Sundance 2012 Interview: HELLION writer/director Kat Candler
Filmmaker Kat Candler is a goddamned rarity. Having been in the industry over 10 years now, she's constantly working on new projects, winning awards, and remains one of the most down-to-earth people I've ever met. I would put her in my pocket and take her everywhere if I could.
Candler's latest short film, a story about three hell-raising boys called HELLION, is making its world premiere in just a few days at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Yesterday I interviewed her via email, to discuss the film and the challenges of making it while also working as a RTF lecturer at the University of Texas. Goddamned rarity, I tell ya! Enjoy!
HELLION is a character study. How difficult was it to tell this style of a story in under seven minutes?
Making shorts is hard. Period. Telling a full story in six minutes--yikes. I had as many drafts of this 7-page script as I would for a feature--about eight to ten. I just kept tweaking things, looking at the structure, the arc, the little nuances ... All the same principles apply--getting in and out of scenes, jumping into the story crazy fast. You just don't have time to waste. And in the editing room working with our editor the ultimate bad ass David Lowery, we just kept looking at the tiny little love handles to shave off ... or cutting full scenes, which we did. "You know, Kat we don't really need that opening scene." - "Shit, you're right. Cut it." Over the years, I've learned not to be precious with everything and be cool with lopping things here, chopping things there. As long as it serves the ultimate story, I'm cool. But I'll say it helps working with people who are smarter and more talented than you are. It makes you look smart and talented.
You nailed how boys play out their teen angst years (I was a little asshole as a kid and got spanked all the time, so I know firsthand). I would love to hear more elaboration on the story and why you chose the fire as the boy's weapon of destruction.
You were an asshole kid? No way! I, on the other hand ... was not ... an asshole child. I was the girl who never did anything wrong because she was terrified of getting in trouble. Except for the night my dad found piles of molding vegetables under our dining room table. I secretly put veggies under there for months. And I would've gotten away with it had it not been for those damn roaches! And that was the only time I ever got spanked. So, yeah, this short doesn't come from any of my own experiences. My mom told me the story about the day her three younger brothers set fire to their dad's jeep ... and the repercussions when my grandfather came home. That story stuck with me for a long time. And the fact that my Uncle Frank (the youngest) kept the secret of what really happened for years. Literally, until they were adults. As far as the fire goes ... young boys, chaos and fire = awesome. Lord of the Flies is one of my all time favorite books and ever since seeing Over the Edge so many years ago-- yeah, I'm a sucker for that kind of stuff. Sadly, we wanted a much bigger fire, but with the situation in Texas last summer we weren't able to go quite so crazy. For the feature, we'll go full out. We'll burn everything.
From a viewer's perspective, the film quietly hints that the boys are from a broken home. If true, why do you think that's important background information to show? Do you think most kids at this age act out aggression due to being young and absent-minded or from a specific cause?
In my mind and the mind of the actors we know what happened to mom. But we definitely don't explain it in the film. We just know she's not there. And it's something that weighs heavy on the entire family and how they deal with each other. I'm knee deep in writing the feature and the mom's absence plays a huge role in this family's world. I think in general kids do pretty stupid shit just because they're kids and they're figuring things out. But when there's real upheaval in their lives, they have strange and unique ways of how they cope. All kids are so different from each other, but I think when kids are lashing out or being destructive it's just a reflection of what they're dealing with inside. And the fact they don't know how to deal with it. They get super angry but don't know how to manifest it in a healthy manner. God, I just sounded so clinical.
A lot of your films seem focused on teenage adolescence. What do you find appealing about this age group that makes you want to tell stories about it?
Kids are cool. Plain and simple.
So far you have written and directed two features, and a handful of shorts. Do you find it more challenging to wrap up an entire story in less than feature-length film or more difficult to stretch an entire story to at least 90 minutes?
They're both challenges in and of themselves. I write way more features these days, so I think it's probably easier for me to spend that page length to develop characters. It's like a huge puzzle and you have all of these pieces to work together and it's a lot of trial and error and crafting. I don't know. I love writing. It's more fun working on features because of the research. Last fall after having shot the short version of Hellion, Kelly Williams (Producer), Jonny Mars (Actor) and I drove out to Kelly's hometown of Port Neches (tiny town in east Texas) to research a feature version. We had a blast visiting this small town world and finding all of the nuances of it that I couldn't dream up in my head without seeing it and breathing it, y'know? I don't know. Features are fun. I'm that little girl -who never got in trouble mind you- because she who would sit alone in construction sites with her Barbies and matchbox cars creating up her own little universe.
Aside from being a filmmaker, you're an RTF Lecturer at the University of Texas. Regarding 'Hellion', how difficult was it to manage your time at school and working on-set?
I was teaching the summer we shot Hellion. Um, I'm used to juggling so much, it wasn't too difficult. Especially working with Kelly who was incredible to work with. That guy has his shit together and it was so nice not to have to worry about anything but actually directing. And it was cool, because my students who were in class that summer kind of got to experience pre-production and production along with me. I would come to class with reports of how things were going, what went wrong, what was awesome. And I used a lot of my old students on set.
On your official website you have five feature films currently in development. Are you a robot? If not, when do you find time to sleep and what are your plans for all of these features currently in development?
No, I'm not a robot, but in my earlier years, I did work for an AI company. No joke. Our break room was called Skynet. It was weird. Ask anyone close to me, I'm constantly working. I'm a freak like that. I don't sit still. Over the holiday break, I got mad and was all, "Can someone please speed up this vacation! We have to get back to work. We have shit to do!" I'm constantly writing at least one, usually two or three features. As far as what's in development ... Jason Wehling and Jonny Mars are producing my teen comedy feature, Nikki is a Punk Rocker, which was a 2011 IFP Emerging Narrative Participant. We're crossing our toes and fingers super tight it goes into production this year. I love that project so much. I'm in revisions on the Hellion feature I wrote these last few months. Kelly and I are hoping to give that bad boy some legs. I'm in draft four on a script about a death metal band. I gotta come back from Park City and wrap my brain around that one a little more. And I have two kid films that I'm in love with that I wrote a long time ago that are more in vein of my short Love Bug. But they're bigger beasts to tackle. The Spider in the Bathtub which was a 2009 Tribeca All Access participant involves heavy animation mixed with live action. And my beloved Brain Brawl is a huge kid ensemble piece. Recently I've tugged on Kelly's shirt about those 'cause they're totally up his alley.
Final and probably most challenging question: have you ever caught producer Kelly Williams smiling?
Kelly Williams is a sly bugger isn't he? Sometimes I can't tell if he's serious and it freaks me out. "Kelly, for real, you hate babies? Really?" Then he'll crack that little smile of his and say, "Nah man, I don't hate babies." ... "Okay, thank god. Cause babies are cool and cute."
Kelly Williams is one rad dude that I'm so lucky to be working with. He's good people.
Saturday, January 21, 6:00 p.m.
Yarrow Hotel Theatre, Park City
Monday, January 23, 7:00 p.m.
Redstone Cinema 7, Park City
Wednesday, January 25, 9:00 p.m.
Broadway Centre Cinema 6, SLC
Friday, January 27, 2:30 p.m.
Prospector Square Theatre, Park City