Thursday, March 2, was a special day for local filmmaker Ken Hegan. His film, Outrunners, had its world premiere on the first night of the 27th annual Kamloops Film Festival at the Paramount Theatre downtown.
The Paramount was the perfect place to premiere his Kamloops-shot film with childhood friends, his college writing instructor and the film’s actors who came up from Vancouver in attendance, Hegan told The Wren.
“It was a very special night,” he says.
Kamloops Film Society (KFS) executive director Dušan Magdolen says 416 tickets were sold leading up to the premiere, resulting in a near sell-out with only “the undesirable” seats left empty.
Outrunners is a comedy thriller set during a future pandemic in which reality star Emily must race to save her mother’s life while dodging vicious snipers and hidden TV cameras. After his film’s successful premiere last week, Hegan sat down with The Wren to discuss his youth in Kamloops, shooting Outrunners locally and his plans for future projects.
B.C. born and bred
Hegan was born in Kamloops at Royal Inland Hospital and grew up in Brocklehurst.
He went to high school at NorKam Senior Secondary School, where he says he and a friend convinced faculty members to let them take over the morning announcements.
“We would crack jokes and read writing scenes,” he says. “NorKam became a real creative playground for a burgeoning writer and it was there that I truly became a writer with a capital ‘W.’”
While Hegan was given the opportunity to hone his comedic chops at NorKam, enrolling at Cariboo College (now called Thompson Rivers University) helped strengthen the future filmmaker’s creativity.
Hegan says he continued to hone his comedic chops and develop his writing skills as he studied sociology and psychology.
“I doubt I could have gotten away with this kind of thing anywhere but at what was then Cariboo College … Instead of doing boring presentations, I’d write creative speeches or present comedic essays about these serious sociology and psychology topics … it really was the beginning of my journey as a grown-up storyteller.”
Hegan says he fell in love with filmmaking at the Paramount Theatre, then the Cineplex, the very theatre where Outrunners premiered on March 2.
“When I saw Raising Arizona by the Coen Brothers at the Cineplex, I realized for the very first time that there were people behind the camera making really smart, interesting choices … it was the first time I realized that actors weren’t making it up on the spot.”
“I thought, huh, I wonder what that job is like.”
After wrapping up his sociology degree at the University of Victoria, Hegan says he moved to Toronto “to pay off [his] student debt.” But after a year or two in the big city, he began to miss British Columbia.
“There are so many great opportunities for work in downtown Toronto, but it’s sort of a cement jungle,” he explains. “I moved back to B.C. and have been in Vancouver pretty much ever since.”
Hegan says he’s had a hybrid career since settling down in Vancouver. Early on in his career, he worked in television but has always been a professional writer in some capacity.
While living in Vancouver, comedic articles he wrote were often published in student publications at universities he wasn’t even attending at the time. He’d then use those articles as samples to send to other publications.
Hegan says his comedic articles have been featured in the Vancouver Sun, the Georgia Straight and Rolling Stone.
“Every bit of writing I’ve done has sort of led to the next thing. Looking back, getting to do the morning announcements at NorKam gave me the confidence to write these comedic articles for student newspapers at UBC and Emily Carr. Then those articles gave me the confidence to pitch my ideas at larger publications,” he reflects.
Any success he’s had throughout his career has been because of his interest in and passion for writing, Hegan says. Directing movies simply felt like a natural next step as it gave him a chance to perfect his script on set.
“Having this chance to direct my own writing was like having the opportunity to flesh out a final draft in real-time.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Hegan says he decided to move back to Kamloops during the lockdown period to watch murder mysteries with his mom and really get serious about writing a screenplay.
“I actually slept in my childhood bedroom on this shitty pull-out couch. I thought, you know what, let’s use this COVID-19 emergency money to challenge myself creatively and apply my skills.”
Hegan says he sat down with a writer’s manual and got to work. Outrunners was born from early pandemic sweat, tears and boredom.
“It was a really special time where I got to reconnect with my mom and experience a past life of sorts,” says Hegan, who adds he was also able to reconnect with the region.
“When I realized I wanted to shoot this thing in Kamloops, I got with my business partner and producer, Shawn Major, and said, ‘you’ve got to load your van up with gear and props and get up here,’ and we pretty much poured as much of the budget as we could into shooting in Kamloops.”
Hegan and his team shot at the Plaza Hotel, the Kamloops Airport and at less recognizable locations like the Naval Ammunition Depot Bunkers a little over three kilometres west of downtown and a private property chock full of old Winnebagos, boats and retro cars.
Hegan says the property owner, Gary, let them use the location in exchange for a case of Heineken.
The film was also the first production to shut down Victoria Street since the Power Rangers franchise used downtown Kamloops as the backdrop for scenes in its 2017 movie.
Looking back, Hegan says Kamloops provided the perfect playground for shooting under strict COVID-19 restrictions because its dry climate meant a multitude of days could be spent outside.
It wasn’t until the production moved to Vancouver to finish up scenes shot at a friend’s “mini-mansion” that his team felt the real pressure of the pandemic, with strict regulations around filming.
While Kamloopsians are sure to recognize many locations in Outrunners, Hegan says parts of the community also provided the perfect neutral backdrop for less-recognizable locations within the feature-length film.
What’s next for Hegan?
Hegan says he’d love to shoot consecutive films right here in Kamloops.
“I’ve always wondered why Kamloops doesn’t have a studio … it’s kind of mind-boggling considering the diversity in terrain and how close we are to Vancouver,” he says. “I’ve heard rumblings recently that there might be a resurgence of interest in building a studio, and I just think that’d be fantastic.”
Hegan says he’d like to be part of a future studio build as he feels it’s a need in our community.
“A great gift the pandemic gave a lot of us was the ability to achieve things outside of large city centres … a lot of people realized they don’t have to live in big cities to make a good living.”
“There hasn’t been a better time to tell your stories, surround yourself with talented people and rely on community to get things done. As filmmakers, there’s a real power in teaming up with friends, acquaintances and partners who’ve got a need to create and have a creative fire in their bellies.”
Hegan says he’ll never forget the world premiere of Outrunners at the Paramount.
“It was a true, one-of-a-kind community event that we couldn’t have gotten anywhere else. You only get one world premiere for your first feature film and I got to have it right here in my hometown.”
If there’s one thing Hegan hopes results from his film, “it’s that there was some kid in that crowd that saw the movie and said… ‘I can do that too.’”
“I hope we were able to inspire some kids to get out and get creative,” he says.
Kamloopsians can still catch Outrunners at the Paramount through March. Hegan’s film is showing on March 18, 21, 23, 25, 27 and 31. For more information, visit thekfs.ca.