Sundance Bound with Austin Writer/Director Kat Candler

21 12 2011

Kicking off our 2012 Sundance Bound Series we like to introduce you to Writer/Director Kat Candler and her film Hellion.

Here is our email chat with Writer/Director Kat Candler.

Kat Background Questions:

1.  “Dear Fellow Scorpio”, j/k.  Gotta start every questionnaire with the simple, Where are you from?

Yep, Scorpios are kind of rad.

I grew up in Jacksonville Beach, FL where I went to a nerdy academic magnet school, Stanton College Preparatory for my entire junior and high school career. Some of the best memories of my life. I started college at Emerson College as an acting major but lasted a few months before I ditched the Boston weather and acting degree (which felt like bad therapy) for Florida State and a creative writing degree. While in Tallahassee, I deejayed at V-89 (the college radio station), I sang in a not-so-great indie rock band called Jake Ryan and I paid rent by selling movie tickets at Oak Lake 6 where all the film school kids worked.

2.  Tell me what’s it like living and working in Austin?
Living and working in Austin is kind of amazing. I’ve been here for 14+ years and it’s home. The people are nice, the film community is fucking awesome. I’m proud to have grown up with so many talented filmmakers in the Austin and even the Texas film scene. I think what makes it so special is that every one has such a unique and truly distinct voice. And we all rally behind each other and try to do what we can to support each others efforts … whether it’s using someone’s house to shoot, contributing to Kickstarter campaigns or working on each others projects. It’s a great place to balance life and making movies with such good-hearted people.
3.  When did you decide to jump into the world of teaching and how has that changed you as a filmmaker?

I kind of fell into teaching. People asked me early on to do workshops here and there even though I was a baby at it and didn’t quite know what I was doing. But I quickly realized I kind of loved teaching. Maybe it’s in my blood, I don’t know. My mom and grandmother were both teachers. Music mostly. I think teaching at UT has probably helped me grow exponentially both as a filmmaker and a storyteller. Because I had to know what I was teaching and never went to film school, I went back and started studying again. You should never stop learning and growing. And teaching shoved me back into that world. And then I’m just constantly inspired by my kids. It’s such a joy experiencing films and stories through their fresh, wide eyes. There’s a genuine enthusiasm and excitement that they have that’s infectious. I definitely feed off of it.

Your Films:
4.  “I really, really Love Rocky Road Ice cream,” what a great Introduction to your blog!  I’m curious what first inspired you to write and direct films?

I actually just ate Rocky Road Ice Cream for dinner. It’s so sad. I’m not one of those people who can pin point that moment I wanted to write and direct movies. I think it was a combination of so many things: My mom and dad bringing home a skyscraper stack of VHS every weekend as a kid. Or my dad skipping work over the summers to take me and my brother to see The Goonies or Labyrinth or The Secret of Nimh.  I worked in a movie theater from age 15 all through college. And then in college, I got pulled onto the FSU film school sets and discovered how movies were actually made. That’s when I fell in love and realized it wasn’t rocket science. After college I moved to Austin to make movies. Whatever that meant.

5.  Your films seem to have a lot of children/teens in them, what is it about “Youth” that is so appealing?
I’m a total sucker for youth. Probably because I’m stuck in it. I have diaries filled with first kisses, band practices, River Phoenix obsessions, such crazy heightened emotions about what someone said during lunch or a note that a boy wrote that may or may not mean that he liked me. I don’t know, it’s just a more interesting time to me. Everything’s so new and fresh and huge. Like so huge. All of my memories growing up are very vivid and rich. There’s a pure romanticism about youth and I love it.
6.  Can you explain your writing style and how you first approach starting a script?
My writing style has surely evolved over the last many years. I might start with a plot point, a character, a scene or a nugget of an idea. But I flesh it out in a pretty intense outline and heavy character sketches. They can range from 10-30 pages. Then I toss that outline into Final Draft and accordion it out with dialogue and description. Then comes the fun part … revisions. I typically get up to ten or so drafts of a script. That’s when it’s no longer crap and gets good. The skeleton and spine solidify in the first few drafts, but I think most of the magic happens in the ninth or tenth draft.
7.  I really enjoyed  Love Bug a lot.  Are you partial to turtles, I have a huge love of them is why I ask (the turtle mouth open was AWESOME!)?  What are the hardest parts about working with such young talent?  And vice versa what are the elements of shooting children that you enjoy?

Love Bug was a scene from a family comedy feature I wrote called The Spider in the Bathtub. I was going to the Tribeca All Access program in 2009 with the script and wanted to bring something to show what the film would be– stylistically– the colorful, weirdo world. The open mouthed turtle was actually my editor Nick Walker’s doing. He’s a comedian outside of film and he brought little things like that to the table that made it pop. I feel like I’ve always worked better with kids than adults. Again, going back to being stuck in my youth, maybe? I think the hardest part is finding the right kids. I can’t work with kids who don’t “have it”– if that makes sense. It’s kind of impossible to pull a performance out of a kid who doesn’t get it. Who can’t be honest in the moment. But the fun is finding those kids who do get it. And trust me, you know. Then it’s about treating them professionally and working with them like you would an adult. They’re smarter than we give them credit for. But they’re also less jaded and less aware. They’re just kind of in it.

Being on set with kids is just fun. Plain and simple. All the stress and hard decisions get balanced with their playfulness. It’s about making something special while having a good time doing it. It’s about exploring, discovering and just enjoying the process.

