Kyle Dubiel was quite the force when I met him while interning. On the first day all the interns looked petrified, except for Kyle. He was quite upbeat, kind, and very curious. He looked like he wasn’t worried about anything and at the time it helped me feel a bit more at ease. I was lucky to have worked with Kyle at our internship for a semester. Since then I have known him to be an endlessly creative film maker. On the occasions that Kyle uploads his films to instagram or any other website I will make a point to watch them immediately. Particularly the few films he made during the first year of the pandemic, uplifted my spirits during a time I needed it more than ever. He is endlessly talented and since the first film I’ve watched of his I continue to wait for more. It was a no brainer to talk to him about his work because I know how much he loves what he does. I can see in him that it’s working in film or nothing. In this Q&A I asked Kyle about his work and his predictions for the future of film.
Ava Williams: Can you tell people a little about yourself?
Kyle Dubiel: As of writing this, I am a 24-year old freelance filmmaker, editor, and photographer. A bulk of my professional work is shooting and creating wedding films, small-business commercial work, and some documentary/news editing work. I am also a Photo Assistant at SNL.
AW: How did you get into filmmaking, what made you want to go to school for film?
KD: What’s funny is that originally, I wanted to be an actor. My friend got this terrible Vidster Camcorder back when we were 10 years old and immediately we started making videos, trying to get famous on YouTube. Keep in mind, this was back in 2007, when YouTube was awesome. Back then, there were no likes and dislikes, but rather a 5-star rating system. Additionally, 1000 subscribers and 5,000 views was considered “successful” and you could start getting paid. It was a much smaller scale than it is now. Anyway, after a few years acting in front of the camera, I got behind the camera and tried to make my first short film. It was a live-action remake of the video game, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, with the script copied directly from one of the court cases within the game. It didn’t work at all, but I discovered I enjoyed being behind the camera more than in front. From then on, I decided I wanted to go to film school, specifically NYU: Tisch. And then I did, which was fun.
AW: That’s really funny! I feel like a lot of people I talk to about the origin of their dreams to be artists it’s always these hyper specific one time instances where they just decided to start something one day and it followed them. Did you make a lot of videos before trying to get into NYU? Or did it really take a while to get into a groove for you to actually start producing things?
KD: I made 100s of videos. Even though I decided I wanted to be behind the camera, I still thought I wanted to be a famous YouTuber. So I made literally every single type of YouTube video that was popular in middle school. I tried everything from “action movie” type shorts (with horrendous special effects), making tutorials (for literally everything: editing software, animation software [I didn’t even know how to use it still], how to play a song on piano and trumpet, how to get sticker residue off things using an eraser, how to solve a Rubik’s Cube, etc.), speed solving Rubik’s Cubes, stop motion animations, Pivot Stick-Figure Animations, Flight Simulator videos, Vlogs. You name it, I made it. I was never successful at becoming YouTube famous, unfortunately. Turns out all I had to do was take my shirt off, wear a backwards hat, and hold up signs to a camera about how “all girls are beautiful <3” as that was the rage on YouTube and Tumblr at the time. Missed out. Anyway, when I hit high school, I started focusing my attention on making more “short films” rather than random attempts at YouTube stardom. Despite not ever being successful at YouTube, all those random videos allowed me to develop filmmaking muscle, as I shot and edited everything by myself.
AW: Can you talk a little about your process? I know Romance from a Distance from your junior year which was quite successful. I think it would be great to tell everyone about it. How you came up with the idea how you executed it etc etc
KD: That film was so much fun to put together. Like many freshman art school projects, it was born out of a melodramatic, lonely Valentine’s Day in 2016. I wrote a poem for Valentine’s Day, where every other line was the opposite meaning (if I recall correctly, I literally think the first two lines were I love you / I hate you, so that will give you an idea of how dumb the whole thing was). It was really cringey, but after writing I thought, “What if that were a conversation?” So then, I wrote out a conversation between two people, where every other line had the opposite meaning. Finally, I thought, “Ok, what if that conversation were an entire relationship?” And thus Romance from a Distance was born. I wrote the script and kept it shelved for a couple years until 2018, when I chose the script to direct as my debut short film coming out of my Intermediate Experimental Filmmaking class. We shot the film over 2 days in Greenpoint, Brooklyn with a cast of 2 and a crew of 12. It was a ton of fun and an incredible learning experience.
