John Krokidas debut feature, Kill Your Darlings, exudes passion, for love, for heartbreak, for writing, for cinema. It is not a surprise both him and his writing partner were so excited to talk about their project, and explain how important their devotion to the characters, and their stories were for them while developing it. There is no much explanation that could surpass the great answers the duo had for us in our recent interview, they are wordy, intelligent, and overall full of absolute joy to have made their passion project into a reality.
Carlos Aguilar: Given that the characters were real people, did you have any reservations on casting recognizable faces like Michael C. Hall or Daniel Radcliffe?
John Krokidas: Any reservations?! Are you kidding me? [Laughs] this is my dream cast come true I feel like a won the lottery and then spent a dollar on it and won another lottery. In regards to Michael C. Hall, Austin had envisioned Michael in that role from day one.
Austin Bunn: That’s right. I had seen him in Six Feet Under, and he was amazing. Knowing the history that David Kammerer had red hear, he was the brightest person in the room, he was in a way kind of the older brother to a lot of these young artists, so I had seen him in Six Feet Under, so I suggested him to John.
Krokidas: One thing we had to reconcile and come to terms with at certain point in the writing process, is that we weren’t trying to portrait literary legends. We didn’t want this to be a traditional biopic, we wanted, in the spirit of these guys, to knock the icons of the pedestal and really just examine who they were at the age in which this movie took place in 1944. At that point Allen Ginsberg was not Allen Ginsberg with beats round his neck, and a huge beard. He was an insecure but extremely bright 17 year-old in Paterson, New Jersey, he had an emotional ill mom, a dad who was a poet, and he had his own secret aspirations to be a poet was ashamed to tell his father because he thought his father would disapprove.
That’s a character that we can write, that’s a character that we can cast, and we felt if we did too many “wink winks” “knot knots“ to the future then we wouldn’t have done a good job. The joke is that, the worst version of the script would be if at the end of the movie Jack Kerouac turning to everybody and going “OK guys I’ll be going “On the Road” and seeing you later” . We worked really hard not to look to the future but to really focus our research up to the point of the end of this movie in 1945.
Aguilar: Since you mention you weren’t particularly interested in the future of what these people would become, did you ever go back and read any of the material they wrote years after the period in which this movie takes place?
Bunn: I’m really proud of the search we did and we put in, it’s what is accurate in the film. You are hearing the genuine prose of Allen Ginsberg at the end of the film, that is the poem he wrote the day after David Kammere died, and he went to the a bar, and ‘You Always Hurt the One You Love” was playing on the jukebox. There is lots of ways in which we planted seedlings, big concepts that will pay off years down the line, but at this moment you are seeing the origin point. Something like “First thought, best though” which became a credo for Ginsberg and for Kerouac as they went on to their illustrious careers, here you hear Lucien articulate it for the first time. William Burroughs ended up writing cut up novels like Naked Lunch and Junkie, and you see in this film the moment in which the idea I occurring to him, to use the ruins of the classic to create something new. So there is a lot of research in the film, it never became a huge burned, in a way they were like breadcrumbs for us thought the story.
Krokidas: An of course Carlos, we read all the biographies from front to back, and there is so much material out here. Then we certainly became insecure about not being authentic to the characters and who they were at the time period of the movie, and that point it was like phase two of our search, in which we limited ourselves from their birth up to end of the film. Then I had the actors focus their personal research at that time period.
Aguilar: There is a sense of magical realism in the film, was this something that developed in the screenplay or was it a directorial choice?
Bunn: The moment I think you are referring to is the Jazz club scene, and for screenwriters out here in the universe reading this, we had so many drafts of that. It was always magical, I think we were trying to find a way to bring to life the spirit of a revolution beginning, the sense of the frame taking off the world, and what an awesome cinematic opportunity to figure out how to take literature and make it purely visual. As you can imagine there is a lot of different ways you can do that.
Krokidas: I think what was important for us, even from the writing process and then through the directorial process working with my department heads and the cast, was that we wanted this to be a movie about firsts: leaving home for the first time, going to New York for the first time, being at your first school party and feeling awkward, trying drugs for the first time, falling in love and having sex for the first time. We really wanted to movie to feel like it was from the perspective of a 17 year-old, and as you probably can remember from being 17, everything feels so big and important when you are 17, and those emotions are right at the surface and we wanted that expressiveness to be reflected in the writing but also in the cinematography and in the way I directed the camera.
