K-State students join forces with Hollywood actors to create local independent film

Hannah Hunsinger | The Collegian Cara Hillstock, senior in English, Blake Cordell, sophomore music, BeckiJo Neill, and Ben Windholz, senior in communication studies, have all been cast in the move "Hell Town." The cast also includes K-State theater professor Dwight Tolar, and alumna Krysten Day and will be shot in Manhattan starting in May.

A little bit of Hollywood is coming to Manhattan soon. A feature-length movie called “Hell Town” will begin filming in late May, starring Casey Chapman, Amanda Deibert, Pleasant Gehman and Chris Pudlo. In addition to cast of Hollywood in the film, several K-State students will be highlighted in leading roles.

Cara Hillstock, senior in English, is one of them. Hillstock said she found out about the movie in December.

“The director called me and asked if I wanted to audition,” Hillstock said. “I had auditioned for one of his previous movies and he remembered who I was.”

Hillstock described “Hell Town” as a soap opera slasher movie. Although this will not be Hillstock’s first time in film, it will be the first time she plays a lead role in a movie.

“I’m really excited about it,” Hillstock said. “I can’t reveal too much, but I play Manda, who is best friends with the lead character Trish.”

Another student cast in the film is Ben Windholz, senior in communication studies. This is the second time Windholz has been cast in a film. He plays Butch Manly, a character who has returned home from a long time away.

“It’s kind of a genre-bending movie,” Windholz said. “It’s a satirical look at comedy, TV and horror.”

The co-director of the film, Steve Balderson, graduated from Manhattan High before moving on to the California Institute of the Arts. His co-director is Elizabeth Spears, an independent filmmaker from Texas.

Balderson said the story design of the film is unique and draws from the idea of watching multiple episodes of a TV series in a row on services like Netflix.

“We really structure the movie as season two, episodes seven, eight and nine of a TV show,” Balderson said. “So the first thing you’ll hear is, ‘Previously on Hell Town’ as it catches you up on what happened before. Even though the movie is presented as a show, it has a very real structure. Each episode acts as act one, two and three.”

Between each episode will be a fake commercial. Balderson described the story as a combination of “Scream” along with “Dynasty” or “Days of Our Lives” with “Halloween” thrown in.

“People start getting killed, but the characters aren’t paying attention,” Balderson said. “These people are completely oblivious to what’s going on.”

Balderson has been making movies as an independent filmmaker for about 16 years. His previous films include “Pep Squad,” “The Casserole Club” and “Firecracker.” Although he shot films in different places around the world, he said he still enjoys filming in Kansas.

“Unlike filming in bigger cities, it’s easier to get around and less expensive to film there,” Balderson said. “Ultimately, it has to do with more freedom. The state gives independent filmmakers more freedom.”

The director has shot four movies in Kansas. Part of the joy of filming in a small community is connecting to the place, according to Balderson.

“I like to involve, ‘What is that place?'” Balderson said. “We ask people before shooting, ‘Does your family want to sponsor a meal for the cast and crew?’ What is the culture here?”

Balderson said he likes to work with people in the community and expose Hollywood actors to the state.

“People from Hollywood are amazed,” Balderson said. “It’s really unlike anything they’ve seen before. Some will want to go and visit the Oz Museum. They just haven’t had the experience of being here.”

The filmmaker said he has received a lot of support from Kansas communities, with many people offering their homes or businesses to use for filming. Balderson said he also enjoys using local talent like students from K-State.

“The people we gathered for Hell Town are incredible,” Balderson said. “I like to look everywhere. Wherever I go, there’s always a good person who hasn’t gotten a break yet or an opportunity to be seen.”

“Hell Town” is slated for release in 2015.