Information Stills Behind the Scenes Festivals & Awards

Running Time: 10:20 minutes

Three broken men decide to kill themselves by carbon monoxide poisoning, but the group suicide is foiled when the vehicle of their demise fails to start.

GENRE: Dramedy

TAGLINE: No Idling

Starring Gil Damon, Steve Kuzmick, and David Amadio
Directed by Derek Frey
Written by The Minor Prophets
Cinematography by Derek Frey
Music Composed & Performed by Matt Amadio
Editing by Derek Frey
Key Makeup Artist: Loren McCarthy
First Assistant Director: Brian Edward Smith
Filmed on location in Chester County, Pennsylvania
Special Thanks: Holly Kempf Keller, Valery Richardson, Leah Gallo, Brian E. Smith, Milkboy the Studio


Filmmaker in the Spotlight: An Interview with Derek Frey

Derek Frey is an exceptional filmmaker. With credits like The Killers' Here With Me, Alice in Wonderland, Kill the Engine and Disney's upcoming Dumbo, he is taking over Hollywood at the speed of light.
Read Derek's interview to find out how did a suburban Philadelphian boy become one of Hollywood's top producers?

Tell us a bit about how you became interested in being a filmmaker? When did you create your first film?

Going to the movies was a big part of my childhood.  So many great films came out during my formative years and I remember after watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Wars, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial and Raiders of the Lost Ark, being curious about how they were made. I think audiences in the late 70s/early 80s began to take interest in how visual effects were created.  I was always excited to read the latest edition of Bantha Tracks, the Star Wars fan club newsletter, which gave an inside look into the making of those films.  Although the photos were printed fairly small and in black and white, they provided a lot of behind the scenes information and I was intrigued.

In 7th grade we had a class project where we wrote and filmed our own skits.  Our teacher gave us the freedom to do pretty much anything we wanted.  That was a big moment for me, I loved the creative nature of putting something on camera and making people laugh.  It was a pretty powerful exercise at that age.  I didn’t have access to a camera again until high school when I borrowed a camera and started experimenting more.  Each project would grow in complexity and then in college I wrote and shot the first of a few feature length films.

Have you ever received formal education in filmmaking? Did you attend any film school for training?

I studied communications and journalism in college.  Filmmaking was always a hobby – something I did on the side.  My university didn’t have a film program but did have some editing and camera gear, mainly kept out of student’s view and utilized by faculty members.  A supportive professor championed for me to have access to cameras and a Video Toaster editing system.  The opportunity to work on a real editing system was a huge leap forward for me.  Up until that point I would edit between two VCRs, with the sound either dubbed live while duplicating, or premixed on a cassette tape that I would then synch up while duplicating.  It was an insane way to edit, especially the feature length films, but it really taught me the fundamentals.

  When did you move to LA? And why?

The idea of moving to LA to work in the film industry was something I never would have even considered a possibility.  I had a chance to visit LA during the spring break of my senior year and through some personal connections was able to meet a number of executives and producers within the industry.  All these people had helpful advice for me on how to break into the industry.  They also said if I decided to make the move to LA, I could give them a call.  After graduation, I figured I had nothing to lose.  My plan B was to move back to Pennsylvania and pursue a career in journalism, which also was a passion of mine. 

You started working for Tim Burton productions back in 1996 – and you've been working on Burton’s films ever since. Not many people get to say they began their professional film career assisting Burton on Mars Attacks!, Sleepy Hollow, Planet of the Apes, and our favorite - Big Fish. How did a suburban Philadelphian boy get this position?

My first paying job in LA was as a Production Assistant on a sitcom for ABC Productions.  It was a great experience but my goal was to work on films.  An executive at ABC knew this and when the sitcom wasn’t renewed, she recommended me for an opening at Tim Burton Productions.  I remember her asking “Would you be interested in interviewing for a position at Tim Burton Productions?”  My jaw hit the floor.  I was very fortunate to find myself working for Tim, an idol of mine, just 10 months after making the move to LA.

These days, you're an established producer with many notable A-List projects under your belt: Big Eyes, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the upcoming live-action Disney film Dumbo, to name a few. Can you describe some of your responsibilities while being involved in such diverse jobs? How demanding is it to work on these large-scale productions? When you produce a movie like ‘Dumbo’, is it a 24/7 gig?

