art feature
 May 20, 2011

 

Winning with Soul: An Interview with director Sean Kirkpatrick
by Dan Lybarger

Cost of a Soul director Sean Kirkpatrick (photo by Dan Lybarger) 

Sean Kirkpatrick’s debut film Cost of a Soul is a heavy, dark drama about how crime and drugs make life difficult for two veterans (Chris Kerson, Will Blagrove) returning to north Philadelphia from Iraq. For the 28-year-old rookie director, however, fortune appears to smiling.

The micro-budgeted film opens May 20 on 50 AMC Theatre screens around the United States because Cost of a Soul won Rogue/Relativity Media’s Big Break Movie Contest. The judges for the Contest included Relativity Media president CEO Ryan Kavanaugh, Nikkole Denson-Randolph (Vice President of Specialty and Alternative Content for AMC Theatres) and actress Kate Bosworth (Blue Crush).

Before winning the contest, Kirkpatrick had maxed out credit cards but had been unable to find a distributor. Now thanks to Relativity and the Kansas City-based AMC, his situation has changed drastically. The film played on April 7 at KC FilmFest as a benefit for the children’s charity Variety, and Kirkpatrick was in town to support his work.

“Independent films don’t get this opportunity, ever. As far as I can tell statistically, this is the largest theatrical opening for a film with an ultra low budget, ever. I can’t find a single other film that had a larger opening, with an ultra-low budget, so it’s pretty amazing place to be,” he said.

Home Court Advantage

While he’s lived in Los Angeles for the four years, Kirkpatrick thinks part of his success comes from that fact that his film was made in his old hometown of Philadelphia. He grew up six miles to the northwest of the city in Norristown and has had several jobs in the city itself.

“The neighborhood almost acts as a character. In that neighborhood, there’s a huge divide between the Irish communities and the African-American communities,” he says. “I worked for a junk removal service. I was a glorified garbage man in those neighborhoods, and I also used to set up surveillance systems in those neighborhoods.

“I used to set up a lot of them. They were drug neighborhoods, extremely, sketchy neighborhoods, especially when you’re putting in a camera where one of the drug dealers makes their livelihood. You’re basically stealing money out of their pocket. They’re not happy with it. It was actually mandatory that I get a license to carry a concealed weapon. I had to be out of there by a certain of the day. It was an interesting experience, and a lot of that experience is where I got the cultural textures of the movie and why it rings with such realism.”

If Kirkpatrick’s own experiences weren’t enough, he also received inspiration from his father. “My father was a police officer in neighborhoods similar to that. He worked a lot with community relations, trying to push that stuff out of those communities.”

At the same time, Kirkpatrick has earned praise because he was careful to respect the residents of these rough environments.

“When people from North Philly see the movie, they say, you got it. It’s good that I did it some justice. There are so many good people living in these neighborhoods. It portrays the struggle of good people who are living in these violence and crime-ridden neighborhoods. I think Philadelphia is one of the most cinematic landscapes in the country. There’s so much history there. There’s so much beauty, and there’s also so much turmoil going on in that city in particular. It’s just an amazing place to film.”

In addition, Kirkpatrick says that although the film features two returning military veterans, the war is simply a starting point for his story. “It’s not an Iraq War film by any means. It’s not a political film. It’s a film about people struggling in their own neighborhoods,” he says.

“They just happen to be wounded veterans who come back from Iraq, and they find themselves trapped in the war zone of their own neighborhood, which is the war zone they tried to escape in the first place. That’s why they joined the military.”

Considering the fact that he’s going up against Jack Sparrow at the box office, Kirkpatrick says that AMC and Relativity Media may not be risking that much by backing something other than escapist fare. “If people want to see a comedy, they’ll see a comedy. If they want to see a crime drama with heart and soul, they’re going to go see Cost of a Soul,” he says

Despite his modest budget and his initial frustrations, Kirkpatrick never suspected his first movie wouldn’t make it to the screen.

“I always thought the film was going to be a theatrical film,” says the director. “I never had a doubt in my mind that it should be theatrical. Everywhere it’s been shown, the majority of the audience has said this should be in theaters. I want to pay to go to see this. There’s a lot of confusion in distribution right now. A lot of people don’t know what sells per se or what they want to get out there. We held off on signing distribution deals and fortunately, my dream came true and my movie got picked up by one of the greatest distributors in the world.”

Dan Lybarger can be contacted at Lybarger@efilmcritic.com.