Cleveland International Film Festival } April 7 – April 18, 2021 } Playhouse Square

A Peek into Khalil Sullins' Mind

March 19, 2015   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


If you’ve ever wished you could take back a Tweet or a Facebook post that somehow slipped out, Khalil Sullins has the film for you.

“I wanted to explore our relationship with communication and technology,” the New Direction panelist and director of “Listening”reflects. “The whole film is really a metaphor, for me, for the Internet and social media . . . every day we’re given a new way to put our thoughts and feelings out there into the world faster than ever before, but it’s not necessarily making us better communicators on a human level.”

That observation inspired the question: what if someone invented telepathy?

The answer, for Sullins’s hapless protagonists, is that their problems become worse rather than better. Their relationships, already dysfunctional, go off the rails, and soon the stakes are raised even higher when several groups realize their technology could be used for espionage. “I wanted to do something that felt really relatable and character-driven at the beginning, and then by the end it was a full-blown popcorn thriller with the world hanging in the balance,” he laughs. “I’m a big comic book fan. I grew up reading comic books and still do. My shelves are full of graphic novels, trade paperbacks, and superhero comics. I loved sci fi growing up, but I really love all genres.”

Sullins draws inspiration from directors, like Ang Lee and Stanley Kubrick, who can work across the genres, honoring their conventions while harnessing them for broader, deeper stories. That approach is present in “Listening,” which fuses the character-driven indie film with the sci fi thriller. From inception to release, he spent more than four years working on the film. His process includes the meticulous creation of what, in TV circles, is often called a “show bible.”

“I was trained in a research-intensive method of direction, so I put together this massive director’s book with all the visual research of every different look and style in the movie—every prop, every costume—to give to all the different heads of the departments, and to really give them a good springboard to then add all of their creativity.” His background in art and photography explains much of this, but Sullins is careful not to let visuals overwhelm the story.

“When I went to film school, I wanted to be a director, and actually didn’t like writing at all,” he admits. But the student films he saw bothered him. “I felt like they looked great, but they were failing on the script level, so I really tried to hone my screenwriting craft. In the process, I fell in love with writing.”

He is already developing his next script, one that also takes on “big, heavy things that I don’t really know how to deal with in the world . . . when I’m writing, I like to tackle subjects that I don’t have all the answers to. If you’re going to be dedicating three to five years of your life to something, it’s a good way to explore some meaningful topics and try to find something to say about them.”

We’ll be listening.

— Lara Klaber

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.1 MB]

Related Screenings:
03/19/15 @ 8:30 PM – Listening
03/20/15 @ 2:00 PM – Listening
03/22/15 @ 9:30 AM – Listening

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