What was the project?
The Agent Killer Killer is a short Thriller/Mystery film that capped off my second year at university. It was a group project of 8 people where everyone had to step up and fill the shoes of an actual on-set role in film production. I took on the Writer/Director role.
Only 4 screenplays were chosen to be made during the class and The Agent Killer was one of them. We had the usual 13 week semester to get through each stage of production and produce a finished film. Out of all the screenplays that were chosen, The Agent Killer was arguably the most ambitious. It was longer and had a lot of moving parts, locations, props etc.
The Agent Killer was a chance for me to delve into something more serious. In the past, I’d done a lot of comedy content – from KNN to The World of Nathan. This time I wanted to go a different direction and embrace the serious, dark, gritty nature of a thriller.
What’s the story about?
What started as a simple murder case has evolved into a trail of bodies – bodies of the detectives investigating the original murder. Arthur Nyles, a lone wolf and unorthodox Agent, forcibly takes on the case believing he’s the only one who can solve it. Captain Mullen tries to talk Nyles out of it, believing the case is bigger than just one man. Nyles convinces him otherwise and Mullen hands over the case files.
Using all the intel he’s recovered and his keen intellect, Nyles pays a visit to the latest crime scene. His investigation leads him on a journey unlike anything he’s experienced before. Despite his hardened exterior, Nyles is rocked by this case as The Agent Killer himself toys with Nyles mind, using his past against him.
What’s the theme/message?
The idea for the Agent Killer came when I asked myself: What about a mystery film where the killer murders those who try investigate? One where the killer is so ruthless and unstoppable that all the investigators run scared.
In this kind of setup, who WOULD fight back? Who COULD stop this Agent Killer? I figured they’d have to be the kind to think outside the box. Someone unorthodox. And why is he the way he is? Chances are he’s had a rough upbringing. A lot of baggage on his mind.
The film explores the plot entirely through the perspective of Agent Nyles. From the moment he takes the case no one wants, he does nothing but try solve it. He has nothing else going on. All he wants to do is ‘stop the bad guys’. Nyles’s unorthodox nature extents to his gadgets. Even his free time is focused on his work as he spends it building things like his Energy Torch to ‘stop the bad guys’.
A character like Nyles is never as simple as they appear. No one dedicates their life to their work the way Nyles does without something going on in the background. Which I guess takes us to the overriding theme of the film: Identity. We want to find and learn the true identity of the murderer and villain, The Agent Killer, while at the same time The Agent Killer pokes holes in Nyles that makes us want to learn more about him.
What were the challenges?
This was the second major filmmaking project I did during my degree, and the first where everyone was set proper roles. It was a lesson in not just groupwork, but also ambition.
A lot of the group I worked with on this project were also working on other major projects. This meant it was hard to get a hold of their time. This led to a lot of delays in filming dates and miscommunications that overall hurt the final film. It also meant the film wasn’t finished by the due date. The version now on YouTube was completed months after the class was over.
This leads me to second note about ambition. While I wrote the screenplay with the intent that we could make it, I still didn’t fully consider the time that was available to our team and myself. This ultimately meant the film never had a chance of getting finished. It has taught me to be much more thorough when planning out a project to be more realistic about what’s achievable.
Why a Director’s Cut?
The hurdles we faced meant the complete film was never able to be completed on time (and even then the cut-down version wasn’t either). Production design problems meant certain props, such as the briefcase for the Mission Distributor, didn’t work and were distracting for the scene. As such, an opening scene and montage were cut.
Despite the issues with what was cut, we did put a lot of work into making them. They were also an integral part of the original screenplay. Releasing this Director’s Cut gave me the chance to show off the original intended film with all scenes completed.
Even though the Director’s Cut is close to my original vision, I will admit that the Standard Cut is probably the stronger and therefore definitive version of the film. Nonetheless, I still think, as I said, that releasing this cut was important as it gives the audience a chance to make up their own mind about which version they prefer.
Behind the scenes
One of our crew members brought their own DSLR along to the shoots and got some very nice looking behind the scenes shots of the making the film.
You can check out the full gallery on this page.
What did this project teach me about screenwriting?
The Agent Killer was the first narrative screenplay I wrote using my own concept that went through all the proper steps to be made into a finished film. The feedback I received from my tutors for the screenplay was very encouraging and fuelled my desire to keep screenwriting after the project had finished.
This project taught me a lot about considering how something translates from the page onto the screen. There is big exchange between Nyles and The Agent Killer in the apartment. I focused only on the dialogue when writing and when it came to actually shooting, I realised it lacked direction. It made blocking it out hard. We were hearing a conversation but there was barely any actions to go with that dialogue. Even in the final cut, the scene feels very drawn out and tiresome to get through.
I also learnt that the Thriller/Mystery genre is a lot harder to write than my usual Sci-Fi/Action genre. There are a lot of moving parts that need to be clear before production, otherwise the story starts to fall apart when questioned. Not only that, but all the little nuances that build a Thriller need to not only be clear to a Director in the screenplay, but they also need to be clear when converted into a film as well.