KILLING ENZO: A Heartfelt Dark Comedy For The Misfit In All Of Us
Written by Gabriela Lugo and directed by John Salcido, the upcoming comedy/drama Killing Enzo illustrates how childhood can teach us as much about surviving life as it does living it.
The film’s title character, Enzo, is a developmentally disabled boy who’s suffered constant torment from bullies. After one confrontation with the “tough” kids leads Enzo’s concerned mother to seek medical treatment for him, he forms an unexpected connection with fellow patient Marcela (played by Catherine Kilbourne), a physically afflicted girl who uses her street smart attitude to help him — and herself — fight back against every adversity they face.
Feeling that he’s too much of a burden for his mom, though, a death-obsessed Enzo decides to bring Marcela along on a series of “bucket list” adventures. Just as she and Enzo reach the climax of their devil-may-care journey, though, Marcela stops at nothing to convince her new kindred spirit that his life is too valuable for him to end.
From now until January 3rd, Salcido is running a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for production of Killing Enzo via Seed and Spark (link below). Should the campaign’s target goal of $20,000 be reached, principal photography will take place from January 18th through 19th. As of this writing, however, the film’s title role has not yet been cast.
With humor and heart, Killing Enzo realistically depicts the lives and problems of special needs children. Creating such an honest portrayal of that community was of critical importance for Salcido, himself a father whose daughter dealt with her own physical struggles from birth. Like the kids whose story we experience in Killing Enzo, Salcido was also victimized by bullies in his adolescence.
By mixing Lugo’s superbly conceived characters with sound and cinematography that captures their physical and mental difficulties, Salcido also gives the viewer an up-close understanding of what it feels like to be affected by such atrophies.
Soon to be filmed with a diverse multi-cultural cast and crew, Killing Enzo accentuates how kids with special needs can make sense of their world, while also helping parents and other adults to love and respect those children despite their disabilities.
CH: How have your own life experiences, as well as the fact that you’re also a father, inspired the story and characters of Killing Enzo?
John Salcido (director/producer, Killing Enzo): A lot of things. Going back to childhood, like many kids, I had to contend with bullying. I was a unique kid, just like Enzo. I was raised by a single mom, just like Enzo. I was a target for those two reasons, among many others. The jocks were after me, but so was the band. I got bullied by the school band. Why was the school band so aggressive? I’m not sure. I had to become more like Marcela and find innovative ways to defend myself.
More recently as a father, my daughter Violet had to overcome some serious health challenges when she was a baby. Even though our daughter is absolutely fine now, we endured countless hours in hospitals and dealing with doctors, some good, some not.
All parents worry about their children, but living what we lived through does tend to make us more like helicopter parents, which I can’t wait to explore in the film’s “Mother” character. One of Violet’s doctors in UCLA pediatrics wore a bright red bow tie. I found that to be creepy and funny. Our “doctor” will do the same!
CH: As someone who’s been influenced by the works of filmmakers like James L. Brooks and classic dark comedies like Harold and Maude, how have those works inspired you not just to make Killing Enzo but also the work you’ve done throughout your career?
JS: Yes. At this point, if I can say I have a trademark, it’s dealing with extremely emotional subject matter but with levity and with unique characters. (Brooks’) Terms of Endearment is an all-time favorite as it manages to move swiftly from heartbreaking moments to hilariously real characters.
Hal Ashby (director of Harold and Maude) similarly, was a rogue filmmaker who didn’t shy away from dark subject matter. A previous film of mine, Cataplexy, dealt with a guy who can’t love or he’ll go catatonic. It had a certain sadness to it, but it was offset by funny characters. In Enzo, we have two twelve-year-old kids who are trying their best to figure out the complexity of death.
CH: Compared to your past films, what makes Killing Enzo unique — and what similarities does it share with the other projects you’ve done?
JS: There’s one huge element that makes this project very different from my previous films. I’ve never worked with child actors before, and it’s something I can’t wait to do. Kids have such a unique way of looking at the world and exploring it. As for similarities to previous films, Enzo will have some big laugh moments, it’ll have a fantastic, unique soundtrack, it’ll look amazing and — most notably — it will have heart. This is a film with characters you’ll love, and it’ll be one that really sticks with you after the credits roll.
CH: As experienced from the two main characters’ points of view in Killing Enzo, the film’s cinematography and sound techniques are crafted to match what children with special needs experience on an everyday basis. From a technical standpoint, how did you use those techniques as both a storytelling mechanism and as a means of enhancing the aesthetic experience of the film?
JS: When we first meet Enzo, he’ll be at yet another visit to his doctor. Our macro lenses will distort the focus of the world around him. We’ll be in his head as he copes with an uncomfortable situation. His mom and his doctor are arguing about his treatment, but Enzo is focused simply on a sticker stuck to the wall of exam room. He picks at the sticker, over and over again, (with) the repetitive task bringing him some semblance of peace.
The conversation between Mother and Doctor will only come to Enzo in snippets, further showing how he hears the world. That’s just one example of how the technical tools will put us in the heads of the children. In another moment, as allergy-prone Marcela must always be wary of anaphylaxis, we will shoot Marcela dealing with a dollop of peanut butter, which is her nemesis, in an extremely cinematic way. Peanut butter has never been so scary.
CH: In what ways have you worked to make Killing Enzo an inclusive, diverse production for its cast and crew?
JS: As I mentioned, our supremely talented writer, Gabriela Lugo, is of Nicaraguan heritage, and the film is largely based on the world in which she grew up. And being of Mexican/Spanish heritage myself, it’s important for both of us to shine a light on what is an underrepresented demographic in film and television. Furthermore, I’ve produced several seasons of an A&E series, Born This Way, which features an amazing cast of young adults with Down syndrome. That experience has further amplified my passion to provide great parts for different populations.
CH: Who would you recommend this film to, especially considering its dark humor and the way it portrays children facing life through humor?
JS: My previous films have certainly skewed to a more adult audience, but this one really is for everybody. Gabriela wrote two kids who sound like kids, which is no small feat. As such, I think younger kids will be able to relate with the main characters and will want to follow along in their adventures. Our kids talk about death, but they do so in a charming, innocent way. I remember having the same questions at their age. Kids are a lot smarter and a lot more complex than they’re often given credit for.
CH: Overall, what do you hope people take away from seeing Killing Enzo?
JS: It’s a story about friendship. It’s a feel-good adventure. It should make you want to call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. That’s the goal: to make you call a friend and go out for pizza. Not peanut butter, though.
Check out Killing Enzo’s crowdfunding video pitch here:
To contribute to Killing Enzo’s production on Seed & Spark, visit: