Continuing our Dallas International Film Festival preview, we take a look at the short film KISSED BY THE DEVIL from writer/director M. Legend Brown, playing Friday at both the Magnolia and the Angelika Dallas theater.
M. Legend the director is a massive man, the kind of a guy who takes over the room. He is also Michael Brown a writer of serious fiction. The man sees the writer and the director as two different and distinct persons. He is part of the Dallas International Film Festival to promote his latest work.
That work is the short film Kissed by the Devil and it is a 25 minute ride, full of emotion. It is the story of Oakland Hill, a well known radio voice but someone who has challenges in her life. She spends her days taking care of her mentally ill brother Michael. As a youngster, Michael saw his father commit a horrible act. Oakland begins to search for answers to what actually happened all those years ago. She visits her father in prison but gets no rejoinder. The film builds to a shocking reveal.
As a writer Michael Brown has written several books to confront the demons of his personal life and he said, “I fell in love with the process.” The goal of his writing is ten pages a day. He is a self-taught filmmaker and said that he spent 2 ½ years in the library learning the craft of film by reading everything he could get his hands on.
M. Legend was very honest about the generation of this short film. “This story started for me because I think it is hard to share family secrets especially about the past. I never knew my father, never knew his name. This film spawned from that—family secrets. How sometimes family secrets are like shackles and they bind us. You start getting sick from holding something inside you so much.”
He is at the press conference with Sharice Henry Chasi, the producer of Kissed by the Devil. She is also an actress and youth drama teacher. As a producer, she works with both sides of Michael Brown and M. Legend and knows the difference between the two sides of the same man. She said, “You have Michael Brown who is the writer and who you see (sitting here) and you have M. Legend who is an egotistical. When I tell you we fight, it’s me and M. Legend who fight all the time. Me and Michael get along fine. Me and M. Legend go to blows every time. He has that conflict when he’s on the set. He tries to bring M. Legend on the set to direct but Michael gets in the way.”
Michael sees M. Legend as a very different person who transforms what he puts on the page. M. Legend directs Michael’s scripts but changes things. “On set,” he said, “Everything becomes live and it starts to breathe and you don’t want to be stuck to the page.”
“The title is an old cliché from the country,” said of the name Kissed by the Devil. “Back then, if something keeps happening to you, one of the elders would say that you’d been kissed by the devil. Bad stuff keeps happening to you over and over again.”
The two said that there were many hurdles to getting Kissed by the Devil on the screen. “There were a lot of hard parts,” said Sharice. “One of the toughest was not the film itself but the scheduling and the SAG paperwork.” During the shoot, they lost a location and had to re-write the scene the day before. Parts of the film were even shot in Sharice’s house.
They said that the film is part of a full-length feature and that they hope to produce it in the near future. “We have a script and were ready to go—anybody got some money? About $250,000?” Sharice quipped.
The first cut of the film was 45 minutes, too long for a short film competition. M. Legend knew that he had to trim the film down and lamented, “Do you want to cut an ear or a finger off your baby?” He considered it a torture to make the film the length he knew it should be.
“It is about truth in the moment and the truth in the situation,” said M. Legend of his film. ”With secrets the longer you hold on to them the more complicated they get. All my films are family related I think that is where our core and our strength is.”
At screenings, Sharice said she wonders on the impact the film gives to the audience. “Did they really get it? What are they going to take from this? If you watch it and you can change. If we are not able to do that the mission is not accomplished.”
“At the end of the day,” M. Legend said of the process, “if the film affects somebody in a positive way (that’s what I want).” The two filmmakers have a giant head start in affecting the lives of the audience.