Director Sean Kirkpatrick discusses his directorial debut Cost of a Soul, shooting in Philadelphia, landing distribution, and much more
Every year, hundreds of independent filmmakers scrape together money to make their films, with hopes of getting into festivals, and bigger hopes of being picked up by a distributor. Sean Kirkpatrick is one of those filmmakers, who brought his directorial debut Cost of a Soul, to numerous film festivals, although he couldn't secure distribution. Fortunately, the AMC Theater chain held a contest entitled The Big Break Movie Contest, which Cost of a Soul won, earning exclusive distribution in AMC Theaters starting on May 20. I recently had the chance to chat with director Sean Kirkpatrick about his experience in making Cost of a Soul. Here's what he had to say.
I noticed you were a production assistant before becoming a director, and I remembered a story about Eli Roth, how he was a PA on Private Parts while he was writing Cabin Fever. Did you have a similar experience as a PA while you were writing this?
Sean Kirkpatrick: Yeah. Coming from the bottom of the industry, all you have is learning opportunities. Every opportunity I've ever had, I've made sure it was an educational experience I could learn from. I wrote the script, really, during the writers strike, and I decided I'm just going to take my destiny into my own hands and write the movie, no matter what. I had tried to pitch it, nobody knew me so no one would see me or listen to me. I just struggled and finally decided I would make it myself. I put most of the money into the movie myself, with credit cards and student loans. I guess, coming from that low of a level, just struggling to pay the bills, working in the film industry, struggle always builds art. I'm a firm believer that the greatest art in the world comes from struggle. It was really using that struggle that allowed me to do what I did.
It's a very powerful story. Growing up in Philly, were there any real-life experiences that you put into the story?
Sean Kirkpatrick: Yeah. A lot of the experience comes from working in the streets of North Philadelphia. I used to set up surveillance systems in North Philadelphia, in a lot of the drug neighborhoods. I was essentially putting cameras on the corners of neighborhoods where drug dealers made their living. One of the pre-requisites for the job was I had to get a license to carry a concealed weapon. It was actually mandatory that I had to carry a gun into the neighborhoods. There were some pretty hairy situations, and a lot of that was used in making the movie.
When you were writing this, did you know that you absolutely had to shoot this in Philly?
Sean Kirkpatrick: Shortly before I wrote this script, Philly was going through some serious problems and it had one of the highest murder rates in the country. I believe it was the highest murder rate in 2007. There were more bodies in the streets than days of the year. It was just absurd, how many people were dying in our own country. I had heard, one time, you're more likely to get killed in the streets of North Philadelphia than you are in Iraq. I had heard stories of soldiers who had come home to their neighborhoods, who had served in either Iraq or Afghanistan. One guy gunned down in his neighborhood, in front of his own house. The story was really conceived out of the outrage over the amount of violence occurring in my city. You have soldiers coming home to the war zone which is North Philadelphia, in neighborhoods they grew up in, which has proved to be more dangerous than where they were in the first place.
Absolutely. Can you talk about bringing this really diverse cast together? I read some were from Philly and some from elsewhere. Can you talk about the casting process in general? Was the crew from Philly also?
Sean Kirkpatrick: Almost all of the crew was from Philly. Some of the actors were from Philly, but a lot of the leads were cast out of New York. I assembled the cast and crew myself. Like I said, this movie was made with no money. Everything had to be done by me and the crew that I put together. I was able to assemble this just amazing cast. I was able to find these incredible, gifted, hard-working, struggling, hungry actors. It's a credit to how much untapped talent there is out there in this world. We put together an amazing crew to make this movie, and everyone said this was impossible. Nobody believed in us, and we were able to achieve the impossible.
One of the things I was really intrigued by was your lighting decisions. One of my favorite shots in the movie is when the gun goes off and there is this awesome red tint. Can you talk about those kinds of decisions you made?
Sean Kirkpatrick: The visual aesthetics stem from film noir, specifically 1940s film noir. I consider the film, at heart, a film noir. One of the motivations for even creating the story was to tell a film noir, based on my hometown. Every visual aspect of a film noir has a purpose. I think it's one of the quintessential American genres of cinema. Most of the old film noirs, a lot of them were about World War II veterans, coming home to find their hometown full of crime and corruption.
Can you talk about your overall experience as a first-time director, and about discovering this AMC contest, where you're getting a nice release out of this, which a lot of independent filmmakers don't get?
Sean Kirkpatrick: Absolutely. It's one of the most substantial things that has happened to independent cinema in a really long time, if not ever. We've been putting the statistics together, and as far as we can tell, this is the largest theatrical opening for a film of our budget, ever. It's incredible that a powerhouse like Relativity Media and AMC are getting together and looking for those kinds of quality projects. Making a film like this, every day is a struggle. The things I took out of it were happy accidents are blessings. You really have to embrace the chaos. If you can embrace it, and adapt and overcome, instead of trying to make a square peg fit into a round hole, adapting and overcoming the chaos is essential. There were so many happy accidents that would up to be just amazing blessings. The attitude that I've learned, and discovered in myself, is that failure is not an option, and keep on struggling. I think it's really what will keep me going, in the future.
Is there anything that you're working on now that you can talk about?
Sean Kirkpatrick: There are several projects I am writing. I can't give you the names of them, because some of them are in the process of being developed right now. A script I wrote, based on the Irish gangs in Hells Kitchen in the 1970s and 1980s, is currently being pushed around to some A-list talent. I also wrote a series, along the lines of an AMC, HBO, Showtime, show, about corporate corruption through the eyes of a young billionaire who comes from a very poor, blue-collar upbringing.
Is there a possibility for expansion of Cost of a Soul, if it does well on May 20?
Sean Kirkpatrick: Absolutely. If we do well on May 20, the sky is the limit. Just to give you an idea, I think Paranormal Activity came out on 10 or 12 screens, and I think films like Black Swan had similar theatrical openings. The sky is the limit.
What would you like to say to anyone who is curious about Cost of a Soul about why they should check it out in theaters on May 20?
Sean Kirkpatrick: I think it's an important film. It's an entertaining film, but I also think it's an important film. I think it's important to filmmakers to put quality material out there with all the garbage that gets put out in this world. I think this is one of those quality films and I think it's my Cinderella story. I hope you go out and you see the movie.
Great. Thanks so much for your time, and best of luck with your upcoming projects.
Sean Kirkpatrick: Thanks man. Have a good one.