In 2009, Norristown native Sean Kirkpatrick and a handful of others gathered in the river wards to tell a story.
Setting up shop in a house on Richmond Street, they scraped together whatever money and resources they could find and, over the course of just 18 days, filmed what they hoped would be a movie worth watching.
According to Relativity Media and AMC Theaters, Kirkpatrick and friends did just that as their film, Cost of a Soul, will be shown on 50 AMC movie screens across the country starting this weekend.
“I really wanted to tell the story of the people living in these neighborhoods,” explained Kirkpatrick, who wrote and directed the film. “The ones who have to be exposed to this kind of violence every day.”
The story follows a pair of Iraq war vets as they return home to realize the neighborhoods they fought to defend had deteriorated into ghettos they hoped to escape.
Using backdrops like Ortlieb’s Jazz Haus in Northern Liberties, The Corner Bar in Port Richmond, and the streets that snake throughout Kensington, Fishtown and Bridesburg, the story unfolds as the two main characters get re-acclimated to their home lives.
Like most independent films, Cost of a Soul was submitted to film festivals worldwide but was not getting much in the way of a distribution deal. Then Kirkpatrick found out about Relativity Media’s “I Am Rogue Big Break Movie Contest.”
“We went to a bunch of festivals and we weren’t getting any bites from distributors,” explained actor Mark Borkowski. “It was being screened all over the country. Then Sean submitted it to this Relativity/AMC contest and, lo and behold, we got picked.”
Borkowski, a Kensington native who grew up on Tilton Street and graduated from North Catholic, plays a hit man for the Irish gangs that run in parts of Port Richmond.
“It’s really exciting,” Borkowski said.
“To put things in perspective, Black Swan and The Fighter opened on 12 screens,” Kirkpatrick explained.
Both films were critically acclaimed and went on to win a multitude of awards.
“There are a few independent films out there with tens of millions of dollar budgets and they’re only opening on 12 screens,” he continued.
Their film was made on a much more modest budget.
“Most of the money was basically pulled out of my own pocket,” Kirkpatrick laughed. “We shot the movie with whatever I could scrounge up so it was really a huge risk for me.”
In order to do so the cast and crew were forced to cut corners to save money but still get the film they wanted.
“You’re forced to get creative,” Kirkpatrick explained. “When you’re backed into a corner like that, you have no choice but to expand your mind to do something creative.”
One of the biggest things they had to skimp on was police escort, which is usually the norm on film sets when hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment is involved.
“We couldn’t have made the film without the people of these neighborhoods,” Kirkpatrick explained. “They embraced us and helped us make this production possible. We had a bar scene we shot on Easter Sunday and we had 40 people show up just to be in the background on their Easter Sunday.”
Both Kirkpatrick and Borkowski agreed that, if it were not for the residents, the film couldn’t have been made.
“Working in the old neighborhood where I was born and raised, to go back there and bring my friends and the community into the film was one of the most important things to me.”
Without even being screened yet, the film is already gaining some pretty impressive credibility.
According to Kirkpatrick, the 50-screen opening is the largest for any movie in their budget range ever.
“Relativity’s goal was to find a true independent film and give them a big break,” Kirkpatrick said. “In the rules and regulations, though, it said if they didn’t find a film worthy of (the big break) then they weren’t going to go ahead with the contest.”
Seems like a perfect fit for all parties involved.
“It’s always a big uphill battle when you don’t have Johnny Depp or pirates in your movie,” Kirkpatrick said. “We’re opening against the new ‘Pirates’ this weekend so I’m hoping people decide to not go see them and come see our movie.”
Either way, though, Kirkpatrick is humbled by the experience.
“This has opened a ton of doors for me. It’s such a tough industry, there’s a lot of hard work to be had,” he said. “I think the best will be yet to come.”••
See Cost of a Soul
Cost of a Soul will be shown at the AMC Loews Cherry Hill 24, 2121 Route 38, Cherry Hill. N.J. May 20 through May 22 at 11 a.m., 1:40 p.m., 4:20 p.m., 7 p.m., 9:35 p.m., and 12:15 a.m.
For more show times and additional theaters, visit www.amctheaters.com••