In Focus: Kat Candler on Hellion

Filmmaker Kat Candler with actor Josh Wiggins. Photo: Lauren Logan

Filmmaker Kat Candler with actor Josh Wiggins. Photo: Lauren Logan

Kat Candler, Hellion

SFFS/KRF Filmmaking Grant Winner; $70,000 for postproduction, Fall 2013.

Hellion will have it's international premiere at Sundance Film Festival 2014 , U.S. Dramatic Competition!

What was the inspiration for this story?

The original short for Hellion came from a story my uncle Frank would tell at family gatherings. When Frank was little, he and my two other uncles set fire to my grandfather’s jeep. What happened when my grandfather came home to discover the destruction was the nugget of a story I fictionalized into Hellion.

When we wrapped the short over the summer of 2011, I wanted to continue to live with these characters, a single blue-collar father and his unruly boys in the wake of their mother’s death. Someone mentioned that they thought these characters lived in Port Arthur, TX. Kelly Williams (Hellion producer) immediately piped up with, “That’s where I grew up.”

So Kelly started taking me on small trips to southeast Texas. It’s a place where refineries loom over Little Leagues and neighborhood swimming pools and light up the night sky like Oz. It’s a hauntingly beautiful location that seemed cinematically untapped. I fell in love with the people and the world. I would sit in barbershops, restaurants and just listen. I would interview refinery workers and CPS officers to get a real sense of the world. The little story wheels in my head just started spinning. I wanted to bring a commonality in our struggles as parents and children from a world we haven’t really seen on screen yet.


What do you see as the greatest challenges for filmmakers today?  

Money is and will probably always be the greatest challenge for filmmakers. Both on a personal level and financing their films.

Our entire Hellion team has day jobs to pay the rent. I’m a lecturer (teaching one class each semester) in the film department at the University of Texas. Luckily I have a husband with a stable job and health insurance because otherwise I don’t know how I’d stay afloat or get to see a doctor. But even living on an incredibly tight budget, I wake up every morning and freaking love what I do. I make movies. I teach kids how to make movies. That’s heaven to me.

In terms of financing films, we’re finding more programs that connect filmmakers to financiers and production companies and more grants like the ones the San Francisco Film Society provide.

But honestly in the end, it still boils down to proving yourself as an artist and working your ass off to get your work on screen. I feel like you can never give up. As simple and silly as that sounds, it’s true. I had many a pep talk from filmmaker friends as we navigated putting the money together for Hellion. Our team set a date that we had to get financed by. If we didn’t, we had to push the shoot. I’ve never had a bigger knot in my stomach then I did that week. I had a heart to heart with David Zellner over coffee one morning who basically told me, “Go find the money come hell or high water. You have to make this movie. Do not give up.” A week later, we had a team of amazing investors.


What new opportunities are making the biggest difference to your filmmaking process?

I think the biggest opportunities to filmmakers right now are the development programs. Especially to those of us that don’t live in NY and LA, they connect us to distributors, production companies, mentors that we don’t normally have access to. Everything from the Sundance Labs, Tribeca All Access, Film Independent Labs, San Francisco Film Society’s A2E …

Describe what impact SFFS support has had on your film.

In January 2012 as I was prepping to get to Sundance with our short version of Hellion I got a note out of the blue from Tamara Melnik. She mentioned she was from the San Francisco Film Society and wanted to meet up in Park City about some of the opportunities they had for filmmakers. Little did I know that that initial email would turn into a long, sweet relationship our entire Hellion team would have with the San Francisco Film Society. Between guiding us through the grant process, long walks through the redwoods, conference calls just to catch up and sending the best “you can do it!” emails out of nowhere, they have a personal touch with filmmakers. I imagine that’s what makes them so special. They truly care about the filmmaker and the film.

The grant we received from the San Francisco Film Society and the Kenneth Rainin Foundation provided us the opportunity to work with Skywalker Sound. This was a dream come true. Literally. It elevated our film in such a big way. These are sound artists who built a whole new story to our film beyond what we’d even imagined or what was on the page. Already, I’ve learned so much working with our sound designer, Pete Horner. His approach to the sound designer, editor and composer relationship has made me rethink the post-production process. It’s been a golden opportunity to work with such outstanding talent.

Lastly, having the stamp of approval of the San Francisco Film Society has been such a blessing. I hold in such high regard the films that have come through the different grant programs … Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fruitvale Station, Short Term 12, Mosquita Y Mari… Adding Hellion to the list is such an honor.

The people who work at the San Francisco Film Society care deeply about film and story. They have such good hearts. And when they get behind a project they love, they will fight tooth and nail championing that film and those filmmakers and for that we are forever grateful.

The Spring 2014 SFFS / KRF Filmmaking Grant round is currently open to apply!

The Film Society has established an excellent track record of success with the 37 projects previously funded by SFFS / KRF Filmmaking Grants, with supported films winning top honors at the world’s premier festivals, garnering critical and popular acclaim and capturing the imaginations of audiences worldwide. As the grant program continues to grow, more and more exceptional independent features will join the distinguished company of such films as Short Term 12, Destin Cretton’s sophomore feature which won both the Narrative Grand Jury Award and Audience Award at South by Southwest 2013; Ryan Coogler’s debut feature Fruitvale Station, which won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award in the narrative category at Sundance 2013 and is an Oscar hopeful in multiple categories; and Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin’s debut phenomenon which won Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize and Cannes’ Camera d’Or in 2012 and earned four Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture).