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Six years after Sundance, filmmaker Gary Huggins shoots for a return

Gary Huggins is hoping to kickstart Kick Me.



Gary Huggins needs to raise $70,000 by April 3. The 44-year-old filmmaker's first full-length feature, Kick Me, hangs in the balance.

Huggins either reaches 70 large by 1:59 a.m. Tuesday or loses every dollar pledged. Those are the rules, Kickstarter-style.

"We can do it," Huggins says. "Everyone tells us that the money comes at the end." As The Pitch went to press, 135 backers had signed up to contribute $36,686. (And he could almost make the rest if he had a dollar for every instance of the word kick necessary to tell the story of his latest project.)

But with the end just days away, Huggins' confidence comes with concern.

"I've got a sick stomach every morning," he says. "It's gotta happen, so I'm positive it's going to. Huge pressure."

For their money, Kick Me investors would get a lot of movie.

"It's a nightmare action comedy about the violent indignities that befall a mild-mannered high school guidance counselor who has reached out to a troubled kid and ends up running for his life," Huggins explains. "That's the pocket version of it."

It is, he adds, a "total vehicle" for Kansas City, Kansas, police officer Santiago Vasquez. "I wrote it for him," Huggins says. "Santiago was created to be a star. He was made by God to be a star. Something is going to take him there, and I know this is going to be a vehicle."

"We're in the process of making the greatest movie ever made in Kansas City," Vasquez says. "This is the It movie. This is going to be the standard of filmmaking in Kansas City."

"It's going to be the Article 99," Huggins jokes, referring to the forgotten 1992 Kiefer Sutherland-Ray Liotta hospital drama shot here.

Kick Me is Huggins' second attempt to fulfill God's promise to Vasquez. The first movie he wrote for the cop was a short called First Date, in which Vasquez played an ex-con obsessed with a 16-year-old boy he'd met in an online chat room. The short took Huggins and Vasquez to the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, South By Southwest and Clermont-Ferrand and earned Huggins recognition as one of Filmmaker Magazine's "New Faces of Independent Film."

"I've been trying to put together a feature ever since [Sundance]," Huggins says. "This is the first one that's really come together."

Huggins co-wrote Kick Me with Betsy Gran. They were working on another script, a dark comedy about human trafficking in Kansas City called Ice Cream Slaves. They ripped the source material from then-current headlines — in 2006, Russian students were allegedly brought to Kansas City and forced to drive ice-cream trucks in 13-hour shifts without days off, for as little as 82 cents an hour.

"It's not funny, but it's so tragic that it has to be funny," Gran says. "To get people talking about human trafficking, it's got to be through narrative."

"We shopped it around and tried to get it made, but it was going to be way too big and beyond our abilities," Huggins says. "We tried to write something much smaller."

Trying to come up with a premise they could shoot more cheaply, they arrived at Kick Me. Finishing it, they say, would allow them to finally pursue Ice Cream Slaves.

"That is the ultimate Kansas City movie," Huggins says. "Ideally, this movie will get enough attention that we will then get money for the riskier project."

Huggins and Gran plan to begin shooting Kick Me in May or June if the Kickstarter campaign succeeds. Kim Sherman (You're Next and V/H/S) is their producer. Huggins says they will edit the film as they shoot so that they have something to submit to Sundance in September. They want to unveil it at the festival next January.

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