Women Behind the Lens: Kat Candler
Issue: December 1, 2015

Women Behind the Lens: Kat Candler

Screenwriter/director Kat Candler is ending her year on a high note. The award-winning filmmaker has screened movies at Sundance, SXSW, Los Angeles Film Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival, Houston Museum of Modern Art, The National Institutes of Health and on PBS, including the 2014 Sundance Film Festival feature Hellion (starring Aaron Paul and Juliette Lewis). Most recently, she wrote and directed the short film, The Rusted for Ron Howard and Canon’s Project Imagination, starring Hunger Games’ co-stars Josh Hutcherson and Jena Malone. The 20-minute short film, which premiered to a studio audience (while also streamed online) at the AOL studios in New York in October, was based on Florida college student Mark Mukherjee’s winning trailer (chosen by Howard and Hutcherson out of 1,300 submissions) for Canon’s Project Imagination: The Trailer consumer contest. 

According to Candler, she initially received an email from Kevin Chinoy, one of the producers on the film, who she had worked with on prior projects, and after a few conversations, had gotten the job as writer/director. “I think Josh and [business partner/mother] Michelle Hutcherson had watched my film Hellion,” Candler says.  “Of course, anytime someone’s like, ‘Hey, you want to make a project?’ I’m like, ‘Yes, please!’ (laughs) I was super psyched about it. Everybody involved — I already knew Kevin, who had produced a few films with Sean Baker. I love [Sean’s] films Starlet and Tangerine, and Josh and Michelle. I was a fan of Josh from Bridge to Terabithia, which was one of my favorite books growing up, so it was just a really great team. With Ron Howard at the helm, and working with Canon, it was just a really exciting opportunity for me.” 

The Rusted, a psychological thriller, focuses on a brother and sister’s attempt to renovate their childhood home into a recording studio after their mother passes away, but strange happenings force them to deal with memories from their past. The film was shot on location in Santa Clarita, CA, on Canon Cinema EOS C500 Digital Cinema cameras. According to Candler, a first-time user of the C500, “I’m able to really have these vibrant, beautiful colors come to life on screen.”

Here, in an exclusive interview with Post, Candler talks about the film, teaching at University of Texas, and working as a female director.

What was the time frame on this? From when you got the call to when you wrapped post?

“I want to say it was maybe early May — it was sometime late spring that I got the initial call and from there, we dove in pretty quickly.”

You were shooting over the summer?

“I think we were shooting in late July and then we had a pretty quick turnaround to get the film cut and sound and all of that fun stuff. It was a good summer, from beginning to end.”

Had you ever worked with Canon cameras before?

“That was my first experience with that particular camera. I had used Canon cameras on some other short films. It’s funny, I’m not a super technical person. So I can’t talk lenses or super technical. I worked with early versions of their cameras a few years ago on a short, but this is my first time with the C500 and I absolutely loved it.” 

In the behind-the-scenes film you shot, you talked about the colors?

“Yeah, it was great — once we were in post and working in color correction — being able to bring out such great dynamics with the color and the range was really nice.”

You based the script around the winning trailer. Did you have free reign over the script?

“Yes, pretty much. Once I knew what trailer we were going to work off of, I came up with three different story lines and put together a rough treatment of each storyline. From there, I sent it off to Josh and Michelle, and all the producers, and we honed in on the one about the siblings and the house they inherited and the recording studio. It was rewrite after rewrite after rewrite. I like to do a lot of rewrites and kind of hone in on hopefully getting the story right on the page before getting to set. But yeah, it was definitely a fast process.”

You had just a few days for shooting?

“We had three days. Definitely could have used one more day but we were lucky to have two different camera crews going at the same time — so we were either shooting two cameras at the same time, with dialogue scenes or if we were doing long Steadicam shots of the hallways, we’d be outside doing something else. So it was a lot but I had a spectacular crew that was really efficient and good-hearted people excited about the project and excited to be there. We made it work.” 

How involved in the post process are you? Do you work closely with the editor?

“Yes. As soon as I got back, I sat with my editor Christopher Roldan [who edited on an Avid] and poured through all the footage. We went through all the dailies and we made notes on which performances I really loved or what moment I wanted to make sure we used. We just poured through everything and he would do a pass on a scene and I would come in and give notes and he would assemble the entire movie. For that, I was there every day, the whole day, with him until the very end. Color correction, my DP [Andrew Droz Palermo] flew to Austin and we spent the week with our colorist here. We did all our sound at Technicolor in LA. We worked with great folks over there. But I was heavily involved in the entire process.”

Was the editing in Austin?

