Editorial Note: Originally written as a Facebook note to all of my friends and family in August 2008, this has been edited slightly for content in 2019, but the truth found within remains the same. I have discussed this topic in several interviews, which you can read.
As an adult, who has successfully worked in the film industry, it is strange to look back at this period in my life. It doesn't feel like something to me that actually took place, almost a dream, because I am so disconnected from it.
But it did.
The story of my father's unexpected death, and the fantasy world I created that stemmed from it, is part of my story. Reading this now, the person who wrote this and the person who lives today aren't the same.
As I recently heard in the fantastic Elton John biopic Rocketman, "You gotta kill the person you were born to be to become the person you want to be." In my case, the person imagined myself to be. In some ways, I think that lying about my experiences for many years motivated me to prove something to the people I lied to.
I still can't believe I went from this point up into today.James Kicklighter
Dear Friends -
After speaking with my family and closest work associates, it is important for me to tell you this in the best way that I know how.
Undoubtedly, all of you will be disappointed in me, but I hope that you will understand why I am taking this action. This letter is not a secret, and is intended to explain a lot of things.
My life has reached a crossroads, where the past continues to interfere with the positive, present direction of where my life is going. I simply hope I can remain to call you all friends after this is over.
My only request is that you read the whole thing.
After returning from Campmeeting, I was sending emails out to my production team, asking what had gone on this week, etc.
One of the responses came from my production partner of several years, Mark Stokes, who told me it was time to answer truthfully some things he has suspected, and it wouldn’t end our friendship or working relationship.
This conversation, ironically, came from the same person who began my career in film, producing That Guy: the Legacy of Dub Taylor, which was the first film I made.
I have told many lies. I have never previously worked on a Hollywood production; at least, never in an official capacity like I had you all believe.
I need to release this burden before I can move on with my life and move on with my career, because no matter how I try to distance myself from it, someone says something that forces me to explain myself to perpetuate the story.
Today, I want you to understand that I never intended to do anything malicious.
In 2002, many of you know my father died, going from perfect health to his death in exactly one week’s time.
My family was a very tight unit, and while losing a parent is always traumatic, it is even more so when you are young and it is unexpected.
When I was three, as both my parents enjoyed recalling, I created a universe called “Toonsvilva,” with elaborate characters and story, especially for a three year old.
After the shock of my father’s death, I went back to the mode of my creative childhood, while mired in the responsibilities of forced adulthood.
I used movies to plot my escape from a very dreary existence, creating scripts, legal paperwork, and other items to convince my family, my friends, then the community and the world that I was a legitimate filmmaker.
I want to be very clear on one thing – no one else knew what I was doing. There was no co-conspiracy; it was a one-man show.
My family, just like everyone else, was hoodwinked.
I provided them with all of the information, without their realizing it was all lies.
In grief, details that would’ve been more important any other time were likely overlooked in exchange for the joy that something good was finally happening in a sea of bad news.
Honestly, the time period is very murky in my mind.
I genuinely didn’t realize the magnitude of this.
It was all a great game at first, but then I started to believe my own story, as I wrote scripts that were remarkably similar to final versions of the real film or television show.
I started to give interviews and put myself out there, stupidly, without understanding the power of the press and the impact of the printed word.
But as the story grew, so did my understanding of the workings of Hollywood.
I made connections, and found people that could provide me with advance copies of scripts, television shows, and movies, along with other bits of insider information that gave me legitimacy.
I was able to get my family places that we wouldn’t have gone otherwise, such as to the World Premiere of The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Meanwhile, I was successful doing other things; representing Georgia at the National Student Leadership Conference, serving on the Superintendent of School’s Student Advisory Council, being class President, Future Business Leaders of America President, among other things.
I had found a niche in leadership, a gift for words, and through all the lies, a gift for filmmaking. It became, and remains to be, my passion and chosen career field.
Indeed, it is not unprecedented in my family, which toured on Vaudeville, and has put out numerous professional musicians, filmmakers, photographers, and artists. I genuinely come by it honestly, and work very hard to emulate them.
Despite these circumstances, I have not grown up to be some kind of freakish psychopath. You might wonder who the “real” James Kicklighter is.
Today, I tell you that he’s always been there.
My personality, my interests, and everything else about me has not wavered or changed over the years. I cared deeply for each project that I “worked” on, and thus, you have seen my passion for life and the enthusiasm that I place in everything I believe in.
Most of you know I will do anything for my family and friends, serving others as much as I can.
Over the past few years, I have finally come into my own success through my real company, JamesWorks Entertainment.
Now, we do everything from producing my film projects, to marketing campaigns, to web design.
I have clients across the country, ranging from Public Relations Firms to Small Businesses in need of my services. These things have not gone unnoticed; I was recently named the Georgia Association of Broadcasters E. Lanier Finch Scholar.
Through it all, I have never put any of those things I didn’t do down on a resume or application, but somehow, I have been able to get these awards and recognition within the industry on my own merits.
I don’t need to tell lies anymore. That ship sailed several years ago, but I wasn’t ready emotionally or mentally to cope with the inevitable fall out.
