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Sean Kirkpatrick Weighs the “Cost of a Soul”

Sean Kirkpatrick Weighs the “Cost of a Soul” (photo)

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Independent filmmakers are always looking for their big break. Writer/director Sean Kirkpatrick found his, appropriately enough, in something called “The Big Break Contest.” Launched last summer by Relativity Media and AMC Theatres, the contest was designed to give one worthy filmmaker a shot at national distribution. A panel of judges that included Relativity CEO Ryan Kavanaugh and actress Kate Bosworth picked Kirkpatrick’s “Cost of a Soul,” a dark story of Iraq war veterans lost in the drug trade in Kirkpatrick’s hometown of Philadelphia, as their inaugural winner. Now the film’s opening in 50 AMC Theatres across the country this Friday (you can find a full list of locations and showtimes here).

It’s a move that could be one small step for a single indie filmmaker or, if the business model of movie theaters distributing smaller films to large audiences catches on, a giant leap for an entire industry. Kirkpatrick, a Penn State alumni making his feature directorial debut, says he understands the magnitude of the opportunity. “I feel an obligation to try to push this thing through,” he told me, “not only because I want to further my career but because I feel like this is hope for all independent cinema. Here you have one of the biggest power players in the business reaching out and saying ‘We want a good film. We don’t care how much you made it for, we don’t care what actors are in it. We want something that’s good.'”

During our interview, Kirkpatrick told me about the experiences that inspired his screenplay, the hardest thing to find when you’re making a microbudget indie in Philadelphia (hint: it rhymes with runny), and his experience as the test subject in this unique cinematic experiment.

You’re from near Philadelphia originally?

I’m from just outside Philadelphia. A town called Norristown.

And how much of making the movie was the inspired by the desire to shoot in Philadelphia?

It all comes down to the desire to shoot in my hometown. In this film, the city is really a character. And the story evolved from the city and my experiences in it, particularly in North Philadelphia. When I was writing the screenplay, Philadelphia was the murder capital of the country. There were more drug-related homicides, and more bodies, than days of the year in 2007. And I guess my goal was to portray the lives of the people living in these neighborhoods with as much truth as possible.

When you say you know these neighborhoods, what’s that mean? Did you live there? Work there?

Yeah, I used to work there. I had several jobs in North Philadelphia. One was I was a glorified garbage man; I worked for a junk removal service and drove a dump truck. I also set up surveillance systems in a lot of the drug neighborhoods. These were dangerous, dangerous places, so much so that I was required to get my license to carry, and I had to carry a concealed weapon.

Really?

Yeah. And we had to be out of the neighborhood by a certain time before it “awoke” and there were people on the streets because you’re talking about essentially coming in and putting up a camera that’s going to disrupt someone’s livelihood. If you sell drugs, and I put a camera on the corner, you can’t sell drugs anymore. So they didn’t like me.

Right. I guess that’s good research for a film like this though.

Yeah. It’s really a culmination of a lot of experiences, but I don’t want to make it seem like it’s all bad in this area. The communities in these neighborhoods are amazing. You have a lot of great people living amidst all this violence; in war zones, essentially. And they have to raise their children in war zones and face the challenge of keeping their kids off the streets. I really wanted to make this movie for them.

When you’re shooting this sort of movie in North Philadelphia, what’s the hardest thing to find? Is it the actors? The cinematographer? The caterer? What was the toughest thing to find?

Money.

[laughs]

The toughest thing to find was money. There’s so much untapped talent out there. When people see the movie they’ll see there are these amazing unknown actors in the film. They’re just mind-blowing; I think a lot of them are going to win awards someday. And ultimately it was mostly a Philadelphia cast and crew with a few actors from New York.

The biggest conflict we faced was finding money. We didn’t have money for anything so we had to get creative every step of the way in order to make this film possible. We shot it on a $100,000 budget in eighteen days. And we’re going into neighborhoods with a small but full cast and crew. You’re talking about camera crew, a lot of logistics, and a lot of expensive equipment. These are some of the roughest neighborhoods in America and we couldn’t afford to bring police escorts or security. And even if we could afford it, that can cause a lot of conflict in these neighborhoods when you start bringing police in.

