When Nacogdoches resident Eric Hueber with little money and no access to legitimate acting talent decided to make his first feature-length film in 2004, he worked with what he had.
He had a school bus. He had a bunch of chickens and a cast of real-life characters he knew. So he decided to make a road-trip movie about going west.
"I'm not feeding them lines, because they cannot act," Hueber says. "And why would you want to feed these guys lines anyway? You just want to be there to capture it. And it seemed the easiest format and structure for me to put all these people together and for us to all have a clear objective and a goal. These were all just friends of mine, and they all had these quirky ambitions."
Thus was born the idea for tonight's Austin Film Festival entry "Rainbows End," an experimental narrative that's part "Muppet Movie" and part surrealist documentary.
As a child growing up in East Texas, Hueber was inspired to become a filmmaker by the videos on MTV. But the idea of actually making movies for a living seemed impractical and unattainable until he entered film school at Stephen F. Austin University.
Unlike some schools that teach film theory in hopes of weeding through large swaths of students, Hueber says, Stephen F. Austin was a hands-on, vocational education.
"They handed you a camera and said, 'Just go make a damn film,'" Hueber says.
In his first year of film school, Hueber met his future business partner and "Rainbows End" producer and co-writer, Andy Cope. After receiving their undergraduate degrees, Hueber and Cope started the production firm Alonestar Films.
Necessity played a role with the duo's first unofficial client. Living in a warehouse and taking showers with an outdoor hose that would freeze in winter, Hueber approached Supergym in Nacogdoches and offered to exchange production of a commercial for a gym membership, which would allow the nascent filmmaker the chance to literally come in from the cold.
Alonestar slowly built a roster of paying local clients for whom they produced advertising and marketing materials. That afforded them the resources, time and equipment to focus on projects such as "Rainbows End."
In 2004, Hueber — with a $5,000 Texas Filmmaker Production Fund grant from the Austin Film Society — loaded up his 1977 school bus and sputtered off to California.
He took along a collection of eccentric characters : the soulful, tender, baton-twirling Audrey Dean; cockfighter Brian "Birdman" Birdwell; one-man band and high school valedictorian Peter Guzzino; and country music and outer-space aficionado Country Willie and his band the Cosmic Debris. With two cameras and two roosters, the group spent three weeks on the road in a haphazard search for their individual dreams.
After returning, Hueber spent six months commuting back and forth to Austin to work as an editing assistant on Terrence Malick's "The New World." Exhausted from the weekly travel and the months of assisting on Malick's film, Hueber says, he was dismayed when he revisited the 100-plus hours of footage he had shot on the trip out West.
"I looked at my own footage and was just discouraged with the project. I had limited resources when I shot it. I shot it with two cameramen who had sound attached to their cameras," Hueber says. "It was just shot under less-than-ideal circumstances. When we set out to make the film, we all had these individual ambitions in this collective journey, and none of us really accomplished anything noteworthy in the film. So I felt we had a complete anticlimax of a film."
Hueber moved to Austin in 2005 and continued to work with his clients at Alonestar. Eventually, Hueber returned to the oddball road trip footage, and with fresh eyes and the aid of Cope's vision, realized he had actually captured something special.
"My frustrations with it were over levels of control I felt I didn't have ... Then I realized, 'I have some great footage here. I'm sitting on a pot of gold. I just have to let it speak its own tale.' And once I figured that out, Andy came in and helped me nuance that. I think it took me maturing a little bit, kind of getting beat down in life and having some more failures for me to look back on it and think, 'Hell, we did it. We tried. We went for it.'"
The lessons learned by Hueber mirror the unspoken mantra of the ragtag bunch of dreamers in "Rainbows End."
"I believe in the creative process. You can't determine the outcome ," Hueber says. " You just have to believe in yourself enough to just go for it."
"Rainbows End" makes its world premiere at the Austin Convention Center Saturday at 5:15 p.m. It screens again Wednesday night at 10 at the Texas Spirit Theater.
10:45 a.m.: ‘Toy Story 3: How 4 Years of Creative Agony Became 93 Minutes of Movie Fun,' Driskill
12:15 p.m.: ‘New Low,' a slacker comedy from Adam Bowers, Alamo Ritz
12:15 p.m.: Awards luncheon at the Austin Club
1 p.m.: ‘Echotone,' a music documentary, Alamo Ritz
1 p.m.: ‘Raging Boll,' about Uwe Boll's attempt to conquer Hollywood, Austin Convention Center
2:15 p.m.: ‘Writing for Documentaries,' Driskill
3:30 p.m.: ‘Dog Sweat,' an Iranian feature, Alamo Ritz
3:45 p.m.: ‘The Craft of Screenwriting: Comedy,' Driskill Citadel Club
3:45 p.m.: ‘A Conversation with David Simon,' Stephen F. Austin Ballroom
4:30 p.m.: ‘The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan,' focusing on a soldier missing in the Vietnam War, Texas Spirit Theater
6 p.m.: ‘David Simon Presents "Treme," ' Alamo Ritz
6 p.m.: ‘The Company Men,' starring Ben Affleck and Tommy Lee Jones, Paramount
7 p.m.: ‘Every Day,' a romantic comedy from Richard Levine, Texas Spirit Theater
8 p.m.: ‘Savior Red,' a crime drama about a drug deal gone wrong, Alamo Lake Creek
8:15 p.m.: ‘Rubble Kings,' a documentary about gangs and the rise of hip-hop, Rollins Theatre
9 p.m.: ‘David Peoples Presents "Twelve Monkeys," ' Alamo Ritz
9:30 p.m.: ‘Brother's Justice,' with comedian Dax Shepard trying his hand at martial arts, Paramount
9:30 p.m.: ‘Conviction,' with Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell, Texas Spirit Theater
10 p.m.: ‘Ultimate Guide to Flight,' a satirical feature about disc golf in Central Texas, with an all-Austin cast, Rollins Theatre
Film venues: Paramount Theatre (713 Congress Ave.); Texas Spirit Theater at the Bullock Museum (1800 N. Congress Ave.); Hideout Theater (617 Congress Ave.); Alamo Ritz (320 E. Sixth St.); Alamo Lake Creek (13729 Research Blvd.); Arbor (9828 Great Hills Trail); Cinemin Swivel Theater, Austin Convention Center (500 E. Cesar Chavez St.); Rollins Studio Theatre at the Long Center (701 W. Riverside Drive).
More information:www.austinfilmfestival.com .
Conference venues: Driskill Hotel (604 Brazos St.); Stephen F. Austin Hotel (701 Congress Ave.); The Hideout Theatre (617 Congress Ave.); St. David's Episcopal (301 E. Eighth St.).