Exclusive Interview: Director Robert D. Krzykowski Talks The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot

Robert D. Krzykowski worked on the 2011 horror-thriller The Woman where he served as a producer and a few other things. This is a movie I covered and promoted heavily several years back and now Krzykowski has returned with his directorial feature film debut called The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot starring Sam Elliott. This movie is about a legendary American war veteran is recruited to hunt a mythical creature and it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time. Too bad the Academy doesn’t recognize indie films like this because it’s got my vote as best film and performance of the year. Bob Krzykowski was generous with his time and allowed me ask him some questions about this fantastic film that in my opinion is an instant classic. The movie releases in theaters, On Demand and Digital HD on February 8th.

Alien Bee – First off, how did you come up with the concept for The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot?

Bob K – It started out as a pulp adventure where I’d killed Hitler in the first ten pages. If you kill Hitler before the main title appears, there’s not a lot of places to go. There was this big espionage sequence that’s somewhat distilled in the film’s opening now. I’ve been a lifelong ‘Mission: Impossible’ fan—from the show with Peter Graves, Greg Morris, and Martin Landau (and a young Sam Elliott as Dr. Doug) to the blockbuster movies with Tom Cruise—they just really appeal to something deep in my brain. I love the puzzle-like element of getting in somewhere impossible, the tension of that situation, the clockwork movements of the team, and getting all the heroes out alive. All the better if the audience can be tricked or misled in the process, and then the heroes all nod at each other as the false walls are pulled away and we reveal the truth of what’s happening. 

In some sense, the entire movie does that. There’s the facade of one thing, and over the course of the movie, the walls fall away and it reveals this other thing entirely. I started thinking about Hitler as a monster—yet he was real, and he carried a plague of ideas. The Bigfoot came to mind as this mythical counterpoint—also a monster, yet innocent, carrying a literal plague. So this idea of two monsters became the heart of it. And it needed an equally compelling hero to stand at the center, and be the dividing line. And that’s when I went back and put the title ‘The Man Who Killed Hitler and then The Bigfoot’ on the cover page and starting writing my way toward that. 

In writing it, some personal losses shaped the story to become more melancholy and searching. I moved these two events much further apart in the hero’s life, and it became about an older man looking backwards—meditating on fear, loss, and regret. These are our common enemy, I think. I thought it would give people courage to see the secret struggle of someone so strong and able. Thus, this script became a conduit for all these disparate ideas.

Alien Bee – The lengthy name alone is what first grabbed my attention. Is that kind of what you were going for?

Bob K – I’m not sure I ever meant to keep that title or if it was just a placeholder for what I was writing towards. I knew it had an impact because it got people’s attention every time they heard it. I’d get the strangest looks, but often, a lot of great questions too. The title was creating a dialogue and people we’re equally mystified that I actually wanted to try to take it seriously—like a mythic or a parable for something more. Like a bedtime story for adults, I guess. It kinda hints that if you’re willing to give away your entire plot in the title, it *must* be about something more. I liked that about it. 

There was always talk from this person or that about changing it, but no one ever suggested a better one, and I think it paints such a picture that it’s hard to imagine giving it a more simple, stoic title. With a simpler title, then you’re asking the audience to back into this wild concept. Doing that felt a little unfair somehow. At least, as it stands, people get to make up their minds really quickly if this tale sounds like something they want to explore or not.

Bob K: People ask about the ‘The’ before ‘Bigfoot’ in the title a lot. I used the definite article because it felt important that the creature be the one and only—perhaps amplifying the loneliness and the magnitude of what it would mean to kill this being, and that it would now be extinct. That ‘The’ says a lot. Haha.

Alien Bee – To me, the movie plays like a feature length episode of Amazing Stories. Is there any Spielberg influence here?

Bob K – Spielberg made ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ which is my favorite movie—right alongside Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Conversation’. In fact, both of those movies have echoes in this one. One is a pulp adventure with wildly fantastic elements. The other is a character study featuring a lonely, uniquely skilled professional haunted by his choices. The two movies couldn’t be further from one another, but they meet here in some strange way, or maybe that’s just the Petri dish of American cinema. At least, it’s the cocktail of books and movies I have shaking around in my brain.

Alien Bee – Did you have any other influences/inspirations for the movie?

Bob K – The Bigfoot creature owes a debt to John Gardner’s novel ‘Grendel’ which tells the story of Beowulf from the monster’s tortured perspective. There’s also Berni Wrightson’s ‘Frankenstein’ illustrations. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sméagol. Bernard Malamud’s ‘The Natural’ was equally influential—blending deep Americana, magical realism, Arthurian elements, and an almost supernaturally ‘good’ hero—and then dissecting these elements in a somewhat brutally realistic way. There’s a myriad others that had an influence as well. Hal Ashby’s beautiful ‘Being There’, ‘The Accidental Tourist’, the vacillating ugliness and decency of ‘Fargo’—too many to count.

Alien Bee – Were there any other kind of influences?

Bob K – Mister Rogers and Charles Schultz’s ‘Peanuts’ characters are just as big an influence on this movie as anything else. Vince Guaraldi’s beautiful music is playing during Barr’s first breakfast scene as if he were Charlie Brown—but all grown up. Look where Barr is sitting and just how he takes off his shoes. Having him unzip a red sweater might have been too much, but Barr is an approximation of Mister Rogers if a man like he were forced into a life of violence. That sounds a bit silly, but it’s a type of American heroism worth exploring. There’s a lot of influences mingling in this movie, yet some of them weren’t apparent to me until after I’d written it—and in some cases, once it was finished twelve or more years later. It’s not always immediately apparent or intentional what you’re up to. Sometimes it’s just there in the DNA of the work because of the things you love and care about.

Alien Bee – How would you describe your movie to curious cinephiles?

Bob K – This is a character study, first and foremost. And a slow-burn, at that. We never tried to hide that, though there are moments of action, comedy, and chaos. It’s a pretty rare movie that, for better or worse, a director was given the creative freedom to make just exactly the movie they set out to make. There was no interference. There were no overlords. Just a team of people looking out for one another. Beyond the budgetary constraints of any indie, this film wasn’t forced to compromise its ideas or intentions. That makes it a rare curiosity in and of itself. I’m very grateful for that. The team that gathered around this movie is a once-in-a-lifetime group of extraordinary people—from John Sayles to Douglas Trumbull, and everyone down the line. We all had something we wanted to say here, and we got to say it. 

The picture delivers on the promise of the title, giving you the giddy catharsis of its pulpiest elements, while rewarding your patience with a whole other level that maybe wasn’t expected. That’s supposed to be a gift, or a surprise, and I hope it’s received that way. I understand if someone doesn’t dig that approach. I respect that. The joy of movies is that it takes all kinds, and then we get to talk about them, discuss them, and share our opinions. These are strange days. This film is something of a cinematic hug—a warm blanket of a movie. And that comes from the heart of a lot of good people.

Alien Bee – The movie has a great cast in it but Sam Elliott is a living legend. How was it working with him because he’s about as cool as they come?

Bob K – Sam is, as you said, as cool as they come. He’s also a magnificently good person, and a near-method actor completely dedicated to the truth of a performance. I say near-method because he can turn it on and off, but he fully immerses himself in the character, and the minutia of the character. He asks the deepest questions, and he wants to illuminate something human and true in every moment. He pushed me to bring my absolute best, and he trusted me day in and day out. I can never repay that. He’s one of my favorite people. A supremely good man. This movie wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t taken a gigantic leap with the screenplay, and with me, and a lot of newcomers in a lot of departments, and he came out to Massachusetts to do something that was inherently risky from the outset. 

Sam cares about people. He’s always looking for the person that needs some warmth or a smile in their day. He’s been bringing that to people for decades, and I think people feel that decency, believe it, and know it’s real somehow. It’s all true. Sam is the guy you think he is. He’s just a little better somehow. I think he’s magnificent and heartbreaking in this film. And hopeful too. All in a film about a guy who kills Hitler and Bigfoot. It takes a certain type of person to sell something this left-of-center… and to then center it somehow. This movie doesn’t feel all that bonkers when the end credits roll. That’s a miracle. That’s Sam. I’m in awe of the man. He’s the best of us.

Alien Bee – Are there any crazy stories? Or amazing stories that you can share?

