by Gina Myers
This October, Kenneth Hughes will screen his short film Donkey Punch and offer a free workshop at Bay City’s Hell’s Half Mile Film Festival. Hughes is no stranger to HHM. In the second year of the festival, he screened his feature film Bad Dog and Superhero, which won the “Stand Up for the Stand Out Award,” and he screened his short film The Tapster last year.
In 2007, Hughes was impressed with what he saw when he arrived in Bay City. “There was a real artistic community that was there to support the festival, and it was really impressive to be around.” He was also pleased with how his first feature film, which he wrote, produced, directed, and acted in, was received. “I realized I made this crazy piece, this twisted musical. And it turns out the people I like liked the film.”
Though he was born in Pontiac and lived in Detroit until age three, Hughes sees himself as a true Los Angeleno. And it was because of this that he got involved in film. “Since I grew up in Los Angeles, I really grew up in [the industry] and around it.” He made his first films on a Super 8 at an arts day camp for kids in a park on Hollywood Boulevard. “I made Kenneth Karate Killer and Midget Murder,” he laughs. “I must have been around eight years old.” However, it wasn’t until the mid-80s that he got his union card and started acting professionally.
Before creating Bad Dog and Superhero, Hughes had made six short films, which ran at about twenty minutes each. He realized that a feature film is only about three-and-a-half shorts, and he decided to go for it. To create the film, he did everything himself, including spending a few thousand dollars, and with a couple of friends he was able to pull everything together. Hughes describes the outcome as “sloppy and dirty,” but intentionally so.
The Tapster, which screened at last year’s festival, re-envisions former Senator Larry Craig’s notorious bathroom stall incident at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as a tap dance routine. The short, which is about three minutes in length, can now be viewed on the popular website Funny or Die (funnyordie.com).
For this year’s entry, Donkey Punch, Hughes worked with a pretty impressive team, including executive producer Anthony Russo. The film is written by John Hlavin, who is a writer on The Shield, and stars Jay Karns, also from The Shield, and Ann Russo. This experience was “real to the working model of the business,” explains Hughes. “There are benefits to collaborating with more people and some drawbacks too. For example, they may have one idea on how to do something, and you may have a different idea, so you have to compromise. But the benefits on this project were remarkable. Their reputations got people’s attention and we even did red carpet interviews and had a huge after party at one film fest in Hollywood we screened at.” When asked how he was connected with this project in the first place, Hughes explains, “I met Anthony and Ann because our kids play together.”
While at times luck may come into play, it is really up to the individual to take action for him or herself, and that is something Hughes plans on stressing in his free workshop at HHM. “I noticed the website says it is for beginning and intermediate filmmakers, but really it is for any level of filmmaker. What I plan on telling them is the same thing I tell anyone.”
Hughes has noticed two types of filmmakers: those who are artists making only what they want but never making any money, and then there are those who are making money who are not making the things they want to be making. And he believes he has the right advice and insight for both of these groups to be financially and artistically successful.
“Passion is important. Making something is important. I see so many people who attend festivals and during the Q & A ask, ‘How much money did it cost? How did you get that actor?’ and so on. It’s like they believe they can’t make something if they don’t have what I have. But they can make something with what they do have.” In addition to providing showbiz insight, Hughes will also share tools, things like free scriptwriting software programs and production programs.
Since he last attended HHM in 2007, Hughes has been very busy, and he has a lot of new projects. He recently appeared in the short A Little Step with Japanese star Tsuyoshi Ihara, and he acted in Time Buddies (timebuddiesmovie.com), which will be out in 2010. Also in 2010, Hughes will appear in the indie feature Einstein’s God Model, a film he also helped produce. He says more and more he has been getting involved with projects as an actor and producer.
For now, Hughes is looking forward to returning to Hell’s Half Mile. “I really believe this thing is going to grow in serious ways.” He tries to support the festival by telling other people about it and recommending films. One of the things that have stayed with him from his previous visit is the support and the spirit of the community. “It’s happening in an area where you wouldn’t expect it, and it is a wonderful thing.” Another thing that has stayed with him are the buildings in downtown Bay City. “There are these cheap, empty, amazing spaces, like the Masonic Temple where they screen some of the films. Just amazing potential.”
This year’s Hell’s Half Mile takes place on October 1st – 4th. For more information, visit http://baycityhhmfest.com.