ANONYMOUS KILLERS is a thriller conceived by writer and director A.R. Hilton as an indictment of society for its hypocrisies - from its jury system to the death penalty to the American Dream - from the perspective of someone who's been persecuted by the system.
From the film’s promotional materials we learn, “In the film, four seasoned killers and one hapless professor awake in chains to discover they are part of a demented experiment orchestrated by a maniacal, mysterious captor. To decide their fate, they must share the motives behind their crimes as they face the judgement of their peers. The rules are non-negotiable and the outcome is clear: live or die. The moral compass spins frantically as all fight to justify their lives before the final vote is cast."
A.R. Hilton says, “I am a product of my father’s proud southern roots and my mother’s Harlem flare. I am a Black man in every sense of my being and journey in America, bearing the physical and mental scars of poverty and injustice. This is what I unapologetically bring to my storytelling…”
Here, A.R. Hilton (AH) talks to Picture This Post (PTP) expanding upon where the dark story for Anonymous Killers came from, and why he hopes even this dark story can inspire empathy.
(PTP) Please tell our readers a little bit about your background as a director and creator.
(AH) I learned about filmmaking by reading books on screenwriting and theater while in prison. My first attempt at making a film came two years after my release in 2009 with a script I’d written, REMEMBER NIAXING. An investor pulled out due to the recession that year, so we shelved it after making it through pre-production. In 2012, I got back behind the camera for THE DEATH OF A PRINCE, a short film in memory of my younger brother who was murdered in New York. This took me to festivals in New York and LA where I moved to that same year and set out on the journey of making my first feature film, ANONYMOUS KILLERS.
How does the story of the film mirror your own experiences with America’s justice system?
ANONYMOUS KILLERS is an indictment of society for its hypocrisies - from its jury system to the death penalty to the American Dream. This applies to all forms of society all over the world. This film is an examination of the U.S. justice system through the eyes of a previously incarcerated man. It represents my view on both a conscious and subconscious level as someone who's been persecuted by the system. Each killer represents both the defendant and juror and Emaramus represents society, who is fooling both defendant and juror into believing they are participating in justice when it is society manipulating the outcome.
In prison, a favorite pastime is sharing tales and experiences from our time in the world before losing our freedom; as well as the circumstances that lead us to prison. These stories can range from normal to unbelievable. I gained a wealth of understanding about character development from hearing those stories, and I learned that circumstances determine character choices. I also gained a deeper understanding of the environment and experiences that breed a certain character and how it all makes sense in the context of that character. This showed me that I could make the most non-relatable character relatable if I grounded them in the logic of their environment and experiences.
Spending 18 years in prison and experiencing the system firsthand gave me plenty of fertile ground to start conceiving.
If nothing else I would hope that viewers walk away not being so quick to judge, but instead seek empathy and understanding before judgment so that they have the wisdom to judge fairly.
Why do you choose to film your first feature on 35mm, and why was this important to you?
Shooting on 35mm was very important to me because the quality of the film makes for a more natural, grainy look than filters applied to digital. It also makes for a more disciplined filmmaker because you can’t just shoot any and everything and cut around it in post. We purchased unused 35mm film ends from the studios and other sources. We even got to use the film ends from DJANGO UNCHAINED on which Quentin Tarantino was wrapping production during the time we were in pre-production with ANONYMOUS KILLERS. I think we still have some film left. This artistic choice made us eligible for the Panavision First Time Filmmaker Grant, which rewards first-time filmmakers with up to a million dollars in Panavision cameras and gear.
Do you think BIPOC voices are becoming more represented in Hollywood films (both in front of and behind the camera)?
I believe things are changing, but there is still a great deal of misrepresentation and a lack of representation altogether for many. I found support in my community, and I feel that the underrepresented must support their artists so that they can bring their stories to the world. The industry may deny them accolades, but they can’t ignore a profound and prolific expression of art in this medium.
As a new feature Director, what do you feel is your personal role in the Black Lives Matter Movement?
In prison, I came across a book called Lost Lives. Inside it had photos and names of all the people killed by police across the country. This was like 20 years ago, and the book was pretty thick in volume. So, change is long overdue. If there is anything I do or can do to help bring about that change, I welcome it-- knowing that the history of persecution and violence by police against people of color is deeply intertwined with the history of the world, not just the history of America. However, if we here in America can lead the way in bringing about that change it is a good start. For me personally, my inspiration comes from having been in prison and having seen the genius of so many gifted people in all forms of art and scholarly minds wasting away. It is them I seek to inspire to bring their genius to the world and create change.
Do you already have an idea for your next film project?
Yes, I do. Since moving to Los Angeles I’ve often heard it said that Hollywood lacks imagination. I disagree; it’s individuals who lack imagination. I’ll tell you the title but nothing more having once fallen victim to one of these individuals with ANONYMOUS KILLERS. DEMISE is the title of my next project.