During the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, in the snowy mountains of Park City Utah, writer and director Keith A. Nixon sat and wrote the first draft of his short film Pale Blue Eye (2017). Once drafted on paper, Nixon reached out to his now creative producer Edwin R. Ruiz to join him in the making of his film.
Pale Blue Eye is a psychological thriller inspired by “Tell-Tale Heart” from Edgar Allen Poe. 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 not insane, however the rest of the story indicates something different.
Nixon reveals that his 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 anti-heroine Norma Redman and her mental illness, a driving factor of the film. Pale Blue Eye stars Tiffany J. Curtis as Norma, Chris Colucci as Detective Kurt Hall, Arica Gales as Edgar, and Michael Termine as Dr. Christopher Johnson.
The film was inspired by Nixon’s childhood experience watching a theatrical performance of Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart” while 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,” Nixon said. “It really felt like I was really conquering a childhood fear by making this film. I am using my fear, so-to-speak, to open up a doorway to become a successful filmmaker.”
“Poe’s narrative is now public domain so I adapted his story to serve my own purposes.”
– Keith Nixon
Nixon 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,” Nixon said.
Prior to begin writing his own scripts, he was a script reader and a professor. He realized quickly that reading scripts wasn’t going to cut it for him professionally. “I wanted to get out of the mode of just reading people’s scripts to writing my own scripts and making my own films,” Nixon 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, Nixon has worked on around 20+ short films in the Chicago area, a few of which he worked with Ruiz. Also from the Chicago area, Ruiz is the founder of Mondo Machine. He has worked on 15+ short films, pilots and web series that include Spawned Seeds (2016), Crossing Lines (2016), and Run Rabbit (2015).
Ruiz’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,” Ruiz 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 yearning to recreate 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 for problem solving came back,” Ruiz 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.”
Nixon and Ruiz are two creative forces who came together to create Pale Blue Eye in the heart of Chicago. They began collaborating in January and brought their Chicago-based crew together in March.
Nixon has discovered 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 films. Whether it was production, development, [or] post-production,” Nixon 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, Nixon carefully sought 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,” Nixon 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 Nixon
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,” Ruiz said.
The project is special to current DePaul thesis films because the style, techniques, scope, and overall production have been raised. “We are intentionally elevating the nature of the visual and written story, so that it can become the best project it can be,” Nixon said. “We want to really take this film to the next level.”
Ruiz 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 four characters [and] two locations, all of that helps them contain the quality,” Ruiz said.
“Look[ing] great visually, [and having 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 perfectly. That is when you’ve created something extremely special.”
– Edwin Ruiz
Production of Pale Blue Eye commenced on July 17 and wrapped on July 21, 2017 in Chicago. Nixon describes the project as a hybrid of Alfred Hitchcock films and the Mr. Robot (2015-) 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,” Nixon said. “But I wanted to mash it up with something more contemporary so I chose the cinematography in Mr. Robot.”
Nixon hopes that Pale Blue Eye will elicit audience responses similar to those of 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,” Nixon 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.”
Nixon and Ruiz are excited for 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 story, 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,” Ruiz said. “Watching this allows people to…hopefully…gain a little something more.”
Now that the film has completed production, Nixon and Ruiz will be launching a second Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for the post-production process set to be finished at Periscope Post & Audio this fall.