Interview by Jakob Lewis Barnes
Around this time last year, I had the pleasure of interviewing the writer/director/star of indie flick ‘A Dozen Summers’, Kenton Hall. In the year since that interview, Kenton Hall has seen his little independent film go from strength to strength – achieving festival circuit success and fighting a certain merc-with-a-mouth in the DVD charts. Coincidentally, I’ve also been lucky enough to work with the man himself on my upcoming short film ‘Harlequin’. So, I thought now would be the perfect time to ask Kenton some questions about his whirlwind of a year.
JLB: So, you’re pretty busy right now with the DVD release of ‘A Dozen Summers’ – how are you finding that particular rollercoaster?
KH: Exhausting? It’s been strange; Two years of hard slog and emotional turmoil. (Take note, young filmmakers, this game is not for the faint of heart.) I can’t pretend it’s not exciting to see my film on shelves – a physical item that people can take home – but I think rollercoaster is a pretty good word to describe it. In a way, the hard work has only just begun, because now we have a shot at a much larger audience and we need to let people know we’re there, and then march them to the till, or to press the button online. But I’m super proud of what our team accomplished. It was – as far as we can figure out – actually impossible. But there it is, all shiny and shrink-wrapped.
JLB: I remember you were chasing ‘Deadpool’ hard in the pre-order charts – did you end up beating that son of a bitch?
KH: You mean the OTHER part-Canadian fourth-wall-breaking movie? I’m afraid Mr. Reynolds and friends JUST held us off the top spot on Zavvi’s chart, but we snagged it as soon as ‘Deadpool’ was released into the wild. So, yeah, we got number 1 on the Zavvi DVD pre-order chart. That was…odd, but cool. I won’t pretend it wasn’t cool. Especially for a little film like ours, which probably cost about the same as Ryan Reynold’s assistant’s snack budget.
JLB: ‘A Dozen Summers’ has proved to be hugely popular and pretty successful – what kind of doors has this film open for you?
KH: Well, I’m going to stop you there. I want it to be made very clear that I didn’t say it’s been “hugely popular and pretty successful”, because that would make me insufferable. It’s great that it’s meant something to people though – and, hey, we’re human, we love to feel loved. And there have been some people that have not enjoyed it, which is their prerogative. But, overall, I think people “got” what we were trying to do, which was to make something a bit different, a film which had a little something for everybody, be they 12 years old or 12 at heart – and that’s a huge demographic, so it is a big ask. Those people who loved it, really loved it though – and it is films that did that to me when I was younger that started me on this path in the first place, so I can’t complain.
In terms of doors, I’m trying to stick my foot into a few that have opened a crack. There are a lot of stories I want to tell, and one or two that other people want me to help them tell. I don’t want to jinx anything. Genuinely, a lot depends on what happens over the next couple of weeks – an official chart placing would be useful. (Hint, hint, people. The next seven days are the time to give “A Dozen Summers” a shot. I’ll be ever so grateful. There may be dancing.)
JLB: Well, we all want to see Kenton dance, of course. Now, I’m going to be very selfish and veer the conversation towards ‘Harlequin’ for a while – how did you find that whole experience?
KH: Well, other than the fact that a lot of people I love are frightened to death by clowns, and therefore will probably never speak to me again, it was great to get back in front of a camera and do something different. And I love working with people like yourselves who are just trying to make something unique. Plus, short film is a real love of mine. Our producer on ‘A Dozen Summers’, Alexzandra Jackson, is the director of a film festival called The Short Cinema, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and therefore I’m going to plug the hell out of it – it takes place in Leicester from August 24th to 27th and you can get tickets here. I expect to see you all there, having also bought ‘A Dozen Summers’ and being geared up for ‘Harlequin’.
JLB: Have you managed to get all the clown make up off yet? You really threw yourself into that character (which made my job a lot easier) – what was your process/preparation for becoming Charles the clown?
KH: I do bathe, you know. Although there is a tricky spot in the middle of my back. No, I’m back to what passes for normal in my universe now.
It’s very kind of you to say such nice things about my performance. Preparation? Like most actors, I have what might charitably be referred to as a fluid relationship with reality. There’s more of me around than there used to be – perils of being responsible for small humans – but it’s still relaxing to cast yourself off and slip into someone more comfortable for a while. Now I know, in this instance, that you wouldn’t think my character screamed “comfort”, but it’s an exorcism, of sorts. I may never have been exactly in Charles’ oversized shoes, but playing someone who is struggling with his identity, with his need for and abandonment by an audience? Hell, son, I’ve been preparing for that part for my entire life. Also, I like being made-up, so that was a win.
JLB: And we got your delightful daughters in on the act too, to play a couple of unimpressed audience members – do you enjoy working with the girls?
KH: At the risk of appearing sentimental, I would work with them all day, every day; I love their company. They can be challenging, but that’s kind of the beauty of those two. I like to see them grasp the idea that hard work brings rewards. Plus, they’re genuinely funny and genuinely kind, so it’s a pleasure. I’m proud of them, because they care about the world and they’re paying attention. That’s all any parent can ask.
I’m also counting on, if they do insist on remaining in the arts, them repaying me with work in my dotage, when my looks – such as they are – have faded and I’ve been reduced to making commercials for stair-lifts.
JLB: We’ve said it before but the success of your film really is quite inspiring for indie filmmakers – what role in the landscape of cinema do you think indie film plays?
KH: If we inspire anybody, that’s good news. Independent film is the lifeblood of the film industry. Low budgets mean having to concentrate on script and character to make a film work; You can’t hide behind spectacle. Production value, we all aspire to; Emotional value, however, is essential. Our film is flawed, and a lot of indie films are, technically, flawed. But what you’re seeing, in most cases, is an unvarnished view of the soul of the writer and/or director, and the result of the love and talent of a large group of people who couldn’t have been doing it for the money, because there wasn’t any. How can that not make it one of the most important threads in the filmmaking tapestry? Other opinions are available, but I’d have to hear a hell of an opposing argument before I stood down.
It is, however, up to all of us to make it work. Distributors, broadcasters and exhibitors need to take more chances, sure, but why should they, if we as an audience don’t? How can they make their living? We need to watch more indie films and talk about more indie films before we get to make more indie films.
(P.S. Did I mention that ‘A Dozen Summers’ is available now, wherever DVDs are sold? I did? Alright, then.)
JLB: And finally, where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
KH: I have a picture in my head that puts a smile on my face, let’s just leave it at that.
You can order your copy of the brilliant ‘A Dozen Summers’ here (and we really urge you to do so – our praise can even be found on the DVD cover). And if you’re itching to see what Kenton is up to next, check out the teaser trailer for our short film ‘Harlequin’ here.