Big Screen Dreams
Work of MSU alumnus nears culmination as post-production continues on independent film
East Lansing resident Thomas Reilly-King sits for a portrait at his apartment, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013. Justin Wan/The State News
Thomas Reilly-King has waited years for this moment. Since his teens, he has awaited the chance to make a name for himself as an independent filmmaker.
Enduring everything from busy cast members to a low budget, he has waited patiently.
Four years after the start of his project, a feature film called “Enduring Destiny,” Reilly-King, now 26, finally is getting his wish.
Often known on campus as “TRK,” the MSU alumnus concluded shooting for the film last July, and once he’s finished with the post-production process, he plans to host a premiere in the early summer.
“‘Enduring Destiny’ is almost symbolic for my life,” Reilly-King said. “You see the completed film in your head — it was already done to begin with, it’s just planting those seeds. At the end of the day, you can only go forward. That theater saying is, ‘The show must go on,’ and I’ve always kind of kept that mentality.”
“Enduring Destiny” tells the story of Max Kenner, a college student affected by a tragedy that leaves him in a wheelchair.
Kenner’s aspiration in the film is to become a CIA agent.
Reilly-King, who plays the role as himself in the film, said it depicts the challenge of overcoming adversity and accepting help from others.
“This tragedy happens to him, so we see a transformation of his persona on screen,” he said. “He’s living in a fraternity house amongst his brothers, and it’s embarrassing because he has to live with a caretaker. … It’s about dealing with that crutch and overcoming that crutch and enduring destiny.”
An eye for success
From the very beginning, Reilly-King has had a clear view of the film, down to every last detail.
“I sit down and storyboard every single shot in the film,” he said. “I have a vision of what I want it to look like, the characters and how they look, and I go and make that into a reality.”
But his path has not been easy. He juggles four minimum-wage jobs to finance the film, which has cost him more than $12,000 since 2009.
The budget constraints limited Reilly-King’s abilities and kept the film a work in progress for more than four years.
He also has struggled to manage a cast, with many members graduating before he concluded filming.
“We had different people for a stretch of time,” he said. “One of the characters graduated four years ago, which was a challenge because we had to shoot all his stuff first and get all the scenes done before he graduated. It was always nerve-racking.”
MSU alumnus Aaron Hamel, who was Reilly-King’s production assistant and played a doctor in the film, has learned from personal experience that independent filmmaking is no simple undertaking.
“Making an independent film is a very hard thing to do, especially in today’s world,” Hamel said. “You’re not gonna have the millions of dollars in backing most so-called independent movies have. It’s one of the most stressful things you can do, and it requires your entire mind and body.”
Despite the stress, MSU Filmmakers Club adviser Bill Vincent said Reilly-King will maintain the morale from start to finish.
“He gets what he wants,” Vincent said. “He wants to make a name in film, and he’s gonna do it his way or not at all.”
Although he had experience with illustration and cartooning throughout his childhood, Reilly-King’s film obsession all began with a creative writing class in high school.
The situation wasn’t exactly high-tech, but it was enough to get him hooked.
“I literally did all my editing from this bulky camcorder that I had, and I was using VHS tapes to re-record stuff,” he said. “I just remember being down in my basement filming stuff with little model cars and kind of integrating that into the project.”
Once he got to MSU, he dove headfirst into the world of film and joined the MSU Filmmakers Club, where Vincent, who plays a CIA agent in the film, said his enthusiasm was contagious.
“He was completely crazy about film and completely dedicated to doing something with film,” he said. “He had a unique way of doing things.”
Reilly-King decided to write the screenplay for a feature film in January 2009, a risky move that came with criticism.
“I just remember people saying: ‘What are you doing making a feature film, you’re crazy!’” he said. “But I just had that fire burning inside there — I needed to get this done. It’s important to push yourself and to have something that stands out.”
Throughout the process, he said the negativity only made him more determined.
“It made me push myself,” he said. “There’s something very liberating about making your own film. In life, a lot of times we have to answer to the bosses or committees. The cool thing about making a film is you’re the boss.”
The drawing board
Doing everything from starring in the film to the editing process, Reilly-King said he has gone to extreme lengths for his pride and joy.
“One time, I locked myself in the basement of the (Auditorium) computer lab, and I was using Adobe After Effects going frame by frame,” he said. “I sat there one day for 26 hours — I had to order food, camp out and make it my home. It can be very tedious, and not every aspect is fun, but you gotta do it.”
It wasn’t long before MSU alumnus Curtis Matzke caught wind of the project.
After hearing about “Enduring Destiny” from friends, as well as Reilly-King himself, he decided to make a documentary about his friend’s filmmaking process, called “First Feature.”
“As time went on, I realized how many people know him or heard stories of him working on his movie,” Matzke said. “Everyone has a story about ‘TRK.’ He’s kind of a goofy guy, and people don’t give him enough credit, but he’s actually doing it all himself.”
As an active member of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at the time, Reilly-King said he often puzzled his brothers while filming in the house at 522 Abbott Road.
“A lot of times I could be that quirky guy that’s always working on his film,” he said. “I remember having all these random props and wigs and wheelchairs — I was like a hoarder.”
Political science senior and Phi Kappa Psi President Dan Fabiano said he was caught off guard with Reilly-King’s shoots quite often.
“He’s really random, to say the least,” Fabiano said. “I opened the door to his room one day … He had a lady standing there who looked like a nurse, he was in a cast, and he had turned his whole room into a hospital. It was pretty wild.”
Aside from the curiosity of passersby, Reilly-King said gaining student commitment to the film was the most difficult aspect of the process.
“The hardest part about making this film, hands down, was just dealing with people — getting people to show up, trying to cast people,” he said.
“At the end of the day, no one is as passionate about it as the director or the person making the film.”
*The big screen *
Once his film premieres, Reilly-King said he wants it to be looked upon with nostalgia from future generations.
“The idea was to make a time capsule where we can capture the glory days,” he said. “I didn’t just wanna make a film — I wanted to make a sensation.”
Along with the sensation comes a line of 18-inch talking action figures, which are part of what he calls a “character franchise.” He is expecting the figures in April and will hand them out with Blu-ray copies of the film.
“When he gets a goal in his mind, he stops at nothing to get it done,” said Steve Culling, who played Kenner’s wrestling coach in the film. “I have a lot of respect for him — he’s intuitive and creative. It’s his determination and resourcefulness on a student budget that made him able to pull all of this stuff together.”
He has yet to set a date for a summer premiere — but with his lease ending Aug. 1, he said he hardly can wait to schedule the premiere and watch the magic happen.
“It’s really cool to see your vision come on the big screen and in front of an audience,” he said. “That’s what it comes down to, is that connection with the audience, making them laugh or cry or even scared.”
Fabiano said he is stoked to see the film when it’s released, and has even offered to host the premiere in the fraternity house.
“I’m very curious about what Tom wants to achieve with his project,” he said. “I’ve seen a couple scenes, but I’m dying to see the finished product.”
After knowing Reilly-King for years, Vincent said he has nothing but high hopes for “Enduring Destiny.”
“I’ve seen so many student projects fall apart because students lost interest and get distracted,” Vincent said.
“I gotta hand it to Thomas, he stayed on course and didn’t let himself get discouraged. He’s a legend in his own time.”