What we did was build up community relations. We had a group of guys who were former… we’ll just say they were former knuckleheads who’ve seen the error of their ways. Their goal now is to keep kids from making the same mistakes they did. These guys have a lot of respect in the neighborhood, everybody knows who they are, and they protected us. They kept us safe, they were on our sets they made sure nothing happened to us. We didn’t have a single incident.

The film looks excellent. Not just for the budget either, it looks good period. What was the aesthetic you and your cinematographer wanted for the film?

Everything we looked at as research was film noir. I wanted a film noir, and my crew will tell you I’m very clear in my vision, so much that I can be anal at times. I got together with my director of photography [Chase Bowman] and all we watched were 1940s film noir. I don’t think we watched anything in color. With digital technology and the RED camera we were able to create a hybrid between the color film of today and the values and contrast and the chiaroscuro that you get in those old beautiful film noirs.

We see film noir today for certain stylistic choices but a lot of people miss the big picture of what film noir was. Most of them were films about World War II veterans coming back from the war, coming back and dealing with the dangers of the streets and the city. And I can’t think of a better place to set a film noir like that than my hometown and the streets of North Philly.

I thought the use of music in the film was really interesting too, particularly through the musician character DD, and the way that his music literally transports the viewer; when he starts playing, you start to show us images of the city. Do you have any sort of background in music?

I’m not a musician but I wish I was.

So you have that appreciation of people who do have that talent.

I have an amazing appreciation of everything from Beethoven, whose “Moonlight Sonata” is in the movie, to jazz and John Coltrane, who’s probably my favorite. He was a huge inspiration for the music in the film, and he’s actually from Philly.

I’ve read about this contest but tell me how you first heard about it.

My co-producer [Jonathan Risinger] — who was also my entire post-production team, did everything from editing to mixing — he went into an AMC one day. We had been on the festival tour and I don’t want to say it had been demoralizing but we’d been struggling to get the film out. We hadn’t been happy with any of the deals we had been offered. We’re having amazing audience reactions all over the country and we’d come to distributors and they’d give us a bunch of reasons, without even watching the film, why they couldn’t sell it.

So he goes into an AMC theater and sees this poster that says “Do you have a feature film?” And he thinks to himself, “I’ve got a great feature film!” So it was just blind luck and being at the right place at the right time. He called me and said “I want to submit the movie to this contest,” and I said “Sure, let’s do it.” So we did and the rest is history.

Wow. So when you win the contest, did the studio or the theater demand any changes or is this the movie that you brought around to festivals?

This is the movie that I finished. It’s incredible because I figured they would change something, because that always happens. And I nervously said to them “What are you going to change?” And they said, “Nothing, we love the movie.” I guess really it reflects on the movie because in the distribution contract we signed they got final cut.

So they really could have changed things if they wanted to.

They could have. And I figured they would, just because they can. But they’ve been really great.

I’m in a special position right now that doesn’t happen to first time directors. They’ve let me have creative control over everything from the selection of the movie poster to overseeing the 5.1 mix to overseeing the Technicolor prints, to everything. They could have easily just taken the movie, cut me out, and said “Thanks, have a nice day. Just show up to the premiere with a tie on.”

Is this the first time they’ve done this sort of thing?


It is. It’s the first time really anyone’s done it.

I thought so. So is there any pressure because you’re the first? Presumably if the movie does well you could open the doors to a lot of very independent filmmakers getting their movies distributed on a national scale this way.

Absolutely. There’s a huge amount of pressure. We’ve looked through a lot of statistics and as far as we can tell this is the largest theatrical opening for an ultra low budget film ever. So it’s a huge deal not only for these companies but it could potentially be a really big deal for the entire system as well.

So you’ve been touring with the film. Have you been back to Philly yet?

We have. We had the premiere in Philly and they couldn’t even fit everyone into one screening so they had a double-header of “Cost of a Soul” and they packed two huge theaters.

Did you have any of the folks that hosted you in their neighborhood there?

We did.

What did they think of the movie?

Every time someone from North Philadelphia sees the movie they come up afterwards and hug me and say “This needed to get out there. This is what it’s like.” And it feels amazing to do them justice because at the end of the day it’s their story. These are fictionalized characters, but it’s their lives.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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