How A Georgia Filmmaker’s Prison Fellowship Inspired A New Southern Gothic Movie – Kenneth Horstmann on HIGH COTTON

Director Ken Horstmann, actors Jody Thompson & Mark Ashworth



Film director, producer and screenwriter Kenneth Horstmann is currently crowdfunding via Kickstarter for HIGH COTTON.  The film is a southern gothic feature set in Georgia.   It’s shot and edited, now Kenneth and his crew/actors need your support to finish it.

Film Courage: Where did you grow up?

Kenneth Horstmann:   I grew up in Portsmouth, Virginia. My parents divorced when I was young and we moved to Georgia when I was twelve. My dad’s in the industry and he always took me to work. I was exposed to studios, gear and the process at a young age.

Film Courage:   Which of your parents do you resemble most?

Kenneth:  My dad, for sure. He’s left handed but that’s one of the only differences.

Film Courage:   Did your parents lend support toward creativity or encourage another type of career/focus?

Kenneth:   Mom was always encouraging us to follow our dreams and my dad gave us great advice all the time. One of the best pieces of advice was to try out every job in production so I would know what I was good at. I liked them all, except sound – that’s alien to me.

Film Courage:   What were your plans after high school?

Kenneth:   USC film school. But I was already working and got hired at Turner Broadcasting in the editing department while still in high school.

Film Courage:   How did you begin making films?

Kenneth:   My brother had an Arri 16BL when I was a teenager and we began shooting films when I was 15. It’s always been there for me, the desire to tell stories. It just took a while to focus that.


“The story developed while listening to inmates tell their stories. I was active in a community outreach at our county jail for 3 years. Every Monday night we would lead the men in a 24-week program. The more I taught the more I realized I just need to listen. I was so intimidated to go into a place like that, but I quickly found out how much the men just needed someone to listen and be a good example.” 

Kenneth Horstmann, HIGH COTTON


Film Courage:   What’s an ideal family night for you, your wife and two daughters?  Is everyone creative in the household?

Kenneth:   My wife sings and teaches voice. We have a very creative family. We make family short films every summer. A typical night for us is cooking together and watching a movie. Movies are huge for us!

Film Courage:   You formed Spyplane Films in 2008 with Andrew Grein and Casey Wallace.  When most people were losing homes and desperately clinging to disappearing jobs, what had you so creative and daring at this uneasy time in history?

Kenneth:   Now or never! We knew we had to act quick and the industry was changing so fast it seemed like the best time to forge ahead, or else we may not get another chance. We shot our first movie on film, digital just wasn’t ready, and at our budget level we knew we could do more with film and a smaller crew.

Film Courage:  When did you develop the story idea for HIGH COTTON?

Kenneth:    The story developed while listening to inmates tell their stories. I was active in a community outreach at our county jail for 3 years. Every Monday night we would lead the men in a 24-week program. The more I taught the more I realized I just need to listen. I was so intimidated to go into a place like that, but I quickly found out how much the men just needed someone to listen and be a good example.


“…Life after incarceration is a ticking clock, they all know they are coming back inside.  It’s tragic. And their children know nothing else. When you ask their kids what they want to be when they grow up, their answers begin with… “After I get out, I want to…”
Kenneth Horstmann, HIGH COTTON

Film Courage:   Does the theme of revenge seem more prevalent in today’s society (not just storytelling) or less so than prior years?

Kenneth:    It’s always been with us, ebb and flow. But with companies like SHIP YOUR ENEMIES GLITTER asking people to stop ordering, I’d say it’s here to stay, at least under the surface.

Film Courage: Do you remember the day you felt compelled to move forward with writing the story?

Kenneth:    I do. I was mentoring someone who wanted to make a film just like this and I told him I have an idea. That was Tommy Walton, one of the hardest working producers around.

Film Courage:   Where did you write it? 

Kenneth:    In my office with Final Draft. The script came quickly, about 5 weeks in all for first draft. We visited locations with the two actors all through the writing process. Many of the actors’ life experiences are on the page.

Film Courage:   Why are you moved by stories about “second chances?” 

Kenneth:    We all get second chances, and none of us deserve them. I believe in grace and it has been extended to me so many times.

Film Courage:   Why are you crowdfunding?

Kenneth:    We started the film knowing we would have enough for production but not for post. If I had waited until we had it all, the film would have stayed in the drawer with all the other scripts.

