How "Kill Your Darlings" Became A Sundance Success

Filmmaker John Krokidas reveals the film's nine-year trek to become an overnight sensation

By Scott Huver
|  Friday, Jan 25, 2013  |  Updated 7:12 PM EDT
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Daneil Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan and Jack Huston in "Kill Your Darlings"

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Each year the Sundance Film Festival offers up its annual Cinderella story, in which the famed indie showcase shines a spotlight on a project from an underdog filmmaker that wows audiences and attracts the overnight attention of Hollywood.

This year, that particular glass slipper fit the foot of first-time feature director John Krokidas. His debut entry “Kill Your Darlings” – the true tale of a 1944 murder that first united young artists Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), Jack Kerouac (Danny Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster) and would spark the fire of the Beat Generation – built some of the biggest buzz of the festival, leading Sony Pictures Classics to quickly snatch up the film’s distribution rights within three days of its world premiere (speculation runs high it’ll be a fall 2013 release, due to its awards-friendly strengths).

Tell me about the genesis of this project for you, where it all began and walk me through up until this big week.

When I was a teenager, I fell in love with the Beats. I grew up somewhat closeted in a suburban town in Connecticut where there wasn't a lot of young, counter-culture artists wanting to start a revolution…I was still in the closet back then, and Allen Ginsberg just wrote about his sexuality so openly and threw himself out there. He was a big hero of mine and still is just for being able, in a time when nobody else was doing it, to be so brave about who he was.

Cut to nine years ago: my college roommate tells me this story about the murder of David Kammerer. At first he wanted to write a tone poem or play about it. I looked at him and gave him my best Jedi mind trick and said, ‘No. You're going to write this as a screenplay, and I'm going to tell you how. Let's make a movie out of this.’

Once you really dug into the details of the real story, how quickly do you see the film in your head?

We realized that Allen Ginsberg has the greatest arc, showing the world just one part of his personality while writing seriously in his journals about how he wanted to be so much more. He wanted to do something important with his life. Lucien Carr looks him right in the eye and goes, ‘I'm going to start a cultural revolution of writing, and I can look into your soul and see that you're an artist. And by the end of this movie, he's a poet, he's a rebel. It's a story of a birth of an artist.

I really wanted to portray that moment when you leave home for the first time and you meet someone who's more worldly than you, more popular, more confident, knows those cool bands, those books you never heard of, or some kind of world where you didn't even know existed and then convinces you that there is so much more to you still left to explore and knocks down the wall of possibilities of who you thought you were going to be as a person.

How tricky was it finally assemble the amazing cast led by Daniel Radcliffe?

I had a feeling Daniel Radcliffe might be able to relate to [Ginsberg] They say that those first meetings with an actor are like first dates: you kind of know instantly. Our one-hour meeting went into six hours and we realized that we could really trust each other.

He still had two more movies left to shoot before he was available – ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” 1 and 2 – so we couldn't get the movie going for two years if I wanted to do it with him. [After the film fell through with another actor two years later] I wrote him an email and I said, ‘Dan, don’t think I’m stalking you, but remember this project? I don't know what your plans are for your future, but I would so love you to now be a part of this movie.’ And the next morning I got an email from him that said, ‘Abso‑f***ing‑lutely.’

And this week at Sundance everything that you could have dreamed would happen, happens.

I remember being with Daniel as the first review came in, and it said something akin to ‘Daniel Radcliffe doesn't have to worry anymore about the world thinking that he can only play one character. In “Kill your Darlings” he has proven to be an actor of such talent and grace, we are sure that he has a long career to come.’ And then it said, ‘And rarely have we seen a movie with such a strong voice and vision behind it. This is a beginning of a new era, a new vision for John Krokidas.’ And we just looked at each other and we grabbed each other so tight, to know that all of this work that we had put into this for so many years had finally paid off. And that is the moment I'll never forget.

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