Aguilar: Going back to the actors, Daniel Radcliffe gives a completely fearless performance, which will completely shatter his image as a child star in Harry Potter, how did you as a director help him shape this performance?
Krokidas: Daniel is such a hard worker. Even while he was doing the Broadway play, a musical, he and I would be once a week for two months before ewe went into production. And he said to be, which I thought it was really poignant, that he wanted to treat this movie as if it were his first film as well. When we started talking about his acting technique and how he likes to prepare he said “You know what, I don’t want to approach this movie like I’ve approached my other films”, and I’ve studied acting in college, I was a horrible actor myself but because of all the training that I’ve had, I kind of devised a method with him that worked for him to really get him out of his head, to free up his emotions, and approach breaking down a script and building a character in away that he hadn’t worked before. In return the really cool thing is that our relationship grew strong that it allowed me to be insecure and vulnerable and say to him “Oh my God I’m about to shoot my first movie in four weeks, what the heck have I gotten myself into”. He taught me several lessons about directing and how to control a set, the kind of stuff that you would never get in film school.
This movie was a lot of firsts for everyone involved. Look at David Kross who wanted to approach a straight dramatic role for the firs time. That was just really exciting and thrilling and I hope that energy made it on to the screen.
Aguilar: Did you want the film to focus on the love triangle between the characters or about Ginsberg’s development as a poet?
Bunn: I don’t think those two things are so distinct actually. John taught me that a script really has to be, at core, about the theme being developed and explore. You can’t just make a film about beautiful visuals or interesting scenes; it has to have a thematic idea. So, what we came upon was this notion that there is an emotional violence that comes with the birth of the self, we see a lot of movies the liberationist feeling about how amazing it is to become yourself, but this is a film about the darker edges of that. For us the sexuality and the love story was the wedge that opened Allen.
Krokidas: When we look at this relationship between Allen and Lucien, and then thought about some the relationships in our life, the more I talk about it the ore universal I find it is. We feel that there is that person that you meet at college or once you leave home, or whatever you do with your life, and you meet somebody that is more charismatic and confident , perhaps even better looking and charming than you. But that person sees something gin you, and see possibilities that you dint even excited in yourself, and they take you under their wing and they help you start to grow. The irony with these relationships is that they want you to grow but only so high and never as high as themselves.
In writing class they often tell you that you need to metaphorically kill your parents in order to really liberate yourself and find your own voice, the biggest irony is that these kind of first-love-transformational-friendship-relationships is that ultimately in order for you to really grow and claim your own voice you have to somehow surpass that person, and cut them out of your life. The love story and the birth of an artist story are incredibly intertwined in out opinion, and that was the intention. It is not a story of a first mutual love, is the story about falling in love with that beautiful tortured poet, musician, that we all fell in love with in college, and when you try so hard to be the person that you think that they want to fall in love with. It is not until the end of that relationship, the break-up, the ashes that we really get the strength to finally realize is about being ourselves. That’s what we wanted to capture.
Aguilar: The title, out of all the things that you could have titled the film, why did you choose Kill Your Darlings? Was it something literally or as you were implying before, metaphorical?
Bunn: I went to graduate school a the writers workshop at the university of Iowa, and that phrase is one of those core principles you heard a lot in writers’ workshops. You have to take your before little moment in whatever you’ve written is probably the weakest and you have to cut it. As we were thinking about different titles, let me tell you there were some other ones that weren’t nearly as good, we landed on this concept because it has so many resonances that were so powerful for the story. On one level it’s a writer’s story, is about deciding what belongs in a story and what doesn’t, on the other hand is about choosing your favorite most beloved thing and deciding that it needs to go away, or it needs to be killed, and when you look at this murder story is hard not see the connections there.
Aguilar: Does this film come full circle for you as a first film John? Is there anything you would have done differently?
Krokidas: I’ve been living with this one for ten years, there is no way I would have picked a different story. I’m so in the middle of it now that is hard for me to look back and see the lesson I’ve learned from it. All I can say is that it feels like a really honest outpouring of my relationship with Austin, working with the cast and the crew to tell this story.