Do I regret my actions? Most of them, yes.
I regret the fact that the cynics win, the people who said a teenager could never do these things. Yet I still find these individuals aren’t worth my time, because they are far too self-centered and self-righteous to ever truly care about anyone else.
I frankly don’t care about them.
My regret is for the kids that have made me their role model, the adults who have supported me when no one else would, and for all of the countless people, groups, and organizations I have misled.
In professional speaking engagements since the Summer of 2006, however, I have only discussed what I have really done in these public forums.
Most of all, I regret what I have done to my family, who first believed in me.
I’m sorry for the pain I have caused my sister, in particular, who was even younger when my father died. She was in fifth grade, and has struggled for years under my undeserved spotlight.
Most of you ask about how I’m doing, but always seem to make her an afterthought. This has not gone unnoticed. I realize the pain I am going to cause my family now is even worse.
I do not regret finding my purpose in life. Through these strange circumstances, I have discovered the industry where I need to be working.
I have always been considered a “gifted child,” and I have taught myself much of what I know, while getting the chance to execute it through several productions and clients before the age of twenty.
The truth of the matter is, I’m someone starting out, just like anyone else.
I simply have more experience than your average college student, though not as much as you thought.
There are many times over the past few years, as I have grown to understand what I have done, that I have considered abandoning the field entirely, moving across the country, and starting fresh.
While I do intend to move away from the region after college, you cannot run away from your past. I have tried. You have to face it head on, and only then can you begin to heal.
I’m sure that many of you wonder how I could’ve done this. Truthfully, great grief will make you do things that you will never understand until you go through it.
With any credibility I have left, I have never lied to anyone about anything other than my involvement on the major productions, though I must admit I distorted some things in those early years after Dad died.
When I discussed problems or behind the scenes issues, those were all true. My vast network gave me information that most people don’t have access to. The truth and fiction became blurred.
While it may seem hard to believe coming from me, I am a person of Integrity.
The people who know me best, or thought to have known me best, I hope will realize that I have striven for honesty in all of my other dealings.
The fictitious elements of my life became blended with the real abilities I had in film, and I realized far too late that it was a snowball that kept rolling, for which there would be no easy escape.
Ultimately, my story is not one of a child who set out to deceive thousands of people, but it is the story of a boy who tried to escape a world that fell down around him.
In movies, you can write your own ending. In life, we have to accept to live with what we’re dealt.
For five years, I have helped a lot of people believe that they can do anything they want to do, and it doesn’t matter how old they are.
This, my friends, is still true.
If you wish to set out across the country and interview actresses like Dixie Carter, or rockers like John “Cougar” Mellencamp, you can if you work hard enough.
You can have brunch with international ambassadors, or consult on educational policy with state leaders. You can have clients across the country and run a business successfully with a little help and guidance. You can even film a project across the country, and make your follow-up project internationally, with grants and other financial backing from people that believe you can, while maintaining membership in a professional guild.
All of this you can do before you’re twenty, if you want it bad enough.
I am resolved to the fact that many people will be angry and disappointed in me. I have suspected for several years now that some of my acquaintances only speak to me because of what I can do for them. Hopefully, this will weed some of them out.
I would rather come clean now when I don’t have to, rather than being forced into doing it at a later time, as my career is beginning to expand nationally.
Some of you may not speak to me for a while, and some never again, while others will have serious issues trusting me on anything for a long time. That is my punishment, and it is something that I will always have to live with.
However, it doesn’t mean that you’ve heard the last from me. For all those cynics who said I couldn’t do anything in this line of work, I’ve got news for you; I’m doing it now.
A great burden has been lifted from me today.
While I believe my father would be furious for what I have done, I also believe that he would be proud of the things I have accomplished, along with the strong spirit of my entire family.
Since his death in 2002, helping people cope with grief has been my mission.
If I can give broken children or broken families two hours of escape at a theater, while helping them deal with the problems in their lives, then I have done a good work, turning my pain into help.
My hope now is that you can find it in yourself to forgive me, and that most of my friendships and alliances can be maintained.
I’m tired of talking about these things, and I don’t want to discuss this matter further. I have laid it all out on the table, leaving myself as nakedly exposed as I have ever been, without going through any sort of nasty expose.
I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that I have a new project to finish. I continue to strive for the highest quality in this production, just like anything else I have ever done, in some ways as an act of penance for my actions.
Surprisingly to some, I will complete Di Passaggio with Mark, my production partner at my side, despite the fact that we have worked together for years on lies and false understanding.
At a moment when he could have walked out, he chose to believe in me, and has made the decision for us to work together as a team for years to come.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a column that was printed in numerous newspapers, promoting the film. I closed asking, “this is your life, are you who you want to be?”
I meant every word, though the reader didn’t realize that some of the questions applied to myself as well. A change had to be made, and the truth had to be spoken. I’m ultimately human, like anyone else.
Though my mistakes are high, I have many triumphs for which I can be proud.
Thus, I will continue to work hard and blaze as many new trails as someone my age can, to show everyone that while I can be down, I am far from being counted out.