INTERVIEW: Robert D. Krzykowski on ‘The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot’

The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot will be playing at Frightfest London 2018.

The screening will take place on Sunday 26 August at 1:00pm on the Arrow Video Screen and at 1.30pm on the Horror Channel Screen. Both screens can be found at Leicester Square Cineworld.

Tickets are available here!

Films from a variety of genres are getting their UK debut at this year’s London FrightFest Film Festival. What they all have in common, however, is that they are labours of love, commissioned by inspiring and driven teams committed to an extraordinary range of values. Perhaps this ethos is best encapsulated by Robert D. Krzykowski’s first feature length film, The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot.

Don’t let this title throw you; this isn’t a campy or silly B-Movie. What Krzykowski has delivered is a poignant, pensive and meditative story with some thought provoking messages about legends, expectations and the melancholy of old age. Furthermore, it features big-screen legend Sam Elliott; suffice to say, this is a movie to take seriously.

Despite his busy schedule, Robert recently gave us a remarkably candid interview and explained how this wondrous project, 12 years in the making, came about.

Hi Robert. This is your feature debut; how does it feel to have got this far?

Robert: It’s pretty surreal. Like a lot of writing and creative work, you work for so long in a vacuum, and it can get a little lonely in there. Then, one-by-one, a group of your heroes come together to help see you through. John Sayles, Lucky McKee, Douglas Trumbull, Richard Yuricich; I’ve looked up to these guys for years. I feel a lot of gratitude.

I’d gotten really used to the walls and setbacks; then there was a magic moment a couple years ago where those roadblocks started to clear and new pathways opened. It seemed like there was maybe a way forward, and that’s still very surprising to me. We all worked really hard, and surely that’s the key, but sitting next to Sam Elliott in a darkened theatre while light projects this dreamlike thing before a crowded audience, that’s surreal. Especially when it so closely resembles the thing you imagined. I know that’s rare; I don’t take any of it lightly. It means a lot.

Let’s talk about the title and premise; how did it all come about?

Robert: The title and the concept went hand-in-hand. I was writing one night, and the title and first ten pages came to me in a flash, so I typed them up against some John Williams music I was listening to. A good friend read those early pages and felt there was something kind of insane and exciting there. It was a big, kinetic opening… like a lost James Bond!

The title evoked the notion of this fantastic, unmade exploitation film, and all these wild images and ideas come to mind. But I remember thinking, “I’m gonna take this story seriously, and write from an honest place, and see what emerges”. That seemed a lot more exciting to me, because there were so many challenges inherent in that. I wanted to tackle these extraordinary ideas but ground them in something resembling reality.

For me, that was the inkling. So, the title stuck. I kept thinking about those words, they seemed to read like a personal charge or a challenge. I wanted to write something mythic, something iconic. Soon, I started thinking about it as a character study. A character study first, and a pulp adventure story second; a distant second, as it turns out!

It’s very clear to me that you’ve got a genuine love for cinema. Where exactly did you draw your inspiration from?

Robert: I thought a lot about John Steinbeck, Norman Rockwell, Hal Ashby, Robert Altman, John Gardner’s ‘Grendel’ and Berni Wrightson’s Frankenstein. Lucas and Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation came to mind more than once, being my two all-time favourite movies!

Not long into the writing process, my wife and I experienced a couple deep losses, and those hit us pretty hard. My brother was in a car accident at this time, and it easily could have killed him. I was writing to escape, and to work things out, and to focus on something. I started writing about loss. Instead of a heroic young man looking forward with courage and hope, I began writing about an old man looking back with fear and longing. But I wanted to find hope here, though it would be subtle and small. I spread the timelines much further apart, and focused on the elder Barr. I wanted to write about a legendary hero who shares our own simple frailties, and I thought that might give people some courage.

That’s an incredibly endearing sentiment.

Robert: As much as Hitler and Bigfoot are monsters in this movie, so too is pain. That pain became the hidden antagonist of the story, the ultimate heart of the thing, and the rest emerged pretty much as it unfolds on screen. They say some stories write themselves; this one came from a place I couldn’t replicate again if I tried. It’s its own thing and came with its own pain; it’s very personal and it was born from a lot of internal conflict that needed to get put somewhere. So here it is.

It sounds like the whole process was emotionally charged?

Robert: My producing partners Lucky McKee and John Sayles were very protective about the emotional core of this thing. It’s the reason we all wished to make this together, and it’s the reason we all fought so hard not to alter it to a more commercial thing – even though that would have made the path a lot easier long ago. This is the movie we sought to make. I was supported by Patrick Ewald at Epic Pictures who let it be this very specific thing, and who championed it against all odds. That’s a rare and special thing, I think.

