Kelly Parks is a Wisconsinite who majored in engineering physics at the University of Arizona. He had three student internships at the CIA while a student, and became an aerospace engineer specializing in orbital mechanics and space missions analysis. Parks then became a stand-up comic and fully transitioned into the world of entertainment production before producing a short zombie film called Universal Dead. Wanting to learn more about Parks and Universal Dead, I was lucky to be able to interview him.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were your favorite movies? Are there any you still enjoy re-watching as an adult?
Kelly Parks: Avengers, Die Hard, Forbidden Planet, When Worlds Collide, Tremors, Arthur, The Martian, He Never Died, Re-Animator, The Man From Nowhere, The Cabin in the Woods, Day of the Dead (1985), The Incredibles, Equilibrium, Captain America: Winter Soldier, Hackers, Flash Gordon, Contracted, 28 Days Later, The Silence of the Lambs, John Dies at the End, Near Dark, Blade, Princess Bride, 2001, Aliens.
And yes, I re-watch movies I like all the time.
Nicholas Yanes: You worked for the CIA. How has this experience impacted your approach to storytelling? On this note, which movie or show depicts the CIA the most incorrectly?
Kelly Parks: My job title at CIA was Intelligence Officer/Physical Scientist. And I’ve never seen it portrayed correctly. Not once. Also, lie detectors are never, ever portrayed how they actually work.
In terms of storytelling, I know that people involved in the most sensitive, highest level security positions are just people, with all the same foibles.
Nicholas Yanes: When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in entertainment? Was there a moment in which you realized that a standard job wouldn’t cut it for you anymore?
Kelly Parks: About ten years ago a friend with a movie review fan site (feoamante.com) asked me to write reviews. I wrote a bunch but doing that made me want to write my own screenplays because there were so many movies I felt sure I could fix.
Nicholas Yanes: What was the inspiration behind creating Universal Dead?
Kelly Parks: I’m a nit-picky sci-fi geek and as much as I love zombie movies I have a hard time believing a virus is a reasonable explanation, so I came up with a new explanation that’s still science based. I’m very pleased that one of the comments I received from a science teacher is that except for the bad language he could show my film in his class because of the points it illustrates.
Nicholas Yanes: When developing Universal Dead, what are some of the challenges you encountered unique to this project?
Kelly Parks: This was during the transition between web series and making your own movies. Web series had had some notable successes (The Guild) and many people were trying to emulate that. But the lower and lower prices of making your own movies was making the whole system more democratic and open to more people. People like us.
Nicholas Yanes: What are your long term goals for Universal Dead? Do you want to expand it into a film or TV series?
Kelly Parks: I wrote the feature film screenplay long ago, at the same time as the short film. (The short is basically the first 15 minutes of the feature). Then we (myself and the director) sadly made a bad deal with someone who presented himself as though he had a deal with Paramount and would make our feature. They were liars and the resulting legal mess took years to unravel. But now I finally have full ownership of what was my intellectual property from the beginning.
Nicholas Yanes: When people finish watching Universal Dead, what do you hope that they take away from it?
Kelly Parks: I hope they take away that, “That was completely different from anything I’d ever seen.”
Nicholas Yanes: Finally, what are some other projects you are working on that people can look forward to?
Kelly Parks: My next movie — a feature — is Demon Protocol. Here’s the logline: “An exorcism gone wrong means a team from a shadowy religious order must determine who among them is possessed, or all their lives are forfeit.” Follow us on twitter: https://twitter.com/DemonProtocol