Kristian Day is the only Des Moines guy I know who has a page on IMDb (Internet Movie Database, the ultimate Who’s Who of Hollywood). It’s most impressive for someone who just turned 30, with credits in 15 different areas. That’s the same number Martin Scorsese has. We asked him to lunch, and he chose Krunkwich.
“I have been a regular here since 2007 when it was Kwong Tung. After they closed last year, I thought Sam (Auen) was a good fit for the place. He still serves dim sum on Sundays. We eat here at least once a week when I am in town. I bring visiting crews here when they are working in Iowa. The director of ‘House Hunters’ is a huge fan of ramen, and she said that Krunkwich ranked with the best ramen houses in Los Angeles,” Day explained.
Why does a film guy live in Des Moines?
“It’s about economics that are specific to the industry,” he explained. “For most people, there are no permanent jobs, especially in reality TV. You wait around and hope to get a job that lasts six to eight weeks. In Des Moines, I can afford to live without working because the cost of living is so much less than in Los Angeles. When film crews come to Iowa to work, they are told by directors not to check out Zillow for Iowa (a real estate website) because they will get depressed.
“When you go to Hollywood, you start at the bottom, even with a successful resume. You can’t survive there on entry-level wages. A dollar goes three to four times farther in Des Moines. I get tired of sleeping on couches and living out of a suitcase. There’s some adventure, but it all gets old.”
Why don’t more directors shoot in Iowa if it’s cheaper?
“There are more things being shot here. However, there are no permanent sets here. L.A. professionals who are used to studios find it hard to work around that. I try to install more professional standards here, like union rules. They are applied in Milwaukee, Chicago, Atlanta and New York, and they all draw more productions. I am working with (local filmmaker) Petar Madjarac to encourage tax credits for Iowa-based films. It’s a win-win thing. Shows I worked on here, like “Embeds” and “Play by Play,” spend $2-3 million each, in a month or two,” Day suggested.
You have worked on several of the most popular and controversial reality shows including “The Bachelor,” “The Bachelorette,” “I Am Dating a Cougar,” “I Am Cait” and “Intervention.” What is that like?
“It’s a crazy little town of its own. On ‘The Bachelor,’ we would have crews of 100 people. Booze would fly. I am contracted not to reveal any behind the scenes information, but I can say this — the fictional series “Unreal,” which I love, is pretty close to what happens,” he said.
Day likes working in still photography. He recently shot the Women’s March for the Ames Tribune and has exhibited at The Lift. His shots are known for strange effects, yet he does not manipulate them on computers.
“I own 43 cameras, and all but three use vintage film. I shoot with expired film for a sentimental look. Some of the best shots I ever got were with 17 rolls of black and white film from 1982. I bought the rolls for $10. I think all film deserves to be shot,” he explained. Someone from the kitchen approached Day as we talked with several rolls of disc film for sale.
You are not a fan of social media. How come?
“I keep seeing people staring at cell phones and not paying attention to traffic. That drives me crazy. Studies have shown that scrolling is an unhealthy brain activity. There is a totally false belief that freelancers find work on Facebook. People there try to be more like people they don’t even know, and who may not even be real. Civilization did amazing things for 3,000 years before social media,” he explained.
How did you get into film making?
“When I was a kid, the local video store had a ‘7 films for $7’ special. I only rented horror films. That evolved into an interest in soundtracks — horror films have creative sound. I like to convert noise into music. That led eventually to (cult snuff film) “American Guinea Pig” (for which Day composed the music). I like to build my own instruments, particularly taking things apart to create percussion,” he explained.
Who is your idol?
“Werner Herzog. When I saw the documentary about his making ‘Fitzcaraldo,’ I thought, ‘I want to be this guy.’ He makes films that change the world. He once finished an interview after being shot, saying ‘the bullet is insignificant.’ ”
What work are you proudest of?
“The ‘Templeton Rye’ movie,” Day replied. “I loved the theme of farmers resisting the federal government shutdown. Also, ‘Hybrid Pioneer’ (about artist-musician Brent Houzenga). Brent is a terrorist artist. You can’t stop them. Right now, my focus is on Art Force Iowa. We are reaching out to kids in the (criminal) system, with kids documenting the process. The idea is to expose kids to cultural things they might miss because of their situation. Outreach stuff changes lives. It’s not just for the privileged.”
What personal interests do you have unrelated to your work?
“I rescue Martin Denny records from thrift stores and garage sales. Our apartment is decorated in ‘Mad Men’ style. I love that era of American culture. I also collect tiki bar experiences. Frankie’s Tiki Room in Las Vegas is an historic treasure. I collect tiki mugs and always have three kinds of rum and a scorpion bowl at home for guests. The tiki bar represents something worth cherishing — the idea of escaping to paradise,” he concluded. ♦