MEMBER MONDAYS | Tom Hester
MEMBER MONDAYS is a weekly interview series highlighting current members & alumni of the Austin School of Film + Austin Cinemaker Space community! Each week, we’ll be featuring one of our incredibly eclectic community members, and doing a deep dive into their work. Insight into what makes them, them. A recent graduate of the Austin School of Film's Digital Video Certificate Program, Tom Hester wears many creative hats: with a passion for stand up comedy, and more recently, making films. We asked him about the creative shift that brought him to ASOF, as well as where his love for creating all began!
You started performing at a young at age in comedy. What made you want to do that? Give me your CliffsNotes!
Tom Hester: As a kid, I was always wanting to do talent shows--in school, church camps; anyplace I could get on a stage. I played in a band, did a dance number in a blackout theater (dancing in front of a strobe light), magic, stand-up comedy...I even did a snake show once!
I grew up on a ranch, but I would go to Houston to work during the summers and saw an ad for amateur night at The Good Humor Bar Comedy Club. I put together a set and headed out to perform stand-up. I had a great audience response, and the owner asked me to come back! She told me I was going to be made a ”regular” and would pay me $50 a set on the weekends. Just like that, I was a junior in high school and professional comic!
As a veteran, I know how important comedy is to keep troops motivated, especially during deployments. Can you tell us about your post-9/11 comedy tour for the troops (places you toured, reasoning/motivation, favorite moment, etc)?
TH: It was just days after 9/11 when I got a call saying that the two comics that were booked months earlier had canceled due to their fear for flying. I said, “I’ll do it!” I thought the other comic I was traveling with had missed the flight, but it turns out she canceled at the last second too.
When I arrived at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, I was shocked to see thousands and thousands of flowers stuck in the cox fence leading to the entrance gate. It was touching to see how many people in Germany showed their support for our troops after 9/11. The troops were expecting a two-comic, hour and half comedy show, but because the other comic didn't show up, the club was going to tell the troops over the mic that only one comic came. I said, "Don’t say THAT! They might feel slighted. Say We have a special one-man show planned for you all tonight!" I had never performed a show for that long, but I did it anyway. They loved it! Soon after that, I performed for the troops in Japan, Korea, and Bahrain.
What made you want to segue from stage performance into film? What was the first film you produced?
TH: I got my first taste of being on the behind-the-camera side of filmmaking when Felicia Michaels, a comic I loved and respected, asked me to help on a film she was making. She offered to show me the ropes and give me an Associate Producer credit as well as an Artistic Director credit. That’s when I fell in love with filmmaking! I had played the Just For Laughs International Comedy Festival as a comic and found out they had a Comedy Fest too. There was a short film category for comics who wrote, produced, directed and starred in their own film, so while flying by the seat of my pants, I got comic friends to be in my film for free, and I made,”A Fist Full of Pills.” It ended up winning the Audience Choice Award!
How were you introduced to Austin School of Film?
TH: I told my partner James,"I really want to go to film school, but I can’t afford it.” I thought I was too old. James told me,"I didn't go back to college until I was 50 years old! If you really want to go to film school, just figure it out!" So I started researching film schools in Austin and found ASoF. I saved up some money to pay for classes as I went, but thankfully, they had this really cool internship program where you can work some hours as a volunteer in exchange for free classes, which was perfect for me! Their flexibility and support has allowed me to make my dream of graduating from film school possible.
What’s a favorite moment from a performance or your favorite piece?
TH: My favorite routine is, A Fist Full of Pills off my album, “Words Are All I Have.” It’s a long joke about babysitting a room full of adults on drugs. For the film adaptation, I took the soundtrack directly from the audio recording of my show and shot the movie on a handheld Canon ZR 150 480 pixel camera. I forced the shutter to stay open longer than the frames per second, producing a “blur” effect (or trails) to make it look like people were on drugs.
How do you choose your subject matter? Do you draw from real life experiences?
TH: My bits are long pieces rather than one-liners. I collect these little pieces of my real life over time and string them all together into one long story-- as if it all happened in one cohesive moment. The comedy pieces have this feel that makes them seem to have happened in one night when, in fact, they are pieces I wrote and experienced over years.
What current project are you working on right now? Or are there several?
TH: Several projects. I’m narrowing down the subjects for a short documentary for SXSW 2018. Since I am still taking classes at ASoF, I’m waiting until I’m actually taking the Documentary Filmmaking Class before I decide on a subject. I’m also going to start shooting music videos for some bands I know here in Austin. I am really looking forward to that since I have some pretty strange ideas that may fit best in a music video or art film rather than in a narrative style film.
If you could give advice to others who are pursuing a dream later in life, what would you tell them?
I would advise anyone at any age, old or young or anywhere in-between, who is thinking about going to film school or cooking school or anything they have a passion about: DO IT!!! Even young people can start their dream now. Kids in high school (or even younger!) can take film classes that will transfer to college credits to get a head start. For me, going to film school has sparked a creative part in me that I didn’t even know existed. It is the never-ending journey of self discovery in all the creative arts I love the most. So do what you love! Create and express yourself! You just might find out who you are.
INTERVIEW BY: Stephanie Franks