Joel SilverHow does a wannabe director get that big break behind the camera? Well, Kirk Sullivan is in Colombia prepping his feature directing debut on the tentatively titled The Dead Men, a thriller about an American traveling in Colombia who becomes involved with a group that lives in an abandoned hospital with a haunted past. Every path to the director’s chair is different, but Sullivan’s came from hustling six years, until he was lucky enough to be Joel Silver‘s assistant and plucky enough to raise money to make a short film, The Come Up, as a calling card (check it out below). After graduating from USC in 2006 (on his third attempt to get into the cinematic arts and production program), he worked as a production assistant, sound guy, camera guy, assistant to Lincoln Lawyer producer Brad Furman, and then assistant to the line producer on Silver’s film The Losers. When Silver needed an assistant, his exec Andrew Rona helped Sullivan get a meeting and he got the job.

After two years, Sullivan put together a Kickstarter campaign to direct a movie-biz-related short film about Hollywood, produced by co-writer Chris Boyd and Walter Hill’s assistant Alyson Bruno (he met her as Silver and Hill worked together on Bullet To The Head). Silver made it possible for Sullivan to shoot the short on the Warner Bros lot last December. Among those who saw the short was Sullivan’s old boss Furman, who put funding together on The Dead Men and gave Sullivan his big shot. Furman’s producing the Andrew Poston-scripted feature with Contento Films, with Aaron Ginsburg exec producing.

When Sullivan came in to give two weeks notice to Silver, the producer (who has a rep for being prickly) told him to go right away. “I went in on a Monday and told Joel I’d gotten this opportunity to direct and that I’d be shooting in eight weeks, but wanted to spend the next two weeks training a replacement,” Sullivan said. “Joel said, use the two weeks for prep and don’t worry about me.” Sullivan hopes he has poured his last cup of coffee but said: “You never know in this town. But this was my dream forever and everyone around me knows it. I learned a ton of stuff from Joel and through him met a lot of people who helped on the short. Brad Furman believed in me and the short showed I could handle a project of this size.”

Before heading to Colombia, Sullivan met with and signed with 3 Arts for management and whisked off to make his first feature. So that’s one way to do it. Here is the short film that got Sullivan that feature gig: