that if we actually went on to make the real film, we would keep those characters. But we would cut down the events in the short version to about five minutes worth in the feature version. We would have had ‘the party.’ Jonona (Miles) would not have been in it. And maybe even Amber (Landry) would not have been in it in the end. It was pretty much just about the two great friends, the two guys who go to this party. And along their journey… It’s just this incredible screenplay. This is just a little stop at the party. It’s just a little, teeny stop in the story. I once again tried through connections in Los Angeles to try and front the idea that this is a feature film. I had the screenplay. Some people loved the screenplay. Some people hated the screenplay. And I said, “What is to hate in this screenplay?” It’s like Patrick Swayze in Ghost; it’s incredible. It’s like… Its like, what did I…? Oh, yes! Field of Dreams. The story of Field of Dreams. Shoeless Joe. They went around and they tried to get Shoeless Joe made. And year after year, studio after studio – they all said, “No. This sucks.” And then they make Field of Dreams out of something that every studio had turned down. Well I went through all of that of course, but I don’t have the wherewithal. I don’t have the power behind me. I just couldn’t plug away for the next eight years trying to find someone who would say, “This is an incredible screenplay and I want to throw the money in your face and see what you can do with it.” So I just decided okay, that’s it. I’ve got a nice little short here, and I’m just not going to fight further because I don’t know how to fight further. It’s very tough unless you are literally part of the industry. If you’re not in the industry it would be very, very hard to know what would be the next step. I have often gone to Los Angeles; I have often been there for thirty days at a time fighting for something. And at the end of thirty days it’s always failure. Every single time. I am not part of the industry, and the industry does not want me to become part of it.
AG: Will you make a feature film again?
KK: No. There is no feature that I can think of. I only have two features. I have Poet of the Night and I have Great Uncle Jimmy. Those are the two that are scripted where I can go into production. But I don’t see myself making a feature. If somebody were to knock on my door and say, “We want you to make this film. We’ve got the budget. We think you are the guy. Let’s talk.” I would say, “Okay, let’s talk.” I’ve generated two great screenplays that people don’t like. Those are the two that I want to do. So it would take somebody coming to me. And that is the pipe dream that never, ever happens. And people, particularly people in film school – any kind of film school – they have no idea that never happens! They think that some way, someday, somebody is going to come knocking on their door and say, “We think you’re brilliant. We are going to take you seriously. We want you to make a feature film.” And it never happens.
AG: (Jim) Blashfield says that he is now more aware of who his peers are. The ones who still make short films because that’s what they love to do. What he was talking about was that, for some people, the short film is no longer a kind of art form unto itself. For some, it has become a kind of calling card or demo for guys that are really wanting to shoot features.
KK: I think the whole idea of a short film as a kind of “calling card” is a completely bogus idea. Who do you know…? Name one person that has made a short film [who has] shown it to somebody and that person goes, “Hey! You should make a feature for me! And look, I’ve got a script just waiting for you!” The calling card idea is as bogus as anything I’ve ever heard of.
AG: And Blashfield loves what he does. Clearly, he loves making short films.
KK: That’s how I see my work now. Initially I had no distinct plan as to how I would get into features. I tried a few things along the way towards making that happen. But it wasn’t like a driving… It wasn’t like an end-all idea. I just assumed it would happen. We came very close on several occasions and it didn’t happen. Then suddenly, I realized that I wasn’t sure that I even liked it all that well. I just assumed that that was the only way you could become Billy Wilder. You’ve got to make features to inherit the Earth. But look, I’ve made seventy-films now. Once you’ve made that many films… it’s like, “Actually, I’m kind of happy of the way I’ve handled it and what I’ve done.” The future is based on that same kind of thinking. If you can’t get out of that kind of thinking then you cant get to making Field of Dreams. At this point, I am not going to try and start making Field of Dreams. So, okay, what a pity. There are certain kinds of movies that I’d like to make that I really just can’t do. That’s just… life moves on and you loose the zeal, the interest. I mean, I never had the zeal or the interest to pursue feature films. Same thing with Blashfield. Blashfield was the king of all music videos. I mean, this guy owned the Earth. He liked doing it. He was damn good at it. And so, to think that he doesn’t want to go into feature length films… Okay. Good for him. Same thing with me. The films I want to make, generally speaking, are not feature length.
AG: How much in common do you have with other American filmmakers or artists that are roughly your same age?
