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Q&A with OU alumnus Seth Kozak ahead of 'Rendezvous' debut in virtual Clean Shorts Film Festival

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The short film "Rendezvous," written and directed by Seth Kozak, makes its Oklahoma debut in May 2020 via streaming of the Choctaw-based Clean Shorts Film Festival.

2010 OU graduate and Texas filmmaker Seth Kozak is bringing the Oklahoma premiere of his award-winning short film “Rendezvous” to a virtual film festival in Choctaw this May. 

“Rendezvous” is a Hitchcock-inspired mystery thriller that has garnered over 30 awards in its film festival campaign and will make its Oklahoma debut at the Clean Shorts Film Festival, according to a press release. 

The film will also be featured in the Bare Bones Film Festival in Muskogee, which has been postponed from April 2–4 to August 6–8, according to the festival's website

Kozak graduated from Southern Illinois University in 1999 before relocating to Fort Sill in Lawton as an Army officer. He split his time between his military duties, his second job as a production assistant on the 2008 horror flick “Splinter,” and his graduate public administration education at OU, according to the press release. 

“Rendezvous” has received 32 awards at film festivals this year, including the Independent Shorts Awards and the Dreamachine International Film Festival, according to the film’s IMDb page.  

The Clean Shorts Film Festival, which is typically held in Choctaw, will be streamed virtually this year. Viewers can watch “Rendezvous” and other entries for free on the festival's website May 1–3. 

The Daily sat down with Kozak to talk about his new short film and his time spent in Oklahoma:

Q: What is this movie about, and what inspired it? 

A: ("Rendezvous") is about an opportunistic congressman who schemes to have his much younger wife killed, but she's already a step ahead. It's basically her journey dodging him, and her journey to freedom ... getting away from this guy. She essentially leaves New Hampshire and goes to her mother's in Maine, and there's a twist.

I wanted to try my first script as a suspense story. I conceived it in my first tour in Iraq, just trying to play around with the dynamics of a murder mystery story. I did some time in Brunswick, Maine, when I was in the Navy, and quite often I’d go between New Hampshire and Maine. 

There are two road signs when you go into New Hampshire. It has the slogan on there, "New Hampshire: Live Free or Die." And when you turn around, you go into Maine, and it says "Welcome to Maine: The Way Life Should Be." And so that kind of stuck out to me. That was the first element that got my story going. 

Q: What was the process of getting this film made like, and were there any changes you made along the way or challenges that you faced?

A: Definitely. And frankly, probably enough to write a book on. The key challenge was that I was in foreign affairs as a diplomat with the military. So, going from assignment to assignment, it was challenging to get involved in film. So I focused on writing.

When I got to my assignment in Bucharest, Romania, I decided to start pushing work out to production companies. This particular script "Rendezvous" had won a few awards. And I thought I'd use that to my advantage and find a production company in Maine who could shoot using the geography and the signs that were already embedded in the story. 

A company said yes. ... We shot the first 50% in April of 2014, and almost immediately after that, the company was struggling, so it just walked away from the project. I had invested so much into that with my time and effort. ... Here I am holding the whole bag for this burden. 

So it took three-and-a-half years, exactly 1,220 days until I started rolling cameras again. So basically, about a six-year time frame from pre-production to release. That's almost unheard of ... tucking the short into the closet, but then picking it up again three-and-a-half years later. I mean, nobody continues with a project like that. 

Q: What made you decide on the settings for this film, and how did you decide on the scenic elements and visuals of the film? 

A: Well, what sort of keyed it off were the mottos on the two signs, so I love using that. But Maine is such an austere environment — cold winters, it can be brutal, and it really sets up isolation easily. There's a lot of mystery there. You have these old fishing villages, it's cold, it's dark ... a lot of historic inns, a lot of haunted inns. So they have traditions that are kind of creepy if you want them to. 

One thing Hitchcock did pretty well is isolation. And I liked that atmosphere in Maine where this inn would isolate things, sorta like you saw in “Psycho” ... that really appealed to me. 

Having known Maine, I wanted to put some of my past and some of my own history into the story. I knew the landscape, some towns and names and things. And I actually put some of my situations in there, particularly when the road was closed due to ice, and it forced our protagonist to stay the night at an inn instead of carrying on. I had that happen to me. 

Q: What was your time at Fort Sill while also working on the set of “Splinter” like, and how did it inform your later work?

A: “Splinter” was and is still very important to me because when I got out of film school ... I had to get into the rhythm of the military and going from assignment to assignment to learn my job. When you get assigned to different places, they may or may not have opportunities to work in film. So I was always looking for those opportunities, and I hadn't found one until I got to Oklahoma.  

“Splinter” was the first picture that I got to work on. ... It was about a 25-day production, and I was able to manage the opportunity to work about 20 of those days, just piecing together time off and putting in for some leave. But for me, I was just thrilled by it.  

I remember working 12 or 13 hours straight through the night, getting in the car, and I’d just have a grin on my face the whole way back to Lawton because I was working on a movie with real filmmakers and real actors. I learned a lot. 

“Splinter” brought everything together. It was a film education beyond anything I'd had in school. It really made film school seem flat.

Q: Your film and many others worldwide are experiencing altered releases due to theater closures and in-person film festivals being impossible. How has that changed your perspective on filmmaking?

A: I just started my festival campaign last month, and with this pandemic going on, we don't have the live audience scenario. Some of the live audience-based festivals have turned to just doing it virtually. 

In the case of Clean Shorts, which is in Choctaw ... they're doing it virtually now. ... In that respect, more people are able to see it who are geographically displaced. We're not just limited to who can get to Choctaw. That's definitely a bigger aspect that filmmakers can take advantage of at a time like now and share it with everybody. ... Everybody can participate.

Q: What do you want audiences to take away from this film?

A: Fundamentally, I just hope that audiences find it entertaining. Just relax, no preconceived notions, and lose themselves for a few minutes in a story that they find enjoyable. 

And secondly ... an appreciation for the craft. I think what I set out to achieve was to do something like a contemporary, small Hitchcock piece. ... It's kind of opposed to the big action, flashy, "cut cut cut" of today, but something that was akin to what Hitchcock did, almost as if you pulled it out of a time capsule.


“Rendezvous” can be streamed during the Clean Shorts Film Festival from May 1–3 on the festival's website

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