The work is relentless, but always a welcome challenge.  I thrive on a heavy workload and each project brings its own complexities.  That’s the wonderful thing about working with Tim – he never idles and each project presents a new puzzle to crack.  My main responsibility is helping Tim carry out his incredible vision from conception through post production. I also help ensure that once the film is complete that it is represented and marketed in a manner that will lead to its success.

Tell us about your involvement in Frankenweenie, the 2012 film you co-produced which received an Academy Award® nomination for Best Animated Picture. Were you involved from the very beginning? Was this the first time you approached an animated film? Was it different than a live-action movie?

Frankenweenie was a wonderful project to work on.  It certainly was a high point for me.  Corpse Bride was the first stop-motion animated project I was involved with.  Prior to that I worked as a production coordinator on Tim’s The World of Stainboy animated series.  Initial work on Frankenweenie began shortly after the release of Corpse Bride in 2005, with Tim designing the look of the characters and working with talented puppet makers Mackinnon and Saunders on the fabrication of the Frankenweenie maquettes.  The approach and execution of an animated film is vastly different from a live-action project.  So much of the work that goes into an animated film happens before the camera rolls a single frame.  And the process of actually shooting in stop-motion is a much greater timeline than that of a live-action film.  Photographing a feature-length animated film is traditionally a time-consuming affair – one of the main reasons why Tim may only churn out one or two each decade.

Alongside your studio-work, you create your own content, music videos, and indie films. How and when did you get into that?

I’ve always had the impulse to create original work.  Making films in college is what lead me to pursue filmmaking as a career.  It’s challenging to find the time, but I do my best to shoot one or two projects each year.  It’s therapeutic between big studio projects to work on films and music videos where I have the freedom to create entirely on my own terms.  My website is a good resource for these works, from the crude and zany experimental films of my youth up to current day: 

You often write, produce, direct, DP and edit your projects. Lots of multitasking! What do you enjoy the most?

I love it all, but feel best when I’ve got the camera in my hand.  It’s a thrill to operate and see what you’re capturing in real time.  That symmetry and excitement generated between the camera and your subject is what I enjoy most.  I really love every step of the process, although filming, editing, and scoring are highlights.

It’s so cool that you produced the excellent music video HERE WITH ME for The Killers! As of now, it has over 21 million views on Youtube! How did you get on board? Can you tell us a bit about this experience?

Here With Me was a blast to work on.  It’s such a special little gem that people are still discovering.  I had worked with The Killers previously when Tim directed the music video for Bones in 2006.  The band approached Tim to direct another music video when they released their album Battle Born in 2012.  Tim was drawn to the track.  He had recently reunited with Winona Ryder on Frankenweenie and asked if she would be in the video.  It was a pleasure to work with her and Craig Roberts, and they gave wonderful performances.  The video was shot in Blackpool, UK over the course of 2 days and nights.  It was a real guerilla-style shoot, which I think everyone enjoyed.  Aside from producing the music video, I created a behind the scenes video of the project which can be seen here:

Many of the films you directed won prestigious awards: the featurette Green Lake screened in over 40 film festivals, collecting multiple awards including Best Film at the L.A Shorts Awards, Motel Providence received the Golden Palm Award for Best Short at the Mexico International Film Fest, as well as Best Director at the World Film Awards. Sky Blue Collar granted you the Best Director award by the Chicago Comedy and Mockfest Film Festivals. The Ballad of Sandeep and God Came ‘Round have also enjoyed successful festival funs. With 79 festival wins and 19 nominations, (according to IMDb), what are the ingredients for creating a successful film, in your opinion?

The fact is you can never really tell what is going to connect with a festival or audience.  I just try to make things that appeal to me.  I know my sensitivities are a bit off-kilter so it’s a pleasure when others “get” and appreciate it.  I really enjoy making people laugh but also giving them a scare as well.  Most of my films attempt to do one or the other and a few try to balance the line between humor and horror.  That’s really where my mind resides.

Most recently, you directed Kill the Engine. First of all, congratulations on winning Best Dark Comedy, Best Sound Design and an Honorable Mention: Editing at Top Shorts Film Festival! Excellent work. How did you come up with the idea? And how did you get your collaborators (such as Gil Damon & David and Matt Amadio) on board?

My friends and close collaborators, the Minor Prophets, conceived the story for Kill The Engine.  They wrote the screenplay under the working title “Say Goodbye to Hollywood”, which originally would have followed the three characters as they observe an annual ritual of “almost” killing themselves as a means of coping with whatever bad things they may have done in the past.  Through the writing process the story evolved into more of a commentary on 21st century man’s flawed relationship with the automobile and thus himself.

Three actors, one car, simple (hilarious!) storyline: when we look at the final product, it looks so perfect - you make it look easy! But there were probably some challenges involved… Tell us about the making of Kill the Engine. What were some of the challenging parts?

Gil, Dave, and Steve (the Minor Prophets) make it easy.  I knew they would have a good handle on playing the roles they invented, and their longtime friendship really shines through.  That’s something you can’t make up or recreate.  It’s authentic.  My goal was to make the visual side of the story as poetic as the story they wrote.  I wanted the viewer to feel the passage of a summer day in the barn, keeping the visuals fresh through the use of color and camera angles.  The textures already present in and around the barn helped greatly.  The sound design and the use of the cicada stridulations created a unique soundscape and combined with Matt Amadio’s score formed a solid ground for the humor and tragedy.

This comedy is dark… super dark! Who were your earliest influences and who influences your work now?

I think one of the reasons the collaborations with the Minor Prophets have been so successful is because we share a common upbringing in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia.  We also were inspired by many of the same things growing up.  For comedy, Saturday Night Live sketches from the 80’ and 90’s were a big inspiration.  Especially their film shorts which always swayed a little darker, like ‘Alan: A Video Junkie’, ‘Prose and Cons’, and ‘Hitchhiker’.  Shows like The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery also spoke to me – the sci-fi twists and horror elements were something I always gravitated towards.  In high school and college so many films were inspiring to me.  The works of Tim Burton and Sam Raimi ranked highest.  I remember watching Evil Dead 2 with friends in college and immediately borrowing a friend’s camera to make a short.  The balance of comedy and horror combined with the active cinematography ignited something in my brain.  I remember dragging friends to see Edward Scissorhands five times in the theater. I had never seen something so unique and original that connected with me emotionally.  And that amazing score by Danny Elfman…

Danny Elfman and Tim Burton have been long-time collaborators. Did you ever get a chance to work closely with the legendary Elfman? What was your impression of him while shooting the documentary: A Conversation with Danny Elfman and Tim Burton?

Anyone that knows me from my high school and college days remembers I was a Burton and Elfman fanatic.  This was a fact that I kept very close and quiet when I began working for Tim. Music was my first passion in life and the scoring of a film is always one of the most enjoyable parts of the process.  I’ll always remember the first time I stepped onto a scoring stage at the Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, California.  Danny was just beginning to record the main titles of Mars Attacks! with a robust orchestra.  I still get goosebumps thinking about it.  I always make certain to be present as much as possible during the recording of each and every score.  It continues to be a thrill!

Tell us about your next projects! As mentioned, you’re currently working on Disney’s Dumbo, which is scheduled to be released in 2019. Any spoilers for the big fans? And what other projects are on the menu for 2018-2019?

Dumbo is going to surprise many people.  It’s an amazing cast and tale, set within a rich and beautiful world.  Although Tim is reuniting with many actors he has worked with in the past they are all trailblazing new ground with this one.  It’s not a remake, but a retelling of the classic story.  Aside from Dumbo which will keep me well occupied, I’m editing a music video I just shot in Hawaii for Professor T and the East Side Shredders.  And looking further ahead I’m developing a couple of feature films, including Awkward Endeavors with my frequent collaborators the Minor Prophets, and Quiet Fire a story revolving around the recording of the album Kind of Blue and the creative collaboration between Miles Davis and pianist Bill Evans.

Would you like to add anything?

Thank you for the interest and the opportunity! It’s always a pleasure to take some time to reflect.

by Helen Wheels, Cult Critic Film Magazine

Fade in … A big, hollow, steady drum beat begins to play. We’re looking head-on at the outside of a classic red barn somewhere in the rural countryside. Cut to … a close-up of a garden hose duct-taped on one end to a car’s muffler. Jump cut to … a side-view of the car. We see the hose has been inserted inside the car’s window and sealed with more shiny silver tape. The steady beat of the drum continues. Inside the car are three men: sullen, depressed … ready to die. The man in the driver’s seat attempts to start the car. It won’t start. The drumming stops.

Kill the Engine is a twisted little buddy film about three men who attempt to commit suicide through carbon monoxide poisoning. The car, or perhaps some universal intelligence would have it otherwise. The engine will not start and the trio are therefore unable to finish their plan to take that long road trip in the sky. This turn of events inspires them to work together to fix the car so that they can finish their final group project. The relationship between the three is both ridiculous and charming. It is apparent that they have experienced a lot of life together.

