FROM LEFT: Will Blagrove, Franklin Ojeda Smith and Sean Kirkpatrick between takes of Cost of a Soul
Inner-city slums are often compared to war zones, a comparison that might seem extreme until you consider this: US soldiers in Afghanistan are in constant mortal danger, but at least their families don’t become collateral damage.
First-time writer and director Sean Kirkpatrick brings this conundrum to vivid, harrowing life in his breakout film, Cost of a Soul, which traces two veterans who come home from the Iraq war, only to find themselves trapped in the same slums they joined the military to escape. The movie won AMC’s Big Break Contest and opens this week at select AMC theaters. This distribution would be a major achievement for any first-time director; it’s even more impressive in light of Kirkpatrick’s meager $100,000 budget. “I’ve looked into the stats, and it’s the largest theatrical opening for a film of our budget, ever,” Kirkpatrick says.
With his blue eyes and glowing skin, Kirkpatrick could be described as fresh-faced—until he talks about North Philadelphia, where the movie was filmed and which he knows first-hand from his former job installing surveillance cameras. “It was mandatory that I get a license to carry a weapon in those neighborhoods,” he says. “If you’re putting a surveillance camera near a drug dealer’s place of business, they’re not too happy with you.”
His street smarts paid off when he was filming Cost of a Soul on location in one of the murder capitals of the country. “We didn’t have money for police escorts, so we built community relations. We had a group of people who were well respected in the community who supported us and essentially protected us.” Kirkpatrick is justifiably proud that he earned the trust of locals. “Once people heard what the story was about and saw the integrity of the production, they embraced us.”
The film itself is as impressive as the story behind it. The high-contrast, sepia-toned cinematography and the moody jazz score create a jittery, tragic atmosphere, and the main characters are portrayed with honesty and grace by Chris Kerson and Will Blagrove. Most of all, Cost of a Soul establishes Kirkpatrick as a rising talent to watch.
Cost of a Soul opens May 20 at AMC’s Cherry Hill 24, Hamilton 24 and Franklin Mills 14 theaters