Interview: Director of “Hellion” Kat Candler


Based out of Austin, Texas filmmaker Kat Candler’s first feature film “Hellion,” which was developed out of a short film she directed is being expanded to theaters in limited release June 20th and on Video On Demand (VOD) the same day. 

The film features “Breaking Bad” star Aaron Paul as Hollis, an absent father from Southeast Texas broken down from the loss of his wife. Meanwhile, his sons Jacob (Josh Wiggins) and Wes (Deke Garner) are caught in the crossfire of a custody battle between Hollis, CPS and their estranged, yet caring aunt Pam (Juliette Lewis). 

“Hellion” was screened at the Dallas International Film Festival this past April to great acclaim from audiences and critics alike. Candler’s film continues a tradition of Texas based filmmakers such as David Lowery, (“Ain’t Them Body Saints”) Shane Caruth, (“Upstream Color”) and the great Richard Linklater (“Boyhood”) finding success in the independent film circuit. Red Carpet Crash had the privilege of discussing the film with her as she prepares for the film’s release. 

Brothers Jacob and Wes are quite different from one another each viewing their father Hollis in a different light, I read a quote from you in a magazine that read “I wanted to explore how children see their parents in a god like way,” How does this juxtaposition factor into the way you wrote the characters? 

Kat Candler: “I have an older brother who was my idol growing up, he always went on these crazy adventures and I was a very timid child who never got in trouble. I even tried desperately to get grounded and couldn’t even accomplish that feat. This feature really spurred from the short in that I was fascinated by how when we were kids my parents could do no wrong and when I got older I realized that they do go through struggles and they are fallible people who make mistakes. So that was something I thought about a lot and it ended up really resonating with the story.”

What is it about the American South that makes such a great setting for a classic rebel without a cause story? 

Kat Candler: “I was unfamiliar with the area until about 2011 when somebody recommended that this is where the film should take place and I came down to check it out it was very “OZ” like and somewhat magical. There was an image of this little-league field and an oil refinery that framed it and I thought it was just incredibly cinematic. Again, I just hadn’t seen a place like this before and I fell in love with the people and the feel.” 

Aaron Paul tends to draw empathy from audiences with his performances which I am sure wasn’t difficult to tap into while collaborating, can you discuss a few techniques you used while directing? 

Kat Candler:  “Aaron innately as a human being is a really likable guy, who has this very warm quality. When I approached him for the film I knew that this would be something he would bring to the table. His whole struggle of being wrecked by the loss of his wife and abandoning these kids emotionally, while still being involved with his boys is a very heart breaking, yet complicated situation. In terms of techniques, my biggest thing is bringing honesty to the screen and if something feels false we tried to figure out how to make it authentic. And with Josh Wiggins who had never acted in a movie before just brought something raw to the film.”

Director of Photography Brett Pawlak worked on “Short Term 12” which is a film that also focuses on troubled youth, what did he bring to the table aesthetically? 

Kat Candler: “He was easy with the boys and spent so much time with the boys and he always gave them their space so they could craft their performance. His gentle soul was fun and easy to work with which really put the actors at ease, because a couple of them had no previous acting experience. In terms of the overall aesthetic we talked a lot about bringing that 1970’s gritty appearance to the films. We especially drew influence from “Over The Edge” and “Urban Cowboy,” which was the first film I had seen about Southeast Texas until “True Detective” came out earlier this year, we just hadn’t seen this place on-screen before.”

The heavy metal music in the film acts as a pacifier for Jacob, why is this such a cathartic medium for a young woman, or man who is coming of age?

Kat Candler: “I think it’s something comforting about the noise and anger, which gives you a way to express yourself through these extreme emotions, which otherwise is left internal. It’s kind of backwards to say that, but it is completely true.”

My personal favorite films are ones such as “Hellion” that provide the audience with countless moments of character traits to latch onto, what are some films that you admire for their character development?

Kat Candler: “A film I really emulated for “Hellion” in particular was “Tender Mercies” for the dynamic with Robert Duvall and Tess Harper. I really love that movie. Of course, “Stand By Me” was a huge influence, I watched that movie a bazillion times as a kid. But, more recently I watched “The Hunt” which was one of my favorite films of 2013, that film really had interesting character exploration. “The Last Picture Show” is another one, have you seen that? If not, that is your homework assignment.”


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