AW: That’s actually a really cool formation of the idea. I feel like sometimes my best ideas are formed from just the most random spur of the moment inspiration. From doing that short film what did you take away the most from the process? I believe at times that there is only so much sitting and talking about the process can teach you. At some point you just have to go for the big goals and problem solve along the way. There is so much you can’t plan for or have no idea to plan for until it happens!
KD: The biggest takeaway I had from the production of Romance was that the two absolutely necessary ingredients for a successful production are immense preparation and a reliable crew. Luckily, with the way the script was written, we needed to do a lot of planning/prep beforehand since the film quite literally only works if we shot it as scripted. There was no room for error (a blessing and a curse--looking back, there are improvements to the film I’d have loved to make in the edit [such as cutting scenes and tightening the film) but couldn’t since the script was so singular in its vision (I think that’s the right way to say that]). Due to this prep, we were able to shoot like 26 different (short) scenes in 2 days, which is an insane undertaking. That leads me to my second part, which is the need for a reliable crew. The crew on that set were just on it and zeroed in from start to finish and any problem that arose, they tackled with urgency, creativity, and proficiency. One of my favorite filmmaking experiences ever.
AW: When you’re going into making a film where do you look to for inspiration, and don’t just say other movies, that’s a given!
KD: Well, as you stated, of course I always look to other films for inspiration as well as other forms of art such as music, literature, and more recently, fine art; however, as cliché as it sounds, a large majority of my ideas are born in the shower or alone in the car with the radio off. Something about being in solitude really opens up my mind to random thoughts and interactions I’ve had throughout the day and admittedly, if something hits me, I’ll talk through it to myself in the form of dialogue from a character or a story. Then, it’s a matter of either writing everything down as soon as possible or by recording a voice note.
AW: I totally get that. I think sometimes, or at least I do this, I go on walks a lot and I just look at people and create these stories in my head. Or I think about if my life were a coming of age tale (it’s not) what song would play? What would I do? So I get the alone thing, but because you do this all alone or based off your interactions, do you think each character has a little bit of you in it? Or are they their own beings?
KD: 100% every film is personal for me. No matter the subject matter, the characters, the story, etc., it’s all got a lot of me in it. I’m not an incredibly shy person and many would probably say I’m an open book. I make personal films because filmmaking is generally my outlet for whatever emotions I am trying to process or any POV I’m trying to get across. Making films this way does render me extremely vulnerable, but I’ve also never shied away from that. I don’t know, I really like putting my whole, authentic self out there because to me, there’s not really a point in not doing it. We’re a bunch of meat sacks floating in a seemingly-infinite universe full of mostly ‘empty’ space with a very real end in sight. Why not make a few personal films while we’re here?
AW: What compels you to tell a certain story? I think in all art forms we look for stories, but when it comes to a film, the story is the reason the film is actually physically possible. So what stories interest you?
KD: Consciously or not, all the films I’ve made in my life generally are about people, specifically, relationships between people, and more recently, people and their relationships to existentialism. I find it enormously interesting to be a human being and often grapple with an inner battle between knowing that there’s no meaning to life--humanity (consciousness) is just an evolutionary accident--and yet, many go through life experiencing such strong emotions (e.g. true love) that it feels like there has to be a point. And then there’s an internal debate on determinism. And then there’s...okay, you get my point. I live through a constant battle between a rational, scientific, blunt way of thinking about existence and humanity and an irrational, emotional way of thinking about love transcending it all and whatnot. That might’ve been word salad. So I guess to put the answer to the question simply, I like telling stories about relationships. It’s funny, I read a book called Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life, which basically argued that consciousness (self-awareness) is a mistake, with cats being the primary evidence, since they live their lives sleeping, eating, and doing whatever they want (and cat owners know, the cat trains you, not the other way around). I think about that a lot. I also love cats.
AW: That’s amazing. I love that answer. I think that is what makes your films so interesting to me on a personal level. I find relationships, whatever they may be, between strangers or between people in love it’s all quite interesting to see how we treat each other. On one hand we are all feeling pressured to get the most out of life with people we love while also questioning if any of what we are doing matters in the grand scheme of things. I think though there is something rational to the emotional side of existence. If nothing matters, at least we have people to not matter with and at least we can think about the good parts of being tiny in the universe. Do good and be good with the bit of universe and time we take up. I imagine only thinking rationally and bluntly about existence could be quite depressing so to have the emotional level makes life easier to live no?
