While the name might not spark immediate recognition, Richard Kelly is most famous for writing and directing cult film Donnie Darko. This was Kelly’s first feature film and received 11 awards out of 23 nominations. The release of the film followed an interesting popularity trajectory nonetheless, as it did not receive immediate praise on its first years. In fact, its first screening on the Sundance Film Festival was a catastrophe, and no one thought the film could recover from the unfavorable initial impressions. Luckily for us this wasn’t the case, and the strange plot of a problematic teenager assaulted by visions of a rabbit figure talking about doomsday predictions eventually captivated audiences. Empire Magazine ranked Donnie Darko as the second best independent film of all time only after Reservoir Dogs. It also holds spot 63 on their list of 500 greatest movies of all time.
Richard Kelly graduated from University of Southern California where he was awarded a scholarship to study film. He created two short films while still at university, which he claimed did not help him advance his career at the beginning. Kelly admits that his first two short films were ambitious but not the best, though he mostly credits this failure to bad acting and lack of budget. When he tried to sell the idea of Donnie Darko to other producers, he found it difficult for financiers to want to trust such an inexperienced filmmaker with the project. Upon watching his college short films, producers doubted he could be successful on this greater scale endeavor. Kelly responded by saying that if he had access to good actors, he was confident he could direct them adequately. He therefore vehemently refused to give up leadership on his creation, and finally was entrusted with the role of director of his own script.
As a result of his earlier experiences entering the filmmaking world, Kelly advises all starting directors to shoot a short scene from their feature screenplay idea first as a portfolio sample for producers. This was the same approach Wes Anderson took when trying to get funding for ‘Bottle Rocket,’ and it worked. The last film Richard Kelly produced was the psychological thriller ‘The Box’ starring Cameron Diaz. The film was not well received by critics, but loyal fans from the Darko cult classic still have high expectations for his next work. The director himself has shared that he has many ambitious projects he would like to work on in the future, but that he doesn’t want to settle for a lower budget than what he deems necessary to realize his artistic vision. Knowing his great potential for existentialist films, we hope to see another movie of the calibre of his first full length feature.