Interview with Steven Kowal, TreeHouse's Artist of the Month

Steven Kowal, Featured Artist of the Month, May 2013
Steven Kowal, Featured Artist of the Month, May 2013


Steven Kowal was born with synesthesia. He became an Eagle Scout at age 17, barely meeting his requirements before turning 18 and being disqualified forever. He’s been published in the Elephant Tree journal at Chapman University, where he earned two master’s degrees under the instruction of authors Martin Nakell and Gordon McAlpine.  He’s also responsible for a number of underground films, such as THE OCCUPANT and BLONDE RINGLET. He won the Award of Merit at the 2009 Indie Fest in La Jolla, California.



You create within many genres, but do you prefer one type of project over the others? Why?

The Epic Novel is a rather fun project to undertake. I just finished my first. It’s a wicked medieval misadventure that takes place in the year 438. Unlike epic movie projects, when you compose a high scale narrative you are spared the burden of “budgets.”

Could you explain a bit about your creative process in crafting your films? How does the process begin? Do you derive inspiration from other filmmakers? Who?

Turning chaos into order is my modus operandi. After all practical planning is tackled, I always find myself in the nerve-wracking instant where I have to point the camera and start filming.  “Oh dear, where do I place the actors? How many lines of dialogue for each shot? What do I say to the cops when they ask for permits?” Spontaneity and whim rule the decision-making process on all these plaguing questions. Then, gradually, things grow organized. Or do they?

It’s easy to be influenced by Charlie Chaplin, Jim Jarmusch and David Lynch. Those three obeyed the “happy accident” philosophy of movie-making. You prepare yourself, like a Zen monk, for sights and sounds unexpected. When they appear, embrace ’em.

Are your films collaborative efforts, or do you prefer to inspire others to execute the details of your vision of a project?

The films are collaborative but I’m the final filter (for better or for worse).

In your poem “Pants and Sandwiches,” there are quite a few humorous elements. Do you draw on humor in your other writings? Is it an important aspect of your work?

Pants and Sandwiches was a passionate exercise in capturing, from memory, the visions of a mad genius I used to work alongside. As far as drawing on humor goes—when you’re in the habit of penning stories on visions and obsessions, the humor seems to rise quite naturally.

Has winning the Award of Merit at the 2009 Indie Fest inspired you to promote your creative work more assertively?

I have little skill in promoting my work. Always room for improvement, as they say.

What creative projects are you working on at present?

Currently half-way through filming a thriller called ROTWANG.  It’s about a bandaged man searching for his missing layer of skin.

You mention in your bio you have synesthesia, which is a fairly rare condition. Have you found that it influences your creative work in any way?

Synesthesia has given me a craving for creating images. It’s also distracted me, time after time, from actually doing the work of creating. A real double-edged sword.


Read Pants and Sandwiches here: Pants and Sandwiches by Steven Kowal


Watch the trailer of The Occupant:


Blonde Ringlet trailer: