Making a quality film is expensive. So what’s one to do when he or she doesn’t have the pull within the entertainment industry to get the film made? People in this situation do what first-time writer and director Sean Kirkpatrick did; he financed his film with personal credit cards, hired excellent actors who were hungry for meaty roles, and shot his movie over three weeks in Philadelphia. The final product is Cost of a Soul, starring Will Blagrove and Chris Kerson. While completing a feature-length film in such a short amount of time is a triumph in itself, the movie also won “The Big Break Movie Contest” and earned the filmmakers distribution through the United States in select theaters. Sean Kirkpatrick, Will Blagrove and Chris Kerson shared their thoughts and experiences with Working Author.
Cost of a Soul is about two wounded veterans Tommy Donahue (Chris Kerson) and DD Davis (Will Blagrove) returning home from Iraq to their ghetto neighborhood of North Philadelphia. While experiences in the military and war has changed them, their old lives remain the same, threatening to destroy what little peace they have. For these two soldiers, the war never ends; only the battlefields change.
“[The film] really came from two things,” Sean Kirkpatrick begins, “I’m a huge film noir buff and I wanted to make film noir. I think film noir is a quintessential American genre. And I want to do it right, without the camp.” Before moving to Los Angeles, Kirkpatrick had been working in North Philadelphia, setting up video surveillance in drug neighborhoods where he was required to carry a firearm, because of the danger to his personal safety. His experiences during that time fueled him creatively, pushing him to create Cost of a Soul. “The film is really conceived from I guess an outrage to the amount of violence happening in the city that I love.”
According to Kirkpatrick, Philadelphia had one of the highest murder rates in the nation. “There were more bodies in the streets than days in the year,” he illustrates. He wanted to tell the story of the people who live in these neighborhoods and are affected by the violence. He also wanted to reveal the racial divide between the Irish-Americans and the African-Americans that isn’t clear to anyone who doesn’t live there. Kirkpatrick went on to share how two days before shooting at a particular location someone had been murdered at the very same spot. “It sent an eerie chill down our spines…. It made us realize that while [Blagrove and Kerson] are portraying fictional characters, this stuff is going on. This stuff is happening and I think they felt an obligation to the people in the neighborhoods we were shooting in to portray this as authentically and true as possible.”
As for the leads, both men became attached to Cost of a Soul via different methods. “I was hustling for years in New York and couldn’t get representation, “Will Blagrove confesses. “I get this manager in South Jersey and she’s like, ‘Look, if you’re willing to come to Philly, I got contacts in Philly.’ I said, ‘You let me know what time and I will be there.’” From there it was just a 100-mile drive from Queens to meet Kirkpatrick. “Actors…we just want to work! We don’t care where it comes from or whatever. And when I read DD Davis, I felt like I knew him immediately. I grew up in Jamaica, Queens. God bless my parents are from the island of Jamaica and they raised me really well, but I zoned for certain schools…I just really related to DD. I just knew what that was like. Certain things you pick up.” After an audition, a call back and another 100 miles, Blagrove cemented his role.
“For me it’s a different story, “Chris Kerson says with a voice already velvety with emotion. He was chatting with a fellow actor on Facebook who thought Kerson might be good for a part in Cost of a Soul, though not part he ultimately landed. “I was like, ‘Sure, send me the script.’ But it was coming through Facebook so I wasn’t waiting with bated breath to receive this thing.” Once he read up to one of the more touching moments in the script Kerson was hooked on playing Tommy. “I was looking at Tommy the whole time going who is playing this part? So I called Sean up, because I didn’t know him, I just got this script through Facebook. And I’m like, ‘Who are you? What’s the story?’ I was like this hyper kid.” So he came down to meet Kirkpatrick and even though he wanted to play Tommy, Kerson read for a different part. His unique reading helped convince Kirkpatrick to cast him as the lead.
When working with a micro-budget, there’s very little room for error and a film crew must almost necessarily adopt a shoot-what-you-have mentality. Just as pressure makes diamonds, however, tight constraints can sometimes produce excellent cinema. To that end, Kirkpatrick says, “Every second of every day was a happy accident. That’s what made the film. I think…you know, we didn’t have any money. The film was made pretty much with my credit cards. We didn’t have any money put to do things. Everything just had to get creative. I planned everything out meticulously, but everything would get shuffled on set just in the chaos of making a movie with no money. Just being able to embrace these accidents and take these and say, ‘You know what? I don’t have a choice. How can I make this work? And make this better than it would have been.’” Check out this diamond in the rough when it opens in theaters.
Cost of a Soul opens on Friday, May 20, 2011 in select theaters.