Jon Keeyes featured regularly in the pages of Fort Worth Weekly in the mid-2000s as a filmmaker whose locally made slasher flicks such as American Nightmare and Suburban Nightmare found national distribution. Since this paper last wrote extensively about him, much has happened. “The last year has been the busiest time of my life,” the 43-year-old said.
After the 2008 financial meltdown, Keeyes had a tough time raising money. “We had a multimillion-dollar movie ready to go,” he said. “The contracts were ready to be signed on a Monday. The stock market crash hit on Friday [before that], and our financiers were wiped out.”
Keeyes lived off his savings and royalties from previous films for a while. He had penned a script called The Assassination Game and sold it to a German production company, and he had made TV commercials and short films such as Butterscotch, a comedy, and Angela’s Body, an intense psychological study of a mother suffering from post-partum depression. He also had directed the second season of a horror web series called Throwing Stones and produced both a web series and a feature film for his friend Blake Calhoun. “It was nice to be reminded of the business side of filmmaking,” Keeyes said.
Last year, writer Charles Burnley pitched him an idea for a steampunk short film called The Mechanical Grave. “I’ve always found steampunk to be incredibly imaginative,” said Keeyes about the genre that blends science fiction with Victorian settings. Before shooting in Dallas, Keeyes canvassed Texas’ steampunk community, asking for extras to come in costume and bring props in the proper style. Fifty enthusiasts showed up at the set to provide gear. “One man from Fort Worth built a mechanical arm made to look like clockwork, with Tesla coils built in,” Keeyes marveled. “These are incredible works of art. They probably brought $100,000 worth of stuff.”
The film has played at steampunk conventions and is on sale through Keeyes’ production company, Highland Myst. Keeyes hopes to screen it at regular film festivals later this year and is in talks with networks and financiers about turning it into a TV series.
Also last year, Keeyes made the feature Phobia from a script by Arlington writer Anne Gibson. A period thriller about a female psychiatrist who’s caught up in a series of murders, “it’s not like anything I’ve made before,” said Keeyes, who took his inspiration from the lush horror films produced by Hammer Studios in the 1950s. “We had to turn Dallas into San Francisco and Paris in 1885. Fortunately, we had an incredible crew.”
Keeyes is eyeing a North Texas premiere for Phobia in August or September.
His other feature is called Nightmare Box, a psychological thriller set in a single location, a room that appears to be alive. Keeyes describes it as an art-house project and his “biggest swing as a director.” He wrote the script back in 2003 and dug it out of his drawer when an opportunity came along last year to film something quickly in the U.K. Keeyes formed a British satellite office called Highland Myst UK and now intends to make more films overseas. “I wasn’t actively thinking about [expanding], but [it] just evolved in a way that it made sense,” he said. “We opened a door. We figured we might as well walk through it.”
The post-production work on Nightmare Box looks to be done in September.
It’s all a long way from where Keeyes was in 2000, when he set out to make his debut film. “I just wanted to make a movie,” he said. “I didn’t expect the response, for companies to ask me to make movies for them. I can’t imagine a life where I’m not making movies. I wake up every morning and thank the universe for the life I’ve got.”