There are some laugh out loud moments in the dialogue conjured by “The Minor Prophets”: Gil Damon, Steve Kuzmick, and David Amadio. The trio are 100% believable as long-time friends who have given up on life and want to end it all in the same way they lived it, together. Their true friendship shines through and is part of what makes their interactions so entertaining. Damon and Kuzmick play the typical buddy film duo who are like a couple that has been married since high school, while Amadio cracks one-liners that make him the “nagging parent”.

Director Derek Frey has a lot of experience with stories that are bent. He has helmed Tim Burton Productions since 2001, and more recently produced Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Big Eyes. The influence of this Dark Comedy style of filmmaking shows in Frey’s short film through the positioning of the characters within the frame and the angle of the camera. In one shot, Frey has the camera angled up and the characters framed in a tight close-up, giving the impression that not only is the trio looking at the engine, they are being observed. Maybe the engine not starting wasn’t just a case of bad timing. Maybe there is a lesson here to learn.

The comedy in Kill the Engine lies in the relationship between these three misfortunate souls, who consequently are not so misfortunate after-all. The theme of depression and suicide is no laughing matter. Yet, the response to laughing at things that make us uncomfortable or scare us is not unusual. University studies have led psychologists to agree that “having an opposite reaction to an emotional situation helps to regulate emotional responses”. Derek Frey’s Kill the Engine elicits this response and by placing three lifelong friends in the situation together, he leaves us feeling that connection to others is the ultimate answer.

Largo Film Awards
Kill The Engine

It takes a very clever writer and director to take a topic that is so negative and emotional such as suicide, group suicide no less, and turn it into a comedy sketch that still has heart and meaning. Fortunately, in this case that’s exactly what happened.

The film begins with three guys trying to start a car and through the conversation and sub textual inferences we make, it becomes clear they are trying to gas themselves. From the off the three main characters have a great rapport which helps the audience connect with them. They aren’t your typical suicidal characters which makes them more human, they have identity.

The fact that they can’t get the car to start is what brings in the humor but it is subtle and done well. The overlaying joke is the fact they are trying to breathe life into a car (literally at one point) that is eventually meant to kill them. It’s that sort of ironic dark humor that works really well here.

The script is clever, both in its subtle use of dialogue which isn’t over used or too expositional, and in the structure of the narrative. It’s simple yet clever and effective. The audience are given just enough to get in on the jokes, and just enough physical comedy that it doesn’t turn slapstick. The ending works particularly well. This suicide attempt has actually brought these guys together and the fact that they accomplish their goal leaves them elated, until they realize what it ultimately means. The end. But we never see what they choose to do. The hose pipe in the car window offers a suggestion but it isn’t conclusive, and it’s that which leaves the audience questioning and talking. That is what effective film does, it stays with the audience.

An excellently constructed short film that utilizes its dark comedy perfectly. With strong performances and a well-written script, this is definitely one to watch

Feel The Reel International Film Festival
When it was first published in 1996, Andrey Kurkov’s "A Matter of Death and Life" was a game changer in the novelistic world; the story of Tolya, a man living a hard life in post-soviet Ukraine who is trying to make the most out of his existence. And when we say the most we mean an impeccable and (why not?) artistic death. Tolya hires a hitman to assassinate him in a café in order to make his death spectacular. And the situation is almost the same here in Derek Frey’s short movie ‘Kill The Engine’. Three friends are trying to kill themselves by carbon monoxide poisoning, but their plan falls apart when the engine of the car they are using refuses to start. What can they do next? Well, the engine needs a fix-up, and this is exactly what they will do… more or less!

We must admit it has been a while since we’ve had such a good and funny comedy short in our festival, and 'Kill The Engine' made the entire wait worthwhile. The three main characters are amazingly funny even though the main theme is not. The dialogue is insane you literally cannot watch this short without bursting into laughter. The cinematography is really neat, having at the same time some Wes Anderson influences that are easy to spot, giving this short great cinematic effect.

The ending of Derek Frey's film is priceless – after trying multiple possibilities to get the engine running again, the three men work it out and succeed. The engine is purring like a cat, the men are hugging each other and are insanely happy… but they seem to have forgotten something! If Jerome K. Jerome lived today and watched this movie he would be jealous. This type of comedic discourse and narrative is always a good sign that this world is going places.

