For the Love of Gore: A Conversation With Teenage Filmmaker Kansas Bowling

We met up with Kansas Bowling, the young, bright-eyed filmmaker who is about to release her first film – a “prehistoric slasher film” called B.C. Butcher – at Canter’s Deli in Los Angeles. It was the perfect setting for a late night nosh and chat about filmmaking; a not so unusual conversation among the famed booths of the Jewish deli where Bowling’s boyfriend, the iconic DJ and “Mayor of the Sunset Strip” Rodney Bingenheimer, has his own table. And it was at that table where we talked with Kansas about her upbringing in Los Angeles, her early fascination with low-grade horror films and B.C. Butcher, her first feature, which stars the likes of Kato Kaelin and Bingenheimer himself. The film is Bowling’s debut as a filmmaker and is being released today on the famed production and distribution company Troma’s digital streaming service. Troma is known for cult fare such as Toxic Avengers and Return to Nuke 'Em High. At seventeen, Bowling is in for a strange and wild ride with her cinematic pursuits, and being with Troma means that she is already in the right company. What you will learn in the following interview is that Bowling used a combination of production sources to fund B.C. Butcher, which include crowdfunding and a settlement from a car accident. Fate, it seems, stepped in at the right time. While other kids are gearing up for prom or college campus tours, Bowling is getting ready to “spend more money than she has ever spent in her entire life” to create a print of the film to project in movie theaters. In the following interview, you’ll understand that Kansas Bowling is surely a talent to watch.

Oliver Kupper: I want to talk about your upbringing. Did you grow up in Los Angeles?

Kansas Bowling: Yes. I was born in Beverly Hills. I lived in Hollywood, and then I moved to Topanga Canyon. I moved to Koreatown, then Mid-City, and then back to Hollywood. [Laughs.]

OK: Were your parents a part of the industry.

KB: No, not really. They did extra work, but all the kids do that. But not really. My mom works at Bloomingdale’s, and my dad works for the L.A. River.

OK: So there wasn’t really a film background. You jumped into it on your own?

KB: Yeah.

OK: You have a really interesting name. Were your parents artists or hippies?

KB: My dad’s a bit of a stoner. [Laughs.] They were in a popular grunge band in the 90s, when I was born. It was called Bottom 12. My mom was a backup singer, and my dad was a bass player. He used to get naked on stage.

OK: Was it based here?

KB: Yeah, it was based here. They didn’t have an album come out though. My dad has this big story about, “Oh, we could have made it!”

OK: Growing up, did you know you wanted to become a filmmaker?

KB: Pretty much always. Ever since I knew what a filmmaker was. Before that, I wanted to be a firefighter, but that didn’t happen. [Laughs.]

OK: And then film came along?

KB: Yeah. I was a really big fan of Quentin Tarantino, since I was 7 years old. My sister and I would play Kill Bill. We had fake samurai swords. I would always be Lucy Liu, and my sister would be Uma Thurman. We would film it and stuff.

OK: How did you get access to those movies? Not a lot of kids are able to see Tarantino movies when they’re that age.

KB: My parents didn’t really care what we watched. Sometimes, they would introduce movies to us. But a lot of the time, we would just find movies on our own. They didn’t really care. Especially when I was older, like a teenager, my parents had never heard of the movies I was watching. Therefore, they didn’t care what I was watching. I watched I Spit on your Grave when I was 13. They had no idea what that was. It has the most horrific rape scene of all time.

OK: Specifically, the horror film genre—gore, exploitation films—is that what you got interested in?

KB: I don’t necessarily just love exploitation films, but I love lower-budget films. I feel like they have the most heart. Not just horror films, but also American-International Beach Party movies, Annette Funicello. I don’t know, just weird sixties and seventies sex comedies. Doris Wishman, Diary of a Nudist. Stuff like that.

OK: Can you remember the first film you ever saw? Or the first film that made an impact on you?

KB: Probably Kill Bill. And then when Death Proof came out, I liked that even more. I saw it when it came out, and that’s when I found out about those kinds of movies. I started watching Troma movies shortly after that, when I was about 12.

OK: And you started making films after that.

KB: I used to shoot little short films with my friends. It was fun. They were really silly. We’d have mini-premieres with all our parents. There were little red carpets we would set up, and we would take paparazzi photos. [Laughs.]

OK: And your parents were supportive of what you were doing?

KB: Of course. They were always really supportive.

OK: A lot of kids have no idea what they want to do. Or, their parents try to steer their kids into a different direction.

KB: They knew what I wanted to do, and they saw this passion and ambition that I had. They didn’t want to get in the way of anything.

OK: When you started making your first films, you started working with Super 8?

KB: I got a Super 8 camera when I was 13, for Christmas.

OK: Did you immediately know how to use it? Do you have any mentors that you started working with?

KB: It was pretty simple. My sister and I didn’t know about lighting at first. We shot a lot of things indoors at night that never turned out. [Laughs.] But we figured it out eventually.

OK: Let’s jump into the movie, “B.C. Butcher.” Where did that idea come from? That’s your first feature film, right?

