With the culmination of a lifetime of dreaming and years of work, “Hellcat,” a story of fatherhood and grief, premieres at the Heartland International Film Festival on October 12. Jack Lugar, professor of cinema and media arts at Anderson University holds several titles to the film: writer, producer, director, and editor. He said, “For me, it’s a feeling of going full circle on a dream.”
Lugar, former sitcom writer and producer, attorney, and real estate broker, is a writer at heart. “For me, there’s always stories going on in my head, so I see people walking around, and I make up stories about them in some senses, not fully fleshed out,” he explained. “But you know, you see somebody [and] think what is their story? What kind of character are they?”
“Hellcat” began as Lugar drove to work one day. The sites of downtown Anderson reminded him of the loss of manufacturing and change of business the town had undergone. Lugar wondered if he could emulate that change into a character, and his film was born.
As a husband and father of three, Lugar said he is often inspired by the concept of fatherhood. When Lugar was connected with former AU graduate and musician, Edward (Ed) Fry ‘93, he found his main character–Ricky “Hellcat” Heller.
Lugar sent Fry the 101-page script, and after an anxious waiting period which, Lugar points out, is the time when you wonder if people will actually like what you have written, Fry finished reading. Lugar asked him if this was something he’d be interested in doing. There was the detection of a pause before Fry responded, “It’s not something I want to do. It’s something I need to do.”
With a small team and budget, “Hellcat” began filming on July 9, 2022. The majority of the film’s shooting happened during 15, 12-15 hour days.
“Hellcat” is a self-financed film with the help of Lugar’s wife, who holds the title of executive producer. Also on the team is AU graduate, Jon Williams ’22, who is the director of photography and Julia Barnett-Tracy ’92 who served as a producer and lead actor.. Lugar said, “That collaboration really, I think added a lot to the film because Jon was so dedicated to making sure it looked great.”
“As a high school kid, I dreamed of making movies and some sort… I lived in LA. I was writing and producing and working in development,” said Lugar. “But when you work in that system, you’re specialized to one thing, right? I’m a writer. I’m a producer, and so when I came back here and had this opportunity, all of a sudden I was like, ‘I’m gonna do this.’ I had to be doing all of it in a sense, right? So I have those four credits on the film. And fortunately, I found people to surround myself that really could help solve some of the things that I’m not good at.”
With all but one shot being an Anderson location and most of the team having Anderson or AU connections, Lugar said, “I hope that it paints this beautiful picture of Anderson in a sense amidst the character flaws or challenges because that’s what reality is.”
While still having to finish the sound and color editing of “Hellcat,” Lugar submitted his film for acceptance into the Heartland International Film Festival. In mid-August Lugar received the confirmation that “Hellcat” would be showing this year. The public announcement was released on September 15.
Of hundreds of film festivals across the world, Lugar describes the Heartland International Film Festival– a ten-day event–as a second-tier festival. It was ranked in the top 25 coolest film festivals in the world in 2023 by MovieMaker Magazine, may have Oscar-qualifying categories, and may be attended by a few celebrities.
Lugar said, “Once I knew, it kind of took a weight off because I also was like, ‘Okay, we’re good. We’re in.’ Then I realized, crud. I still had to finish the edit because even though I’d finished most of it, I still had things to do.” There was a mix of excitement, panic, and pressure.
Lugar continued to pick through one hour and 40 minutes of film. He said, “That’s kind of the artist in me, which is always that fear that I might have screwed something up.”
Because Lugar filmed “Hellcat” to inspire his students, he wanted to make sure it was his best. He said, “I’ve talked so much about ‘here’s how you do it.’ I’ve heard people talking about how you do it. I’ve seen it done, and I’ve had aspects of parts of doing it… But I am proud to say we did it.”
“Hellcat” sold out for next Thursday’s premiere at Emagine Noblesville. Tickets are limited for the film’s other two showings: October 14 at Glendale Landmark Theater 12 at 2 p.m. and October 15 at Living Room Theatres at 11:30 a.m. The public can find tickets to “Hellcat” at tickets.heartlandfilmfestival.org.