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How Indie Producer Jon Kilik Works with Mavericks, from Spike Lee and Gary Ross to Bennett Miller

by Anne Thompson
June 27, 2014 7:21 PM
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Do the Right Thing
Jon Kilik
Jon Kilik
Independent film producer Jon Kilik is having a busy year, from "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I" and Cannes entries Tommy Lee Jones' "The Homesman" and Bennett Miller's "Foxcatcher," to Spike Lee's upcoming "Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth." He's also celebrating the 25th anniversary of Lee's "Do the Right Thing." 

Kilik is a prolific producer whose films are primarily based on his relationships with filmmakers. His goal is to serve and nurture his directors as he helps them to make the best possible film. He has remained an independent New Yorker through his entire career. He has worked with Lee on 14 films, as well as Julian Schnabel ("The Diving Bell & the Butterfly"), Gary Ross ("Pleasantville," "Hunger Games"), Alejandro González Iñárritu ("Babel," "Biutiful"), Jim Jarmusch ("Broken Flowers"), Robert Altman ("Pret-a-Porter") and Oliver Stone ("Alexander"). 

He also made some waves last fall with his controversial keynote speech at the IFP (Independent Filmmaker Project) conference. I grabbed Kilik, who I met back in 1987 at our first Cannes Film Festival, for a Q & A at the American Pavilion in Cannes. 

The 'Do the Right Thing' gang in Cannes
The 'Do the Right Thing' gang in Cannes

I was at the L.A. Weekly in 1987, and your movie was with Julia Phillips, "The Beat." HOw did you get started as a producer?

I grew up in New Jersey, went to college in Burlington, Vermont, and moved to New York. I started at the bottom of the producing side as a PA and an AD, paying the rent. That was my film school; that was my grad program, on the streets of New York in the early ‘80s. Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen and Alan Pakula and Sidney Lumet were all making a movie a year, and I had the great fortune and good timing to not only be there during that time, but to fall under the wing of a couple of talented assistant directors, producers, production managers who, I guess, thought I was hard-working or pushy. They gave me a job, another one, and another one.

My first day in New York, I met maybe ten people that became the core network of contacts. I never had to look for another job again because people would ask me back, and I built relationships and stayed in touch with people — which is what I did with that core group of friends, PAs, and people my age who’d just gotten out of college. I’d do it with directors I’d meet, because I don’t wait for them to call me for a job — I maintain a relationship with them over years. Gary Ross, who directed the first "Hunger Games," was a friend during the 14 years between "Pleasantville," the first film I ever did with him, and "The Hunger Games." We just stayed in touch; he’s not paying me, and I’m not getting anything out of it. I had no idea it was going to lead to "The Hunger Games," but if you hang in there and are really true to your commitment — if you have one, as an artist — and try to even bring forth good work, bring the most out of talented musicians, actors, directors, whatever, and make your combined dream for that material come true, you don’t wait to be hired to do it. 


  • FilmFan | June 29, 2014 7:16 PMReply

    I really enjoyed this interview, and found it to be very honest, concise, and thorough. Kilik seems to be very loyal, likeable and humble. Congratulations to him, and here's to seeing more great films from him in the future! Sounds as if he works very hard, and needs a vacation. :)

  • rgm | June 29, 2014 12:37 PMReply

    Excellent informative interview, especially Kilik's continual emphasis on the vital importance of "story" in his productions.

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