Kingdom Come (Paiman Kalayeh, John Lyons Murphy, 2012) – I’ve been recently working on writing a piece about questions you should never ask at a Q&A following a screening at a film festival. One of those questions is “Was it a struggle to get this film made?” I say you shouldn’t ask that not because it isn’t a valid question, but because the answer in filmmaking of any kind or level will always be “Yes” and you the person you asked it to undoubtedly won’t have two hours to fully answer your question in detail as to why. The heartbreaking, yet essential documentary Kingdom Come does an exceptional job of following the struggles of an independent filmmaker trying to make a work of art on his own terms.
Following a string of unhappy experiences as an actor, Daniel Gillies decides that he wants to get back to basics and make an independent film on his own called Broken Kingdom, a multi-arc film set partially in Columbia that is anything but an easy sell to a studio. Gillies and his producer-slash-partner in crime John Murphy (who co-directs this documentary) go around the world taking meetings from people who are either disinterested, want to change the film into a huge star vehicle for someone Daniel could never afford to get without compromising the film, or often turn out to be sociopathic liars or criminals who don’t really want to finance Gillies at all. After several emotional breakdowns, a massive swallowing of pride, and a reduced budget whittled down from $900,000 to only a few hundred thousand, Gillies was able to make his film, but it’s hard not to think that he hasn’t been completely changed forever by the process documented here.
There’s a lot of star power behind this decidedly low-fi, sometimes amateurish looking documentary, but the real power of the film comes from keen insight and the incredibly resolve shown by Gillies and Murphy along the way. It helps that Gillies is an inherently likable person. From the beginning he’s honest with the viewer and his interviewers about how he feels about the state of filmmaking and his desire to remind himself why he loved the business in the first place. We as viewers haven’t seen the script (and in many cases probably haven’t seen the finished film, either), so we have to take it on faith that Gillies and Murphy believe enough in the process to put themselves out there with no net while dealing with dozens of shady types. Things get so bad that Gillies has to borrow money from his in-laws after staunchly refusing (his wife is actress Rachel Leigh Cook, who is nothing if not strong and supportive of her husband’s efforts while worrying about him deeply), and Murphy is so far into debt that he racks up tens of thousands in credit card debt while couch surfing between friends and family. The latter leads to the film’s most pronounced and heartbreaking moment as Gillies threatens to walk away from his interview because he thinks he has ruined the lives of everyone he cares about. That one scene is all anyone needs to know about how stressful and painful the entertainment industry can be.
But to add context and anecdotes there are dozens of big name celebrities who pop up to talk about their experiences in filmmaking as actors, producers, writers, and directors. Kevin Smith, Joe and Anthony Russo, Don Cheadle, Alan Cumming, Ed Burns, Boaz Yakin, Robert Townsend, Thomas Jane, and Ed Burns show up in often on-the-fly conversations that aren’t much to look at, but maintain a friendly, conversational, and deeply approachable tone that even Hollywood outsiders can get behind. But the best stories by far come from David Strathairn (who remembers one failed production that was laughably going to be financed by gold doubloons from some sunken Spanish frigate) and Mark Ruffalo (who recalls meeting with a sleazy payday loan magnate to get his directorial debut financed). Those two incredibly detailed and hilarious stories are almost worth the price of admission on their own, but they also adequately show just how ridiculously hard it is to get any film made.
Watch Kingdom Come and you’ll never have to stand up at a Q&A and ask how hard it was to get a film financed ever again. It’s an excellent ode to the sometimes hard to maintain independent spirit.
Kingdom Come is now available on VOD and digital download. You can buy both the documentary and Daniel’s completed film for $8 on the film’s website.