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Kimberly Stuckwisch Always Searches for Joy, Even in Life’s Darker Moments



LBB chatted with the Scheme Engine director about her love of magical realism, always welcoming the opportunity to get silly, plus directing her first spot, and Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Sour Prom’ under serious time constraints

Kimberly Stuckwisch Always Searches for Joy, Even in Life’s Darker Moments

Kimberly Stuckwisch may be new to directing but she knows the industry inside out. Impressively, in her short time as a director, she has already racked up an enviable number of creatively challenging, successful projects. There’s Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour Prom concert film, nominated for the UKMVA’s Best Special Video Project and shortlisted at the 2022 Young Directors Awards, which saw Kimberly capture the bittersweet emotions of Olivia’s songs at the height of covid. She’s also explored her love for the aesthetics of bygone eras in videos for Angel Olsen and Sharon Van Etten. Plus, Kimberly has  worked with Moschino twice, helping to turn creative director Jeremy Scott’s ideas into reality with technical precision and humour for short films ‘Jungle Red’ and ‘Lighting Strikes’. 

Her work for Pearl Derringer’s "Little Baby" video is in the 2023 SXSW Music Video Competition; it was also shortlisted at the 1.4 Awards for Music Video - On the Cusp. And Kimberly's first ever spot - the fun K-pop inspired ‘A Whole Bag Kinda Night’ for Skinny Pop - also made the longlist at the 1.4 Awards for Commercial - On the Cusp.

Never shying away from life’s darker moments, Kimberly likes to use magical realism to explore the beauty and the pain of subject matter at hand and to convey a strong point of view. Her work effortlessly flows between the lyrical and the humorously provocative. Whatever the project, Kimberly's approach is always grounded in technical excellence and a preference for in-camera effects, finding it more ‘truthful’ for herself and the viewers.

Today, LBB’s Zhenya Tsenzharyk speaks with the Scheme Engine director about her aesthetic influences, the narrative and emotional appeal of magical realism, and why - whether she’s working on a feature, music video, or commercial - she’ll always say yes to projects with humanity at the story’s heart. 

LBB> How did you first get into directing? 

Kimberly> My journey into directing started a million miles from Hollywood; a poor farm town in southern Indiana (population: 2000), predominantly inhabited by cattle and crops. My late pappaw, Sherrell Street, an exuberant storyteller, inspired my love for directing.  He taught editing and camera classes at a local tech school and would bring the cameras home to film my family performing funny sketches that he wrote, complete with top-of-the-line grandpa jokes. In elementary, I found myself just like him, except this time writing skits and directing my fellow classmates on the local jungle gym at recess. I wrote a couple plays and then in high school I’d write/direct/shoot short films for bonus to attach to a report for history class just for fun. After 15 years of creative producing, I decided to make a go at directing professionally, but the jungle gym bits were some of my best work yet. 

LBB> How do you define your directing style? Are you influenced by a particular aesthetic and/or the work of other directors?

Kimberly> I have always been drawn to work that blends magical realism with everyday life. Projects that take the normal and make it slightly abnormal, beautiful, influential. I often try to explore the hard parts of life that a lot of people don’t like to talk about. It’s not all sad, however, as you have to bring joy to the darkness. That’s what’s most important. It’s saying ‘hey, yeah, we all have some ugly shit in our lives, but as humans we want to find joy at all costs, to find light in it’.  

I’ve always been inspired by Jonathan Glazer, Hiro Murai, Guillermo del Toro, and Jeremiah Zagar, four directors who find hope in sometimes dire situations. Their use of magical realism to help guide the audience through some pretty hard situations is nothing short of astounding. Don’t get me wrong though, I love to create hyper-real dance pieces too that just get people smiling… I mean, who doesn’t want to explode popcorn out of cabinets in a 91-year old historical theatre onto a group of ladies dancing? (Disclaimer- no damage was done to the theatre or ladies.)

LBB> Your video for Pear Derringer, Little Baby, is a lush and surreal exploration of what is and isn’t real. Can you tell us about the directing process behind? How do you feel now that the song is in the 2023 SXSW Music Video Competition?

Kimberly> It was the hardest, most rewarding and funnest shoot I've done. We had no money, there were 6 of us travelling in unforgotten locations over 8 days with just enough hands to carry gear up rocky mountains, down steep forest cliffs, across black sand dunes and dead fish banks - a spectacular purgatory of sorts to which we brought styling and influence from Alejandro Jodorowsky and Tim Walker.

It was Pearl’s first video and she chooses to keep her identity anonymous. Being close with her for years, I’ve glimpsed her battles social anxiety, its pressures and was able to develop a narrative that felt honest to her views on art and identity. She and I sat in my backyard, cracked some beers together and talked about what happens when a person loses their sense of self to try and be what you think the world wants and, as a result, you’re rendered faceless and devoid of uniqueness and identity. The rewards and recognition of this film, made for pennies with family and friends, have been amazing. It’s an official selection at SXSW and I’m so thrilled they are giving an unknown artist and this video a chance to shine!

