Though soft-spoken and humble, Jon Kilik '78, inspires some awe in the students who toss him questions about life in the big-time film world when he returns to campus for a guest lecture. His impressive string of credits begins with the co-producer role on Spike Lee films across nearly two decades, a collaborative effort on some of the most thought-provoking movies of our generation.
Beyond Lee, Kilik has worked as a producer with other major talents of the film industry including Robert Altman, Robert DeNiro, Tim Robbins, and Julian Schnabel. His career has included work on films such as "Dead Man Walking," "Pleasantville," "Babel," and "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly."
Kilik traces his love for film and interest in the business to his UVM years, 1977 to be precise. A junior majoring in economics and, by his own description, "kind of a lost student," he saw Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" in a class taught by noted film scholar Frank Manchel, now retired from many years as a professor of English at the university. "I was awestruck," Kilik recalls. "Seeing 'Citizen Kane' moved me in a way that no other classroom experience had." He took all the film courses he could in his remaining years at Vermont.
Post-graduation, Kilik soon headed to New York where persistence eventually landed him production assistant jobs on several movies and the chance to learn and build connections in the city's tight-knit film community. His major breakthrough came when Lee invited him to join in the work of outlining a proposal for a project in development, a script called "Do the Right Thing."
"None of us had really made it yet," Kilik says. "A lot of us on the cast and crew came into our own on that movie, and when it came out we finally got the respect we had worked so hard for."
These days, respect is easy to find for Kilik; time for all the projects he could take on, much harder. "I've tried to choose films for their social significance in contemporary life," he says. Speaking to his own success, Kilik says it's all about "being stubborn, mixed with passion, and a little bit of talent."