Director Joseph Kahn On Detention

Making music videos is hard— meddlesome labels, indecisive artists, small budgets, etc, etc — but, there is no other type of commercial filmmaking that offers more creativity.

Case in point: Movies.

How many feature directors can get the funding to make whatever movie they wanted, retain final cut and even oversee the marketing with a full theatrical run? Very few, and there's probably zero room for error if you're swinging for the fences (see Stanton, Andrew).

But, what if you don't need to rely on outside funding, and are willing to dedicate everything to making your movie? What if you were willing to go for broke?

JkphotoCase in point: Director Joseph Kahn

In the follow-up to his 2004 feature debut Torque — a movie which wasn't commercially or critically successful — Kahn threw the rulebook out the window for Detention, a genre-mashup that seems destined  to linger on both as a cult hit (see Darko, Donnie) and as an example of true DIY.

Using his experience as a music video director for the likes of Britney Spears, Muse, Eminem and many other A-List artists, Kahn went at the movie as if it were 15 music videos in a row. He maintained creative control, struck a distribution deal and then promoted his movie by using his Twitter as a way to connect and drive word of mouth. In some ways, the "let's make a movie" spirit was no different than what drove Kahn as a 21 year old Houstonian making videos for Rap-A-Lot Records, just on a much bigger level.


Kahn took the time for a quick back and forth via email in which spoke about his movie and a bit about the video/feature divide.

DetentionDetention is in a handful of theaters still. Go see it. Especially if you're a music video director who has also thought, "Well, why can't I just make a movie?" 

PS: If his answers seem like the sort of things that would work great on Twitter, well, he has a great Twitter feed that's gleefully unchecked. Follow him. 


Video Static: For a long time it seemed like when most video directors get tapped to do a movie, they usually get slotted into a horror flick — Dave Meyers and Hitcher, Sam Bayer and Nightmare on Elm Street — or an action flick — Paul Hunter and Bulletproof Monk, your movie Torque —  Why do you think that is? What is it that for a long time had Hollywood pigeonholing video directors into those genres?

 Joseph Kahn: They want cheap directors.

 VS: The other side of the coin is directors doing their own thing. Spike Jonze would be the perfect example. Detention seems to be Kahn Unbound, both in terms of the content of the film and in its production process. How much did your previous film experiences inspire you to take this DIY route? And how difficult is it to self-finance and then hustle (and I mean that in the best sense of the word) your movie into theaters.

 JK: Detention used everything I know about production to pull off. From the minute I decided we were going to make it independently with my cash, to the first day of shooting was less than a month and a half. I told my producer that basically we’d be prepping 15 music videos in a row.

 Spending my own money sucked. But it was the price of admission to get what I wanted unflitered. Anticipating that there will be lots of piracy on this movie, I essentially am throwing a party for strangers who will not BYOB. That sucks too. But I needed to make this movie.

 I really dislike interfacing with the political aspects of movie making. It is not my strong suit. I just want to create. So hustling this movie into a studio and getting it out was hard for me, and on this point, I could have done better.

VS: Obviously your experience on music videos and commercials prepared you for most film production situations, but what were the surprises? And how different are the two skillsets (videos vs. movies)?

JK: I’m always surprised interfacing with talent agents and managers. They’re so ruthless. That’s the biggest difference between videos and movies. Talent agents are hardcore.

VS: You marketed this movie more like an independent music artist than a traditional movie. Maybe that's just a necessity based on how the movie was made and what advertising/marketing budgets you had access to. But, you really took ownership of it online and set about passionately pitching it via Twitter. Like it was a life or death situation and really having people connect with you and the movie. Was that a lesson you took up from the music world where if artists want to be heard, they need to take the reins and do it themselves up to a certain point?

 JK: I don’t really have a choice. If I don’t speak up, no one else will. Some people have a wonderful ability to get other people to fight their battles for them. I’m not hiding. My movie is super fucking awesome. Your loss if you don’t see it.

 VS: Is the next movie on your radar yet? And would you go this route again? (Or would your accountants and family disown you?)

JK: I’m broke.



bigfan's picture
He's depressed.
Jessica's picture
I had the pleasure of seeing this movie Friday night in Burbank. IT IS "super fucking awesome" like I expected it to be!! I can't get it out of my head, I've been totally mind-fucked. I really wanna see it again but unfortunately, it's not playing in my home city. Might have to roadtrip again to see it one more time! Joseph, I have so much respect for you for making this film and doing it the way you did. This genius creation deserves much more credit and attention than it's getting.
Glass's picture
Seems like a pretty sad dude all-around (judging from this and every post he makes on twitter). The entertainment industry is no fucking joke, man...
Steven Gottlieb's picture
I didnt think he sounded depressed. And he said on Twitter that hes not. (Twitter never lies) Ive also interviewed him in the past and knew not to expect 5 sentence answers when just a few words would suffice. Also, anyone whos ever done the press gauntlet can tell you that being asked the same questions again and again (and again) is a draining experience. The Radiohead Meeting People Is Easy movie is probably the best depiction of what its like... Personally, I wish the movie was available immediately as a VOD or paid download, but I also respect the notion that the movie was made to be seen on a big screen and that it should have that opportunity, even if its limited. Cheer up, people.
Dylan Bell's picture
I thought this was a great interview and very helpful to someone who is trying to follow that path and see what happens when someone takes one direction or the other. Anyone that puts it all on the line, is drained at the end. If they are still peppy and perky like most people that make bad movies, they obviously didn't give everything they had. Props to him for doing it! He's got balls and I'm stoked to see this movie!
Tags: MV To Movie