A Dozen Summers, Q&A with Director/Actor Kenton Hall

'A Dozen Summers' is playing at the Mill Valley Film Festival, Ages 11+. 

  • Saturday, October 10, 11:45am at the Sequoia Theatre in Mill Valley
  • Sunday, October 18, 11am at the Rafael Theatre in San Rafael

It’s not easy being 12. It’s even harder to find a movie that is entertaining to enjoy with your pre-teen. 'A Dozen Summers' is a small-budget, coming of age, indie comedy following Maisie and Daisy McCormack, twin sisters who hijack the narrative of the movie to create their own stories.

Director and screenwriter, Kenton Hall, weaves mature cinephile references throughout the movie while vacillating between the girls real lives and wishful outcomes with the snap of a finger. Bonus surprise cameos from Ewen MacIntosh (The Office) and Colin Baker (Dr. Who.) I'm excited to share this exclusive interview with director, actor and musician, Kenton Hall about his first feature length directorial debut.

Your twin daughters, Hero and Scarlet Hall, play the lead roles in the movie, you also cast yourself as their father. Not a lot of parents get that opportunity! What was it like for you to act and direct them in a professional setting?

Making 'A Dozen Summers' was, without a doubt, the hardest thing I've ever done professionally. No money, no time, no idea whether it would ever be seen... But working with them... seeing them blossom... seeing them take joy in what they were doing, and set such a warm tone for the rest of the cast. Whatever has happened or will happen with the movie, or my career, I wouldn't give that experience up for anything. It took them a few days to remember that, for a few weeks, I wasn't the person to go to when they wanted their lunch, but other than that, it was something I'll treasure always. Plus, they're funny, funny people. They made and make me laugh constantly. It's a good thing we did enjoy working together, mind you. Might have been awkward around the dinner table otherwise. We might have had to ask for the salt via our agents. 

As a mom to a creative 12 year old, I am continuously being inspired by her every day, so I can see how your kids have inspired you to create this film. Are there personal elements or stories that are incorporated into the narrative of the film from your own life or theirs?

Independent film is... I'm going to force a word to bear more than its fair share of meaning here... challenging. If you're going to give two years of your life to something, it needs to be on behalf of something that inspires you. And watching and listening to Scarlet and Hero as they grew up - nothing has ever been as inspiring. Corny, but true. There's as much of them in the movie as there is of me. Almost everything is based on something real, even if the details are changed. There are some quotes that are lifted straight from their mouths. Certainly, we talked a lot about what they were really going through in their lives, what was truly important to them day-to-day, to try and avoid some of the clichΓ©s that films about children fall into it, because the adults that write them have forgotten what it was actually like. Where we succeeded, it's down to them. If we failed anywhere along the line, down to me.

There are events raised in the film that many people experience - family dynamics, bullying, friendships, first love, growing up, happiness and misery in others. Is this tapping into something that your daughters, and you as their father, experienced?

That was certainly the intention. As I said previously, we wanted to concentrate on events that adults might dismiss as trivial or unimportant, reminding our adult audiences that these things are wildly important when you're 12 and reassuring our younger audiences that not everyone has forgotten that. My daughters have a tendency to refer to me as a "man-child". I choose to take it as a compliment. (Not entirely sure it's always meant as one.) It was a dangerous route to take at times, we're so used to *INSERT BIG PLOT DEVELOPMENT HERE* in children's films. But children are experiencing everything for the first time. That's massive. There's a lot of my experience of trying to get to grips with that as a father in the movie, too, although I maintain that Jacqueline, the girls' film Mum (Mom, for our US viewers) is the one most based on me. 

You’ve had an accomplished career as a musician, writer, and actor. With all these creative outlets you have developed, what made you envision this story as your feature length directorial debut? 

I like "accomplished". It sounds so much better than, "ohmygodohmygodohmygod, what am I doing?" which is what I usually put down under "profession" on official documents. If it didn't sound horribly pretentious, I'd say that I'm a storyteller. You can't see it, but I made a terribly pompous face while I wrote that. But, it's true. Everything I've ever done, from music to acting, to writing, to directing has been about a story I wanted to tell. I'm just grateful that, occasionally, people want to hear it. "A Dozen Summers" felt like a natural progression. I have so much still to learn. There's a stack of things I'll do very differently on the next film, but you have to try things. You have to challenge yourself. And I wanted the girls to see the results of that. Of dreaming big - even when you're starting small. 

My daughter just signed up in the filmmaking club at her middle school. What advice would you give to a kid who aspires to be a filmmaker? Any advice for parents, like myself, to help encourage these future filmmakers/storytellers?

Just do it. Wait, no, that's something to do with shoes. There are lot of "gatekeepers" in this industry. People who want to tell you when, why and how you can express yourself creatively. You should ignore them. Never stop learning, never stop trying to be better, but also never devalue what you make, the stories you tell along the way. For parents, the biggest thing - and I'm still working on this - is teaching your children not to be afraid to fail. If you're afraid to fail, you'll never succeed. Ooh, I feel a bumper sticker coming on. Nice. 

Many people start with an interest(s) in a specific field that takes us in different directions to explore various career paths. What were your dreams as a child? Did your parents support your dreams as you were growing up? 

Words. Playing with words. That was my dream. And it's come true in so many different ways. I suppose, when I was younger, I dreamt of being famous. Now I dream of being better. It's a dream I can work on. As to my parents, alas, no. I grew up in... let's say a cult (didn't see that one coming, folks at home, did you?) that didn't really believe in anything the things I wanted to be or do. It's definitely informed my parenting. My one hope for Scarlet and Hero is that they truly believe they can do anything... if they're willing to work hard enough. So, magical and pragmatic at the same time. 

Finish this sentence – The best thing about creating this film is…..?

That it has mattered to people. 

We had an email after a UK screening from a parent whose child had opened up about bullying they'd been experiencing because they'd seen the movie. That meant more to me, Alexzandra (our producer), Scarlet and Hero than anything else ever could. From that point onwards, it didn't matter what else happened. It had a reason to exist. 

Will you, Hero and Scarlet travel to the Mill Valley Film Festival?

Alas, due to the unique way in which 'A Dozen Summers' was funded, we're all stuck in the UK. I'm gutted about it. Mill Valley have already been amazing to us and our movie - they are, without a doubt, some of the nicest, humblest, professional people I've ever dealt with. But there are downsides to indie film-making, one of which is I have to feed the leads of this film EVERY DAY, the greedy little monkeys. We would so love to be there. We are in spirit. Particularly as the film has been designated as part of the "Mind the Gap" section of the festival as well. That means a lot to the girls and to Alexzandra, as well as all of the other ridiculously talented women who brought this movie to life under very difficult circumstances.  

Do you have any other projects in the future to watch for?

If they ever let me make another movie, I know exactly what it will be. It's called "Ribbons & Keys". It's a very, very different animal to 'A Dozen Summers.' I think you're one of the first people I've told about it, publicly. Let's call it an exclusive! I like exclusive. It sounds so much better than "pleasepleasepleaseletmemakeanotherone". 

Thank you Kenton for taking time to be interviewed by Ronnie's Awesome List. Don't miss 'A Dozen Summers' playing at the Mill Valley Film Festival:

  • Saturday, October 10, 11:45am at the Sequoia Theatre in Mill Valley
  • Sunday, October 18, 11am at the Rafael Theatre in San Rafael. 

You can learn more about Kenton Hall and 'A Dozen Summers' on their website, Facebook, and Twitter or purchase tickets on The Mill Valley Film Festival website.