Film Courage:   Was it your plan all along to use crowdfunding as a way to raise money for post-production and create buzz for it’s release?

Kenneth:    Yes.  Crowdfunding a great way to fund and distribute at the same time while creating groundswell. Plus it makes people feel like they are a part of the project and more likely to champion the film.

Film Courage:   How did you raise money for the production?  How long of a process was it?  Was your previous film UPSIDE a part of your pitch in any way?

Kenneth:    Funding was done through two investors – us. I know nobody ever uses their own money, but we believed in the narrative and the purpose of the film that much. UPSIDE was a conventional process with business plan, angel investors, etc.

Film Courage:   How long was the production?  Where did you shoot it? 

Kenneth:    We shot in total for 23 days over a five week period with 2 reshoot days months later. We shot the film in 7 towns between Conyers, GA and Monroe, GA. The camera only goes indoors one time.  The entire film is outside.

Film Courage:   How did each of the 7 southern towns you filmed in receive the production, cast and crew?

  We were welcomed. We spent a lot of time talking to locals and getting them involved. We fired guns often and police would drive up and say… “Oh, it’s you guys. Be safe.” and drive off.

Film Courage:   When HIGH COTTON is finished, what are your plans with the film?

Kenneth:    We are working with a sales agent to rep the film to distributors. We are submitting to festivals now. We’ll also have a DCP made and use TUGG for screenings in a few key cities to garner reviews and broaden the reach.

Film Courage:   Your actor Jody Thompson (LES in HIGH COTTON) in the pitch video says “Studios don’t make movies like this anymore.  If you love smaller independent films with heart, then this is the kind of movie you want to support…[small films are] going away people and it’s a dying art.  And we’re here trying here to make something that matters….”  Why do you feel these types of films are going away, even though many film lovers yearn for something exactly like HIGH COTTON?

Kenneth:    Great films, successful films are all luck, no matter who’s attached, no matter who’s in it or making it. Studios are making what they know they can sell, franchise and tentpole movies, not small films that stray from the formula. It makes sense to me from a business perspective.

Mark Ashworth (as Bulldog)

Film Courage:   Ken, you mention in the pitch video for HIGH COTTON that ‘It’s a 2 million dollar film which we are trying to finish for $250,000.”  How did you figure the 2 million dollar price?

Kenneth:    We’ve been in production a long time. We have another film, a little larger, and the budget came in at $2.4MM. We use Showbiz for budgeting and ran a prelim for HIGH COTTON and were just under 2MM.

Film Courage:   Where have you cut costs to make the film you are currently doing?

Kenneth:    We cut costs everywhere. We did as many things ourselves as possible. Our DP did a great job, but was also our camera department. The camera is on my should for most of the film. We used interns and younger crew members wanting credit. We deferred, we borrowed but we never stole, except maybe a location or two.

Film Courage:   Tell us about the Prison Fellowship you are involved in?

Kenneth:    It’s a 24-week program aimed at teaching the men what it means to be a real man. To take responsibility for their future, their families and the debts from their past. It is a Biblically based study but applies to men no matter their beliefs. It is an impactful and deep study no matter where someone is in life.  One man on his 3rd drug offense was in the program was a life changer.

Film Courage:   What has been your experience and what feedback do you receive from the men you speak with?  What do they frequently comment on about life after incarceration?

Kenneth:    This is a first for me. Life after incarceration is a ticking clock, they all know they are coming back inside.  It’s tragic. And their children know nothing else. When you ask their kids what they want to be when they grow up, their answers begin with… “After I get out, I want to…”

(As a high backer reward) Receive the pickup truck featured in the film. That’s right, her name’s Hank. 1970 Chevy C20 with the Bulldog hood ornament from the film. It runs great and the title’s clean (more info via the Kickstarter page for HIGH COTTON)


Film Courage:   What are some of common misconceptions the public has which you can clarify and have witnessed firsthand about incarcerated men and women?

Kenneth:    They’re just like you and me, but they do think differently than us. They feel like the rules don’t apply and that taking, no matter the form, is part of the “game.” We all know that they put themselves in there, but they refuse to admit that. They’re deeply wounded, most of them by a parent, a parent who was absent, or another parent that just wouldn’t let them grow up. They need help to see their lives in a new way.

Film Courage:   Part of the tag line for your prior film UPSIDE is ‘An inspiring reminder that when life gets you down, there’s always an UPSIDE.’  Have you always felt hopeful/optimistic most of your life? 

Kenneth:    I’ve always been hopeful. My hope comes from my faith in Jesus. I was taught to believe in myself when I was young, and I’ve discovered there’s so much more to believe in than me.

HIGH COTTON was shot entirely on location in Georgia
Film Courage:   Do you feel Generation Y and Z are more hopeful than prior generations or less so? 

Kenneth:    I feel they are more hopeful.  Opportunities are growing and changing so fast. It’s a great time to be alive and to be creating. The possibilities for creation and invention have never been more broad than they are now.

Film Courage:   How do you envision your movies inspiring others?  What is your core message?

Kenneth:    I want my films to inspire people to action. Talk is cheap, we all have a personal responsibility to our families and our community. We have to take action to preserve this world and love each other, and serve each other. Not sure if I can get that across in a film but it would be awesome!

Film Courage:   It appears that you utilize local talent from Georgia.  Where do you post for actors and crew?  Are there any crew members or cast members who aren’t based in Georgia?

Kenneth:    We hire from Atlanta agencies all the time. We only posted in L.A. for a few roles. Randy McDowell came in from the west coast for the film. We reached out to our friends and colleagues.

Film Courage:  For a filmmaker who has never had their film on Netflix, how would you recommend they go about it?

Kenneth:    Samuel Goldwyn placed UPSIDE on Netflix via Provident. You have to prove that people want to watch your film, that’s it. But it’s not easy. We screened UPSIDE to a house that sat 800, and we had an overflow at the premiere for 100 and it was full. Generate some buzz and prove that there are people that want to see the film. Netflix may not believe you that your film has an audience, but they’re more likely to believe 1,000 people.

Elizabeth Ehrig as Hattie in HIGH COTTON
Film Courage:   What did you learn from distributing UPSIDE that is going to impact the way you distribute HIGH COTTON?

Kenneth:    We will stay involved more, no matter how many feathers we ruffle. Distribution for small, indie films should stay small and community based until there’s enough support to take it bigger. Key Art is also another big one. It is so powerful, and often indicative of a small film’s success.

DP Jacob Fry, actor Jody Thompson (Les) on set for HIGH COTTON
Film Courage:   What’s next for you creatively?

Kenneth:    Working on a film about veterans and suicide. Twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day. Something has to change.  This time as a non-profit.



Kenneth Horstmann is an film director, producer and screenwriter with extensive experience in camera techniques and post production. Kenneth was hired at Turner Broadcasting while still attending high school and moved on to be the youngest lead editor for ABC’s Wide World Of Sports at the age of 23 – garnering him a national Emmy nomination for sports/dramatic editing while working in Russia.

Kenneth began directing in 2002 after six years of experience as a visual effects compositor and supervisor. Kenneth’s visual effects training was with Discreet Logic in Toronto, Canada.

Kenneth has directed three episodic television series for Cartoon Network including Cartoon Fridays, Fried Dynamite & Daily Wedgies.

Kenneth founded Spyplane Films in 2008. Spyplane has produced two low-budget indie films since 2010.

The first film, UPSIDE, was written, directed and edited by Kenneth on a budget of $300,000 and was picked up by Provident Films. The film released in October 2010 to good reviews. Home video sales were decent while the film performed very well On Demand. Upside is about a young Lacrosse star who suffers a head injury and is forced to look at his life anew and decide what he really wants.

Upside maintains a four star out of five grade on Netflix with over 50,000 ratings.

High Cotton is completed but not released. Again serving as writer, director, editor. The film has begun festival submissions as of March 2015 and will move to market later in the year. High Cotton is based on a true story from Kenneth’s time spent speaking with men in lockup as part of a prison outreach. The goal of the film outside distribution is partnerships with non-profit groups like Prison Fellowship. The film focuses on life after incarceration.

Spyplane also operates a commercial division specializing in branded entertainment and visual effects. Kenneth has directed more than 500 commercials, title sequences, and music videos for national brands.

Kenneth lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife Johanna, a singer and voice teacher, and their two daughters, Wren and Lily.







Based on a true story from our time spent talking with men in lockup. A man seeks vengeance for the murder of the wife he couldn’t bring himself to kill. Starring Mark Ashworth (Lawless) and Jody Thompson (The Bay).