Do you think audiences will be surprised when they see this movie, and that they might be expecting something different because of the unique title?

Robert: I always felt that the title kind of gives everything away, so that signals to the thinking audience that it must be about something more. I trust the intuition and intelligence of the audience to track a story organically, and to allow that story to emerge and evolve in its own surprising ways. Expectation can remove the joy of discovery. A simpler title felt just as tricky to me, deceptive somehow, because now the audience is backing into the story’s strangest elements rather than confronting them head-on from the first frame. The title, as it stands, lets the audience be sovereign in their decision to embark or not. I think the audience gets everything that title promises, and quite a bit more.

I wanted there to be the feeling of discovery with this movie, and that takes trust. I have to trust the audience to release or realign their expectations as the movie unfolds and reveals itself. In turn, they have to trust the storytelling and the filmmaking to lead them to a worthwhile place. So there’s a mutual trust. It’s fascinating to observe how those expectations track and transform as the movie progresses with an audience. If there’s joy or catharsis in that discovery, I’m very pleased!

That’s an interesting take! I guess the pessimist in me wonders how you respond to the people and critics whose expectations are bit less flexible?

Robert: There’s a sector of the audience that will never forgive me for not delivering the pure exploitation film they wanted. They’ll find this movie too much of a slow burn, too romantic, or too melancholy. There’s bursts of action and intrigue, but they’re not the focal point. We had a different motivation driving us here. There’s a lot of other movies those people can turn to that deliver exploitation brilliantly. There’s no discovery there; it’s well-trodden ground.

Some of my favourite movies took a couple viewings to reveal themselves, and this one has multiple layers to assess and explore on a first viewing, so I don’t begrudge anyone their perspective, even if they never budge. That’s okay. I respect it.

I love film, and I love film criticism. Critics spark the big conversation because they have the platform, and many of them have earned that platform by celebrating and highlighting films that might have gone unnoticed in a cluttered field. Studying journalism, I spent two years at UMass reading every single review Roger Ebert ever wrote. Every one. He was a hero of mine; I came to love and admire him through his love of movies, and through his love of writing. I didn’t always agree with him, but I admired every word. He struck me as a good man; passionate and true to himself.

I studied Pauline Kael too. She might have hated someone’s movie, but she loved to write about it. I respect the discussion. I believe that once the picture is finished, it belongs to everyone else. I’m a bystander now. It makes me happy that people are discovering this film with a lot of joy and openness, and if it doesn’t work for someone for this reason or that, that’s okay too. It’s all good.

Do you think the movie itself addresses the notion of ‘expectation’?

Robert: At one point, Barr sternly addresses his legend, almost looking right at us, and he says: “it’s nothing like the comic book you want it to be.” That was an effort to talk to that sector of the audience that might feel like they weren’t getting the bloody, bonkers film they wanted. I needed to remind them that it’s okay to experience something that doesn’t match your expectations, that we’re there with them aware of the expectation, and they’re still in good hands.

Ron Livingston and Sam Elliott have a face-to-face about legends, myths, and hero-worship at the centre of the film. It’s all there, all this talk about expectation and living up to a fabled projection. Everything we wanted to say is there if you’re willing to accept much of this as parable.

That said, movies are universal and engaging because everyone gets to have an opinion. This movie asks the audience to stay alert and interactive; it doesn’t force them into a passive role. It asks them to engage and participate and has several loose ends that are theirs to fill in. It’s meant to allow for discussion as they leave the theatre or as the credits roll amidst friends. That’s the kind of movie I enjoy and those are the movies that stick with me.

I hope this film rewards that focus and patience in a bunch of unexpected ways, and I hope the audience finds something meaningful and worthwhile along the way. Early on, John Sayles told me that science fiction and fantasy have always been used as vessels for big ideas – the bigger notions of who we are, and where we’re going. This movie was constructed very much in that spirit. It was made with a lot of respect to its audience. I hope it continues to find them well.

You’ve mentioned Elliott a couple of times now; what was it like working with him?

Robert: Above all, Sam reminds me of the legendary cowboys, samurai, or Steinbeck salt-of-the-earth characters that informed my creation of Calvin Barr as a legendary American hero. Sam told me there was something important here, something about decency, that he still aspires to at seventy-four. Working with Sam, I can truly say that he exemplifies decency. Sam does right by people: he cares, he’s stoic and thoughtful and when he speaks, people listen. He’s often incredibly funny, and he can be very intense and direct too. He has a near-method approach to his acting and that rubs off quickly on the crew, because he makes the experience all the more immersive and real. I don’t know if I’ve ever met another person with a more precise attention to detail. He’s listening. He’s always listening. It keeps you on your toes.