8.  Why shoot in Georgetown in particular?
The summer we shot Hellion was a summer of horrible fires in Texas. So there was a burn ban and eventually a “declaration of disaster”. With a burn ban you can get permission through a city and fire department to shoot but with a declaration of disaster it’s just not going to happen. Period. Because we had a fire we had to ride it out and hope the declaration would be lifted. Thank god it was. We were lucky to work with Georgetown (not far from Austin) because they were just so sweet and welcomed us with open arms. And our locations person, Drew Saplin (and his grandmother) found the perfect house by just driving around and going up to people’s doorsteps and talking to the homeowners. And it truly was the perfect house. We lucked out big time.
9.  I love the tone you all go for with your Indie Go Go Campaign video.  How would you describe your sense of humor with this film and the tone you’re trying to showcase?

We had a blast making those videos and will make more along our Sundance/Park City journey. They’ll air online as our video blog. Our friends are dumb and goofy. We like to do dumb shit.Hellion definitely took quite a turn tonally from script to screen. It was interesting how it shaped itself through the process but I just went along with it. On the page it has more of a Love Bug quirky tone, but when we started pre-production things got much darker. It rides a fine line between comedy and pretty dark drama. I hope it works. It’s interesting because different generations react to it differently. It’s hard to talk too much about it without giving it away. I’ve gotten everything from “I love it!” to “I don’t know how to feel about it” to some people even crying. Or my nine-year old nephew saying, “That’s really really weird.” It’s a strange film, but at the heart it’s got my “Kat Candler” stamp all over it.

10.  What was it like working with Jonny in this film and can you tell us a bit about his character.

Man, I love Jonny Mars so much. I think he’s one of the best actors in Austin, maybe Texas. He was a friend first so it was super easy working with him. He has fantastic instincts and it just seems to come so natural to him. I’d work with that guy on anything. The story is loosely based on my mom’s three younger brothers and my grandfather. My grandfather was a pretty hard-edged man. He was frightening one moment and super gentle and loving the next. So it was finding that balance in a single dad struggling to raise three troublemaking boys. I think Jonny nailed it.

11.  Kids, Fire, and Parental Guidance Lacking – What was the atmosphere like for this film?
The atmosphere was a lot of fun. I think/hope everyone had a great time. When I teach my film classes, I emphasize a handful of things over and over … story, professionalism and kindness. Sets shouldn’t be screaming matches or miserable places. It’s about working with people who are super talented who have good hearts. I like to hand pick who I allow on our sets. I’m always asking, “Are they nice?” Especially when you have kids around. You have to make sure you set a good example and protect them. We only had a few complications … a broken toe, a singed leg … I think that was it. Everyone got out alive. And did an amazing job. I got lucky with a bad ass crew.
12.  Music wise can you talk about the score and how it impacts the film.
I LOVE THE MUSIC SO MUCH! Some of my Dallas friends recommended Curtis Heath who’s in The Theater Fire up in Fort Worth/Dallas area. He’d scored a few friends’ films. I basically told Curtis “80s thrash metal”. I wanted a score that matched the madness and chaos of these kids. Curtis immediately got it on his first pass. We did a few tweaks here and there and what he came up with in the end … it was perfect.
13.  I love that you have David as your editor.  Both of you as writer/directors have thrown the old adage of “DON’T work with Animals and Children” out the window!  Was it David’s experience with children in his films that attracted you to him editing this one?  Can you also talk about what the post process was like and when did you decide this is the final cut to start sending out to festivals?

David and I go way way back … 1999, I think. He’s one of my early early film friends that I’ve grown up with. And I think we understand each others sensibilities pretty well.I went to David because first and foremost he understands story through and through. So our discussions were mostly involving character arcs and beats in the story. He got the film. He brought a lot of magical moments to the table.

I’m very much about workshopping both scripts and rough cuts. We did several “rough cut” screenings with trusted friends and some random folks to see what was working and what wasn’t. We cut out an opening scene that was slowing it down (David’s idea). We trimmed and shaved and got it pretty damn tight. And then when we brought the music into the timeline– and that just was like, “holy shit”.

14.  SUNDANCE TIME – What was that phone call like and how has that one call already “changed” things for you?

It was a Wednesday night around 9pm the day before Thanksgiving when Kelly called me. It was one of those moments you just kind of “know”. I literally fell to my knees and started crying. I kept telling Kelly, “Shut up. Shut up. Shut up!” and weeping. It was pretty fucking awesome. A month later, I still walk around the house saying, “I got into Sundance.” At this point, my husband has gotten pretty annoyed with me, “I got into Sundance” … “Oh my god! I know.” But he’s crazy proud.Maybe it’s like having sex for the first time. You definitely feel different. You feel legitimized. It’s really really nice.

I’ve gotten a ton of sweet emails and calls from friends, family, managers and agents … I don’t know. I’m hoping it’ll help get my next feature off the ground next year. I just want to keep making movies. And I got lots of ’em to make!

15.  I love that you blasted the fact that you’ve been to Park City before (on twitter) – What are you most looking forward to doing or seeing at Sundance?

I’m excited to see movies and meet more of the other filmmakers. I was there in 2001 to watch movies and I had so much fun.

Probably my most anticipated film this year is Beasts of the Southern Wild. I’m a huge fan of Glory at Sea and all of the short films from Court 13 Pictures. There’s such imagination and freshness to everything they do. I’ve been following Beasts for a while, just waiting …

Stay Tuned for more of our Sundance Bound Series in the next few weeks!!!




One response

17 01 2012
Sundance Bound – Texas Style « Pearl Snap Discount

[…] chatted with Writer/Director  Kat Candler about her short, Hellion.  You can check out that chat, here.  Kat and star Jonny Mars were both at the press screening this past week in Austin and are quite […]

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