Kenton Hall: One Year Later

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.

Kenton Hall

Kenton Hall is a Canadian-born writer, actor, director and musician. A Jack of all trades, and a master of most, we must say. Kenton has appeared in films such as ‘Les Miserables’, ‘Muppets Most Wanted’ and ‘The Theory Of Everything’, but our focus today is his brainchild – the fantastic comedy for and about children – ‘A Dozen Summers’. 

Interview by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Q. They say you should never work with kids, yet you chose to work with a cast full of them for ‘A Dozen Summers’. First of all, are you crazy? And why did you choose to make this casting decision?
A. Well, first of all, I think that, at the heart of this warning not to work with children is the idea that it is somehow, more difficult. To which I can only reply: Yes, it is difficult. It requires an enormous amount of concentration, attention and care from everyone involved to ensure that you foster a creative environment that both caters to a young cast’s needs and gets the best possible version of the film in the can. But that’s as it should be. It’s supposed to be difficult. Nothing worth doing is ever easy. And the rewards – seeing young performers blossom, without the jaded attitude that, sadly, too many older actors seem to develop and, most of all, being reminded that it may be hard work, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be fun – more than make up for the difficulty. Besides, anyone else would have been too tall. 
Q. You gave the lead roles to your daughters, Scarlet and Hero Hall. How did you find the experience of switching between dad and director?
A. One of the best things about writing the script had been talking to them about what I was trying to accomplish with the story, so when they screen-tested and I realised they understood the roles, it was a joy to continue working with them. Again, not without difficulty, but far more joy. I do think it will be interesting to see how different their performances are, when directed by someone else, as they move on to other projects. I suspect even better.
Q. You played the role of the girls’ dad in the film too. How close to the real Kenton Hall is the character of Henry McCormack?
A. I had a long talk with Sarah Warren, who plays Jacqueline, the girls’ mum in the film, during which I basically told her that the character of Jacqueline was actually closer to me than Henry. Wanting to do the right thing, trying their best, but not always sure where to start. She gets there, eventually, and I hope I have too. Henry is who I aspire to me; much more clued up, but still annoying.
Q. Colin Baker offers his vocal chords as the narrator for ‘A Dozen Summers’, how did the collaboration with the former Doctor Who star materialise?
A. I met Colin on another set – a short film by Rhys Davies called ‘Finding Richard’. Completely by coincidence, I was in the middle of casting for ‘A Dozen Summers’ and he was top of my list for The Narrator. As it happens, we met and struck up a conversation and I asked if he’d mind looking at a script if I sent it to his people. He agreed and, earning my eternal gratitude, signed up to do the film. Like a lot of legends, I think people forget how good he actually is, what enormous control of his voice he has and how funny he is. I love his audio work for ‘Big Finish’ in particular, which fans of ‘Doctor Who’ and, basically, fans of great storytelling and performance should seek out and purchase immediately. 
Eight years previously, unbeknownst to him, he had also been very kind to Hero, who plays Daisy, and she’d kept a signed picture of the sixth Doctor by her bedside ever since, so it just felt right on every level.
Q. There are plenty of positive messages conveyed throughout the film. How important do you think it is for young viewers to hear and see these things?
A. I think it’s important to present positive messages in a manner that children don’t find patronising. We do that too often – “Hey kids, positive message coming up! Pay attention now! Don’t litter!” – as though they’re only children, they don’t know any better. Children are smart. They are instinctive. They take their own lives very seriously. The mistake we make is assuming that because we don’t have the same priorities as them, that somehow their concerns are of intrinsically lesser value. We need to guide children because they have less experience – that’s the true purpose of all education – to expand internal and external experience. But if we haven’t learned from our own experiences, they’ll cry hypocrite and quite rightly so. So, we tried to make a film that has positive messages about family, friendship and the colossal tapestry of human variance, but one of its most positive messages, I hope, is: “We’re listening.” 
Q. What would you like viewers to take from the film?
A. A desire to buy the DVD? Sorry. Didn’t mean to say that out loud. A moth just crawled out of my wallet and I got distracted. First of all, I hope it provides 90 minutes of audiences – adults and children alike – laughing together. That’s not a small thing. I’d be so humbled by that. I know my best memories – as a child and as an adult – are of sharing laughter. I also hope that the children watching feel that someone knows that they’re not just their age going on some other age. They have to live in the moment, they have to be who they are in the moment. It’s a being-of-age movie. And I hope the adults try to remember that when they talk to their children too. That’s what I learned from writing it, and I’m still trying. 
Q. Can you tell us anything about your future projects?
A. There are a couple of scripts in the pipeline. My heart is with ‘A Dozen Summers’ at the moment, but there are a couple of stories scratching at the door and mewling. Both comedies of varying hues. I shan’t say anymore. This is providing that anyone lets me make another one. There might be a petition against me once this one comes out. Not every film I make will be for younger audiences, but it’s certainly something I’d like to do again when I have another idea that feels as important to me.  
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you can offer aspiring filmmakers?
A. Never assume that you deserve success because you worked out which end of the camera to point at the actors. It’s the audience that deserves something – your best. Your best story, your best shot, your best performances. And also, some part of you in the story. Otherwise, there’s no connection and that’s neglecting the true magic of cinema. Wow, that got pretentious fast, my bad!

The delightful ‘A Dozen Summers’ is released in selected cinemas in the UK on 21st August 2015, so find it and watch it! You can read our review of this film here. Hunt down Kenton Hall on Twitter @KentonHall and whilst you’re at it, keep up with the film @ADozenSummers