KD: On one hand, yes. On the other hand, emotions can also make people miserable. But honestly, I’d call myself an optimistic nihilist. To me, I look at everything nihilistically, sure. Nothing matters. Everyone’s gonna die. Life’s a meaningless existence. Despite that, instead of that depressing the hell out of me, I look at it as an opportunity to just let go and go for it, whatever it is. If nothing matters, why not try to make a splash? So I guess, whenever someone questions, “Why bother?” I question, “Why not?”
AW: What are some misconceptions about filmmaking that the average person has? Personally, I have an idea of what being a director really is, but I know I don’t even know half of the responsibilities of a director and the process of making films. But I do know that everyone wants to be the director it seems. So what are the realities of it?
KD: This is a very interesting question. First I’ll start by discussing why it seems like everyone wants to be a director. Now, I’m generalizing (and projecting a little), but if you’re a young white male, odds are you want to direct because you’ve watched a bunch of “auteur” films (*cough* really just Tarantino) and decided that you have a vision that must be executed exactly how you want it. Very few (again, young white males) sit and think, “Oh, I need to challenge the form.” You watch Brad Pitt bloody and shirtless in Fight Club and think, “This film rules. So sick bro,” without thinking about what the film actually means or admitting that you really just might like Brad Pitt shirtless. You just think about your vision and becoming an auteur. That’s the biggest misconception--filmmaking is an extraordinarily collaborative process. Young filmmakers are almost groomed to think that it’s all about the “writer-director,” when in reality, there is so much that goes into a film that’s taken from so many different people (or at least, should be). Even the auteurs collaborate on an extensive level. They have to. Or maybe that’s just me--I know that I’m not the most artistically talented person in the world or remotely close to the best director at my age (or any age for that matter), so I try to surround myself with people who I believe are better than me at different aspects, so that I can get suggestions and ideas from them that are better than the ones I thought up. Then, in true film director fashion, I take all the credit. Yay for me!
AW: I know exactly what you mean about this. I think people value the wrong things about the art they are consuming. Instagram and I imagine with famous directors that have cult-like followings, it’s about who made it and who’s in it. Frankly, I don’t care about that stuff, I care if it’s good. Especially with movies. If I am paying 30,000 dollars to sit in an AMC movie theater with 8 other people reclining and eating popcorn, it better be good! I might not have the most trained eye, but still. OF COURSE we all love the big guys and I have favorite directors but you know it’s not just about them. What the art is about and how that is relied is the most important part. I don’t want to be convinced that something is good. I want to see it and think it’s good on my own. Which I imagine is the same for films. Also, don’t be so hard on yourself! Is the audience or “film bros” not taking it in or not appreciating the art of film a pet peeve of yours?
KD: Not necessarily. It’s probably situation dependent, as some people are allergic to films, I guess. What annoys me is when people claim they don’t have the attention span to watch a film, but then will binge-watch 8 episodes of a TV show. You spent a longer time watching the show!
AW: What have you been doing now that you are out of school?
KD: I’ve been running a freelance video business, which basically means I’ve been doing anything and everything video-related for money. Weddings, corporate videos, documentary editing, real-estate, etc. Also, I continued working for SNL as a Post-Production Assistant and then Photo Assistant after being an intern. Of course, in 2020, I didn’t work for a solid 7 months, so I made a few “quarantine” short films, which was a lot of fun. Currently, my last “quarantine short” is in post-production, so I’m hoping to finish that in the next month or so.
AW: How exciting! Edit quicker so we can all watch!
KD: Yes, I will! Thank you for the motivation.
AW: How do you stay creative while working in a field that maybe is more constricted in what you can do in terms of artistic exploration
KD: In terms of filmmaking, I try to stay creative by crafting simple, entertaining stories that would allow me to produce them with the limited resources available to me. Growing up in suburbia, I was really the only “film kid” so I always had to make all my films by myself, most of the time serving as writer, director, producer, cinematographer, editor, and actor. Due to this experience, I have it ingrained in me to write stories that can be accomplished with as little help as possible. I’d like to write something or direct something that would require a large budget and/or a large crew, but at the moment, especially in the context of the pandemic, it’s hard for me to do that--I feel like it’s more important that I make something than write something that could be made later. Who knows if I’m right or wrong. I have no idea what I’m doing and really just making it all up as I go along. I also shoot a lot of film photography as a hobby, which allows me to express that creativity in a more time and budget-friendly fashion.
