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'The Beaver' screenwriter Kyle Killen talks about stalled Jodie Foster film playing SXSW

Dale Roe
In 'The Beaver,' Mel Gibson, right, with Riley Thomas Stewart, stars as a man who uses a puppet to help him communicate.

Kyle Killen is on the best bad-luck streak of his life. His high-profile foray into television, 2010's signature Fox drama "Lone Star," was the first casualty of the fall season. And though his screenplay for "The Beaver" made the Black List an annual tally of the best unproduced screenplays that lands in the hands of Hollywood movers and shakers the fate of the Jodie Foster-directed film became uncertain when the film's star, Mel Gibson, had a spectacular public meltdown last summer.

But the film is finally being released (it will premiere Wednesday at the SXSW Film Festival) and Killen has a new TV project — a one-hour drama pilot he's creating for NBC. The writer took time away from that project to discuss "The Beaver." Here is an edited version of that conversation:

American-Statesman: How long ago did you write the script for ‘The Beaver'?

Killen: It was in 2008. The story is, I had had some success — I had had some short stories published and was trying to do a collection. The agent who I was working with felt I needed one sort-of-long short story to finish the collection. So I had this idea for "The Beaver," which began as a short story. Then I got wrapped up in some other things. My wife got pregnant with twins and we sort of decided that ... I needed to earn money writing, not just get things published, or I needed to go on to something else. So, we sort of gave me that nine-month deadline. And the short story grew. It became a novel. At, like, five months into the pregnancy, I had hundreds of pages of this novel, but I was still very early on in the story. It felt like it was going to just spiral on forever, like I just kept typing without getting anywhere. So, I decided to make it into a screenplay — the discipline of having to do it in 100 pages, that just felt really easy compared with the hundreds of pages I'd already typed. And, of course, it wasn't; it's very difficult. I finished it a week before the twins were born and sold it a week after, and that sort of changed everything.

How involved were you in the making of ‘The Beaver'?

I spent a lot of time in pre-production working with Jodie on her thoughts and changes to the script. I was in New York, I think, for three weeks out of three months, visiting and just sort of soaking it in. Then, toward the end of that, "Lone Star" got picked up and took off, and then that kind of took over my life.

I understand that you haven't seen the finished film. Do you have any thoughts on how you think it might have turned out?

I've seen the trailer, and I've seen the early cuts of the film. I was able to be more involved until "Lone Star" took over my entire life. I think Jodie has achieved what she really hoped to set out to do. I think that Mel's performance — whatever people think of Mel — it's a pretty arresting thing to watch. It's hard not to look at it through the lens of what has gone on very publicly with him and, in a way, that adds a layer to what you're watching that I don't think you would get with any other actor. I mean, there's a way you think about what you're seeing that you just wouldn't have had he not had his own personal struggles. I don't know whether that will end up being a plus or a minus for the movie as a whole, but it's definitely something that keeps you transfixed.

Do you think that the trailer for ‘The Beaver' is an accurate representation of the kind of film it is? From the subject matter, you'd think it would be quirky — a dark comedy. But the trailer makes it seem more like an inspirational drama. How would you describe the film?

It is hard to boil down. So much of the tone of it is going to be in how it's finally cut, what music has been chosen and so on and so forth. All those choices matter. I would say it's unlikely that — I just know how involved Jodie is and how specific she is — it's unlikely she wanted them to put out a trailer that didn't represent the film that she was making. So I think that inspirational sort of drama is exactly what — I imagine that's how she would describe it. But that's probably a question for her. And I wouldn't be, you know, inasmuch as you can have an inspirational drama about a man with a beaver puppet, I suppose that's not an inaccurate description.

Why has it taken so long for this movie to come out?

I guess that's something you'd have to ask Summit (Entertainment, the film's distributor). My guess is that when you've invested an incredible amount of money in something that you care about and you're going to have to invest an incredible amount more in promoting it, you want to know that the situation is one in which you have the best hope that people will be able to see and enjoy the film for what it is. And I think that probably meant they felt like they needed to wait and just sort of see how the situation developed.

What are you going to be doing at SXSW besides showing the film? Are you doing a Q&A?

The (NBC) pilot is scheduled to shoot right at the same time. Regardless, I'll be here for the film. I wouldn't miss that. But beyond that, I haven't actually built an itinerary.

droe@statesman.com; 912-5923

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‘The Beaver' premiere

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 16

Where: Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress Ave.

Information: Open to SXSW Film badge holders and pass holders. If seats remain, individual tickets will be available for $10. SXSW recommends arriving one hour or more ahead of screening time for the best chance of obtaining tickets.