There were two necessities at Nathan Benderson Park on Wednesday night: bug spray and headlamps. But the Ringling College students at the park weren’t hiking or jogging in the dark. They were starting work on Kevin Smith’s latest project, Killroy Was Here.
Smith, the actor/filmmaker known for Clerks and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, is collaborating with Ringling College and Semkhor Productions on his new project. Every year, the school works to bring to Sarasota established filmmakers to guide students (past filmmakers include Tim Sutton (Memphis), Dylan McDermott and Justin Long). Ringling students get real experience in the field and end up with an IMDB credit on their resumes.
Smith wants to impart one major lesson to the students on set, and he does so by example. “Be slobberingly grateful to every one of these people who help you do this thing that’s in your head and heart," he says. "That to me is job No. 1. Everything else, [these students] can handle themselves. They’ve got the vision. That’s what got them here.”
Ringling students help with every aspect of the film, from working the cameras to applying makeup. Smith goes out of his way to interact with the students. He encourages them to interject if they think they can improve the film, and describes the partnership as mutually beneficial because of the energy he picks up working with eager young people.
“There’s a reason old people like being around the young,” Smith says. “We’re energy vampires, and these kids [have] boundless energy. But they’re also full of new ideas. It’s like a mini film school for me as well.”
The movie is part of Smith’s new horror anthology. Filming wraps up this weekend, and the entire project has been shot in the Gulf Coast region. The natural fauna at Benderson Park creates a perfect environment for a late-night horror setting.
“There’s a lot of trees and some great Spanish moss that really work well for the horror elements,” says Nick Morgulis, a cinematographer and 2012 Ringling College graduate.
Despite the all-night filming and long hours, students say working with Smith is worth the sacrifice as well as the price of admission. Morgulis says a typical night shoot will last until 5 or 6 a.m. Students try to catch up on sleep during the day, but Morgulis says he already has emails waking him up at 9 a.m.
Smith and the crew remain tight-lipped regarding the plot of Killroy Was Here. They will say that it centers on a monster, which will be the main character, and that the victim’s moral character will make you question if you are supposed to feel bad for their suffering. Smith and co-writer Andy McElfresh initially planned it as a Krampus movie; they reworked the script for Sarasota when they partnered with Ringling College, finally bringing our city a monster other than alligators.