Dylan O’Keefe Presents: Zo in Exile
Moving to Chappaqua from the city during middle school wasn’t the easiest transition for Dylan O’Keefe. The now almost 30-year-old recalls that he wasn’t on any teams, nor did he do after school clubs. Instead he found solace in books and movies. He loved epic movies like the Star Wars series but also lesser-known horror/sci-fi movies such as Army of Darkness and The Thing. His mom who worked in book publishing fostered O’Keefe’s love of reading, film and strong storytelling.
But in addition to her, O’Keefe remembers Mr. Gilbert, his 7th grader English teacher at Robert E. Bell Middle School encouraging him to pursue creative writing. “I was a bit of a class clown–always getting in trouble,” he said. Whenever he had a book report, he used SparkNotes. However when he received a creative writing assignment, Mr. Gilbert initially accused him of plagiarism because it was far superior to anything else he had written. “My mom had to meet the principal. She told him that in my spare time, I would write fantasy stories in my room,” he now laughs when discussing the episode. Mr. Gilbert apologized and after that provided a lot of support for O’Keefe’s creative writing endeavors. “He told me I think your future may be writing,” O’Keefe recalls.
Fast forward almost two decades and O’Keefe is still writing stories. “I have at least 30 and some [stories] I have been writing and rewriting for 15-20 years.” O’Keefe graduated Horace Greeley in 2010 and entered the film industry after finishing a business degree at SUNY Albany in 2013. His father who worked in corporate A/V taught him a lot about camera/video equipment and operating microphones and video switchers.
Initially after graduation, O’Keefe worked on big budget productions, specializing in aerial photography. In 2017, he started his own video production company DOK Productions based out of Greenpoint, Brooklyn focusing on drone photography. His projects have included HBO’s Lovecraft Country, American Horror Story, Preacher and Seal Team. He’s also directed web series for Adult Swim and NY Fashion Week.
In his spare time, O’Keefe had created short films but with extra time on his hands during the pandemic, O’Keefe created his own first full-length independent feature film titled Zo in Exile. Heavily influenced by The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland, the movie centers on Zo played by O’Keefe’s college friend Shiho Matsuoka. Zo and her friends escape for a weekend getaway in the quiet town of Exile, New York. But their bucolic vacation turns grim when Zo’s friends, fueled by debauchery, force her into a fantasy world where her only escape is to come to terms with her own destructive nature, according to the press materials.
Despite being low budget, O’Keefe paid everyone he hired for the film. “The goal was to employ people during the pandemic and make something fun while staying as COVID compliant as possible,” O’Keefe said. “Overall, I’m happy I was able to produce and film a full-length feature before I turned 30,” he said. The film has also been screened at several festivals both in the US and abroad and recently won an award for Best Fantasy Feature Film at France’s Hallucinea Film Festival.
O’Keefe hopes to inspire other young filmmakers with this project just as he was motivated years ago after speaking with Chappaqua-based screenwriter Mark Bomback who he read about in an article in Inside Chappaqua ten years ago. “Mark spoke about the good and bad parts of his career and what he learned along the way. It was a great experience to talk to someone in depth in the industry.”
“Young people today with their SmartPhones have way more powerful cameras and tools than anything that I had at 13.” He advises aspiring filmmakers experiment making movies. “They don’t have to be perfect but just try.”
And just like Bomback offered him advice years ago, O’Keefe said he’s willing to talk to any local high students interested in filmmaking.