He told me early on that he was looking for the reality in this thing, and I think he helped us all find it every day. I was equally interested in the magical realism at play in this story, and we each had to find a balance in exploring these elements in careful measure so it was honest to each of us.

Sam demanded the best from a young crew of filmmakers, and I think people were growing exponentially from that every day. I know I was. I learned so much from talking with Sam, and from trusting him to his convictions. He would listen to me openly, and if I passionately believed something might work, he would trust me to that. In truth, he was fearless. He tried daring things every day, emotionally and physically, and never held back. He took his licks too. He dangled from cliffs and ledges, and he got pummeled by Bigfoot. He made the creature feel real. He did what he set out to do, I think. He found the reality.

Were you initially concerned about bringing Sam on board with an independent crew and limited resources?

Robert: I believe Sam trusted I wouldn’t make a single move to embarrass him or contradict his vision for this picture as much as my own. We discussed everything, and we stuck to the script. There were no surprises. It was all carefully planned and executed by myself, our executive producer Louise Lovegrove, and our first AD Elaine Gibson. They kept us marching forward on a really tight budget and a really tight schedule. A lot of what they did here could be considered small miracles – this really shouldn’t have been possible in the time and budget we had.

We never lost a day and we never lost a scene. I never had to compromise in any meaningful way. If there was a rare compromise, it felt more like a calculated adaptation. I think Sam was impressed and inspired by the teamwork here. Filmmaking logistics never got in the way of what he came out to do. He could just work. As a team, we all worked really well together and there were no weak links. From top to bottom, this crew was exemplary.

Building on this, what was it like producing whilst simultaneously directing Sam?

Robert: I was a producer on this film, so my producing duties could pop up anytime, anywhere. Sam taught me a lot about how to communicate with an actor, and when to push all the static on the set to the margins, and just focus on the direction, the communication, and the performances. I had great people I could lean on. I tried to pay that trust back to him every day. Working with Sam will have been a highlight of my days.

We’re here talking because he took a risk on this picture. He didn’t need to do this at this stage. He didn’t have to trust me. He didn’t have to trust this crew. His belief in all this made the endeavour morph into a very real responsibility for me; it taught me a lot about film, and myself, and I’ll never really be able to repay him. He’s one of my favorite people. That I was able to work hand-in-hand with him for my first film—I’m incredibly fortunate. It will be hard to top some of the memories I have on this film. I’m not alone there. It was a special thing to be a part of. I’m forever grateful.

They say you should never meet you heroes, but it sounds like Sam could be an exception! What’s he like to his fans?

Robert: Sam loves a good Hawaiian pizza. He ordered twenty-five of them for the entire crew one summer night in Turners Falls, Massachusetts. The local Pizza House liked us, no doubt. He’d do this pizza party thing pretty regularly in our weeks together. I knew it had been a good night anytime Sam would sidle up to me near the end of the shoot, raise an eyebrow and say “feels like a pizza night, doesn’t it?

Sam and I still talk regularly. He checks in on me—to see how I’m holding up in this process. He knows this is all strange to me; he’s always looking out. We’re both private individuals. He cares. I’ve been with him when countless fans have stopped him at dinner or on the streets. He makes people feel special, because they are and he knows that.

Sam and I recently attended the first major festival premieres, and the audiences just adore him. It’s a thing to see. He brings a lot of joy to a lot of people. I think it’s because what you see is what you get. Whatever you might expect of Sam as this legendary figure, you meet him, and he’s somehow even cooler. People think it’s the moustache or the voice, but it’s the heart. He has a singular heart. Don’t get me wrong, the moustache and the voice are pretty awesome too! But it’s the heart.

The promo poster was beautifully designed; did you have a clear idea about how you wanted this to look?

Robert: The poster was created by a kind and talented artist named Johnny Tabor. Our friends at Epic Pictures spoke really highly of him and made the introduction shortly after post-production ended. At first, Johnny and I would text back and forth and share ideas and inspirations from our favourite posters over the last four decades or so. This went on for weeks while he tinkered with various sketchy ideas and layouts. We both talked a lot about the legendary poster work of Robert McGinnis and Drew Struzan. We wanted something classic, a little pulpy, a little stoic, and a little fun. Like the movie, it’s a tonal tightrope. It had to feel iconic.

As a profession, I’ve drawn comics for years, and I’d done key conceptual designs for this picture, and hundreds of storyboards, so Johnny and I could visualize together on the fly. He’d seen all that work, and he’d studied the film a couple times, so he just had a real sense of what this poster could convey in a more cerebral, emotional sense. To maintain the mystery surrounding the movie, and to let the first audiences experience it totally anew, we would not be releasing a teaser trailer for the film, so the poster would be our only herald, and it really mattered that we got it right.

