Over the Killing Moon

Richard Kelly’s Totally ’80s

By his own admission, Kelly hasn't had much cause for rebellion so far. He wrote the script for Donnie Darko upon graduation in 1997, and not long after it "got passed up the food chain at CAA. They asked if I wanted to sign. I held out my finger and said, 'I'll sign in blood right now.' " He still had a few hoops to jump through. "People dismissed the script as an unproducible writing sample, and they were very skeptical about me directing anyway." The financing fell into place only after Rushmore's Jason Schwartzman signed on for the lead; Drew Barrymore soon accepted a supporting role and executive-producer duties. (Schwartzman later dropped out due to a scheduling conflict, and was replaced by Jake Gyllenhaal.)

Donnie Darko was shot in 28 days (a period exactly matching the film's doomsday countdown) and for $4.5 million, a modest sum given the cast and special effects. "I'm officially out of favors," says Kelly. "I owe people hard labor. It was on the Internet somewhere that it cost $10 million and I got really pissed. If it had, I would've lost like five pounds, and not 15." Pre-festival word of mouth ensured a large distributor presence at Donnie Darko's Sundance premiere (on the eve of the Bush II inauguration); almost all were scared off by the strange combination of gloom and glitz. (It was eventually bought by Newmarket, who already have the year's biggest indie hit with Memento.) "If you don't have a deal before the festival's over, the press can be tough," Kelly says. "You find yourself charted on some stupid buzz-o-meter, like in 'All the hype going in!' and then because it didn't sell right away, 'Things got darko, really darko.' It was so lame."

Kelly says he's a "pretty obsessive writer—I kinda have my next four or five movies already lined up." Science-fiction themes will probably recur, and comedy is likely to be a focus: "I don't always want to be like the dark guy." He concedes that he has yet to process the whirlwind of the last four years. "You have no career and you start writing a script that pushes every envelope you can think of pushing. Then you somehow get Drew Barrymore to be in the film, and you get to direct it . . . it's crazy."

Kelly (at left): “I have very fond memories but i recognize how screwed up things were.”
photo: Dale Robinette
Kelly (at left): “I have very fond memories but i recognize how screwed up things were.”

Click here to read J. Hoberman's review of Donnie Darko.

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