Bob K – Sam insisted he be dangled over several cliffs. That scared me to death. He took a lot of his punches, and threw himself into the physicality in a way that would bruise and batter someone half his age. I watched him bounce his head off the roof of a car over and over to get a shot just right. He let The Bigfoot puke right in his face. The vomit was a nasty concoction of things so gross (orange juice, barley soup—I didn’t make it) that Sam said it might as well have just been real vomit and be done with it.

I’ll never forget how quiet the crew was on a muggy summer night when Sam gave his big speech at the dining room table with the government agents played brilliantly by Ron Livingston and Rizwan Manji. There was thunder and lighting rolling all through town that night. It would punctuate Sam’s speech at the strangest moments. There was something eerie about what he was saying and how he was saying it that totally electrified all of us. We knew we’d captured the heart of the movie in that moment, and that Sam had done what he’d come out to do, and this pressure valve released and we all thought… this could work. I’m not sure any of us said it aloud, but you could just feel it. Little smiles across the lunch tables. We were making something different.

Alien Bee – You wrote the story, directed and produced the movie. How hard is it to wear multiple hats for a feature like this?

Bob K – Honestly? I would wake myself up shaking with fear in the months and weeks before the shoot. I wondered who I could call to replace me as director. I knew I could produce. I’d done that before. I believed in that. But directing, I felt I’d tricked everyone, and I’d soon be revealed a fraud. More than that, I was really worried I’d waste everyone’s time. So many good people. I don’t think I would have forgiven myself if they were all disappointed in what we were doing a week or so in. I’d hand-picked a team of incredible professionals, and I promised I would trust them to their wisdom and experience—especially Louise Lovegrove our executive producer, Elaine Gibson our first assistant director, and production designer Brett Hatcher. Producer Patrick Ewald at Epic Pictures was incredibly supportive and encouraging, and he always believed in what we were doing in a really trusting way. He vetted every element dutifully, but he trusted it. That freedom was equally special and scary. That kind of trust had to be met with a lot of respect and focus.

Alien Bee – How about the preparation of the movie and how all that goes?

Bob K – While I knew what I wanted and I came prepared with hundreds of hand-drawn storyboards and conceptual designs, I was keen to listen and to collaborate, and I knew I had to communicate complex ideas—from the heart and from the head. With a background in illustration, I couldn’t always rely on my drawings which I saw as my safety net. There had to be adaptation and malleability. So I trusted people to their gifts. I listened.

John Sayles and Lucky McKee had taught me a lot about the paths and pitfalls of independent filmmaking. I just had to trust all that. Keep it in mind. Listen. As the shoot neared, I saw the determination and focus of so many talented people come into action. We all trusted one another, we communicated clearly, we shot with a sense of measured urgency—and we all hung out almost every day as a family would. We saw movies together, we usually went to the bar (Hubie’s Tavern—which opens the film) as a gang, we had crew picnics, we all went swimming in the Connecticut River. It was hard work. But it was fun. Really fun. It was a special experience. It worked because of this team. Above all—there was trust.

Alien Bee – Sam Elliott’s character is very Indiana Jones-like because of the adventures he’s gone on. Could you see him going on other adventures. Any chance for a sequel? 

Bob K – It’s extremely doubtful, but the movie intentionally leaves Calvin Barr’s top secret service to the US government a total mystery from WWII until we meet him in 1987. Ron Livingston’s character alludes to those exploits pretty explicitly in the film. John Sayles and I have talked about some of what he might have been doing in the years between. Sam asked as well. He knows some stories. He knows how Barr got his bomber jacket. Sam knows what’s in the box. If James Bond or Indiana Jones were this innocent Norman Rockwell caricature, that’s kind of what those years might look like—with all the dangerous adventures and espionage in-between. Yet, there’s this faint Steinbeck element I was always striving after with how we reveal Barr as a character and how we look at his life. Going after Hitler and Bigfoot weren’t necessarily his biggest feats. They were just a beginning and an end to something more.

Alien Bee – Where can everyone find you online? Any social media for you and/or your movie? 

Bob K – Sorry, I don’t have any social media for myself. The movie has a Twitter page so people can follow announcements, festivals, and major release dates. The handle is @HitlerBigfoot and the distributor is @RLJE.
All the best!

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