Film Independent Thu 3.27.2014

“Be Nice, Be Professional And Work Your Ass Off”—Advice From Hellion Director Kat Candler

Here’s an indie worth keeping an eye out for: Kat Candler’s upcoming feature Hellion, starring Aaron Paul, Juliette Lewis and newcomer Josh Wiggins. Called “heavy metal lyrical” by Entertainment Weekly, the film tells the story of Hollis (Paul), a grief-stricken widower and mostly absentee father to two young boys, and it was recently picked up by Sundance Selects for North American distribution. Candler’s previous films have screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival, SXSW, Slamdance and on PBS. She’s also a lecturer on film at the University of Texas in Austin. I caught up with Candler to discuss the making of Hellion, working with young children and how she raised money for her film.

What was your process taking this story from a short film to a feature-length script?

A lot of it was going down to Southeast Texas and researching that world. The idea of taking it from the short to the feature stemmed from not only a place but also from the idea of what happened to the mother of this family and trying to figure out the history of the family leading up to this point of dysfunction. One of my favorite parts is writing and doing the research and investigating and embedding yourself in a world that you don’t know that much of and figuring out the nuances and the authenticities of that [world] to bring it to the screen or bring it to a page.

You teach at the University of Texas. Are you from Texas originally?

I’m originally from Florida but I claim Texas because I’ve lived there longer than I’ve lived anywhere. I moved to Austin in 1997 and got a creative writing degree from Florida State and then just moved to Austin and started making stuff. I’ve grown up with a slew of amazing filmmakers in Texas.

Regarding the Texas connections, how did you bring Jeff Nichols and [Terrence Malick’s long-time producer] Sarah Green on board as executive producers?

Producer Kelly Williams and I have known Jeff for a little while and then Kelly went through the Producers Lab at Sundance and Sarah was his mentor through the lab and has been the most badass woman I know. She is the coolest, kindest, toughest lady and fights for us with a vengeance and I couldn’t be more grateful to her for that.

They [Jeff and Sarah] were there from the very beginning, from the screenplay phase. So they’ve championed us for a while now and just believed in us, which means the world at that stage that people believe that we will make something good that will bring people to the screen.

What was your greatest challenge during production?

Days. Shooting with kids, you’re limited to how many hours you can shoot, so a limited number of days, which was really challenging. You know, I’m a planner, so I spent so much time in pre-production and soft pre-production and rehearsed a lot with my boys, and tried everything you could possibly do to have everything a go by the first day, so that when things came up everything was relatively smooth. But yeah, limited days was always challenging.

In terms of financial support, did things come together after you locked in Aaron Paul?

They definitely came together after Aaron came on board. We were able to secure a bunch of private equity. But then the great thing, too, is that we were able to work with the San Francisco Film Society who kind of came on board just helping and guiding us when the short was premiering at Sundance.

Any advice to first-time filmmakers about festival strategy?

For me, with this experience, it was about breathing and savoring every second because it is such a magical experience and a whirlwind. I’ve had to kind of step back a lot and just say, ‘breathe and soak up every moment of this,’ because it is such a life-changing experience.

But for filmmakers I teach at UT, I have three things that I try to instill in my kids and if they take these three things and go with it, then I feel like I’ve done by job. And those things are: be nice, be professional, and work your ass off.

Lee Jameson / Film Education Coordinator