Bo Keister: A Self-Made Act(or)
Bo Keister’s jovial southern accent gives away his roots the moment he first starts speaking: he grew up in Dublin, Virginia, population “3,000 or less” at the time (the 1970s and 80s, FYI), and in many ways he remains a small-town man at heart. But he’s also the brains (AKA “producer”) behind the emergent Hillbilly Horror Show series, he’s an actor who boasts credits including major motion pictures such as Remember the Titans, and he is an accomplished independent filmmaker in his own right.
Now, as Mr. Keister was kind enough to take the time to speak to me about his life and his work, let’s go ahead and hear from him in his own words instead of slogging through more of my nonsensical and debutant technobabble legerdemain. See? A tenuous grasp of the language at best! But I digest…
ME: You started off your acting career in Wilmington, NC. That city is not exactly ranked next to LA or New York when it comes to acting, so that drew you there and what were your early experiences like?
BO: Well, actually when I first got there? Back then Wilmington was kind of a boomtown that was ranked pretty close behind your LA or New York for acting. Dawson’s Creek was starting up, there were movie productions headed there, it was affordable for them and there were some resources, like Screen Gems. I just started meeting people, looking for and taking extra work, and then I got lucky to meet and work with a legendary acting coach, Nick McGovern. He had taken a recurring role on Matlock and stayed there [in Wilmington] and I was lucky enough to get to learn from him.
ME: Did you have plans or expectations when you headed to North Carolina?
BO: Laughs. No! I went down over a weekend, I checked it out some, and then I went back to Tennessee where I was living then, spent a week packing up, and headed I off to Wilmington without the foggiest idea what I was doing. I really had no idea where it would go. But then one day I’m sitting there getting some lunch, and I see a guy I went to college with, totally randomly, and we get to talking, and he gets me an audition, and that landed me a role in a play, and that opened some doors.
ME: Your life seemed to be headed in a very different direction than acting and the entertainment industry. What did you do in your “other” life?”
BO: Believe it or not, I was training to be a secret service agent. I wanted to protect the President. I grew up around police work because of my dad. He was very involved in politics and he had good friends at every level of law enforcement, and the family was just always around it; I always respected it. It was a natural progresion, for me, right up to a criminal justice major. At some point along the way, I found out that because of my eyesight I would never, ever be guarding our President. The only other thing I wanted to be was an actor, to work on screen or work on films. I grew up in the era of video stores, you know? Kids these days, they don’t know the ritual of going to the story to rent a bunch of movies…
ME: That’s a pilgrimage I remember well!
BO: Oh yeah, a rite. I’d rent 10 movies and just binge watch them, even before binge watching was cool. My teenage years were filled with horror movies, of course, but I loved all sorts of things, all sorts of great films, any great film. [Acting] was the only other thing I felt passionate about. I was in my eaely 20s I went for it, left the law path and went to Wilmington.
ME: Did you consider acting as a young man, or only come to it later?
BO: Growing up in little Dublin, VA, it was like… it was like Hollywood lived in a box in the living room, it wasn’t real; wasn’t even an option. So getting there seemed so far-fetched, even stupid, I never really considered it as a real path. But as you get older, as I traveled, saw the country, saw Europe, I realized maybe it wasn’t so far off. And my family was always behind me and supportive as I started considering new paths.
ME: I read that you also worked as a bouncer and bodyguard for a while. Did that have any impact on your career in the industry?
BO: Well, I met Patrick Swayze on set once and told him that part of my life was all his fault. I said “If you didn’t make being a bouncer look so damned cool in Road House I never would’ve done it!” He just laughed, he loved it. But I guess there’s some martial arts and fitness training from there that helps. And that kind of work teaches you to deal with emotions, with adrenaline, to stay focused, and that helps a lot on set when you’re working.
ME: As a filmmaker, what are the biggest challenges you face with your own productions?
BO: It used to be a lot easier to find that well of investors, and it’s just not as easy today. At least for me personally, for independent filmmakers, we don’t have that contact list of hedge fund invstors. Finding the financing, finding the people willing to take a risk on funding a project, is just so hard. And with that, it’s so hard to see actors, or crew people, to see great talented people getting overlooked, or their projects getting overlooked, because there’s not a “name” attached. From getting invstment to marketing, it’s so hard to get things done without that big A-list name. So for indie filmmakers, the biggest problem we face is exposure, how can we get a film out there so people see it, buy into it, pay to watch, really get engaged with your work. More exposure brings more funding which brings bigger productions which brings exposure, but it’s so hard to get that going.
ME: What advice would you give to filmmakers just getting started now, or what advice would you give yourself 10 or 15 years ago if you could have?
BO: I wish I had known to really save money and invest it so that I had my own little fund to finance things. That would bring so much independence. I wish I had started even earlier than I did; I couild have saved myself two or three years of toil; there’s no reason to wait once you hear a calling to the business, the screen. As an actor, I’d say educate yourself on the business… it is a business. The days of just heading out to Hollywood and getting discovered? That’s not gonna happen. It’s just not. You go do the work, you train, you learn your craft, put in the hours, take the auditions, meet people, be good to people. As far as filmmaking, learn how to budget your time, learn how to work on a smaller budget. Budgets are going to keep shrinking, not growing. Technology helps some, but overall you just have to do more with less.
ME: Your series Hillbilly Horror Show is certainly helping some aspiring filmmakers get the exposure you know is critical, showcasing up and coming talent. What’s the best way for people to see the program?
BO: It’s really getting out there in a lot of ways; we’re on Amazon Prime, on YouTube movie rentals, Google Play. We’ll be on iTunes soon, we’re building an app. It’s growing, it really is.
ME: Sticking with that theme, and in the spirit of Halloween, what were the horror films that you grew up watching?
BO: Oh, the classics. Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. All the classics of that era, it was really a golden era for the genre. Beyond that, I mean it’s Star Wars that made me fall in love with movies. But really any great film, The Godfather, a Tim Burton movie, Tarantino, any genre is fine by me if the film is well made, well-acted. I just love great storytelling; I just want someone to tell me a good story.