by Angela Bourassa (@angelabourassa1)
You may think you know exactly what you’re in for when you sign up to watch a film called The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot, and that’s exactly what writer/director Robert D. Krzykowski is counting on. A film with unexpected layers starring Sam Elliott (currently up for an Oscar for his turn in A Star is Born), Krzykowski was hoping to create something with pulp roots that spoke to our current state of affairs.
I had the opportunity to speak with Krzykowski about the function of a good title, monsters both real and mythic, and how to take a note.
Angela Bourassa: Starting at the beginning, how did you come up with the idea for this script?
Robert D. Krzykowski: It started as a pulp adventure, and then as I was writing it, I started feeling some of the things that this character was feeling – I was starting to worry about mortality and fear and loss and regret. My wife and I – she was my girlfriend at the time – had just suffered some personal losses. And so this thing that started out as an adventure film eventually became much more of a character study about an older man looking backwards and confronting not just the two monsters in the title but these other emotional monsters that can possess us and ruin our lives.
Angela Bourassa: I’m curious about the title, because it seems like the kind of thing that could – based on the title alone – make people go “Wow, that sounds awesome” or “Wow, that sounds awful.”
Robert D. Krzykowski: (Laughs.)
Angela Bourassa: So I’m curious if that was a benefit as you were working on bringing this story to the screen.
Robert D. Krzykowski: Well, I wanted the title to evoke a mythic story, and I knew I was going to try to write something that was a bit like a parable or like a bedtime story for adults, so I used the title as a very clear way to express to anyone that might want to approach it what it was, and then hopefully they’d be rewarded by the notion that it has another layer to it. And I felt that to put a simpler title on it felt sneaky somehow. Then you’re making your audience back in to all this weirdness. So I feel like the title as it stands creates a very clear line that people can choose whether or not they want to cross.
And also, the title reveals the major plot points. So if you’re a thinking member of the audience and you trust this group of filmmakers that came together to make this, one would have to assume that there’s maybe something a little more going on.
Angela Bourassa: Going off of that, in terms of genre, it’s a little bit action, a little bit history, a bit sci-fi, a bit drama… How would you categorize this film in terms of genre, and do you feel that the blending of different genres was a detriment or an asset to the project?
Robert D. Krzykowski: I guess I would classify it as a pulp character study. It’s also just a drama. I think at the end of the day, though there’s these extraordinary events that happen in it, it’s just a character drama, and I don’t think it’s crazy to call it that, because at its core that’s what it is and I think that’s the feeling that you’re left with as the credits roll.
I think the most surprising thing about this movie is that, as the credits are rolling, you’re not really thinking about how insane it is. You’re thinking about the emotional aspects of the film and you’re thinking about Sam Elliott’s beautiful performance and the fact that he somehow made all of this real. I think there’s something of a miracle to that, and that’s a testament to Sam. I don’t know of a lot of actors that can bring all of the things that Sam brings and also gift this movie with a sense of truth. That to me was the greatest surprise in this whole process, because when you write it, you hope for that, but actually executing it is a very different thing, and that means you have to have a real collaborator and a creative ally, and that was Sam.
Angela Bourassa: How did the film come together in terms of attaching actors and financing, that sort of thing? Was it a difficult road getting this into production, or did it go pretty smoothly?
Robert D. Krzykowski: No, it was not smooth. There were massive walls along the way. People wanted to change it and make it more of an action movie and much more of an exploitation film, and that process meant that it took over twelve years to make this movie.
Angela Bourassa: Oh, wow.
Robert D. Krzykowski: And it was around the time that Lucky McKee and John Sayles came on board as producers that there was this protective network around the film of a few special creative producers who had their own incredible filmmaking careers who started to help us figure out ways over the walls and to navigate the rocky waters with the movie so that it wouldn’t have to be altered and we could all say the thing that we were trying to say with it.
Because the film is making a statement, and we’re not ashamed to say that was the function of the movie, to comment on a decency that’s fading in the world. Here’s a hero that is decent and is good and shares all of the common pains that the rest of us have, and we all felt like that might give people courage in these strange days to have a hero like this – sort of like if Mr. Rogers were a soldier.
Angela Bourassa: Sure. So throughout that process, were there ever conversations about the Hitler/Bigfoot combo? Was that always the pairing you wanted?
Robert D. Krzykowski: The first day that I started writing the script, the first ten pages were about killing Hitler, and it was kind of this James Bond espionage sequence, and then I realized that there’s not much of a place to go from there, so I started thinking, “Well, Hitler is a monster. What if this hero later in his life confronts another monster?” And if Hitler was real, maybe this other monster could be mythic, and maybe there’s mirrors between the hero – Calvin Barr – and the Bigfoot. They’re both incredibly lonely, they’re incredibly unique. I just felt like the hero saw something of himself in this thing that he has to go hunt.
Then Hitler, that man was spreading a disease of ideas, and the Bigfoot is spreading a literal disease. So there were these rhymes in the story that felt like American myth-making, and that felt like an experiment worth trying to write.
Angela Bourassa: Looking back over the whole process, what do you wish you knew when you first started this project?
Robert D. Krzykowski: I don’t think I ever could have guessed that it would take this long, but I never could have guessed that it would actually all work out, either. I guess I would just encourage people to surround yourself with people who you trust, people who are great editors, who you trust their opinions not just on movies but on books, and let them read your work and take their notes and take them seriously.
And if you get notes from people, don’t answer them in a day. Tell them very honestly that you’re going to really digest these notes and think about them over the course of a few days, and then we can talk about it. Take your time with it, and respect the notion that if people are willing to bring you their gifts, that’s going to amplify your work.
It’s just a long process of enjoying the collaboration of others and listening to people and also knowing exactly what you want and what you’re willing to defend in your story. If it’s something you really care about, something you’re passionate about, you’ll find a way to defend it, and you’ll find a group of people who will help you get it made.
But nobody is going to do it for you. There’s a certain amount of being proactive that’s really important. With this movie I realized at a certain point that nobody was going to produce this film, so I became a producer and I went and raised about a quarter of the budget here in Massachusetts, and then Epic Pictures and Patrick Ewald came in and brought in the rest. So again, it’s finding allies and not worrying so much about how much time that takes as long as you’re doing the work.
And in the meantime, find other projects that you can help other people with. Always be helping people, because then at some point they may come help you.
The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot will be in theaters and on VOD and Digital HD on February 8, 2019.
Angela Bourassa is the founder of LA Screenwriter and the co-founder of Write/LA, a screenwriting competition created by writers, for writers. A mom, UCLA grad, and alternating repeat binger of The Office and Parks and Recreation, Angela posts articles through @LA_Screenwriter and unique daily writing prompts through @Write_LA.