Matt Kazman wanted to make a film that got inside the minds of teenage boys. The obvious avenue: masturbation.
Kazman’s “Killer,” one of the finalists in TheWrap’s ShortList Film Festival 2016, is a 20-minute look at a boy who believes his self-pleasuring is also a deadly weapon. But it’s also about growing up in a society where most teens get their sex advice from each other.
“The logline definitely reads a little sillier than the movie plays,” Kazman told TheWrap. “That was kind of intentional, because it’s an inherently silly idea: a kid thinking that masturbating can kill someone.”
In “Killer,” young Dusty (Hale Lytle) is enjoying some quality time to himself when his mother suddenly drops dead in the next room. One of his school frenemies had told him that every time someone masturbates another person dies, and after the fatal moment, Dusty starts to believe he has that power and acts accordingly.
Kazman said the short came from an idea he had for a feature film about two brothers who felt different types of guilt when their mother died unexpectedly. The older one regretted being rude, and the youngest felt shame because he was masturbating at the fatal moment. Kazman decided to focus on the latter and make it a short, seeing a lot of himself in the character.
“When I was that age, I was quiet and awkward,” Kazman said. “And surrounded by friends who would hear things from older brothers and family members about sex, and learning these things were not true. I liked the idea that in [Dusty’s] head it was frightening, but as an adult it was really funny.”
Kazman said one of the hardest parts of making the film was finding the right child actor to play an uncomfortable role, but with the right amount of levity.
“It took a while to cast, for obvious reasons,” he said before finding Richmond, Virginia, native Hale Lytle, now 14. “I knew I wasn’t going to make the film until I found that kid. I worked with a casting director for the first time who had worked with kids who were in ‘dark’ commercials. I wanted it to be honest and not feel melodramatic.”
Kazman said he’s heard from a surprising amount of people who’ve seen the film how much it reminded them about their experiences as teens, where they also got a lot of nonsense sex advice from peers. He would like to see that change for the better.
“If I’m promoting anything, it’s to inspire kids to feel comfortable talking to parents and older adults about sex,” Kazman said.
Watch the film above. Viewers can also screen the films at any time during the festival at Shortlistfilmfestival.com and vote from Aug. 9-23.