Mission to Kraftland
By Madelyn Ritrosky
Photo right: Nicky Kraft (left) and Richard Kraft. Photo courtesy of Richard Kraft
Dumbo has landed.
Richard Kraft won’t mind that I’m comparing his project to a sweet elephant with large ears. Indeed, he has already done so with one of four illustrated posters he commissioned to advertise his film.
Not only that, he has a life-size, original Dumbo seat from the Disneyland ride gracing his living room just like you see in the illustration. It makes perfect sense. For Richard Kraft, life is a journey to be savored. If you want Dumbo in your living room, do it. Life is too short.
Finding Kraftland is a documentary that weaves together Kraft’s quirky hobby (okay, he calls it obsessive) and his experience of the deaths of his brother, father, and mother. The punch line to the film is his revelation that he was recently diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, the illness which killed his brother.
Kraft’s film, for which he is the co-star, co-writer, co-director, and producer, premiered at the 2007 Santa Barbara International Film Festival. I talked not only with Richard Kraft but with his co-writer and co-director, Adam Shell, and his 16-year-old son, Nicky Kraft, who co-stars with his father.
Richard Kraft is a Hollywood film music agent and has worked in the film industry for twenty years. Although he made his first film, a home-movie class project, in grade school, filmmaking fell by the wayside as he became immersed in the ancillary you know what I mean function of agenting (I guess I’m coining a term). Years ago, he did write some musical scripts that were bought by the studios, but none were ever made.
Photo left: Finding Kraftland poster by Matthew Peak. Courtesy of Richard Kraft
Finding Kraftland is, thus, his professional filmmaking debut. And he feels the difference. To be on the let-it-all-hang-out side of things in front of and behind the camera creating a film is just not the same as being behind the behind-the-scenes, peddling composers to directors and producers.
But Richard is letting it all hang out in several ways: he unabashedly shares his passion for 20th-century consumer culture and some of its now-historically interesting wares. Board games, soundtrack albums, and promotional merchandise are important categories in his extensive collection of kitsch. I don’t use that term in a negative way: the material culture of any period can provide fascinating insight into the popular culture of the times.
But in reality, it’s not his collections that emerge as the theme of the film it’s his passion for and positive outlook on life. There’s an optimism grounding the film, which is undoubtedly what accounts for the warm reception the film received at its premiere festival screening. The filmmakers were pleased.
Several years ago, Kraft came up with an idea for a book about his collections, experiences, and rediscovered relationship with his son. Almost two years ago, the creative impulse shifted. Richard and Nicky were at Disney World and were inspired by, of all things, a promotional video of “Top Attractions” that played endlessly on the hotel’s promotional channel. Why not a film about, as Richard put it, “the virtues of our own obsessive lives,” modeled on that video’s top-ten format? Richard’s dormant filmmaking impulse had finally reared its churning head once again.
Adam Shell is a singer-composer and filmmaker with his own production company, Triple Feature Productions. He and Richard first met when the latter needed videos for some clients. They found they were of like minds when it came to creating the videos, so Richard turned to Adam for this personal project.
Richard said that “the original script was just the collectibles.” They hired actress Stacey J. Aswad to act as the host, but what was originally the entire shoot three days of filming turned out to be just the first phase. Adam pushed Richard to ask “Why?” and delve deeper a form of self-examination that Richard found a bit scary.
They revised and expanded the script, and Adam shot 50 hours of interviews with Richard’s clients and friends. Then came the really scary part for the star of this film: talking about his family on camera. It turned out to be a way to put his relationship with his deceased brother in perspective.
Photo left: Richard Kraft, Nicky Kraft, and Adam Shell (left to right). Photo by Madelyn Ritrosky
They finally had their story arc. “It’s about a man who is sad, from losing his brother and parents, and in the process rediscovers his son,” Adam said. Or, as Richard quipped, “It’s the special dead-family edition.”
Nicky Kraft not only stars alongside his father as the sidekick but, as a budding musician, composed and performed the song that closes the film. Along the way, the audience discovers how father and son became very good friends. That kind of relationship is hard to come by and refreshingly open.
When they “premiered” an early version of the film at Nicky’s birthday party last year, the response they got was inspiring. They decided to submit it to a film festival.
Richard has found it exhilarating to be in a position that his clients usually occupy. He explained how one of his clients, composer Danny Elfman, had called the day before our interview just to find out how the premiere of Finding Kraftland was going. Richard stressed the novelty, for him, of having the shoe on the other foot.
Richard Kraft is a brainstorming, list-making man, choosing a positive approach to life. (Although he has been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, he said he is not in imminent danger.) He likes to make lists of 100 things to do and include everything from walking on the moon to organizing his sock drawer. Life is too short to not include his dreams. However, Nicky pointed out that his sock drawer is still a mess.