AW: I think a lot of people now in our generation are sort of believing they have to be on top as soon as they leave school which is unrealistic really. In my personal opinion the only way that is possible is nepotism and I am sure we all have our own thoughts about that sort of plague. But, I think we talked briefly about this but how do you think “starting at the bottom” has had a positive outcome for you?
KD: It’s been really great. You’re right, there is this tremendous pressure to write and direct your first award-winning feature film as soon as you graduate film school (or at least, perceived pressure). Well, I didn’t do that. In fact, I didn’t even stay in NYC. I moved back to suburbia NJ with my Mom and became a wedding videographer. Now, there are a lot of people who look down at this kind of work and a lot of “movie set memes” about how weddings are not real art or not real cinematography blah blah blah. I disagree, but let’s say that’s all true for a moment--at the very least, weddings have given me the opportunity to A). have a stable income and B). acquire a lot of film equipment, since it is more economical to own all the gear required for a wedding (3 cameras, audio recorders, mics, etc.). Since I own all my camera gear, anything work related instantly becomes more profitable, as I don’t have to rent anything. I can always use my equipment for every shoot. Additionally, owning my own equipment can make the difference in a client picking between multiple people vying for a job, so it opens me up to more opportunities. Finally, and most important, creating personal work is much, much cheaper. Normally, one would need to rent a full cinema camera package, G&E package, Audio gear, etc. in order to make a film, but I own most of that now, which saves thousands of dollars if and when I make a short film. This has only been possible due to starting out shooting wedding videos. It may not be flashy, but it’s functional, and it’s great work.
AW: I think people have a superiority complex whenever possible. Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it isn’t art. That’s why I retouch. Is it my lifelong dream to retouch for Vogue? Absolutely not. But I enjoy the process of learning how to retouch my own work better and it does pay the bills! I bought my dream camera off that money! So I would never say anything wedding related isn’t art. It is incredibly difficult work to document what most people think is supposed to be the best day of their lives. Not to mention I imagine, despite the maybe lack of creative bounds, you can learn a lot from producing this work. I think there is value in almost everything that we do as artists even the stuff that maybe isn’t as glitzy.
KD: Yes, I would say I’ve learned a ton from working weddings. And funnily enough, a big reason I was hired at SNL as a photo intern originally was simply because I had wedding experience. Weddings can be stressful, long days where you literally have one shot to capture the moment throughout the day. Being able to get over that anxiety and just execute your job with competence is a really good skill for me to have, and I’ve only gotten better at it as I’ve continued my work.
AW: How do you view your more commercial work in relation to your personal work? What do you think carries over between the two types of film you make?
KD: My commercial work is often a natural extension of my personal work. As I wrote before, an overwhelming majority of the stories I create are stories about romance and relationships. A bulk of my commercial work? Capturing different peoples’ love stories on their wedding day and crafting a powerful short film telling their unique story. Additionally, when I make a commercial for a small-business, I approach it in a documentary style. To me, what makes a small-business truly great and unique from its competition are the people who run it. The people who put the blood, sweat, and tears to start that business and make it thrive. I find focusing on the human aspect to be very effective for a small-business commercial (and my clients would agree, thankfully!).
AW: Are you working on any projects right now? Any video stuff that we can look out for?
KD: Right now, I’m currently editing my final short film shot in quarantine, called One Man Band, a sort of weird meta-mockumentary about me making a documentary about me making a short film by myself, by myself. Take that as you wish. Ha. Additionally, I’m developing an idea for a short film that I’d like to shoot this winter (also about a relationship) that I’m really excited about. Finally, I’ve been really enjoying diving deeper into film photography and will continue to do so. I started doing a new scanning/editing process for my film and so far have been having a blast and am really happy with the results. In the years I’ve been shooting I’ve only ever shot 35mm, but soon I’ll be diving into medium format. I love analog and all of its intricacies and in a world that is so consumed by digital tech, I have this strong urge to slow down and take a photograph and have only a theoretical idea of what it might end up looking like. Opening up a box of newly developed negatives is like opening up presents on the first night of Channukah. This is totally unrelated, but my great Uncle gave me his old Nikkormat FTn SLR from the ‘70s a little while ago. I loaded it up and went out for a photo walk one day and shot what I thought were some of the greatest photographs I’ve personally ever taken. I was really putting in the work to be creative and would approach each photo by composing it as I normally would, but then doing something slightly different. I sent it in for development and sure enough, it was blank. It turns out I loaded the film improperly, causing it to never actually wind. So every time I composed an image and pressed the shutter, nothing was ever captured. I feel like there’s a huge metaphor there somewhere.