KK: I only know a few that are my age. Almost to a person… Jim Blashfield being a good example, Chel White being a great example. These people have done short films and then they also made a living doing commercial shorts. They have found a way to turn what they do… David Russo is the same thing. He’s this brilliant shorts filmmaker. And he’s now doing some of this extremely commercial… which is now in the format of a longer film. And so you go, “Okay.” I’ve never done that. I have never taken my short films into a commercial venue. In fact, I have consistently denied doing commercials. I don’t like commercials. When they’re good, I think they’re funny. I like Aflac’s. I like the duck. If someone would have come to me and said, “Do the duck.” I would have said, “I can do the duck!” But short of that, who’s going to come to me to do the duck? I think you need to do a bunch of Buick commercials before you get to do the duck. So, its not like its an easy path. And it’s not one that I really want to pursue because I don’t like the end product. I don’t like commercials.
AG: Do you think launching into one of your feature productions would be easier if you had a stable of great actors you could instantly pull from? Do you consider casting as a kind of obstacle?
KK: No. That’s Orson Welles thinking. That’s ancient thinking. That’s 1939 thinking. Casting is not easy. You have to pay for it. Casting is the key to doing anything. If you have Johnny Depp, you get a movie. If you can line him up, and he says yes – and you can pay him – then you’ve got a movie. Then the picture is already sold. Short of that, you can’t make a movie. It’s wonderfully stupid as to how many young people think they can make a feature length film with nobody in it and make it work. It’s fascinating how people believe that! It’s like they’ve read a couple of press clippings of somebody who has done it. And you know who I’m talking about. There are several out there that are just ridiculous. Ok, that’s one in a million. That’s interesting. It’s not going to happen to you, Bozo! That’s not the way it really works. It’s very, very difficult to align yourself with people that can actually sell your movie. Now, more than ever before, you have to have those two basic elements. You have to have the actor and you have to have the screenplay. Again, Field of Dreams. If you have those two things, they will come! It’s incredible. If you walk through the door and say you’ve got Jeff Bridges and this incredible screenplay, they’ll say, “Holy crap; we can’t turn this down.” You know? Imagine walking through the door with Johnny Depp?
AG: Terry Gilliam did that. Johnny Depp, Jean Rochefort… If he didn’t have those names attached to what he was doing, that project could have sunk much quicker.
KK: Are we talking about The Man Who Killed Don Quixote? Don Quixote is a twelve-hundred page book. Orson Welles failed at this, too. But Gilliam could have made it. He’s the guy. If he hadn’t had names involved in the project, he wouldn’t have got through the door in the first place. But the horrors of nature… He had 30 million dollars, which now seems like a joke figure for a Terry Gilliam film. Nevertheless, he had 30 million bucks in the bank. He’s all set. And then nature turned on him in every possible way it possibly could (laughs.) It’s like the Devil had come out of the desert and said, “Terry, you’re screwed!”
AG: I’ve had that happen to me (laughs.)
KK: Well, it happens. I’ve sort of had that happen, but not like that. Not like that.
AG: How old were you when you first read Scuppers the Sailor Dog?
KK: I don’t know. I can’t remember the first time I read Scuppers the Sailor Dog. It was read to me, of course. My mother read it to me. It’s a children’s book. I had to be fairly young. Along the way, I kept reading it (laughs.) In the end, I read it to myself. I realized that this is my career. I am Scuppers. Scuppers is based on efficiency. Scuppers the Sailor Dog comes into any number of adversities, and at the same time, he puts his hat on his peg for the hat. He hangs up his coat on the peg for the coat. He crawls into a warm bed whether he’s shipwrecked or not. He snuggles, goes to sleep, wakes up; he takes off his hat from the peg that holds the hat. And blahdy, blahdy, blahdy… It’s entirely how you make films. It’s based entirely on efficiency. There is a lot of responsibility involved with Scuppers, too. Okay, these are early lessons for me. But it’s a timeless book because it did teach me things. I teaches you a lot of thing about how you get through life. So, that’s Scuppers.
AG: The book also says that he was “…born in the teeth of the gale.” That’s epic.
KK: Well, that’s being a Norwegian… or a filmmaker! You can’t really escape it. It’s like a form of destiny – which I don’t believe in. But nonetheless… Do you understand the ending? “He’s set free. He’s sailing the great, deep, green sea. He’s a Sailor Dog where he ought to be. He’s sailing the great, deep, green sea.” And you go, “Wow.” This is epic. It’s like Arthur Rimbaud. It is. It’s like French poetry. It’s Mallarmé. It’s Baudelaire. It’s a children’s book. And you go, “Holy shit!”
about karl krogstad
Krogstad has been called the greatest filmmaker the Northwest has ever known, producing and directing more than 65 shorts and feature-length films of every type – animation, live action, documentary and found footage collage. He has won 30 awards from most major film festivals around the world and his unconventional expressions on celluloid have attracted legions of fans around the globe. He is also the subject of his own documentary, an untitled work currently in post production.