DID YOU READ

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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

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

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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