KB: Yeah. Me and my friend, Kenzie Givens, wrote it when we were in high school, just because we were bored. I met her in high school because she opened up her locker, and she had a picture of Jack Nance from Eraserhead. I walked up behind her and said, “Oh my god, I love Jack Nance!” She screamed and fell over. [Laughs.] We became really good friends. The next day, we went to Cinefamily and saw the movie Possession together. She’s really in love with John Waters. I’m really in love with Roger Corman. So we decided to make a movie together. I said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we made something so cheap? All we would have to do is run around in a state park or something, with loin cloths. We could make a caveman movie.” And then she said, “Yeah, or a slasher movie.” Then we were both like, “Oh my god, a caveman slasher movie!” And then we just started writing it together. I was fifteen when we started writing it, and she was sixteen or seventeen.

OK: Did you make it during the summer or the school year?

KB: We graduated at the same time. I graduated my junior year, and she graduated her senior year. She went off to college, so she didn’t get to help me make it. But we said we were going to make it. I didn’t want her leaving to stop me, so I went ahead and made it.

OK: Where did you get the funding for the film? Did you crowdsource it or find producers?

KB: I shot one scene to use on Indiegogo. I got the money for that one scene from insurance money from a car accident. It was such a minor car accident, so it was no big deal.

OK: So it was fate?

KB: Yeah, it was definitely fate. I did one scene and put it online for a crowdfunding thing. I didn’t really get my goal, because I was pretty naïve. I thought, “Oh, I’ll put it up, and people will give me ten grand.” But I got $1500. A lot of it was because people started writing articles about it. I went to Monsterpalooza, this horror movie convention, and I passed out flyers to everybody. I passed some out to the right people, and they wrote about it. Fangoria wrote an article about it. This website called Birth.Movies.Death did a big thing that brought a lot of money. It didn’t get me all the money that I needed, but it did get me a lot of exposure.

OK: It’s hard to get a movie made, even a low-budget film. Especially when you’re younger and people don’t know what’s going to come out of it.

KB: Yeah. After that, I still wanted to get the money from my original goal. It took me about eight more months to raise that money, getting jobs and stuff. But I love it.

OK: Your cast is really interesting, specifically Kato Kaelin. How did that come about?

KB: Rodney [Bingenheimer] introduced me to him. They go to IHOP together all the time.

OK: Were you aware of who he was in the nineties?

KB: Yeah, he’s Kato Kaelin. Rodney said one day, “You know who you should have in your movie? Kato Kaelin. Here’s his phone number.” I called and said, “Hey, Kato, this is Kansas. Will you be in my movie?” Kato is so funny and so nice. He’s a really, really good person. He was so professional and cool. He added to a lot of his lines, and they’re the best lines in the movie.

OK: Was it mainly ad lib?

KB: Kato was the only one to ad lib. Kato was only supposed to be in one scene, but we expanded the role to give him more screen time. I told him, “Say whatever you want.” And it worked.

OK: When is the release of the film?

KB: It’s going to be on Troma’s new streaming service, called TromaNow on Friday. That’s available to TromaNow subscribers. The official release date is in March. The DVD is going to come out. We’ll have a theatrical release too. Video on demand, of course. Amazon.

OK: Do you have plans to go to film school, or will you just keep making more movies?

KB: Film school is such a waste of money. My sister is an actress. The other day, she had to go to an audition at a film school. I came with her, and I was waiting outside the room, poking my head into all these classrooms. There was a classroom where the teacher was showing a class YouTube clips of Eddie Murphy stand-up comedy. These kids are paying $100,000 a year to watch Eddie Murphy clips on YouTube. [Laughs.] I’m not going to film school.

OK: You could use $100,000 to make another movie.

KB: Exactly. I could make 10 movies.

OK: Do you want to go in the direction of this type of movie?

KB: Definitely. I don’t like serious movies. I like fun movies.

OK: That’s how some movies should be. There are a lot of serious movies, but people should be able to have fun at the movies too. Do you have any ideas for another film?

KB: I have a bunch of ideas lined up. It was hard to pick, but I did pick. But it’s a surprise. I keep giving hints. It’s going to be a pseudo-documentary.

OK: Is it going to be like Cannibal Holocaust? 

KB: Sort of, but not quite on that level. Have you seen Faces of Death?

OK: I’ve heard of it.

KB: It’s going to be sort of like that, with the narrator standing there. It’s going to be like an education film, but totally fake.

OK: You mentioned Roger Corman as one of your heroes. Have you met him? Do you have plans to reach out to any of your heroes and see if they want to work with you?

KB: I have met Roger Corman once. I just ran up to him and hugged him. I was 14 probably. He thought I was so weird. I was wearing this big, black fur cape and black leather pants and white go-go boots. I saw him at LACMA and hugged him so tight. I was like, “I love you!!!” And he was like, “Thank you.” I think I did the same thing to Jack Hill, who directed Spider Baby. When I was fourteen, I asked Quentin Tarantino to marry me.

OK: What was his response?

KB: He said, “When you’re eighteen, we’ll see.”

OK: Are you a film purist? Do you want to make things on film exclusively?

KB: Definitely. 100%.

OK: What is your advice to other young people that want to make a movie?

KB: Don’t sit around thinking about it. Just do it, because it’ll be worth it. 

You can watch B.C. Butcher, written and directed by Kansas Bowling, on Troma's digital streaming service here. Follow Kansas on Instagram here to stay in loop with her cinematic pursuits. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE