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Kat Candler on ‘Hellion,’ Aaron Paul’s Amiability, Metal, Expanding Her Short, and More

Written by on June 12, 2014 

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Hellion, arriving this weekend, follows the journey of a young boy in a small Texas town trying desperately to find his place while keeping his family together. It’s an emotional, heavy performance full of anger, sadness, and confusion by newcomer Josh Wiggins who is supported by relatively veteran actors like Aaron Paul. After seeing the film in Dallas I had a chance to sit down with Kat Candler, writer and director of the drama, which premiered at Sundance. Together we chatted about her process of taking a film from short to feature, whether heavy metal is her thing, molding Josh Wiggins, and much more. Check out the complete conversation below.

The Film Stage: You have another short you’re trying to develop into a feature called Black Metal. It played at Sundance, right? 

Kat Candler: Right.

So, in this film, there’s a lot of heavy metal. Metallica and music like that. Is this your thing?

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I do love metal. I don’t love all metal. But I definitely have genres that i’m affectionate for. I worked in college radio when I was much younger. I was very much the indie rock kid. I would go to a ton of shows. My husband is a huge music nerd. He’s still at the record store every Tuesday and years ago he started getting into metal and started sliding me CDs to listen to. He started me off easy and then, “If you like this, you might like this.” Started buying all of these metal books and subscribing to magazines. I love a good portion of the music but I was also really fascinated by the scene as well. Specifically with this next project and the Black Metal short, I love the idea of on-stage persona versus the off-stage persona. As I was working on that short film, entrenching myself on that world and scene, I was meeting all of these musicians. But they’re so different from what I would have expected in a really wonderful way. They’re the sweetest dudes in the world and have families and kids. They have normal day jobs and get sick and take the garbage out. I love the reality…

That’s not very metal, man! [Laughs]

I know! Which is why I find it so fascinating and so cool. Then I love the idea of going back to the metal short and expanding it. That whole public blame of Columbine or the Judas Priest case. Even the whole The Dark Knight Rises incident, people are trying to find blame for something and metal is such an easy target. There’s such a frenzy in the media but then when you go home with that musician or artist, what does it look like from a personal level and how does one deal with that? Their family and their kids? So both of those ideas have been really fascinating and resonant with me. With Hellion and with the metal project, I love a world that I don’t know necessarily and I love going into that world and exploring. Researching and trying to figure out what makes it real and authentic.

Many filmmakers have taken a short and expanded it into a feature. When you’re thinking up a short and you have a conclusion in mind, you’re dealing with a very limited amount of time. Do you think up a conclusion and include it in a short or do you maybe hold that back because you might want to touch on that as a future feature? It’s such an odd place to be in. 

This is actually my first short into a feature but with the metal, so it’s kind of both ways. I had a feature called The Spider In the Bathtub which is this very kid comedy script I had written. Because I was trying to make it into a feature, I pulled a scene out of it and encapsulated a scene into a six minute short as sort of a show and tell for people that might be interested in it. So that was the first time I had done a feature into a short. For Hellion, I just had a short script I wanted to make. I had no plans whatsoever to make it into a feature. It was just something I wanted to go hangout on the film set playground for a summer and make something. Then after that I started going down to southeast Texas and exploring that world that I had never seen before, or really even knew existed. That’s where the story wheels started spinning madly and I started figuring out the story down there. Then the metal movie, I had actually written a horror script about a band that got publicly blamed. It was very different from what the short ended up being but I took the idea of the first act of that script about blame and just took it from a 13-page script that turned into a nine minute short film. Now that I’m expanding that one I’ve scrapped that first script and I’m starting from scratch from just that short again and the initial idea. So it’s funny. It goes both ways. I never expected Hellion to be a feature, ever.

So, you have quite a few young cast members. This is Josh Wiggins’ first film as well. When you land on a kid like that, for you as a filmmaker who has been vocal about enjoying having kids in your films. When you take a kid that is brand new. He doesn’t have any prior experience, you get to mold him for the future or even for reuse by yourself. 

Oh, I’m already writing stuff for him! [Laughs]

Do you approach that a little bit different than if you had a kid who had a little experience already? 

Actors in general are so different from one to the next, regardless of age. They all work so differently. All of my boys, I had five boys, two of which had acted in a film before, and three of which had never acted in a film. It was just figuring out how they worked best. Drawing that out. With Josh, he had… whatever it is. He had it. It was just, and this sounds weird, but actors and even us, we have our ticks and we have our things that make us unique to us. It was trying to shed that from him very early on. The little things he does when he gets nervous or whatnot. Then starting with a blank slate and taking the character from there. But he was just an incredibly easy kid to work with. He would just be full on, in it, 150 percent. But going back to your question, working with kids and working with anyone that comes onto my set, I want to create a space and environment, regardless of if they are 10 or if they’re 40, where they can do their best work. So it’s about bringing on goodhearted, kind people.

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Non-assholes.

Yeah. I have the “No Asshole” clause on my sets and in my world. Making movies is hard enough, why are you going to make it really frickin hard? Even Aaron Paul, I vetted and found out, “Is he a nice human being?” And yes, he’s an amazing human being. Then it was like, “Okay! He can come work with us.” [Laughs]. But yeah, you just create a safe space because three of these kids had never acted before and you want to make sure their first experience is a magical one and not one where they think, “Oh, this business sucks.” They’re probably going to get that later on at some point if they continue doing it.

I read in a couple of interviews that you’ve mentioned you’re a workaholic. 

Yeah. [Laughs].

You like to have a multitude of things going on at the same time. Are you writing right now? You’re on work vacation…

Work vacation? [Laughs] That makes sense.

Are you writing? Did you find some coffee shop around here to write?

It’s funny. I’m juggling interviews over email, reading book scripts and articles to adapt. So I’m reading a book right now. I have an article that I’m going to read next. I just got back from this Georgia research trip that I was on for the metal movie. Yeah… it never stops. I usually get up around 6:15 in the morning and every morning I come down to the hotel here and work. I try to knock out stuff whether it’s emails that are piling up or ideas. Yeah, I’m working. You have to. What is the catchphrase? “The early bird gets the worm.” Yeah, you work your ass off. That’s how you’re going to get somewhere. Talent? A lot of people are talented but not as many are persistent. I have to kick down walls. [Laughs]

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Hellion hits theaters and VOD on Friday, June 13th.


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