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Val Kilmer had fallen out of favor with the Hollywood establishment — the Batman Forever and Top Gun star was deemed too difficult, too pugnacious to work with — by the time editor Leo Scott met him around 2011 or 2012. Kilmer needed help editing footage of his ambitious new one-man Mark Twain stage show, Citizen Twain, and Scott was enlisted to help the determined actor.
Along the way, Kilmer revealed to Scott he’d amassed hundreds of hours of film and videotape that were stored in boxes stacked up in the garage. The bevy began with movies he made as a kid with his two brothers, Mark and Wesley, while growing up in the Los Angeles suburb of Chatsworth. Tragically, Wesley — the director among the trio — died weeks before Val became the youngest person at the time to be admitted to Juilliard’s esteemed acting program at age 17.
Kilmer never put down the camera after Wesley’s passing. Scott spent more than nine months converting more than a thousand hours of analog footage to digital, including Kilmer’s time at Juilliard and home videos of his two children, Mercedes and Jack, and former wife, Joanne Whalley. There’s also behind-the-scenes footage Kilmer shot on movie sets, including Top Gun, Batman Forever, Tombstone and The Island of Dr. Moreau, one of Hollywood’s most epic production disasters (viewers can expect to see many candid clips of some of Hollywood’s most recognizable stars).
Years later, in 2018, after throat cancer and a tracheotomy left Kilmer’s voice reduced to a rasp, Scott and fellow editor Ting Poo — who worked on the 2017 Oscar-winning documentary short Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405 — convinced the actor to use the footage as the basis of a new autobiographical documentary that she and Scott would co-direct alongside him. Kilmer said yes, adding that he wanted it to premiere at Cannes.
On July 7, the 61-year-old actor will get his wish when Val, from Amazon Studios and A24, makes its world debut on the Croisette. Kilmer’s health issues could make it impossible for him to attend, but his children are expected to be there.
Kilmer acknowledges in the doc that he could be tough on directors and crew; a clip of him berating Dr. Moreau cinematographer William Fraker is among the footage featured. He’s equally clear that being a true actor is tough in Hollywood, a point he’s made in the past. There’s also a clip of him and the late director John Frankenheimer on the set of Dr. Moreau during a not-so-friendly exchange. Frankenheimer is seemingly infuriated when Kilmer won’t turn off his camera.
“Val is a very complex and brilliant man with so many layers. And we wanted to try to get that feeling of him into the film, from his spirituality to a great sense of humor,” Scott tells THR. “We never considered doing it any other way with interviews with third parties. We were very clear on that very early on.”
Jack Kilmer stands in as the narrator, speaking as if he were his dad (Val also does some speaking). “It just made such sense and added such an emotional layer to the whole thing. We’re just really happy that Jack agreed to do it,” says Poo. “At the end of the day, it’s really a celebration of storytelling, movies and a creative spirit.”
“Val is a very complex and brilliant man with so many layers. And we wanted to like try to get that feeling of him into the film, from his spirituality to a great sense of humor,” Scott said in a recent interview with THR. “We never considered doing it any other way with interviews with third parties. We were very clear on that very early on.”
Amazon and A24 are planning a fall release for Val in theaters and on Prime. Top Gun: Maverick, in which Kilmer reprises his role as Iceman, also opens in theaters this fall.
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Top Gun: Maverick