Interview: Director Kevin Asch

6/14/2010 Posted by Admin


Kevin Asch

By our guest blogger, Joel Crabtree

Some kids want to be astronauts, some want to be firemen, others want to be basketball superstars or president of the United States. It was clear at a young age what Kevin Asch wanted to be – even if he wasn't quite sure how to word it.

“I had it on my mock baseball card,” the 34-year-old Long Island native said in a recent phone interview. “[It] was architect/entertainer. So, if you put the two together, that's what a director is in a way.”

Asch recounted the double-feature that helped put him on the path to filmmaking. “When I was 11, I watched “Taxi Driver” and “A Clockwork Orange” back to back on home video,” the director said. “[A]nd that was the day I realized what a director was, clearly.”

And just like young astronaut hopefuls want to be shot into space, Asch wanted nothing more than to have a film in competition at Sundance, a dream that he achieved earlier this year with his feature debut “Holy Rollers.”

Even though “Rollers” is currently in theaters (and expanding with every week of release), Asch still considers Sundance a life-changing experience. “I don't watch this television show, but it's like winning 'American Idol,'” he said, adding that the festival puts directors on a pedestal and treats them like emerging artists. “I don't know what my year would be like if I didn't get into Sundance.”

“Holy Rollers,” which is inspired by actual events, stars Jesse Eisenberg as Sam, a young Hasidic Jew who falls off his chosen path when he is recruited by Yosef (Justin Bartha) to smuggle Ecstasy between Europe and the United States. Sam's coming-of-age journey spins out of control as his double-life outside of his Orthodox community intensifies.

The idea was first brought to Asch by producer and “Holy Rollers” star Danny A. Abeckaser.

“It immediately felt like an original story that I connected to,” Asch said. Being a reformed Jew from Long Island who is familiar with the nightclub scene – and getting away from it – gave him a personal perspective on the story. “It was about hanging on to his [Sam's] journey.”

Asch and Abeckaser took the story to writer Antonio Macia with that direction in mind. And then the “family tree,” as Asch called it, started to grow. Eisenberg committed to the project, and then Justin Bartha came onboard, and the before Asch knew it, he had a cast and crew as passionate about “Holy Rollers” as he was.

Asch said the film's editor, Suzanne Spangler, stayed on months past what she was expected to, and became “Holy Rollers'” post-production supervisor as well as an associate producer. “She just kept on being there for the movie,” he said.

And with a $1 million budget and only 18 shooting days, that kind of dedication was critical to bringing “Holy Rollers” to fruition.

“ … [It] became not just my movie and my dream of getting this done, but everybody's. It's really magical. I don't know if it happens like that in a studio film.”

Asch's career in the movie industry started while at the School of Visual Arts in New York, where he worked on post production for Shooting Gallery production company.

“I knew I wanted to be a director at such a young age that anything that I would do in the industry was really for the hope that what I'm learning or what I'm doing would pay off into being a film director.”

Asch eventually worked his way up to assistant sound editor, and then assistant to the production executive and eventually got a position as the set production assistant on the indie hit “You Can Count on Me,” which he also ended up doing publicity for.

“It was a few years later after producing the independent film 'Point and Shoot,' after Shooting Gallery went under, that I said all right, I'm just now going to focus on directing purely. And I had enough savings to sort of say, you know, screw everything, I'm just going to be working on that ...

“ And of course it's risky, but that's filmmaking, man. Nothing great ever happens without taking a risk in your life.”

After struggling to find his place in L.A., Abeckaser, whom Asch had worked with on a short film, brought up the idea for “Holy Rollers.” Originally, the team had created the story with a $5 million budget in mind. It wasn't until about eight months before filming that Asch and Macia has to reconceive the story to work with a $1 million budget.

Asch found himself reducing his shot list every morning and working as economically as possible, something he called a “wonderful lesson” in filmmaking.

“That was the journey for me, it was very much like Sam, except no drugs and no Hasidism -- just Hollywood and the trials and tribulations of making an independent film.”

Asch currently has two projects lined up for the future titled “Great Neck” and “King's Highway.” The former is a coming-of-age story written by Macias, inspired by “The Great Gatsby.” It is centered around the death of materialism in Long Island. The latter is to be produced by Abeckaser and written by Macias. The film is centered around a former Mossad agent who joins an Israeli crime syndicate in the late '80s, which Asch described as bigger, more visceral and bit more violent than “Holy Rollers.” But like Holy Rollers, Asch said the crime and drugs take a backdrop to the character's journey.

Asch pointed out, “there's a little connective tissue with these stories.”

“Holy Rollers,” is currently in theaters.

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  1. Hrushi said...

    Holy Rollers feels more like a video game... :D
    What does this feel like, btw: