Playing With the Big Boys

Teen Filmmakers Rusty Kelley and Duncan Knappen Score Second HBO Gig

Duncan Knappen (l) and Rusty Kelley
Duncan Knappen (l) and Rusty Kelley (Photo By John Anderson)

The first thing Rusty Kelley says to me when I walk in the room is "Cool shirt."

I look down at it: It's white, and it's got oil paint resin crusted on it. I was thinking about changing into something a little less skanked before heading out, but I didn't, so I'm like, "Uh, thanks." And then, slow on the uptake, I realize he's digging the Big Boys logo emblazoned on the front. I'm getting old-school props from a 14-year-old.

But Kelley's got his hair spiked up, he plays in a band called the Snobs, and along with buddy Duncan Knappen, also 14, he's made some killer little films. Not digital videos, mind you, but films. Nitrate, splicing, grain, chiaroscuro, the works.

These two are so punk rock it boggles the mind.

"Toy Car," a short they made two years back, won them a spot on a kid-flicks compilation called 10-Up Kids over at the HBO Family cable channel, thanks in large part to the keen eye of HBO Family producer John Rickens. (See "Small Wonders," our first encounter with the lads, in the November 12, 1999, issue,

Flash forward to the now, and the Duncan and Rusty Global Domination Tour continues apace. HBO Family has tagged them once again, this time to be part of the channel's 30 by 30: Kid Flicks program (airing locally Sunday, Nov. 18, 5:30pm, on HBO Family). Their film "French Restaurant" is a knockout, and one of the few in the program that's actually shot on film. It's a jokey riff poking fun at haute cuisine, with bugs and lawn detritus served to a gaggle of enthusiastically clueless swells. All this and class consciousness, too. Heady stuff.

"We thought it would be funny if someone made a restaurant like that," says Kelley, "but we thought it would be even cooler if they used body parts instead of digging stuff up. We wanted it to be bloodier, but it turned out we didn't have enough time. We couldn't do all that Troma stuff."

Knappen nods his assent to that and mentions that the pair were working on a "Troma-esque movie over the summer." My respect for these Junior Joe Dantes swells at the mention of schlock filmmaker Lloyd Kaufman's legendary NYC outfit Troma Films. They brought you The Toxic Avenger, and I'm thinking any day now they'll be bringing you these two. A French restaurant as Grand Guignol -- why didn't I think of that?

Between tag-teaming it on the films, the punk rock gigs at Emo's, and, oh yeah, school, the pair remain unfazed by their exploits. I asked them what the kids in school thought about their filmmaking endeavors.

"People ask us questions about films," says Kelley, "and it gets annoying. They're like, 'So ... you made a film. What's it about?' They ask that like a hundred times."

What about your teachers?

"My teachers are like, 'This is going to mess up finals.'"

That is so punk rock. end story

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Duncan Knappen, Rusty Kelley, French Restaurant, 10-Up Kids, Toy Car, HBO Family, 30 By 30: Kid Flicks, Troma, the Snobs

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