ND/NF: Capturing the sights and sounds of 1980s New York with Killer
The directors in New Directors/New Films hail from the Netherlands, Peru…and sometimes the cubicle right next door. That’s right, this year the Film Society’s own Adam Leon provides a short film called Killer (co-directed by Jack Pettibone Riccobono). It’s a documentary style blast from the 1980’s past, stocked with an incredible cast of nonprofessional but very talented young performers. Without spoiling any of the surprises of the tightly structured film, the filmlinc blog approached the filmmakers for some insight into their process.
JACK PETTIBONE RICCOBONO: [Adam Leon and I] met in 1992 at Hunter High School, where this game called Killer has been a tradition for decades. Every year, Hunter kids form teams and hunt each other through the city non-stop, 24 hours a day for 2 weeks straight. For us, the experience of playing Killer was a unique part of being a teenager in NYC – riding the subways in the middle of the night, staking out opponents in random neighborhoods for hours on end, breaking into houses and getting chased through the streets. It was stupid and reckless and cool.
The actors are all so naturalistic that I at times can’t believe I’m not watching a documentary. Can you talk a little about how you worked with your performers?
ADAM LEON: We always thought non-professionals would be right for this project, and that we would build the characters around the most charismatic and interesting kids we could find. Our casting director, Eleonore Hendricks, has done a lot of street casting and has an excellent eye. She went out to schools and skate parks and sneaker shows and other teenage hangouts and rounded up more than a 100 kids for us to audition.
JPR: We were going for a doc feel so we knew the performances had to be really authentic and spontaneous. And since they didn’t have any acting experience, we decided not to give them our shooting script or specific lines to memorize. Instead, our approach was to describe different scenes and let them improv those scenarios.
Your movie recreates the world of 1989 New York so convincingly, that you must have really immersed yourself in the period. Can you talk a little about the cultural cues that inspired you?
AL: Although we were only 8 years old in 1989, that’s a pretty impressionable age and we both had strong memories of the city back then. Around 1989, you have Tawana Brawly and the Central Park Jogger case and Bernard Goetz, Howard Beach, Crown Heights. The first Dinkins vs Giuliani mayoral race. And of course Bensonhurst. So it was an intense era. But we also wanted to get a feel for the everyday life in that period. We watched old Letterman shows, listened to all sorts of music from that time, everything from Bobby Brown and Paula Abdul to Sonic Youth and Jane’s Addiction. And then Public Enemy, Eric B. and Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, stuff our characters would rock. In terms of movies, we looked at King of New York, Do The Right Thing, Style Wars. Then we assembled a 1989 bible for the cast and crew and handed out a couple of mix cds. I remember one morning I put on the ’89 pop mix in the van and I almost had a crew mutiny. Some of that stuff is brutal…