AW: Oh absolutely. I have shot a whole roll of film, wound it back up, opened the back of my camera and...there wasn’t a roll of film in there to begin with. If you haven’t made that mistake then...well maybe you’re a better photographer than the two of us.
KD: Thank you! If only.
AW: What do you hope for for the future of film? What are you excited for?
KD: I hope that movie theaters don’t die. I really, really enjoy going to a theater to see a film, despite the convenience of streaming. I am a firm believer that great films are just as powerful on any screen, no matter the size, but the theatrical experience just adds this umph that takes a film to a whole other level. At the same time, I’m also excited for the next “Hollywood Revolution,” which I feel is most certainly coming. The “Hollywood Revolution” started in the late 60s with Easy Rider and then throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, bringing us a ton of those “auteur filmmakers” that inspire many young filmmakers today. Well, it’s been 50 years since the Hollywood Revolution and Martin Scorsese is still being given 200 million to make a Killers of the Flower Moon adaptation. It’s mind boggling. He’s talking about how cinema is dying and yet he’s taking 200 $1million indie films away from 200 up and coming directors wanting to make a splash. Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as excited for the eventual downfall of the Superhero/Marvel stronghold on blockbuster filmmaking as Scorsese is (it can’t come soon enough) and will happily go see Scorsese’s Killers adaptation. But my point stands--there aren’t many “legendary” young filmmakers right now. Sure, there have been plenty of amazing films made in the last decade and plenty of incredible directors, but none of them are even close to being household names or have the “legendary” status like Scorsese, Coppola, Nolan, Tarantino, or Kubrick, for example. Why? It’s because all the old farts are still making movies! It’s time to relinquish the reins and let some young blood in (but once again, I shoot myself in the foot as I’ll of course go see any new films from any of the “old” filmmakers). The point is, as soon as the old guard steps down, I think there will be a new wave of young, diverse voices that will capture the zeitgeist akin to the old white male zeitgeist from yore.
AW: I don’t think theaters will ever die. There is something special and exciting about going out to the movies (even if it does cost, as I stated accurately, 30,000 dollars). But I hope to also see these new film makers come in, not this nepotism business either. I want people who started from rock bottom, (one of my favorite sentences I’ve ever read is ‘they call it rock bottom because it rocks’ and I stand by that statement). People who have done it all. Just like you! Editing, writing, directing, producing etc etc. I really feel based on how we are going there will, in due time, be less marvel comics more marvelous movies. So let me be the first to say (but I am sure many people have said this), when the young blood rolls in such as yourself I will gladly take out a loan of 30,000 dollars and see your movie in theaters.
KD: Thank you. I really appreciate that. I won’t let you down!
This has been said a lot before, but it’s true. Just do it. If you want to make films, make the time to go do it. It’s easy to make excuses like, “I have no help,” or “I don’t have equipment,” etc. If you have a smartphone, you have a camera. If you don’t have a video camera phone, make a stop motion film. Look at all you have available to you and then write a story based on what you have. I’ve made films by myself for most of my life and while most of them may not be good, I improved on something every time. Every film is a worthwhile investment into the next and plus, it’s fun! Ultimately, that’s what matters.
This Newsletter is Brought to You By
Mom and Dad, for supporting my creativity and filmmaking aspirations without question,
My girlfriend Marisa, for being my rock and giving honest feedback on my art,
My great friend and collaborator Jon, for helping start my wedding career and give me endless advice, feedback, and support in shaping my ideas and my art, and finally,
Old YouTube, for the endless inspiration, information on how to make videos, and motivation to make videos as a kid
Our next newsletter collaborator needs no introduction, I promise.