Independent Shorts Awards
Review – Kill The Engine

With 32 titles as a director on his résumé, along with helming Tim Burton Productions since 2001 and the production of dozens of films, including Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Dumbo (the new reimagining of the classic Disney musical), Derek Frey is a reference name in the film industry.

In this context, not surprisingly, ISA award-winning Kill The Engine is a high standard work on all levels, above all because of the challenges it surmounted, namely turning a drama into a comedy, with no clichés and an effective 10-minute story spent in a garage.

The plotline is simple: three men decide to kill themselves by carbon monoxide poisoning. But what would happen if the car fails to start? Actors Gil Damon, Steve Kuzmick, and David Amadio form this suicide group and they do everything they can to get the car to work on behalf of their demise. And here begins the secret to the effectiveness of Kill The Engine, brilliant performances based on a black-humored text that does not give in to the easy joke. Neither do the trio of actors, who manage to put out an excellent rhythm and many subtleties in their performances.

Derek Frey’s experience is evident with a safe and highly competent cinematic approach. Fast shots, alternating between closeups and mid shots, with a camera that infiltrates all the space available in this small set, not repeating itself, always looking for fresh points of view, capable of recording the nuances and participating in the action as an element of humor. Derek Frey’s excellent technique is reflected yet again in the lighting and fast-paced editing perfectly suited to the film’s goals.

It is not easy to film in such a small space with three characters and a black-humored story that essentially lives on the dynamics of the dialogue and how the characters evolve – so that a connection with the audience is established and viewers can laugh. Moreover, it is not a physical comedy, but mainly psychological, so the challenge is even greater: start with a dramatic element to do a caricature of it, the suicide decision that stumbles onto an unexpected setback.

It is true that we know very little about the three protagonists and their reasons for attempting suicide. The film does not give any clues, which may lead some to question the density of the characters, if they are real persons with an emotional core, or if the short is a mere caricature of a limited situation with no other narrative aspirations. It can be a relevant aspect for more demanding viewers. Still, this lack does not neutralize the fun of this 10-minute film.

Kill The Engine is, therefore, an excellent example of entertainment production, consistent in technical terms, and perfectly effective with the impact it seeks. Lake View International Film Festival
Review – “Kill The Engine”

Kill The Engine is a film written by the Minor Prophets, and directed and produced by Derek Frey. It depicts three broken men who decide to kill themselves by carbon monoxide poisoning. However, the film is about reinventing oneself and not giving up.

In a span of time lasting ten minutes, thirty seconds we see the beginning of an end, frustration turned into inspiration, need into invention. Through excellent scripting and smart storytelling, we witness the mental journey of three men who are about to give up on life. In no way could one be bored or distracted – for the film definitely grabs your attention. It is compact, entertaining, and meaningful. The message is clear and hard-hitting. The storytelling is neither too complex, nor is it cliché.

Derek Frey has directed the film at his very best. Perfect shots, perfect lines, and perfect actions carried out at the right time with just the right emotions. Transitions are simple, no complicated cinematic techniques to startle the audience. The storyline is extremely intense and strong. There is a constant flavor of comedy prevalent throughout, keeping one hooked to the screen until the end. The constant process of trial and error seen throughout the film is a depiction of life itself. The story begins with hopelessness and ends with happiness, yet keeps the audience wondering. Like a truly good film it leaves the audience with a handful of questions for them to interpret and contemplate. It successfully ignites a multitude of thoughts in the minds of its audience.

The leading men were damn good to watch on screen. The key cast members, (Gil Damon, Steve Kuzmick, and David Amadio), have given praise-worthy performances. Their expressions and delivery capably establish the mood of the film. The dialog stays crisp and fun, without too many lengthy exchanges. The only location in the film is a garage, yet it gives viewers a variety of experiences packed together in one small capsule.

In short, Kill The Engine is among those few films which successfully deal out complicated and heavy messages in a way that is relatable, easily understood, and palatable. Overall the film is a lot of fun to watch, and a great lot of things to understand.

The Farsighted Blog
by Garrett Smith (excerpt)

“…the short of the day was the final short in the block, Derek Frey‘s Kill the Engine, which basically asks the question “What if the Three Stooges tried to kill themselves via exhaust inhalation?” This was absolutely hilarious, featured a great cast, and in just 10 minutes developed some really great characters. I had a ball with this one, and want to point out that this is from the same filmmaker as God Came ‘Round, which I distinctly did not like, and just goes to show that you should never write an artist off, even if you don’t connect with all their work. Man was this movie funny, I absolutely loved it.”

kill the engine poster