He described it then to the
"Did I say that? I don't remember being such an arrogant kid," says the 32-year-old filmmaker with a laugh.
Ketai, who grew up in
His latest directing effort is "Beneath," a horror film about trapped coal miners fighting for their lives and sanity. It won six awards, including best picture, at last year's L.A.-based Screamfest event.
"I want audiences, especially if they see it in the theater, to feel as though they are trapped with these characters and feel as if they can't breathe with these characters," says Ketai, who spoke to the
QUESTION: When did the filmmaking bug bite you?
ANSWER: Very early on, actually. I remember I was still attending
Q: You studied film at the
A: Yeah, I do. It's hard not to. There's a really wonderful community of U-M grads, all entrenched in the film industry in different disciplines. From the moment I moved out there 10t years ago, I never felt like I was too far from home because there's so many U-M people out there.
Q: You interned and then worked for
A: I was. Growing up, the "Evil Dead" movies were a huge inspiration to me as a kid because they (had) such a DIY spirit, the first one especially. Knowing he was so young making that movie and knowing he grew up only a few neighborhoods over from me, it made me feel like I could do the same thing. As I grew and started watching more of his films, movies like "A Simple Plan" and the "Spider-Man" franchise, I realized what a gifted filmmaker he is and how lucky I was to be able to learn from him in my first job in
Q: Were there lessons you learned from him as a filmmaker?
A: The thing that Sam always harps on endlessly is the importance of telling a good story, no matter what the genre is. That's something that's been priceless to me as a writer and a director. It seems like a simple thing, but it's something that a lot of filmmakers, especially in this generation now, kind of overlook. A lot of people look for: "Does it look good? Is it cool? Is the cast good?" But it all comes down to telling a good story.
Q: Can you talk about the setting of "Beneath" inside a coal mine? lt's a pretty limited canvas visually, but in a way, is it also unlimited?
A: The concept itself, from the first page of the script, had me hooked immediately because I happen to be claustrophobic myself. Just the prospect of going down in a coal mine, without anything bad even happening, was gut-wrenching to me. I was really excited to take this film on almost as a way of conquering that fear. And, of course, there comes the challenge of you are limited visually and aesthetically to what you can do with a setting like this. A coal mine is a dark, colorless space. The process of making the film was figuring out how to embrace that and make something unique and not only that, but to make it feel like a real experience. There was endless research done, both of coal mining and the psychological effects of being trapped underground.
Q: Working with "Beneath" star
A: It was a huge coup for us to get him to do the movie. He was definitely on top of all our lists, myself and the producers, not only because he fits the role but because he brings something so unique to the way he does every role. He's such an intense performer. I feel he sort of exudes an energy that's just infectious to the rest of the cast.
Q: Where do you want to go next? Are you looking to take a
A: I always try to keep my goals flexible and fluid because the industry changes so rapidly and the medium itself changes so rapidly. I could never set my sights on having the same career as anybody because it's impossible to do that, the way the times change. My only goal is to be able to keep doing this for the rest of my life, to be able to keep telling good stories, whatever the genre is.
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