Having the big profile image of Sam smiling off into the distance was a magic touch. It lets you feel there’s some hope here, some whimsy, perhaps. Johnny was one of the best collaborators I’d met in this process. And he’s a great filmmaker too, so we were able to speak on lots of levels while we worked. He put a lot of love into that poster. Patrick Ewald at Epic gave us a lot of freedom to define the movie through this poster, and it’s pretty rare that the director gets to be a part of that, and I’m grateful Johnny was so game to go the extra mile here. I think it was worth it. It made a lot of people really happy when it emerged online. It got a lot of people talking. I’m immensely proud of his work there. I’m really glad you liked it too.

Going back to the title; in the early days, did you get any particularly memorable reactions when you told people the name of the movie?

Robert: People would laugh at me. Or they’d think it was two titles for two different movies. Or they’d give me a really funny look. Or they’d quietly pity me for spending so much time on it. Like I said before, a lot of people imagined it would be a wild exploitation movie. They pictured something baffling and bonkers. I’d have to carefully realign their expectations, and if they read the script, and if they responded favourably, they understood why that title needed to stay. It grabbed people’s attention. It subverted expectations. It told you everything you needed to know, without revealing the secret heart of the thing.

Usually, even if they thought it sounded insane, that title got people to take a look at the project. How could you not want to see twenty or so colourful conceptual designs that explained the story like a wordless children’s book? If they liked the images, maybe they’d read the short, ninety-three page screenplay. For the people who understood what we were trying to do, and sought to defend it, to be a part of it, and to get it made, that wild title became a quest. Can we get this made? How will we do it? Who will see it? Can it work?

My long-time lawyer, Michael Donaldson, who provided critical support at every juncture of this twelve-year road once told me “you can never change that title. I represent you because of that title. That title will get that movie made. That title will get people to see it.” I didn’t change the title,though a lot of people tried. Not one person ever suggested an alternate title, by the way. Not one. I literally can’t think of a single alternate that was ever pitched. People kept leaving it up to me. I had no empirical evidence the title wasn’t wrong, but I couldn’t do better. Still, I believe the title was a big reason why it ultimately got made, because it got people to look closer. It’s a preposterous thing to behold. You have to know more. Are these filmmakers serious here? Are they out of their minds? What is this? So now people are talking. It’s out there. There’s a discussion; an exchange of ideas.

Michael was right, he was so right. It was an incredible thing to see that title sprawling from one end of a theatre marquee right clear to the other side at a recent screening. I’d never conceptualized seeing that in person; it’s so bizarre.

Finally, in cryptozoology, bigfoot stories are amongst the most enduring; why do you think we’re still so captivated by the myths and legends?

Robert: There’s something mystical about these lesser myths and legends. I think many of us want to believe in forces greater than ourselves. Some believe wholeheartedly, others are hopeful sceptics. Some are merely curious. It can give us hope to know we’re not so alone. That something strange and mysterious could survive out there in the wilds, and somehow be even more frightened and alone than we are; it makes your imagination run wild. There’s no better feeling than daydreaming about the mysterious. It’s a wonderful, childlike headspace. It lets us ask questions and look beyond the surface elements of our daily grind – work, bills, obligations – to something deeper, more elemental.

As a people, we love mysteries, puzzles, and loose ends. Humans are problem-solvers! Myths and legends don’t have simple solutions. Their origins are cloudy. There’s the joy of an enigma, of not knowing. Then there’s the thrill of scaring ourselves, and letting ourselves be frightened. Our brains must find this very satisfying because we’ve come back to these stories for generations. Perhaps they help us grow, because they have elements of a parable, and we divine our own answers.

This movie is about monsters. One of them is good. One of them is evil. One is a beast. One is a man. Thus, if one is a ma,, we can all be monsters. But we have a choice. Loss can be a monster. An idea can be a monster. But all through time, there’s a hero at the centre of these stories, and they’re tasked to defeat the monsters.

Often, the hero carries a heavy burden. Perhaps there’s personal loss or deep sacrifices exchanged in the service of others. These heroes are the dividing line between us and the monsters, and I think that fascinates us because it speaks to our better selves to look up to a hero, and to fear the monsters. More so, there might be a quiet belief that through hatred and fear, we too can become the monster. I think myths and legends let us return to a childlike place where we ask big questions and worry a little less about having every answer.

We’d like to say a big thank you to Robert Krzykowski for taking the time to talk to us! We’d also like to congratulate him on the success of The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot and wish him all the best with his future projects. You can keep up with the movie via Twitter.


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