The Maidstone. East Hampton, NY
Interview: Rob DeStefano
Film: Kill Your Darlings
Director: John Krokidas
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall, Ben Foster, Jack Huston, Elizabeth Olsen, Kyra Sedgwick, Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Cross
John Krokidas’ Kill Your Darlings garnered The Venice Days International Award at the Venice Film Festival and a Grand Jury Prize nomination at this year’s Sundance. The director himself is the recipient of the Directors to Watch prize at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. His rendering of the initial days of the beat generation has launched him into the spotlight, and though his talent is clearly recognized, his open and zealous personality have unquestionably aided in the industry’s gravitation towards him. IF had the gratifying opportunity to discuss with him his early career and the making of his hotly awaited feature.
Inflatable Ferret: Welcome to HIFF. I understand you have a bachelor’s in both American and Theater studies. Did this draw you towards making a historical fiction feature?
John Krokidas: Ultimately what you study comes back to haunt you, in a good way. One course that really meant a lot to me while I was at Yale was a study in Film Noir and WWII. I realized while writing this movie with my former college roommates that it was a murder story that took place in 1944, and Double Indemnity was nominated for Best Picture that year, so we ended up structuring it like a film noir and using a lot of what we learned at school in the film.
IF: Anything you were worried about doing a disservice to?
JK: Of course! My co-writer [Austin Bum] and I felt like we had to pray for permission from the art gods to tell the story of these three legends whom we admire and look up to. We really did our research for this one: biographies, oral histories, going to the Ginsberg archives at Stanford University, and even breaking into Jack Kerouac’s old apartment by buzzing all the buzzers on the apartment building – there were Columbia students living there who had no idea they were living in Jack Kerouac’s apartment. Getting to go to all the actual places – the classrooms they were in, the location of the murder – and getting the chance to film there was amazing.
IF: How did seeing his old apartment help you to construct the space you would eventually use?
JK: Once we saw the layout of the room and the feeling of the architecture, it helped the writing process because we were able to act out scenes in my living room knowing what the space was. We knew where the drama would take place and where characters could enter and exit out of. It helped me later with the shot list.
IF: Was most of the film shot on location?
JK: Oh yeah. The entire film was shot basically on location in New York City. When you’re working on a really small budget, you really can’t afford to build sets.
IF: What was that like trying to recreate the 1940s?
JK: I have to give testament to my amazing location scout, art department, and production designer because they have tricks. For example, we shot a lot of this movie in religious institutions because they have all the period moldings of the era. We took over a convent in Hell’s Kitchen for a week and a half and made that our studio. We went from floor to floor to floor shooting the movie.
IF: I assume you had to have tremendous trust in your cinematographer, especially with the time constraints and budget.
JK: An immense amount of trust. Reed Morano who shot it is amazing. She’s like my sister. One thing that I learned about directing that I didn’t know before this film was that even though I came up with my academic treatise – I did my homework, I came up with my director’s arc, I did all my shot listing – it’s important to teach your department heads what film you want. The greatest thing you can do is inspire them to make their own personal connections with the material because then they’re going to give a touch of their own imagination and flare to it.
IF: Was working with such a star-studded cast – Daniel Radcliffe, Michael C. Hall, Kyra Sedgwick, Dane DeHaan, Elizabeth Olsen, Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Cross, Ben Foster, Elizabeth Olsen, Jack Huston! – an intimidating experience?
JK: It was incredible. I won’t lie, I’m a first time filmmaker, and it was incredibly intimidating at first. I spent the time getting to know each one of them as a person beforehand, and I would ask simple questions like, “How do you best like to work?” I really fought to have some rehearsal time to do some improv so that people could start playing with each other, and we could all get a chance to build the characters and the relationships before the craziness of the movie.
IF: Did you spend a lot of time in rehearsal?
JK: Oh yeah. We spent close to a full week doing rehearsal, which I’m learning is increasingly rare on a movie of this size. We shot the whole movie in twenty-four days. We did one table read just so everyone had a beat and could say the words of the script, but then I broke them down into the central relationships and had Elisabeth Olsen and Jack Houston, for example – I borrowed this method from Francis Ford Coppola – improve scenes on set which aren’t in the movie. It helps them not worry about trying to replicate the magic you created in rehearsal. I had them improve their first date. The actors loved it. They said it was like drama school all over again.
IF: Any other directing secrets you used in helping to ease your cast?
JK: Daniel Radcliffe really gave me the time of day, and I can attest to what a great guy and what a hard worker he is. We met for two months while he was doing his Broadway show to work on building the character together. What was great about that time was not only did we work on his character, but he taught me great directing tips. I said to him about four weeks out, “Dan, I’m about to shoot my first movie, what the hell did I get myself into?” So it was a true collaboration between the two of us. Having that foundation and support with Dan meant so much to me.
IF: What was the atmosphere like on the set? Not only is this your first film, but it’s also one that has some intense moments to it.
JK: It was insane and fun. We tried to evoke the spirit of the beats. Every scene in this movie was basically shot in two hours or less. When you’re shooting that fast and running around New York in period costume without any trailers, it creates kind of a high. There’s no time to second guess yourself. There’s no time to get nervous. You’re just fighting to get the scene on camera.
IF: Were there ever any times when you felt that you didn’t get the shot you wanted?
JK: Oh, every day I didn’t get the shot I wanted. But it was a great lesson in learning to make the best of what you got.
IF: What personal insight or vision do you feel that you brought to the depiction of the beat generation on film?
JK: What I always admired about them was the fact that they started probably what’s the greatest counterculture revolution of the 20th century. What I loved the most was that they stayed friends throughout their entire lives. And as they in turn inspired new generations of people and they continued to work, they continued to be each other’s critics, each other’s supporters. I’ve always dreamed of starting my own personal revolution but doing that with my friends. What’s cool about this movie is I co-wrote it with my best friends. One of the producers has been a friend of mine for over fourteen years. My editor went to film school with me. In a way, we got to build our own little community.
IF: And how does it feel to have your first feature hitting the screens?
JK: This is my dream coming true. I’ve struggled for ten years to get this one made, so this is the best week of my life.
IF: Are you looking forward to beginning a new project?
JK: I’m very excited to work on my second film. All I know is that I have to care as much about the second as I did this one.
IF: And finally, what is your favorite film of 2013 so far?
JK: I haven’t gotten to see that much, but I really loved Sarah Polley’s documentary about her family, Stories We Tell.
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