This Friday, Jules Stewart’s edgy and challenging directorial debut K-11 arrives in limited theaters courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures. Featuring an eclectic cast of characters, the indie prison-centric thriller is a bold introduction from the seasoned script supervisor.
Through the years Stewart has overseen over 80 projects throughout her 30+ years in Hollywood.
Considering that K-11 is by far one of the most blisteringly raw debuts we’ve seen in some time, we knew we’d have a ton of questions for Stewart when we recently caught up with her on the phone. During our interview, we spoke to Stewart about working outside ‘the system,’ her thoughts on what attracted her to co-writer Jared Kurt’s original story that’s based on a real portion of the LA County Jail system, the challenges of managing 46 distinct characters and personalities inside one location while shooting K-11 and much more.
Check out the highlights from our exclusive interview with Stewart in honor of DC’s Indie Horror Month and look for K-11 in limited theaters this weekend!
Dread Central: First of all, congratulations on a remarkable first film- you really took some chances with K-11.
Jules Stewart: Thank you so much. I think we ALL took some chances in this movie.
Dread Central: Was that part of the appeal then to make this your first movie, to do something completely out of the box and unexpected?
Jules Stewart: Oh it was absolutely intentional. I think it’s boring to just make the same movie you see everyone else making. Where’s the fun in that? That’s not storytelling at all, to me at least. And at the end of the day, I just love a great story and think that when you’re trying to make a great story it has to have a couple of different elements which is what K-11 has for sure.
So I was on this television pilot and one of the guys that was working on the pilot with- Jared- came to me and said, “I have this idea for a script and I was hoping you’d write it with me.” So after he told me about K-11, I did some of my own research and found out what it was and just thought that environment was so unique and original and could really lend itself to some great conflict between all the residents inside those walls.
Dread Central: So what kind of things did you discover about this place during your research then?
Jules Stewart: Well, K-11 is a specific dorm in Los Angeles Men’s County Jail that houses the gay and transgender inmates and t only exists in LA; nowhere else. And it’s pretty much the only place in the jail system where race is not an issue at all because everybody in there is either gay or transgender so they have more of a commonality existing between them than a division, which is something that’s a huge issue in normal jail populations.
It’s a part of the jail system that not too many people know even exists so that fact right there was fascinating to me. How could this have been here since the 1950’s and nobody know about it for all this time? Why hadn’t anyone told this story before? That’s what I saw in my research process, a way to tell a really different story so I wouldn’t be making the typical jail movie you always see or come to expect.
Dread Central: Considering this is your first time working as a director, was it daunting at all managing such a large cast? Each of them also have their own little ‘moments’ throughout K-11– was that difficult to manage as well while still keeping this story moving forward?
Jules Stewart: We had 46 people in that dorm for K-11 and the thing about that is, because of the story we were telling, we always had to have 46 people in that room so in some ways that was difficult to manage just because you’re working with so many different schedules. That was challenging in its own way. But I also think because we had to keep it mostly contained within that main dorm room, that also lent itself to building this sense of claustrophobia as Raymond (Goran Visnjic) is locked in there longer and longer so that really worked in our favor.
At the same time though, because you are tied to essentially one location, you also run the risk of things becoming stale so that was another challenge, keeping things moving and keeping things interesting. Thankfully we had a wonderful cast that really keeps that momentum going.
Dread Central: Did making K-11 independently present a whole different set of challenges that maybe you hadn’t considered before shooting at all?
Jules Stewart: In some ways it did. In some ways it made me a stronger filmmaker I think too because we only had 23 days to shoot K-11. It was low budget and it was a first-time director so all of those things wrapped into one production can be trouble if you’re not prepared. But that’s just it-you just have to make it work. That’s part of the allure; beating the odds. Not everyone gets 10 million dollars and 50 days to make a movie so you just play the hand you’re dealt and make sure you have the right people to support you and to bring the story to life.
I think one of the most definitive things I can say about K-11 is that every single person brought their own kind of enthusiasm to the movie and I think that shows in the final product. Every single actor enjoyed their role and contributed far more than I could ever have hoped for- they all had ideas and I just let them go on their instincts. They knew those characters better than I did. Every character has a lot of different sides to them- emotional sides- and they just jumped right into it. They trusted me and they trusted the script which made for an amazing collaborative experience for all of us.
Dread Central: Speaking of trust- you have some pretty intense and violent scenes between Butterfly (Portia Doubleday) and Detroit (Tiny Lister) and even though you play a lot of it off-screen, they’re still pretty tough to get through. Did you find that playing it that way made it more disturbing for you as well?
Jules Stewart: It was intentional because I felt like it was almost more horrific to cut away to these people just sitting there listening to it happen and reacting almost by not reacting- you know what I mean? And shooting the scenes was very difficult I think for all of us; we made sure to have a closed set though and one of the things that made it a little easier was that Tiny is such a wonderful and gentle guy that in between takes he’d make sure there laughter to bring us all back. We never pretended it was real, we never did any of those things but even so, we still needed that levity from time to time and I think because Tiny approached it like that, it made Portia step it up in her own right because she felt safe.
Dread Central: You previously worked on a lot of great projects like Crank: High Voltage, XXX and Mortal Kombat– why did the timing feel right to step out on your own and direct a feature?
Jules Stewart: It really comes down to the fact that I love telling stories and one of the best ways to do that is through filmmaking. And I’ve had great teachers throughout my career; I’ve worked with some of the finest directors, like David Lynch, where I’ve learned a lifetime worth of knowledge. At the same time, I’ve also worked with some guys who didn’t know anything but those are equally valuable experiences to have because it makes you become that much more resourceful when you’re on set. You don’t have time to think, you just have to find solutions to keep things running smoothly. But I think at some point in your career, you just want to tell your own stories and I was in a position where I had a great script and financing in place so I decided to take a chance.
Dread Central: Now that you’ve gotten a taste, are you planning on directing again soon?
Jules Stewart: Definitely- I’m jumping right into a supernatural thriller- more of a ghost story really- about a temple that is unearthed in the desert of China and deconstructed and reconstructed in the United States along with its permanent residents that have been inside since 2010 B.C. It’s pretty interesting because we’re going to get to play around in the world of ancient China so it’s almost like bringing a Chinese legend to life.
Dread Central: Do you want to stay independent too? It seems like a filmmaking culture that really suits your type of storytelling?
Jules Stewart: I love the indie world- I think it’s the only place left to tell interesting stories and where you can make the movie that you really want to make without any kind of interference. I think if I had to make K-11 through a studio, this would have been a very, very different movie and I don’t know if I would have done it then. The indie world is really the only place left in Hollywood where people are still daring to be different and that’s where I belong.
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