When Quentin Tarantino hangs up his director's cap in a couple of years - the famed filmmaker promising his tenth film is his last - up-and-coming actor/writer/producer/director Keith Sutliff is only too happy to fill the void. Like Tarantino, the star and director of the gritty new crime throwback The Refuge worked as hard as he hustled to get where he is today - and as he tells us in this exclusive interview, it's only the beginning.
Keith, you've taken a page out of Tarantino's book by writing, producing, directing and acting in your own projects for a few years now. Did you too start at a video store?
Keith Sutliff: Haha! No but I have my humble beginnings as well as he did. I have hustled and worked the hardest ever in my life to get here in Hollywood as well as to this point.
When did this all start for you?
Keith Sutliff: It started as a little kid when I first saw Indiana Jones, Aliens, and Terminator 2. I knew at that point I wanted to be involved in films somehow whether it was acting, directing, working in stunts, etc.
And what was the inspiration behind doing your own thing - as opposed to trying to land roles in other people's movies?
Keith Sutliff: I like controlling my own destiny and career as an actor. I hate relying on people for jobs in the business or on agents/managers for auditions. I know the characters I wanna play and have decided to go the do it yourself route and make your own work/roles then the audition runs. I feel this town is very over saturated with actors and you can really spin your wheels just doing auditions only and strike out instead of focusing on making your own work. There are too many actors and too little jobs basically in this town. I feel you have to make your own work at some point as an actor.
I imagine there's disadvantages and advantages of crafting your own vehicles?
Keith Sutliff: Yeah, but I do the research and find the ones I am needing for the film and book them.
For one, I imagine it's up to you to find the money to make the movie?
Keith Sutliff: It is. At the independent level you must wear many hats and produce on your own and not rely on anyone to do it for you. There's different outlets of finding money. Producers just have to explore all options and make it happen. There's no once source or way to raise money for a film.
How did The Refuge come about?
Keith Sutliff: I came up with the idea/plot back in summer 2016 when I was filming my first feature film "The Mason Brothers". I spent about a year in development trying to raise funds then re wrote the story based more around a getaway driver but keeping the same plot about it being about casino heist money. I was able to cut out a lot of expensive locations because of this and make it happen for the budget I knew I could raise. Then shot it in September 2018.
And what does the title refer to?
Keith Sutliff: Good question. The title means safe haven which refers to this getaway driver's vehicle (newer model Dodge Charger) since he is always doing jobs in this vehicle. The car is essentially the place he feels most comfortable since he is a professional at what he does as a getaway driver/gunman and spends the most time in it.
How would you describe the tone of the movie?
Keith Sutliff: Very dark like all my films but very slick and suspenseful. There are many highs and lows in the film too.
What was it about the character you play that interested you?
Keith Sutliff: I love how he doesn't speak a lot like a lot of the character's I write for myself and his swagger as he seems not to care about anything else but business. A professional getaway driver/gunman for hire doing his job and professional about it. That's how I wanted to write it.
Was it a different character for you?
Keith Sutliff: Yes, it was except for the minimal dialogue part as most of the characters I like to play. This guy had a lot more swagger with the brown leather jacket and tools he had at his exposure along with the black Dodge Charger which really added to his persona/character. The way he carried himself was a big difference then the characters I have written for myself in the past.
Did you flesh out a backstory for him - even if it didn't make it into the movie?
Keith Sutliff: I did. However, I am saving that for a prequel or sequel potentially to show. This film doesn't show as much of a backstory.
As both a filmmaker and actor, do you feel you improve with each film?
Keith Sutliff: I do feel that way absolutely because you learn from every prior experience as a filmmaker/actor which helps you improve your art.
What else have you got coming up?
Keith Sutliff: Right now, just focusing on this and working on a few scripts in mind for a 3rd feature. One in particular I have wanted to do for a long time. But other then that I will be acting in other people's films for the time being.
A getaway driver finds himself in harm's way when he gets caught up in a job involving casino heist money in the adrenaline-charged new crime thriller from Keith Sutliff.
KS Pictures presents The Refuge, in theaters today and starring Keith Sutliff (The Mason Brothers), Julien Cesario (Close Range), Matthew Webb (127 Hours), Reine Swart (The Lullaby), Stefanie Estes (Bethany), Demeterius Stear (Death Pool), Martin Copping (Hawaii Five-O) and Cheyenne Buchanan (A Dark Place).