While you might not know the name John Krokidas off the top of your head just yet, you’d better start memorizing it. I’ve been impressed by many films this year, and there are still plenty of promising releases still to come, but Krokidas’ debut feature Kill Your Darlings absolutely blew me away, becoming my favorite film of the year – so far. A sexy, daring, smart, and lively period piece, Kill Your Darlings is an engrossing ride from start to finish, chronicling the death of David Kammerer.
Kammerer’s death was reported and known though, and Krokidas wanted to explore the relationships between names like Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs, who all became connected through Kammerer and a man named Lucien Carr. Their ideas were dangerous, and their lust for literary anarchy should be viewed as a source of inspiration – which is exactly what Krokidas wanted to depict.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with John in New York last week to talk about the film, with his excitement and passion clearly evident, as we discussed what went into creating Kill Your Darlings. Read on to hear about how he almost had an entirely different cast, how a writer/director can make true stories still seem fresh, and how his leading actors established such a seamless chemistry.
We Got This Covered: First of all, I just heard today was a special day, so Happy Birthday, John! I would have brought you something if I’d known…
John Krokidas: [Laughing] Thanks so much, man! C’mon, you being here is gift enough…
We Got This Covered: Well I’m excited to be here, so thanks! To start off, let’s go with a more generic question. What got you interested in the material originally? Where did the idea start?
John Krokidas: My best friend and my college roommate, Austin Bunn – basically I had just gotten out of film school and made a couple shorts, and he was becoming a respected short story writer and playwright. He came to me, as friends do, wanting to tell me the idea of the next great thing he wanted to do, and it was a play. It was a play about a story nobody knew about, detailing a murder that caused “The Beats” to stop just being college students just talking about doing something important with their lives and actually starting a revolution.
Of course, as he’s telling me this story, I see the movie version go off in my head, and I decided I needed to manipulate him and tell him I thought the play might be a little flat and mediocre, but as a movie this would be amazing – and that we were going to write it together. I convinced him we should write a screenplay about this, because he and I worshiped “The Beats” in high school and college – they were part of our philosophical foundation. For me specifically, being a closeted teenager, reading Allen Ginsberg for the first time, who is so open about his sexuality, loves, and emotions, and their whole ethos being about tearing down the masks and being who you are – I just remember wishing I could one day be that brave. I’m finding as I get older now, the artists you do fall in love with in high school and college, they’re the ones who stick around with you forever. They’re the ones who do form your core personal philosophies and artistic personalities. To hear the story that made the guys, the ones who I worshiped – I admired Burroughs for being the man who he was all the way until the end of his life. Kerouac’s humanism, just the way he was about looking for the authentic self and wanting to find the voice of this country by traveling around it and speaking to real people – not just believing in the myths we’ve had handed down to us. All of those three tenants are things I’ve admired and wished I could somehow incorporate into my art one day.
We Got This Covered: I agree with that completely, and that message shines through, because my first thought after seeing Kill Your Darlings was “I want to be a better writer,” their creativity is raw and exciting…
John Krokidas: Just as you’re saying, that’s the intention of this movie. The intention of this movie was not to make a dusty biopic, it was not to make a movie you’ve seen a million times before, it was to encourage people. Remember that time you thought you could do something more with your life, say something better, and start the revolution? Well you can, because these guys did it after this. It’s their story about how they did it, and I hope that spirit can be invoked in whoever watches this movie.