We like a touch of urban magic at the Hothouse and when we viewed Luke Jaden’s short King Ripple we were enchanted by writer/director/actor’s imaginative vision of teenagers exploring a haunted wasteland. It’s a very American kind of fantasy in that odd way that Brit author Neil Gaiman imagines the USA in books like American Gods.
Detroit based Jaden has a passion for Stephen King and a prodigious record in independent film making. He’s Best known for the critically acclaimed documentary, Madman or Martyr, which told the true story of white abolitionist John Brown and the relentless raid he led on Harper’s Ferry. This earned Jaden a prestigious spot in USA Today. More recently having founded independent production company Derry Films, Jaden has written and directed Wolf Who Cried Boy, an anti-coming-of-age tale starring the Oscar-nominated Captain Phillips star Barkhad Abdi and Beasts of The Southern Wild’s Dwight Henry.
We caught up with Jaden to ask him how he got into filmmaking and how King Ripple came about:
‘My influences have always been David Lynch, Terrence Malick, Kurosawa, Kubrick and Hitchcock. Obviously, my biggest influence is Stephen King. I love reading. Reading I believe is the only way a human can gain power. Pages provide knowledge and it’s exactly what the King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time to write Simple as that.” I believe in this statement fully!!! 10000000%.
I grew up reading my favorites… Stephen King (of course), Harlan Ellison, Philip K. Dick, Bester, Ray Bradbury and Elmore Leonard (being from Detroit… He was a must-read!).
For King Ripple, I wanted to tell a story that dealt with how I was feeling at that time… My mom was battling cancer and still being a teenager— y’know we go through a roller coaster of emotions and I had no clue to what type of story I wanted to share, until I talked with Josh Malerman a buddy of mine who’s a genius and we came up with this whole concept of King Ripple and I was just mind-blown! It was a story that had everything I felt and it really felt like this story is the best way I can sum up all of my emotions. So, let’s see if I can capture all of my emotions in less than 15 minutes, so essentially that’s how King Ripple came to life off the page. It was a healing process for me. And Stand by Me is one of my favorite movies ever, so that was a huge inspiration of mine. I remember the first time I read King’s novella The Body as a kid I was always that type of kid who wanted to find a body! I was definitely a wonderer and still believe that I am.
I love Neil Gaiman… His Absolute Sandman graphic novel collection is beyond-belief. Truly an American epic! I really wanted to tell a piece that dealt with all of my emotions because when you tell those stories that’s the only way you can be YOU and too many of us try to tell stories for the wrong reasons… I want to be the one who tells the stories with the scars and explore those wounds and blows because those are the most original and honest stories we’re given to tell. I feel in film, it’s so critical to find your identity and voice. I’m not limited to one genre. I like horror because it scares you, the real horror like the type that’s real and “could” actually happen. I just saw Don’t Breathe this weekend and that film still has me terrified. I guess you shouldn’t ever try to rob the blind man— or else he might GET you!!!!
I really believe our culture is beginning to find who they are and not who they want to be… The Duffer Brothers recently told Stranger Things, which I thought was pure brilliance. I mean that had everything a human could possibly wish for. I have a serious crush on Eleven! She’s so freaking cool! She kind of reminds me of King Ripple. This human-like entity who can wish and dream of anything they can imagine. In ways, they share many similarities.
The core of the idea for King Ripple originated from parts of my childhood and teenage years. I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit and I was always warned by my parents and others that Detroit is dangerous. That if you cross 8 Mile you may get killed or something even WORSE… I mean what could that be!? So, I really wanted to tell this story about Detroit. A place that feels timeless and is one of the most important historic places in the world. I mean Detroit is so freaking cool. People don’t even realize how cool such a beautiful place can truly be. We’ve went through everything. We were the American Dream. We created cars… We went through a race riot in ’43 and a deadly racial uprising in ’67 that practically burned the entire city down. Now, we remain in beautiful cremations, but what we’re seeing now is a revival. A rebirth and it’s truly special and I’m so grateful that I am able to see the transformation Detroit is currently experiencing. It’s slow, but everyday is a big step. So, I really wanted to tell a story of all my emotions, all of Detroit’s emotions… It’s very much a love letter to the city even though it’s a dark story. And— simply, I believe when we’re kids our imagination is indescribable and I wanted to tell something imaginative that felt a bit like a Pan’s Labyrinth but with the splash of intimacy in Harmony Korine’s Kids. Just a real story that could be real… Not one that tried to be real. Or simply an urban legend. The entire VOICEOVER in the beginning was a battle because I’m more about the show don’t tell. But, I wanted our story to feel like an urban legend we’re hearing as the viewer. I think it was an important element to interject, so people could piece together how King Ripple was awoken. That was my mythology.
I loved the entire cast we had for King Ripple. Keith Stanfield played King Ripple and— boy, did he bring the character to life or what!? Keith is truly a legend. He knew how to tackle this role so well. He’s very much a silent companion, but Keith was someone where I could look into his eyes and read the novel he was telling. He’s truly magical and I can not wait to collab with Keith again! He’s a masterclass and a total OG. Love you, Keith!
…and then the rest of the cast was teenagers I happened to find through casting and they all packed the heat and brought their A-game. Without them, I could have never brought King Ripple to fruition. As far as any weird dark delicacies, nothing ever weird happened. Besides I guess the urban legend is true and King Ripple does float around the ruined city in his clawfoot bathtub. Maybe if you come to Detroit you’ll run into him… Maybe, he’ll turn you into a million smithereens! Well, I guess a couple of things did happen— One of the locations we had locked had to change because when we got their in the morning. Arsonists had lit it ablaze. The entire place was on fire and black smoke-filled the air, so we had to quickly send our location scout out to find another location. That was a bit crazy. We ran into a few scrappers torching out copper pipes in a few blown out factories, but that was pretty much it. I love Detroit. It’s gritty and it’s real. I guess that’s why I love Stephen King so much… Most of his stories are set in Maine and I really believe Detroit is my backyard. The stories are endless. Detroit is a city of all genres!
King Ripple is making a few festival rounds still. It just won at Hollyshorts last week and our distributor KQED (Film School Shorts) just released it online, so you can now check it out here’
Naturally we wanted to know what was next for Jaden:
‘Oh, goodness! What’s next for me? That’s a great question. I love you and I love that question. That word “next” is always an inspiring trigger that you can’t wait to press. I’m actually working on my first feature right now that I’m going to be directing. We’re casting now, so it’s going to be exciting to see the ensemble.I can’t say much about it right now, but it’s a psychological thriller dressed up as a sci-fi film that explores the dichotomy of a strong ensemble. Essentially, it’s Memento meets Source Code. ‘
It all sounds pretty exciting to us, we shal look forward to seeing it, Kuke Jaden thank you very much for talking to the Horror Hothouse