The affecting intimacy of Val, the sometimes ethereal, often unblinking look at Val Kilmer’s life and career through personal home footage, was a reflection of the actor’s unselfconscious ease, both on camera and in life, according to the filmmakers behind the Amazon Studios film.
Directors Ting Poo and Leo Scott told Deadline’s Contenders Film: Documentary that, due to his profession and having filmed himself continuously since the dawn of home video cameras in the 1980s, being on camera was second nature to Kilmer.
“One of the lucky things about filming an actor is how comfortable they are in front of the camera, and Val certainly is,” said Poo. “He began filming himself behind the scenes of all these movies, but later on, he just hired people to film them. So he always kind of had a camera following him around and was very used to it.”
Allowing Kilmer to be further unguarded was his decade-long relationship with Scott, who assisted the actor with preparations for his one-man performance as Mark Twain as well as tackling the Herculean task of digitizing Kilmer’s mammoth library of personal video footage, which sparked the notion for the documentary.
“We took Val this concept of doing a life story in a first-person perspective, a very subjective feeling,” said Scott. “We made a four-minute sizzle teaser tape, a sample of what it could feel like. … We showed him this thing to get his temperature check on it. He really, really understood it, and then he said, ‘Go for it.’”
With constant creative input from the actor, the filmmakers both sorted through his video archive and followed him through his current life, which encompassed his battle with cancer.
The actor had underwent chemotherapy and two tracheotomies for his throat cancer that makes it difficult for him to speak, and he has to use a feeding tube to eat. Kilmer said he’s been cancer-free for several years, though.
“Something special that comes across is the relationship between him and Leo,” said Poo, “because Leo was behind the camera for a lot of the shooting that we did, and their friendship and the intimacy of that friendship really comes through, I think, in a lot of scenes — such as the scene when he’s crying after his mother died, on the bed. I think those feelings were real and that those emotions were real, and it was something that he wanted to share with Leo.”
She added: “I was sort of blown away right away by how little vanity and how there wasn’t a big wall or guard put up that you would expect from a celebrity of his stature. He just kind of welcomes you with open arms right away and is himself around you.”
Check out the panel video above.