Kristin Hahn moved to Los Angeles, a stranger in this town. She didn’t know anyone. She just knew she wanted to tell stories. Even then she wasn’t aware of what that entailed. One phone call changed her path. Hahn would get a job working with Bob Ellison, her mentor. At night she attended USC.
Today Hahn is a producer, behind such films as The Departed, Cake and The Time Traveller’s Wife. Next up she’s working on Stargirl staring Joey King with Catherine Hardwick directing.
I recently had the chance to catch up with Hahn to talk about her journey in this town, and discuss her latest film, Tumbledown.
Awards Daily: First of all, I’m glad to be speaking to a female producer. Now, I have to say how refreshing it was to see Rebecca Hall in this role.
Kristin Hahn: She’s the best, she’s so dreamy and I love her in this role, and I feel like you just want to live with her.
You went to USC, now you’re here. What was that journey like?
KH: I moved out to Los Angeles without much of a plan, except that I wanted to be in storytelling. I didn’t even understand exactly what you do and what was involved in doing that. So, I moved out here to get the lay of the land and physically went to USC, got forms, figured out how to apply, and I got lucky that I happened to call the right phone number of a stranger. I had heard about him many many times. He said, “Who are you? Why are you calling me?” I told him I was new to town and I don’t know a single soul and that I desperately needed a job. He did that sigh, but invited me in. He said, “Come on in. If you’re not a crazy person, I’ll get you one interview.” So, I went in and it led to this interview for a job as an assistant to a writer, who was an amazing, lovely person who took me under his wing and I worked on Cheers and I had this great formative experience with someone who really mentored me and supported me going to film school at night for three-and-a-half years.
I ended up getting into USC — but I had already gotten this job, but I also really needed to work. He was Bob Ellison and he was one of the founding comedy writers in comedy television. He supported this idea of me working with him during the day and leaving at 6pm sharp to get to class every night.
I was very fortunate. I had no nepotism. I didn’t know anyone here, but I was a stranger and it helped create a foundation and actually get educated at this amazing film school.
I try and pay it forward as much as I can when I get those calls.
AD: It’s an incredible story about someone giving you a chance. Now you’ve got your own production company, Hahnscape. What were the challenges in establishing your venture?
KH: Being patient and gaining experience in different ways. I’ve been willing to take risks in my career and try new things along the way. Every time an opportunity came, even though I’d never done it before, I would say yes. I would jump in. At first it was a documentary that I’d made straight out of film school. Then it became an unexpected opportunity to write a non-fiction book based on the experiences of making that documentary. Then it became another opportunity to write another book that I said yes to.
I didn’t know what I was doing. These opportunities arose. You say yes, and figure it out as you go. That led to a passion for finding great stories to tell.
Starting a company is about finding the stories that you feel you’re meant to tell more than anyone else on the planet and hanging on to those stories tightly.
Tumbledown took a number of years to tell. You have to fall in love with the stories, and be willing to take the ride, the ups and downs, and see it through. That’s why I created Hahnscape, to be able to that, and I write as well. It gave me a place to write stories that I can then produce with different partners.
AD: How did Tumbledown come about?
KH: Tumbledown was something I was so in love with, the writing and the voice. I met Desiree Van Til and her husband Sean who was attached to direct, just to say, “I love your script, I can’t do it right now. I can’t take it on. I think you’re amazing.”
A few hours later I left, up for producing the movie , going with my gut, which I’m glad I did.
I had changed my mind after spending time with them because they’re both so talented and passionate.
Even though Sean is a first-time director, he has so many skills that you don’t typically find in someone who hasn’t yet directed a feature. In talking to them both, I said, “I know it’s going to be challenging and we’re going to have to convince people.” I knew that we’d eventually get there. We did. Once we got Jason Sudeikis on board, I knew we had the right leading man.
This film is quirky and a little bit unexpected in places, but the humor is a little left-of-center. We all felt Jason was the perfect leading man. He’s like the Tom Hanks of our generation who has the versatility to do really anything. I think he’s starting to exhibit that in choices he’s making. I felt we were lucky to be part of his transition into different kinds of roles and he gets to be the romantic lead in our movie that we love.
AD: Was that easy to cast?
KH: The script was very fun to read, so a lot of the actors we approached responded the first time, responded to the role.
AD: Was it a smooth path in getting the film made?
KH: We wanted to shoot it in Maine, but unfortunately, given the budget, we ended up finding areas in Massachusetts that really worked beautifully. So that was one big challenge, figuring out where to shoot it. It’s such a love letter to that part of the country and we really wanted to do justice to the photography.
The winter was a challenge. We were outside a lot. We were freezing in many of the scenes, and the actors were such good sports. They would use their warmth as motivation to get through the scenes. We were outside a lot, and that was very challenging.
At the end of the shoot, Jason had a baby, that was unexpected.
AD: That’s sweet.
KH: I know. Kind of amazing. When we got to the end, we made it through and we’re really happy with the way the film ended up.
AD: What’s been the most rewarding aspect of the job so far for you?
KH: At the end of the day, it’s getting to share it with an audience. I was at a theater recently, I got to be a fly on the wall because I’m not a celebrity so I can sit amongst people. I can do what Jason and Rebecca can’t do — I can blend in and hear what people think of the film.
It’s so much fun to sit next to somebody when they’re crying or laughing, and at the end, they’re saying, “Oh I haven’t seen a movie like that in a while.” It’s the experience of storytelling. You get to go to movies to escape and to have a journey, and it’s cathartic. So, this is one of those movies that we can all relate to. That taps into themes we can all relate to, such as love and second chances, and thinking your life is over. If you give it enough time, it’s a metaphor, living in a place where you earn your seasons, like Spring, and the process that healing takes.
You get to make this story, and put it out to the world, like a little boat you send down the water. You never know how many people it affects as it goes. It takes on this life of its own, and I love that.
I’m so fortunate that everyday is different. Every day it’s different stories, different challenges. It’s never boring. I feel so fortunate for that part of my job that it keeps me on my toes.
You can watch Tumbledown on iTunes or Amazon video