Jon Kilik, the producer of the wildly popular "Hunger Games" movies, visited his alma mater, the University of Vermont, this week to speak with students.
Kilik's presentations on-campus Tuesday included screenings of another of his recent projects, the film "Foxcatcher." The campus visit was aimed at reaching many students enrolled in courses in UVM's film and television studies program, to give them a glimpse of what working in the movie industry is like.
"I have to just make the best movie I can," Kilik told New England Cable News Wednesday, describing his main goal when approaching his work. "The audience wants more than just action and effects and the eye candy; they actually do care about character and story, and that's what I care about, too."
A current release that Kilik helped shape from the earliest stages of film development through the final release is "Mockingjay Part 1." It right now is the top movie at ticket windows around the world.
The New Jersey native graduated from the University of Vermont in the late 1970s. After a brief stint working at a local television station in Burlington after graduation, Kilik entered the movie industry in New York.
"Jon's one of the biggest producers in New York," observed UVM film student Matt Lipke, who told NECN he hopes to one day work as a producer or director.
Lipke met Kilik at one of the campus presentations. "He just worked his way up from the bottom after he graduated from UVM and it was so inspiring to hear," Lipke said.
Kilik described filmmakers who came to his classes at UVM in the 70s as being critical to his understanding of the industry and to helping him start to imagine his career path. He added that he is glad to visit with UVM students, considering how such visits were a "turning point" for him. "If there's an opportunity to do the same thing for a student that someone did for me, I'm happy to be that person," Kilik said.
The release of "Mockingjay Part 1" was tinged with sadness. One of the film's stars, Philip Seymour Hoffman, died this past winter in New York City of a drug overdose. The medical examiner's report showed there were several substances in his system, including heroin.
Kilik said all the actor's loved ones and colleagues suffered a profound loss. He added that as communities across the northeast grapple with what's been called an opiate addiction crisis, the Oscar winner's death did shine a light on how far-reaching addiction is.
"The only thing you can hope for when it does happen to somebody well-known is that it creates attention world-wide, nationwide, and that things happen to address the problem," Kilik said.
Kilik explained that two scenes, one in each of the “Mockingjay” films, had yet to be completed when Philip Seymour Hoffman died. The producer told NECN the speaking lines were re-assigned to other actors and that the changes should be unnoticeable to most audience members.
The fourth and final film in the “Hunger Games” series, "Mockingjay Part 2," is due out in the fall of 2015. As for what follows that, Kilik said he's always eyeing the next untold story.