The "Clerks" director spent this week filming on Longboat Key and at Nathan Benderson Park
SARASOTA - Kevin Smith’s newest movie “Killroy Was Here,” which filmed in Sarasota with the participation of Ringling College of Art & Design students, came from the demise of another planned project of his.
The “Clerks” and "Chasing Amy" director and co-writer/producer Andy McElfresh had discussed making a movie about the folklore figure Krampus on their podcast "Edumacation." When the 2015 film “Krampus” beat them to it, they reworked their script as a take on “Kilroy was here,” the World War II-era graffiti.
In an interview conducted Friday afternoon at the Ritz-Carlton's Jack Dusty restaurant in between late-night film shoots, Smith said the film is a horror anthology film in the style of the 1982 Stephen King and George Romero E.C. comics adaptation “Creepshow.”
“That was kind of our model, but it borrows from a lot of ‘80s horror movies,” Smith said, sporting his trademark backwards baseball cap and hockey jersey. “Killroy, our guy, looks like a mix between Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees.”
Smith had also heard about Ringling College through Justin Long, the star of Smith’s “Tusk” who had worked with Ringling. Smith visited Ringling College in April to speak with students.
After initially discussing doing a web series together, Smith got the idea of changing the setting of “Killroy Was Here” to Sarasota and working with them on that.
“Sarasota’s like virgin country,” Smith said. “It’s not like they’ve done it to death in movies and s--- where people are like, ‘Ugh, Sarasota, we know that.’ It was all upside, it all felt like a perfect blend and marriage.”
The movie has been filming its first segment in Sarasota this week, starting Monday on Ringling’s soundstages as well as locations including Longboat Key and Nathan Benderson Park. It wraps up this weekend with shooting in Pinellas County.
Smith plans to return in November or December to continue filming the other three sequences. He said he’s loved filming in Florida besides the locations feel naturally art-directed, like when he was filming a scene on a road in Benderson Park.
“The entire both sides of the road, no matter where you turned a camera, it was gorgeous,” Smith said. “You’ve got banyan trees, you’ve got that s--- hanging, you’ve got palms everywhere. It just looks fantastic.”
The crew features 26 Ringling College students and graduates as well as professionals. Make-up effects artist Robert Kurtzman, who worked on “Tusk” and other Smith films, will create the design for Killroy that pays homage to the bulbous-nosed man of the “Killroy was here” graffiti.
“It looks chilling, but it’s also goofy at the same time,” Smith said. “It reminds me of “Tusk” in that way, where you’re like, ‘I don’t know how to feel.’”
But a big appeal of making the movie for him has been working with Ringling College students. It gives the students experience on a professional film set, particularly with a director whose debut film “Clerks,” made for less than $25,000, is a famous indie success story.
“These kids, some of them, you don’t occur as a person to them so much as a mythology,” Smith said. “You’re that guy that made that sh---y-looking movie who has a career. If it happened it to you, it could happen to me."
And then Smith joked, "Or, ‘Oh my God, you’re Kevin James.’”
In turn, Smith said what the students give him is an excitement that brings him back to the beginning of a career that has now lasted more than two decades.
“You get their energy, their vitality,” Smith said. “It kinds of reminds you of like, yeah, that’s how I was when I started the journey and that’s how I should feel today even this deep into the journey because it’s a very rarefied club you’re in that you get to make pretend for a living.”