Roger Hill is the writer and director of the film Huckleberry, which premieres at the Marina Del Rey Film Festival on October 13th at 9:00 pm. Here is a link to the films Facebook page:
Q: What is “Huckleberry” about?
A: The synopsis reads:
A story spanning the year 1999 to 2000, Huckleberry 18, transgender-male, dissident, comes from a poor community in the Rust Belt. A region much maligned and challenging, and often misunderstood, much like himself; also a place and time where non-conforming identities are met with suspicion and, at times, violence.
Huckleberry, or Huck as his friends call him, pursues his unrequited love Jolene, who is adrift in an abusive relationship, in spite of her loathsome boyfriend, Clint.
Rebuffed, and armed with the knowledge of Clint’s abuse. Huckleberry confronts Clint once and for all, but not before unleashing hell upon him while still cloaked in the lingering shadow of his undiscovered intentions.
Huckleberry then discovers the consequence that follow his actions, both intended and not, life threatening and affirming, as he, his two best friends Will and Levon, Jolene and Clint all navigate a particularly intense year and confront the life-changing results of Huck’s decisions.
Q: What made you want to make a film about revenge?
A: Revenge is an interesting theme to explore. I think growing up in America we receive a lot of mixed messages about revenge, ranging from “turn the other cheek” to an “eye for an eye.” US media, mainstream religions, history, military and culture are full of contradictions about the morality of revenge.
I think as a teenager I thought about “getting even” a lot. I think this was born from the struggles that are familiar for most teens growing up, especially for men, the pressure to live up to a masculine ideal and to not to be perceived as weak… or vulnerable. One of my teenage revenge fantasies served as the initial seed for this film. Now older and wiser I think I’m able to explore the topic from a nuanced position without glamorizing violence, while highlighting some of the conflicting messages we receive about revenge. I think who benefits and loses in the revenge equation is not always black and white, there are a lot of shades of gray.
Q: What makes Huck an interesting character?
A: I think the tableau of his life experience makes him a very intriguing character. He is far from cookie cutter. Huckleberry has a profound sense of righteous indignation towards arbitrary authority figures and revels in his rebelliousness. He is a character who acts and doesn’t shy away from confrontation. Huck doesn’t always make the right decisions, he is fallible, like anyone, but I also believe that he is relatable to anyone whose felt the pangs of an unrequited love who is saddled with an abusive partner. Huck is also transgender, which is not really what the film is about, but does make for a more interesting protagonist and one that elicits the prejudices of his community. Casting him often times as an outsider or a rebel.
Q: What is the overall theme of the film?
In society regular people often make moral concessions in order to secure a better life for themselves, within the parameters of social mores, even ones they fundamentally disagree with. That revenge does have a cost, but there is also a benefit analysis which is unspoken but omnipresent. That trans-men are just as capable as cis-men of absorbing and acting on aggressive impulses born from the narrative of protecting a woman whom they desire.
A: What characteristics did you look for in a lead actor?
In a very practical sense I was looking for a transgender man in his late teens or early twenties. I was attracted to Dan’s smirk in his headshot on Backstage. I could immediately picture him as Huckleberry. Huck has a very distinct attitude in my mind. He’s a rebel, charismatic but aloof at times and prone to anger. I was looking for an actor who could carry these traits but also deliver an unspoken vulnerability, and I think that was something that Daniel Fisher-Golden brought to the character that was so humanizing. Dan worked hard to convey the anger that was instrumental to the plot of the film, but he also tapped into a very personal sense of empathy for the character which makes Huck so much more relatable, and believable than what was written in the script.
Q: How would you describe your directing style?
A: All consuming. I push myself harder than anyone, but I also require a lot of my cast and crew. Everyone on set needs to be fully invested in the project. I like a laid back attitude when it suits the scene and I do make efforts to not burn people out, but when it comes down to it we are there to work. Fortunately I had an amazing cast and crew who understood this and who spoke up when they had concerns. I learned in the last two weeks of shooting not to burn the candle from both ends quite as much as I had before and I think began to get a healthier rhythm together, but in general after we wrap shooting I sleep the majority of the next few days because I’m so exhausted.
Q: What kind of day job (or income source) do you have and what impact did it have on the firm?
(shooting schedule, budget, etc.)
I freelance as an event photographer, videographer, editor, and sometimes producer/director for short documentaries. I had a job setting up photo booths for parties. In general my day job has me working with a camera in some capacity. It definitely had an impact because I started with only enough financing for a week of shooting, then another week of shooting, then editing the proof of concept, pre-production on primary shooting, primary shooting and finally post-production, between each stage of production I was working to raise money for the next phase. My budget limitations also forced me to streamline the script, to cut unnecessary scenes and to focus hard on what was most important, in the end I think this helped craft a tighter narrative. Sometimes limitations can be a good thing.
- What is your funniest Hollywood story?
I don’t really know that I have one. So far, I’ve been a filmmaker outside of the Hollywood system. I spent 12 years making documentary films before I started working on Huckleberry. We shot Huckleberry in rural Ohio and had only one rising star, Jahking Guillory, in the cast from LA. I did do the sound mix for the proof of concept in LA with my sound mixer and good friend Dennis Schweitzer, during that week I was staying at Dennis’ apartment and sleeping on an air mattress that would deflate each night leaving laying in a heap on the floor. It was far from glamorous but we got the job done. Oh and Danny Devito was staying with us as well….Just kidding, I don’t know anyone famous.
- What are some of your favorite films and why?
I vacillate between really heavy dramas like First Reformed, which was incredible, and comedies like The Big Lebowski. No Country for Old Men was amazing and blends the environment seamlessly with the story. I loved Winter’s Bone for that same reason. I think my favorite films are ones that aren’t set in Hollywood (other than Lebowski) and that open the audience’s imaginations to life in a distinct part of the country or the world. Those that integrate the social values of the community into the narrative of the film, and which leave the audience asking questions, and thinking about a theme or subject differently than when they entered the theater. I think we accomplished this as well with our setting in the Rust Belt. It’s an environment I’m very familiar with after growing up in Northeast Ohio. Some of my favorite films leave me at first frustrated with endings that aren’t wrapped in tidy bows, but which cause reflection on the deeper meaning of the film, which may come shortly or even days after the experience. My favorite films stick in my mind after I watch them and make me work to figure out the message of the filmmaker.
Q: How did you go about financing the film?
A: I’d say about half the financing came out of pocket, I also deferred my rate as director. Friends and family donated about 25% of the budget and the rest came from Kickstarter and a lone investor, Zak Webb who is one of the Executive Producers on the film. We shot a proof of concept for Huckleberry over a two week period in October and December of 2016, between shoots I was hustling, working holiday parties as an event photographer and videographer. I was pretty confident the film wouldn’t get made on the strength of the script alone, especially with me being an unproven director, so the proof of concept was critical in the process. Finally I saved enough to finish shooting over a two week period in August of 2017. I also partnered with the Film Division at Ohio University, which was a huge resource and saved me a lot of money, while also providing a substantial amount of the crew members from current and past students of the program.
Eliza’s interviews are done by email; all answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)