Filmmakers in Focus - Hellion, Ping Pong Summer, Two Step

Written by Jim Kolmar | February 13, 2014

SXSW 2014 Filmmakers Michael Tully, Kat Candler and Alex R JohnsonSXSW is for everyone, but we wouldn't be where we are without some Lone Star Love, so this edition of Filmmakers in Focus talks to three filmmakers who call Austin, Texas home.

In the Festival Favorites category, Kat Candler and Michael Tully deliver two nuanced tales of of the tribulations of youth in Hellion and Ping Pong Summer, respectively. Also featuring a star turn from a young performer, Alex R Johnson's heads into dark territory amid the Texas heat in Two Step, part of the Narrative Spotlight section. Browse the rest of our Filmmakers in Focus interviews here, and check out the rest of our lineup on the just-announced film schedule.

Kat Candler on Hellion

Josh Wiggins in Hellion, courtesy Lauren Logan

Tell us a little about your film.

When motocross and heavy metal obsessed 13-year-old Jacob's delinquent behavior results in the authorities placing his little brother Wes with their aunt, he and his emotionally absent father must finally take responsibility for their actions and each other in order to bring Wes home.

Why did you start making films?

I've been obsessed with movies ever since I can remember. My dad would take me and my brother to see everything from Dune to Return of the Jedi to The Dark Crystal while my mom would make me watch Conan the Barbarian and Terminator countless times. I worked in a movie theater from age 15 all through college. But it wasn't until I got roped into working on my college friends' films at FSU did I realize the magic behind making movies. I would do anything they asked me to just be on set. I fell in love.

Have you been to SXSW before? Any tips?

I live in Austin, so I've been to SXSW more times than I can keep track of. I'm an official local. My tips ... Torchy's Tacos. So freakin' good. And the thing I look forward to most ... all of my film friends coming to town.

Tell us a random fact (or two!) that would help our attendees get a better idea of who you are.

I'm a girl who made a movie about angry teen boys, heavy metal and motocross because I like angry teen boys, heavy metal and motocross.

Michael Tully on Ping Pong Summer

Susan Sarandon in Ping Pong Summer, courtesy Jess Pinkham

Tell us a little about your film.

Set in present-day 1985 (we tried very hard to make the movie feel like an artifact from that era), Ping Pong Summer is both an ode to the coming-of-age Hollywood comedies I grew up watching, as well as a perhaps embarrassingly personal love letter to my own adolescence—i.e., being a 13-year-old dork who loved hip hop and ping pong and who looked desperately forward to his family's annual (one-week only!) summer pilgrimage to Ocean City, Maryland.

Why did you start making films?

From an early age, I've had a desire to express myself creatively. Making movies won out because it combines three of my favorite creative outlets at once: writing, photography, and music.

Have you been to SXSW before? Any tips?

I've been to SXSW every year since 2006—sometimes as a filmmaker, sometimes as a journalist. FOOD TIPS: Gus's Fried Chicken, East Side King (@ Liberty Bar), breakfast tacos at Veracruz All Natural. FEST TIPS: Don't be afraid of the Marchesa; even though it seems like it's far from downtown, it's my new favorite theater in the whole world to watch movies in!

Tell us a random fact (or two!) that would help our attendees get a better idea of who you are.

1) I am as excited by Bela Tarr films as I am made-for-Lifetime movies. 2) I will eat eggs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Alex R Johnson on Two Step

James Landry Hébert in Two Step, courtesy the filmmakers

Tell us a little about your film.

It's a Texas thriller. It starts as a bit of character piece and then morphs into something significantly more intense. The lives of James, a college drop out with no family, and Webb, an ex-con with a heavy debt over his head, collide via the grandparent scam.

I think I first saw something about the grandparent scam ten or so years ago on a network news magazine. It always interested me and I've always wanted to work it into a film. After I moved to Austin and started to develop the story of Two Step, it seemed like a natural narrative fit.

Why did you start making films?

I love film and I've always written, I've always wanted to tell stories.

My day job has been as a producer for commercials and feature documentaries. A major part of that job - especially in commercials when there are so many people trying to influence the creative - is creating space from all that noise to allow the director to execute his or her vision to the highest degree possible. And while I've enjoyed it and I've learned a lot from it, it's pretty frustrating when there's this massive desire inside you to express yourself creatively.

It just reached that moment where I had to do it. I had to start making my own films and develop my own voice. And making my own films became the antidote to all that commercial producing. And now it's the only thing I want to do.

Have you been to SXSW before? Any tips?

I came about five years ago and I was here last year (now that I live here). It's kind of the most obvious answer but I'm most looking forward to watching some really good films. Last year I saw way more films than the time before and I want to see more this year. While I've frequently regretted missing a screening for a party. I've never regretting missing a party for a screening. The parties will let you down more than the films will.

Also, it's almost a cliche, but now that I live here - tacos. Eat them. Eat them all. Especially Papalote (South Lamar) and El Primo (taco cart on South 1st).

Tell us a random fact (or two!) that would help our attendees get a better idea of who you are.

I just moved to Austin about a year and a half ago from Brooklyn. My family is originally from Ecuador, and my bother and sister and I still oversee the family dairy farm down there in the Andes.

Photo credits:
Hellion, courtesy Lauren Logan
Ping Pong Summer, courtesy Jess Pinkham
Two Step, courtesy the filmmakers