A Modern Day Tell-Tale Heart: Keith A. Nixon’s ‘Pale Blue Eye’

Sitting in the snowy mountains of Park City Utah, writer and director Keith A. Nixon wrote the first draft of his short film Pale Blue Eye (2017) during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. After putting the first draft on paper, Nixon reached out to his now producer Edwin R. Ruiz to join him in the creation of Pale Blue Eye.

Pale Blue Eye is a psychological thriller inspired by writer and poet Edgar Allen Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart.” The gothic classic written in 1843 is about an unknown narrator who unravels a murder he has committed. Throughout the narrative, the old man tries to persuade the reader that he is sane, however the rest of the story may say something different. 

Inspired by, “Tell-Tale Heart,” the film’s premise is about “an employee-employer relationship [that] comes to an end after a mentally ill woman plots revenge on her employer’s pale blue eye.” Pale Blue Eye focuses on the female protagonist Norma Redman and her mental illness, that is the driving factor of the film. Pale Blue Eye stars Tiffany J. Curtis as Norma, Emilio Rigales as Detective Kurt Hall, Arica Gales as Edgar, and Michael Termine as Dr. Christopher Johnson.

The film was inspired by Keith’s traumatic experience watching a theatrical performance of Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart” in elementary school. “While their performances weren’t scary, the parts where they dim the lights and you can hear the heart beating, that really freaked me out and made me have nightmares for weeks,” Keith said. “It really felt like I was really conquering a childhood fear. So, using my fear, so-to-speak, to open up a doorway to become a successful filmmaker.”

“Sort of the same way Batman uses bats. He hates bats, he becomes a bat. I hated Poe so I kind of took his story on to serve my own purposes.” – Keith 

Keith found his love for filmmaking at a young age when he first saw Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have it (1986). “Every filmmaker has that film that makes them say ‘hey, I want to make movies!’ and that was it for me,” Keith said. “After that, it became more of an unattainable dream because back then it was only a dream to be on ‘the big screen.’”

Prior to begin writing his own scripts, he was a script reader and a professor; however, Keith realized that reading scripts wasn’t going to cut it for this filmmaker. “I wanted to get out of the mode of just reading people’s scripts to writing my own scripts and making my own films,” Keith said. “As time progressed and technology progressed, it gave [me] more access to make films, so it became more of a reality.”

After receiving his MFA in screenwriting, Keith has worked on around 40+ short films in the Chicago area, a few of which he worked with his producer Edwin R. Ruiz.

Edwin is the film’s creative producer from the Chicago area where he also is the founder of Mondo Machine. He has worked on 15+ short films, pilots and web series like Spawned Seeds (2016), Crossing Lines (2016) and Run Rabbit (2015).

Edwin’s passion for producing film started in the third grade when he watched the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) for the first time and wanted to do it himself. “I had just watched the first ninja turtles film, and I [thought] it can’t be that hard to make that,” Edwin said. “So, I started getting friends involved asking if they would play certain characters, and I tried to get my mom to make four costumes.”

He never made the film, but his recreation of TMNT sparked a feeling that he would revisit years later. “My friends pulled me into the film industry and [had me] help out on-set and all of the sudden that knack came back, as problem solver,” Edwin said. “That to me is what producing is, it’s finding the spark that really gets people involved in a project and being able to shepherd it with the director throughout the process, that is the magic of it.”

The two creatives joined together to create Pale Blue Eye in the heart of Chicago. Keith and Edwin began collaborating in January and brought their chicago-based crew together in February.

Keith said in the independent filmmaking industry of Chicago, collaboration and credibility are key to finding the best team. “We [Keith and Edwin] have helped many other people make their film, whether it was production, development, [or] post-production,” Keith said. “I think that is the currency in Chicago. You have to make a name for yourself in terms of being reliable…and the more you do that, the more you become successful.”

As the director, Keith looked for crew members that would have, what he calls, creative synergy. “I have a team full of people that can think beyond what’s on the page,” Keith said. “All of these people are coming together with their creative talents to create this vision..because they believe in the project.”

“People know when you have a project that is solid and know when it doesn’t have any legs. If your project doesn’t have legs, it’s not going to go very far, even if you do shoot it.” – Keith

DePaul University’s Cinematic Arts program has a strong presence in Chicago, which has helped the curate the film culture of the city. DePaul does a great job of giving us great equipment, great skills, just being able to create anything that we want,” Edwin said.

The project is special to current DePaul thesis films because the style, techniques, scope and overall production have been raised to set a new standard. “We are intentionally elevating the nature of the visual and written story, so that it can surpass any other thesis film that has come through DePaul,” Keith said. “We want to really take this film to a level that DePaul has never seen.” Edwin was drawn to the scope of Pale Blue Eye along with the strong production value. “I feel that with this project…we’ve made it very dense because there is only so many characters [and] so many locations, all of that helps them contain the quality,” Edwin said.

Look[ing] great, [and a] great story, that is not always a success…What you strive for is for both of those things to happen and they mesh together perfect. That is when you’ve created something extremely special. -Edwin

Production of Pale Blue Eye begins in May where the crew is filming on-location in Chicago. Keith describes the project as a hybrid of Alfred Hitchcock films and the Mr. Robot (dates) TV series. “What I love about Hitchcock’s films is that he always plays with perspective…so that is how I wanted to start off the film,” Keith said. “But I wanted to mash it up with something more contemporary so I chose the cinematography in Mr. Robot.”

Keith hopes that Pale Blue Eye will elicit audience responses similar to those after Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017). “Everybody knows in horror films or thrillers, they always say the African-American is the first person to go,” Keith said. “And he [Peele] went into that film with the intention that he was going to change that. That is the same way I feel about this film.”

Keith and Edwin are looking forward to the production process and the future of Pale Blue Eye, because it brings something new to a classic text. “To those who haven’t had the opportunity to experience the play [Tell Tale Heart]…or to have read the book, I feel that it’s a great way of watching something and then learning that it’s based on a piece of literature that 100-150 years old,” Edwin said. “Watching this allows people to…hopefully…gain a little something more.”

Audiences interested in Pale Blue Eye can find more information at their IndieGoGo page and on their website. The film is set to be completed in June 2017.

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