[Fantasia 2021 Interview] Richard Bates Jr. for KING KNIGHT

[Fantasia 2021 Interview] Richard Bates Jr. for KING KNIGHT
Courtesy of Fantasia
Back in 2016, I attended the Screamfest Film Festival in Los Angeles, and it was here that I first saw a Richard Bates Jr. film, Trash Fire. I was so blown away by it that soon afterward I made sure to immersive myself in all his previous filmography. Richard Bates Jr. has always made films with a personal edge to them, films that provoke a reaction, films that may challenge the viewer’s beliefs. And, though, his latest film, the horror/comedy KING KNIGHT, is a much brighter, happier fare, it’s still a film whose topics and themes will stick with you long after the credits roll.

For the world premiere of KING KNIGHT, which took place at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival, Nightmarish Conjurings had the opportunity to chat with Writer/Director Richard Bates Jr. where they discussed everything from eclectic Wiccans, the importance of birdbaths, and more.

Thank you so much for speaking with me today! I fell absolutely head over heels in love with this bizarre little film. What was the inspiration behind doing a quirky horror/comedy about Wiccans?

Richard Bates Jr.: After Tone-Deaf, I was trying to figure out what I should do, and it just felt like, you know, the Trump bullshit and things were so ominous and when I make a movie I really embody…I get in my head and I feel that way until it’s done. And I knew I had to make myself happy, so I said, I’ll make a movie that will make me happy, and then maybe make other people happy. I was pitched a little earlier this horror film which was witches, and I realized that I don’t want to make a horror movie where the witches are bad guys. I have many friends that are witches, half my library books are on spells or witchcraft, and all that fun stuff. I grew up near the South… a lot of family members are Baptists so, the very notion of a witch is evil. The idea of witchcraft, there’s no middle ground. So, the idea is to make a movie about witches, and treat them as if they were any other characters, the way I would treat any characters in a regular comedy, not as a holier than thou or not some reverential way, cause I don’t want to preach to people. I want to show people. I knew I couldn’t make them perfect and this other thing bad so, the idea was trying to figure out, okay, well, what movies make me happy, and I’m thinking ’90s John Waters movies. What movie? Pecker. When I’m sad, if I watch Pecker then I’m happy. So, I was trying to think, okay, it’s silly, it’s provocative. I watch it and I’m like okay, but it’s so sweet, and even when the character is doing the most ridiculous thing, even if it’s something they maybe shouldn’t be doing, he loves that character and it shows.

I’m naturally a very cynical person, and I went back and I said, I’m going to not finish this until I know that I love every character. That was sort of the approach to the whole thing. And then, just before I made it, I made sure to be pretty well-researched on Wicca. For this film, they’re technically eclectic Wiccans so they pull things from a variety of other spiritualities as well as Wicca. I had my friends who are Wiccan read it just to make sure…I wanted to make sure that it was funny to them without being inconsiderate, that was important to me. So, it was good. They all responded pretty great actually. Then I felt confident enough to go out there and get some friends and make it. I wasn’t even going to try and pitch a Wiccan comedy where I don’t kill anyone [Laughs]. I used my own money, took out a little loan, got my friends together, and made it. The cool thing is when you direct a movie, you have a lot of say over stuff but there are things you don’t. Casting for me is always the most important thing by far so, the idea that I could have complete control over every single person in the movie was awesome. Cause then, if you pick the right person and let them do their thing, then you’re golden.

Director Richard Bates Jr. on the set of the comedy KING KNIGHT, a King Knight LLC release | Photo courtesy of King Knight LLC

Shortly after meeting Thorn, we find out that he’s in the birdbath-making business, and I must know, how did that idea of birdbaths materialize?

Richard Bates Jr.: I hope this is going to be the title of your piece [Laughs]. This is my favorite question of the day. I’m not even fucking with you. My answer is just as preposterous as your question about it. I don’t see a lot of like handmade, indie-type “put your money where your mouth is” films anymore, and I used to see them a ton. And I was like, I feel like we’re making a birdbath. I feel like I make birdbaths, and there’s not a market for that anymore, everyone has electronic waterfalls, you know what I mean? [Laughs]. So, I’m the birdbath guy. The craziest thing is that [this story] is actually true.

There are a lot of surprising cameos in the film, but I have to ask about the addition of horror icon, Barbara Crampton in the role of Thorn’s mom. When it came to filling that role, did you already have Barbara in mind? 

Richard Bates Jr.: Well, whenever I write a movie, I try really hard not to think of an actor for the part. I try to only think of that when I’m done because then it becomes a little less convoluted. I like to start out just writing for the movie. When I made Excision, I also was able to cast whoever I wanted with no one else saying anything. And so, to make it feel like it’s made with love, I try to put people that I want to honor in it so that it feels like a special thing to me. Barbara is someone that I…Re-Animator is probably a big reason why I like horror/comedies, to begin with. Probably the first one I ever saw where I was like, what is this tone? What in the fuck? That’s how I want to make movies. Having Barbara in this makes it really special to me cause she is a hero of mine. I want to be a fan when I’m making [a movie] cause sometimes you forget how and why you love movies, to begin with.

Before we wrap up I wanted to ask about the music since it fits so well with the overall tone and feel of the film. Can you elaborate on that? 

Richard Bates Jr.: A lot of the music is Witch house.  Remember that little music scene in the 2000s? I love it. Every day before I wrote, I would listen to the Witch house playlist on Spotify while getting coffee. I even thought about calling the movie Witch House. Steve Damstra did the score, and he did Excision, so this is the first time having him back since then. And then Michl Britsch did a few songs in it, and he also did Suburban Gothic, Trash Fire, Tone-Deaf. So, this whole movie was just a super fun collaboration.

For more on KING KNIGHT, check out our review here. KING KNIGHT had its World Premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival on August 8, 2021.

Shannon McGrew
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