LBB> You’ve worked with Moschino on two short films, both inspired by classic musicals. The films are undeniably glamorous but also playful, in line with the Moschino aesthetic. How closely did you work with the brand’s creative director, Jeremy Scott, and how did you execute the final ideas?

Kimberly> Jeremy and I worked extremely close together. He dreamed up the amazing ideas and I got brought on to help him execute them. I worked hand in hand with him to help facilitate and direct the vision behind his brilliance. 

LBB> Tell us about directing the very fun Sour Prom for Olivia Rodrigo - how did you pull it off?

Kimberly> ‘Sour Prom’ was one for the ages! It coincided with Moschino’s ‘Lighting Strikes’ shoot, so I had about five days to prepare. It became a full on sprint until the release, which just so happened to be five days after we wrapped principal photography. My editor Ellis Bahl stayed awake with the producer Ian Blair and I for almost five days straight with only a few hours of rest between each night. Honestly, if I wouldn't have had my A+ team on, it would have never happened considering we even lost our school location two days before the shoot and ended up having to build the prom. 

LBB> Your work effortlessly combines humour and style (and often dance) - there’s a kind of winking quality to projects like Sour Prom, Moschino’s films, and the Skinny Pop spot. Do you specifically look for projects where you can exercise your more humorous side?

Kimberly> I think it’s important to always balance the serious with the silly. If I were making something where there is no room to laugh, then I’m missing the joy and I’m doing a disservice. Even in the hardest circumstances, we have to find the reason to laugh. Since coming out of covid, and with all the weird shit going on in the world right now, there’s all the more reason to gravitate towards things that make us smile. I didn’t always see it that way but now, I welcome the opportunity to get silly. I’m a big child at heart, so I’m just doing what’s natural. Oh and did I mention I’m taking a clown class? 

LBB> We also noticed that your approach is very technical and you use a lot of in-camera effects - why is this important for you? What’s appealing about constructing a shot on set versus in post?

Kimberly> I am all about in-camera transitions and the satisfaction that comes with doing things organically. It’s also so fulfilling when you nail the challenge, especially executing a long take with loads of moving parts. It’s your team working at their best, and it’s just truly a wonderful feeling. To me it feels truthful… and isn’t that where the best art comes from? 

LBB> Your work also deals with the feelings and the aesthetic of remembering (like in the case of the aforementioned projects) and your videos for Angel Olsen and Sharon Van Etten. Would you agree with that? And if so, what’s appealing to you about it?

Kimberly> I do have a retro heart!  Everything we know has come from another time, from analysing and learning from others before us. It’s paying tribute and giving respect to those who have come before. I also grew up in a place a little frozen in time and sometimes it feels like years behind the rest of the world, so the locations I pick, the textures, and the colour palette remind me a lot of home, of how I grew up.  We write what we know and with that I often try to bring a little of my past into what I do. 

LBB> You’ve worn many hats within the film industry before a move to directing, namely producing. How does your past producing experience inform your work as a director today?

Kimberly> Ah! It’s informed so much. Honestly, it has shaped me into the director I am today. I was a creative producer for 15 years for a lot of really talented directors, who became my mentors and who I strive to be like. I also have to say being a producer taught me problem solving as a second language. I’ve carried that into directing and if the money isn’t quite there, I use my experience as an outside-of-the box thinker to creatively solve problems. 

LBB> What do you look for in a script? What type of work are you most passionate about or find yourself most drawn to?

Kimberly> I’m drawn to stories that blend humanity's vulnerability with magical realism. Ones that explore both the darkness and the light within us. I’ve always been a huge fan of Guillermo Del Toro but I must say, in recent years, I can’t remember a movie quite like Jeremiah Zagar’s We The Animals. It’s a film with blistering honesty that is both beautifully tragic and profound in its portrayal of a child’s view of the world. It’s exactly the type and style of story I would be honoured to tell.

LBB> For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in any kind of project? And why?

Kimberly> This one is tough as I feel the director has to have a great working relationship with everyone from the producer to the cinematographer to the PAs. It’s about respect and, as the ‘leader’, setting a tone for the set. I like to have fun and create a familial vibe. So it’s important to know your responsibility and your power and to use it wisely while always trying to create and maintain an atmosphere of love and joy. 

LBB> What’s upcoming for you that you can tell us about?

Kimberly> I recently travelled to Bulgaria to film a Taft x Gliss hair commercial, complete with wild dancing and unexpected Gondry-esk camera trickery and am in pre-production on a Bose project that I can't mention much about, other than it is with some of the raddest females in the music industry. Concurrently, I’m finishing post on my first feature film titled Canvas, inspired by the classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane that we shot earlier this year in Tennessee.

On top of that, I help run and am on the board of directors of The Elysian comedy theatre in Los Angeles, where we develop and program ground breaking experimental comedy. You haven’t seen anything like it. I promise. Oh yeah, and I jumped in the freezing cold ocean yesterday. The year is starting off right!

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Scheme Engine, Tue, 31 Jan 2023 15:43:13 GMT