“It was either
go to grad school or
just make a movie
and I decided to
just make a movie.”
Writer / Director Henry Johnston
DePauw University and DePaul University alumni teamed up to create King Rat – a feature film that utilized university resources to take a meta look at the graduation experience. Writer/director Henry Johnston, producer Alex Thompson, and associate producer Caleb Haydock filmed the dramedy at their alma mater, DePauw University, in Greencastle, Indiana. DePaul University’s Zoe Lubeck, Steven Callas, and others also brought King Rat to life.
After screening at the 2nd Annual Copper Mountain Film Festival and winning the Audience Award at the 2017 Indy Film Fest, Chicago-indie distributor Cow Lamp Films picked up King Rat. The film is now available on Amazon Prime.
Johnston wrote the script as he was graduating from DePauw in 2014. At the time, his close friend Alex Thompson was living in Chicago to study and work on film production. There, Thompson became friends with King Rat’s eventual director of photography and executive producer, the BAFTA-winning Zoe Lubeck.
Especially after crashing on Thompson’s couch for months, developing friendships with DePaul students, such as Lubeck, and working as a production assistant on shorts and commercials, Johnston heavily considered graduate school.
He reflects, “It was either go to grad school or just make a movie right now, and I decided to just make a movie.”
Lubeck comments, “When Henry brought King Rat to Al(ex Thompson), I was thrilled at the opportunity to shoot my first feature… Alex has an uncanny ability to get people excited about something he’s passionate about, and for better or for worse we just went for it.”
Thompson states, “The prospect of shooting something at my alma mater was too much to pass up.”
King Rat follows should-be graduate Weston Davis, professor Art Stillmann (played by Academy Award Nominee Burt Young), and Seann Taverner — a fading Hollywood star and (the fictional) Asbury University’s commencement speaker.
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Johnston explains that despite their age differences, the three are “dealing with the same things” – broken relationships, career uncertainty, and loss of confidence.
Like the characters Weston (Wes) and Seann, Johnston and Thompson studied writing. However, Johnston explains that, in a way, DePauw “was our film school.” Not only did DePauw serve as the primary location for King Rat, but it also was a major source of inspiration and relationships that fueled the film.
Thompson continues, “(DePauw) is just a never-ending resource, and the inspiration to make the film and pursue the career I’m in now comes entirely from my time there.”
Technically, King Rat wasn’t Johnston’s first feature. First, he, Thompson, Lubeck, and Haydock shot a 90-minute improvisational film titled Owen has a Couch on the DePauw campus. “I am going to make sure that it never sees the light of day,” laughs Johnston.
Lubeck reflects on Owen has a Couch: “It’s actually the first film I had ever held a camera on. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be making movies.”
Being Johnston’s first official feature film, King Rat taught him a lot about the life of a film. “It has been a long time,” states Johnston. King Rat was shot in 2015, and it is just now being available to the larger public.
He continues, “There were times when we thought it would never see the light of day. It feels really good to finally have it out there. So far, we’ve had a much better response than I expected.”
Upon the recommendation of James Choi, a DePaul alumnus, professor, and critically acclaimed producer, Alex Thompson reached out to Cow Lamp Films about distribution in 2018.
Also Read: Cow Lamp acquires “Quarter Life Crisis”
Johnston’s suggestion for first-time feature filmmakers is simple: “Just go out and do it. Find your film buddies. Even if you don’t have any money, you can still do something.”
While emphasizing the struggle of life, King Rat’s primary theme is the value of the university experience and the genuine creativity that results from the relationships forged during college.
The film buddies Johnston and Thompson made at DePauw University and DePaul University served as their greatest resource in the making of King Rat. Knowing this makes the film’s tale about the value of such friendships all the more satisfying.
To watch King Rat on Amazon Prime, click here.
For more information on Cow Lamp Films, click here.
Contact Joey Filer at Joey@reelchicago.com or follow him on Twitter @FilerJoey.