It’s a good time to be Kat Candler. The Austin-based filmmaker’s most recent feature, Hellion, helped her out of the trenches of the short film world and boosted her to national prominence. She was recently tapped to help with Canon’s Project Imagination program, in which aspiring filmmakers from around the country submit trailers for non-existent movies, and a professional director and actors—under the guidance of Ron Howard—make a short film based on the concept.
The resulting project, The Rusted, is the sort of film Candler loves to make. It’s an atmospheric drama built around a family in turmoil, with Hunger Games stars Josh Hutcherson (who also produced the short) and Jena Malone in the lead roles. You can watch the twenty-minute film below, then read Texas Monthly‘s interview with Candler to learn how she got involved in the project, what she sees as the future of Texas film, and what her ten-year-old self would think of what she’s doing now.
Texas Monthly: How did you get involved with this project?
Kat Candler: I got an email from Kevin Chinoy, the producer, about the possibility of doing this short with Canon and Project Imagination. I had heard about the project and I was super excited when I got this email, and I think that I was ultimately selected by Josh [Hutcherson] to do it, which was incredibly cool. So I signed on, and the contest this year was about trailers, and watching all of these trailers. All kinds of folks from all across the country, all different stories, comedies, horror, dramas. It was so nice to see all of these pockets of people’s lives inspiring all kinds of wildly different stories in thirty seconds to a minute. We all kind of really gravitated towards this one trailer by Mark Mukherjee. The trailer was just really very atmospheric and very moody. I’ve always wanted to do a horror-esque type film, and this trailer really spoke to me in terms of mood and tone, sort of that supernatural quality to it.
TM: How did you use the trailer as a jumping off point for your own film?
KC: I’d never done anything like this before, where you’re kind of given some piece of art and you have to go kind of create your own story from that. That was a unique experience to me. What I loved about the trailer, about Mark’s trailer, was that mood and that tone and that atmosphere and that kind of question of “what’s in the water?” I kind of went into my little writing room with my little laptop and just starting scribbling all of these ideas and characters, and then from there I put together three different treatments and three different versions of different unique story lines, and then we all kind of descended on this one idea of this brother and sister coming back to their mother’s home to renovate it into a recording studio. After we settled on that story, I was sent back into my writing room and fleshed out the characters and the histories. I love any opportunity to write and create, so for me, getting to work with such great creative minds like Josh, his mom, Kevin [Chinoy], and Francesca Silvestri, and having more people elaborating and expanding the story with me was really unique.
TM: You’ve made a lot of short films and at least one of them had enough meat to develop into a feature. What do you see as the element of a short film?
KC: I love the short format. I absolutely love it. I’m a huge fan of just going onto like “Short of the Week” and Vimeo and finding all of these great little six to twenty-minute nuggets of stories. I think it’s just as hard to create a story within that short amount of time as it is a 90 to 120-minute feature. You’re compacting all of these elements of a character arc and conflict and inciting incidents into a tiny little window into these peoples’ lives, or these characters’ stories. You’re still spending a ton of time in pre-production, you’re just spending a shorter window of time on-set, which is always sad because by day three you’re in your groove and you’re super-excited and bonded with everybody, and then it’s over. Unlike a feature, where by day ten you’re like, “Oh, God, when is this ending?” [laughs] Not really, because I love being on set. That’s the other thing. When I got that email and it was like, “Hey, want to make a short with us?” Hell yeah, I absolutely do! In terms of being a filmmaker, making a feature is such a huge time-consuming endeavor, so in between those windows of making features, any time I can get on set and create or write or grab a camera with friends and hone your craft and really just play is a magical experience, whether it’s six minutes or ninety minutes.
TM: It seems like there’s a newer crop of Texas filmmakers who are getting some attention right now. It’s not just the Linklaters and the Jeff Nicholses of the world, either. You’re out there, and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon is out there, and Justin Simeon, and Andrew Bujalski, and people like that. Do you see a new moment happening in Texas film right now?
KC: I do, actually. I think it was pretty noticeable in 2013. There were, I think, nine or ten Texas films at Sundance. It was kind of hard to ignore us anymore. What I love about Texas filmmakers is that we’re all so very different from each other in the kinds of stories that we tell, in the voices and aesthetics that we bring to the screen. There are just wildly diverse characteristics to each of our crafts. Then the other cool thing, I think, for me personally is that I’ve grown up with a lot of these filmmakers, David Lowery, the Zellner Brothers, Clay Liford, Brian Poyser. There’s just so many of us that have been in the trenches together for so many years. It’s so beautiful to see everyone having these sweet little successes with the festival circuit, with seeing our movies in the theaters. What I love too, is that each of our successes is sort of a shared success between Austin and Texas. It’s just a community. We’ve been working our asses off for a really, really long time, and it’s so nice to see the fruits of everyone’s labor.
TM: You had a big 2014 with the release of Hellion. At SXSW this year, Selma director Ava Duvernay gave you a big shout-out during her keynote. You’ve got a short film right now with two Hunger Games stars coming out a few weeks, and before the release of another Hunger Games movie that’s going to be huge. What’s it like riding the wave that you’re on right now?
KC: It’s really, really nice. Any time you get to make something, regardless of how big it is—whether it’s a six-minute short film with your friends on a weekend or a ninety-minute feature with a movie star, just being able to get on set and being able to craft a story is heaven for me. I’m always trying to think of what’s next. What can I do next? Where can I get my hands dirty with another story or another film? It’s really nice—but again, what can I do next and what’s around the corner? I definitely have to stop myself every so often and be like, this is f—ing great. Life is f—ing great. A friend of mine asked me, “What would your ten-year-old self think about yourself now?” If she could look ahead, she’d be like, ‘Holy sh*t. Your life is rad.’” And it is, despite the stupid little trivial things that we all get sad about or frustrated with. I’m making movies. I’m making movies and I get to go to UT and I get to teach other kids how to make movies. I have no complaints. I love being able to wake up in the morning and teach people how to make movies. Life is pretty good.