“Yes, Chris has worked a lot with Terrence Malick. He was on The Tree of Life, and To The Wonder, so he’s based here and lives literally down the street from me. So we edited at his house, but it was fun and super easy.”

Do you enjoy the post process? 

“I love it. It’s the last part of the storytelling. You write everything on a script and you get to set and you make little compromises here and there and things shift as you go, and then you have your footage, which you can cut a million different ways. So the fun part is really crafting the story from there. It’s funny because you find more of your story in the post process. There were parts in the script that didn’t make it into the final cut or scenes that didn’t make it into the final cut. You have all this footage and you’re finding all the bits and pieces that really bring it to life in the editing process.”

Were you happy with the final film?

“I love it. I’m so happy. I’m so proud of it. It’s such a treat to work with Josh and Jena who are such phenomenal actors and human beings. And then I love my DP I worked with before on another project. He’s so good. It’s just surrounding yourself with great people, talented artists and good human beings. So much of it is just the process and having a good time and allowing people to be at their creative best. I also always wanted to do something in the horror/thriller genre, which I had never done before. So for me it was exciting to play in that genre.”

What are you working on next?

“I’m always writing. I have another horror-esque script I’m working on. Two projects we’re developing...And a few projects with a couple of production companies in LA. I hope one of these goes…Being on set is like heaven. It’s so much fun. And I love living on the playground with actors and DPs and the whole crew.”

What is your favorite part about the film making process?

“I love it all – I love pre-production and plotting and planning and putting together LUT books and images and music and then on-set, I love working with actors and I love just that kind of creative playground you get to live on. We’re making movies — that’s what I do for a living. That’s freaking cool. It’s like when you’re a little kid and you’re sitting in your backyard with your dolls and your matchbox cars, creating your little world. It’s like I get to do that as a job — which is really weird. And I love editing. I teach at UT [University of Texas] as well and my kids there right now are in the post process and editing their projects. The possibility, you watch a cut and there’s so much possibility with a look or a beat or a moment. I just love every single phase.”

What class are you teaching?

“I teach upper level, under grad, kind of a thesis class, from ‘Script to Screen.’ My students write and direct — five projects, so I have 20 students and they team up in groups of four and they produce five projects in the classroom per semester. Basically what I did over the summer (laughs).” 

Your students must be pretty impressed with your recent projects?

“Yeah, actually Josh Skyped in early on in the semester to talk about acting, and my cool factor shot up (laughs).” 

Did you always want to be a filmmaker?

“My parents were huge movie buffs, so my brother and I would spend weekends, as children, having movie marathons — everything from the airplane series to Arnold Schwarzenegger, like Terminator and Conan the Barbarian, and all of that. I worked in a movie theater from age 15 all the way through college. I knew I loved movies more than anything, but I didn’t know how to make them. High school I was a theater kid. I wanted to be an actor. In college, I decided not to be an actor and went into the acting program. So I got my degree in creative writing when I was working in the movie theater in college so I got roped into working on their sets and that’s where I got the bug. I moved to Austin because there was this cool, independent film community there and just started taking workshops and started making stuff and really learned by doing.”

Any thoughts about being a woman working in Hollywood?

“Yeah, it’s funny because I mostly worked in the independent film scene. We had a feature called Hellion from there, so I started getting more immersed in Hollywood land. The independent film scene, it’s a lot more open. I feel like there are more women filmmakers. I guess I never felt as much the difference in ratio, female to male, as much, but then certainly when I started working more in Hollywood film, it was way more evident. On The Rusted, it was pretty mixed. We had an all-female camera crew, aside from my DP, which was kind of bad ass. I think that the hardest thing, because I teach at UT and I teach upper level, under grads, over the years I’ve seen very few females in my classes and it’s just very disheartening. This semester I have a pretty even divide, but next semester I was looking at the roster and I had three girls in a class of 20, which is pretty upsetting. So a few years ago, I started a group called ‘Women in Cinema’ to kind of support, mentor and foster those girls through the program. Because I think if we can get a lot more girls coming out and the younger generation hopefully a bigger base of female directors out there. But it’s upsetting to see the ratios of directors out there and DPs and crews. But I love that the conversation is at the forefront right now. I hope that helps.” 

Any advice for upcoming filmmakers?

“The first three things I tell all my students are, Number 1: Be nice. Be a good human. Number 2 is, be professional. Simple things like showing up on set on time. The last thing is, work your ass off. There are plenty of talented people out there, but it’s really the people who work incredibly hard who are successful. It’s a hard business to be in and it doesn’t ever get easier regardless of what hurdle you get passed. So, it’s be nice, work hard and be professional.”

(The Rusted can be seen at imagination.usa.canon.com)