‘Camera Obscura’ Writer-Director Aaron B. Koontz Discusses What Inspires Him

In the directorial debut of Aaron B. Koontz, “Camera Obscura” tells the story Jack Zeller (Christopher Denham, “Billions”), a veteran war photographer struggling with PTSD, who receives a gift in the form of an old camera that allows his to see imminent deaths of those he loves. The developed photographs from this mysterious camera, which is acquired by his wife Claire (Nadja Bobyleva, “Bridge of Spies”) at an estate sale, depicts gruesome crime scenes that cannot be unseen.

Jack makes an effort to stop these terrible acts from happening, but soon becomes the subject of an investigation lead by Detective Dawson (Catherine Curtin, “Orange is the New Black”) and Detective Ford (Chase Williamson, “The Guest”), as the string of murders begin to trace back to him. Koontz, who is no stranger to the horror genre himself, and recently executive produced the cult-hit “Starry Eyes,” spoke with Entertainment Voice about directing his first feature, his creative process, and the contemporary horror that inspires him.

The original and intriguing horror/thriller concept was a writing partnership between Cameron Burns and Koontz himself. “The writing partner relationship is different with everyone,” Koontz explained. “Cameron and I both have different tastes, which I think is a good thing because it allows us to provide a voice for everyone.”

The actual inspiration for Burns and Koontz is heavily inspired by current events pulled right from the headlines. “We come together in my house, sit in recliners, and I play music in the background that I feel is fitting for the project.” Koontz continues, “And then we talk about the news because what’s strange and true out there is what inspires so many ideas… that’s actually where the PTSD came from. There was a news story about an Army vet who went down a wrong road, and ultimately he had PTSD and he had blacked out, so this kind of added to the main character.”

Not only does the news inform Koontz’ writing, but the work of his contemporary genre filmmakers also pushes him to forge ahead. “I was fortunate to go to film school with Adam Wingard (“The Guest,” “You’re Next,” “Blair Witch”). I reconnected with him, and he encouraged me.”

As far as his taste in modern genre films, Koontz notes, “In the industry, I love Jennifer Kent’s ‘The Babadook.’ It’s atmospheric and had a little bit of a Lovecraftian taste to it. I like that it took a concept we had heard of before and it felt original.” He also goes on to note that he loves “The Conjuring” films saying, “What I love about those, in particular, is that they’re so well shot. They really are a great example for our generation. I mean, I feel like they’re ‘The Shining, ’ and I’m watching Kubrick or something. I really do believe that the aesthetic and production design is really on another level.”

On the subject of contemporary horror, it has been a recent trend to adapt short films into feature length pieces – the last notable adaptation is “Lights Out,” which grossed a hefty $148 million last summer. “Camera Obscura” is no exception. “The core concept,” Koontz said, “was based on ‘Aperture,’ (a 30-minute short film he co-wrote and directed back in 2015) but they’re still quite different.” Koontz also noted that “the time came up for me to do my first feature, so I wanted to do something with this idea (based on ‘Aperture’]. So we took a little bit of the core idea and merged that with the other idea that I had, which dealt with PTSD, mental illness and the concept of an unreliable narrator.”

Although this was the feature-length directorial debut for Koontz, the writer/director had created some short films in the past that served as experiments of a sort. “I just think it’s important to make a variety of short films to test the waters and see do you do, whether it’s comedy or horror or thriller… I [also] wanted to see if I could make a 30-minute film and see if I could handle a narrative – and boy, did I fail. It was early in my career. I had great actors and a great team, but I tried to fit too much into a small screen.”

However, the experience creating shorts films ultimately paid off in the end, as helming his first feature-length project, “wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. Things happen, locations fall out, but as a director and producer you just have to weather that storm.” Koontz concluded, “It felt natural.”

Camera Obscura” opens in select theaters June 9 and on VOD and Digital HD June 13.