Exclusive Interview With Director John Krokidas On Kill Your Darlings

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We Got This Covered: Do you think it was easier to be creative and free in the historical period these “Beat poets” thrived in? The streets seemed so much more vibrant and alive…

John Krokidas: You know, the 40s were a really cool time from when I did my research in the arts because as the war was going on, and people’s passions were on the line, and also because everyone’s attentions were on Europe and not the States, crazy things were going on in New York. The music was going from Swing to Bebop, rhythms were exploding, and in painting, Jackson Pollock was first starting to play with the ideas of drip painting – people were trying out new and different things, and these guys wanted to do that with words. I don’t know where the counter culture movement is today, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of things we can care about today that are going on. Whether it be what’s going on in the government right now, whether it’s civil rights and human rights issues in this country- look at the gay and race issues. There’s plenty of stuff to care about, it just takes one person to have the balls to say something and do something different.

We Got This Covered: When you’re writing a screenplay based on a true story, how do you create a story that’s both factual and entertaining? Anyone who knows the true story of this murder will know how Kill Your Darlings ends – how do you keep people watching anyway?

John Krokidas: That’s one of the reasons we framed it as a film noir. The movie takes place in 1944, and when I looked up what was going on in that time, Double Indemnity had won Best Picture, and I thought, “Oh my God, this is the high point of film noir.” We know that the murder happened, so why not start with the murder and flashback to more innocent times like a noir film, and ultimately build whether or not these characters can escape their fate. What was more important to me wasn’t whether the story was going to end with murder, but the story of the birth of an artist and how this murder ultimately formed Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs, and gave them the impetus to write. The impetus to use their voices, rebel against their college, to rebel against their parents, and find their unique voice. That’s what this was for them, and that’s what the murder was. These guys love their muses. Before Neal Cassady, there was Lucien Carr – and that story had never been documented before.

We Got This Covered: How important was the soundtrack in this film, because I personally felt each scene was taken to a new level with the perfect musical accompaniment.

John Krokidas: You know, playlists are kind of my thing. I heard Martin Scorsese does this, David Lynch does this – you create your playlist, and that’s how I can write. If I look at a blank page, I’m terrified, I’m paralyzed, I can’t do anything. I go look at blogs, I go online, I go shopping, anything but write. If I can just turn off the wireless, yank it out of the wall and put on music, that’s how I can connect with my emotions. Building the playlist during writing, and then Radcliffe and I did this together, we picked songs for every scene that meant something to us and we made our own playlists, and then he and I would both listen to the songs before we actually shot the scene to emotionally put ourselves in the mood to shoot it. Music has always been so important to me, so what we wanted to do was be authentic to the period we were using, the 1940s, but also look at the connections between counter culture back then, and counter culture today.

For the cinematography we looked at Ryan McGinley photographs, we looked at a ton of young photographers and what the “hipster, fresh, young look” is, and saw how we could borrow elements from that and put them onto the looks of the 1940s and have them intersect. Look at Jack Kerouac’s flannel shirts. It was finding those relevant points. It came a time when I was putting music on the movie and trying to figure out what the music should be, and we started off with all period music, but it felt like Woody Allen’s Radio Days – which was a good movie, but it wasn’t this movie.  That young, rebellious spirit that we wanted just wasn’t there with that music, so I started using Sigur Ros, Grizzly Bear, and bands that were in my playlist that felt kind of timeless and emotional.

I realized Nico Muhly had arranged for all of those bands, amongst so many others that we love, and so we sent the movie to him seeing if he wanted to do the score. We so lucked out that he wanted to do it, and then putting in TV On The Radio – I can tell you academically how “The Beats” have connections with punk rock, and how Kurt Cobain recorded with William Burroughs in the 90s, but the truth of the matter is I had period heist music on that scene and it felt corny, dated, and I didn’t even care about it. I plugged in my phone, put on my playlist, turned on “Wolf Like Me,” and that scene came alive for the first time. We used contemporary music for the score and to me it didn’t feel out of place, it felt organic to the movie, especially to the voice and what I wanted to say with the film.

We Got This Covered: Kill Your Darlings had a much different cast attached before the original funding fell through, with names like Jesse Eisenberg and Chris Evans attached. Do you think it would have been an entirely different film had you went ahead and filmed with them rather than with Dane DeHaan, Daniel Radcliffe, and company?

John Krokidas: It would have been a completely different movie. I have all their auditions on tape, they did amazing jobs, and I know that would have been a great movie, but the crazy thing about having stuck with this movie and not giving up after many years is I had to reinvent this every two years to keep myself interested. I made sure it connected emotionally to who I was then and the music I was listening to then, and the things I cared about. Getting this new cast together helped me reinvent the movie and bring life to it in a new way that I wouldn’t have done four or five years ago. It would have been a great movie with that cast, and I hope to work with those guys.

We Got This Covered: Alright, so you’ve already mentioned how you respect all the “Beat” poets (Ginsberg, Burroughs, Kerouac), but if you had the chance to sit down with one, and only one of them, for a discussion about anything you wanted, who would you pick and why?

John Krokidas: I only get one?! [Laughs] Obviously, because I got so deep in his personal life, researching him and making a movie about his artistic route, it would have to be Allen, and the question is, “Was I even close? Did I get it right?” Along with that, I’d also ask “How do I become as brave as you?” But I would still want to go shooting with Burroughs at some point.