Community Matters 2012

Laurel D. Austin
Stephen and Mary Pruitt

Take a quick poll of your neighbors and ask what occupies them from 9 to 5 and you’ll get a variety of responses: Doctors, nurses, healthcare executives, lawyers, sales reps and sales managers; bank presidents and teachers, boutique owners, restaurateurs, chefs and entrepreneurs; and telecom vice presidents, directors and projects managers, real estate developers and real estate agents. There are coaches and moms who stay at home raising children and college students and those who have retired from the workforce. Johnson County is a melting pot of careers and professions indeed.

The occupation of filmmaker is a rare one in Johnson County, but if you’re Stephen and Mary Pruitt’s Overland Park neighbors, you know two people who are helping to forge a burgeoning creative community. The Pruitts are making high-quality, independent films that are catching the attention of critics and industry execs. In the midst of their suburban utopia, using Kansas City as their backdrop, the Pruitts’ first film, “Works in Progress,” was shot with a RED Digital Cinema Camera that is the envy of even big-time studios, and local actors and extras. The couple’s second film, “Terminal,” is also being produced in Kansas City and utilizes the rich scenery and myriad resources available.

But filmmaking isn’t the couple’s first career. They relocated here from Memphis, Tennessee in 2001, when Stephen accepted the Gottlieb Chair at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s prestigious Bloch School of Business. Mary stayed at home, raising the couple’s two daughters, becoming involved in the community and the Blue Valley School District.

When the two decided to collaborate on a movie that had been rolling around in their heads for a long time, it was no place like home that attracted them.

Stephen and Mary Pruitt are 435 South magazine’s Community Voices 2012 this month—and it’s a fascinating take, indeed, on why this up-and-coming filmmaking duo thinks that Johnson County is poised for its star turn in the arts.

Spoiler alert: this story has a very happy ending.


Emphasis on the Arts words Stephen and Mary Pruitt

Our first experience with the Kansas City area was in the late 1990s when we visited friends in Leawood. We were so impressed that when Stephen saw a position announcement for the Gottlieb Chair at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Bloch School of Business, he jumped on it. Although we were fairly sure that the move from Memphis to Overland Park in 2001 would ultimately prove successful, we weren’t entirely without apprehension.

One area of particular concern involved our deep commitment to the arts. This concern was exacerbated when, during a meeting about lending works from our personal collection for an art exhibition, a Blue Valley art teacher began the conversation with a riddle: “What’s the difference between Johnson County and yogurt?” His answer? “Yogurt has active cultures.”

We’ve often thought about this funny remark over the past decade of living in the 435 South area—especially as we began exploring the wonderful world of independent filmmaking in 2007. We are convinced that this apparent lack of emphasis on the arts in the Blue River Valley has nothing to do with an inherent shortage of talent, time, or treasure vis-à-vis Brookside or the Plaza or anywhere else. Rather, it has everything to do with differences in demographics and familial priorities that, just a few short years from now, will allow our area to shine forth an extraordinarily intense artistic beacon—not just to the rest of the greater Kansas City area, but to the world at large, as well.

The communities in the 435 South area began in the bedrooms of couples for whom family was of paramount concern. The raising of the next generation has always been the first priority of parents, and the fruits of this emphasis in our own time and area are everywhere in evidence. We have world-class schools and athletic facilities. A junior college that ranks among the best in the country. Remarkably vibrant churches, an extraordinary library, and public safety departments that are the envy of communities across the Midwest.

But were the arts therefore neglected? Not at all. It is simply a matter of timing. Artistic talents temporarily shelved during the childrearing years will inevitably find expression as children leave the nest. Time previously spent on family-centered activities such as soccer games, doctor’s visits, and school activities will ultimately be invested in new avenues of exploration—many with distinctly artistic facets. Treasure once allocated to mortgages and college tuition will, in time, build significant private collections and provide critical financial support for myriad arts organizations and artists—including independent filmmakers.

During a trip to Hollywood for the premiere of our first film, “Works in Progress,” we first met Tegelman (“The Hurt Locker,” “Spiderman 2,” “Spiderman 3”), the sound re-recording mixer for our film. As he was preparing to leave, he pulled us aside to speak in private. Although Jussi was a veteran of the film industry, something was bothering him. “Steve, you two are terrific filmmakers. What took you so long?” Stephen simply answered, “We had other priorities.”

The bottom line is that our work as independent filmmakers could not have begun any earlier than it did. Like most people in our area, our two children were our first priority. Now that they have graduated from college and become responsible members of society, Stephen and I have chosen to work together to create independent films of the highest quality. It is true that neither of us had ever done anything even remotely like filmmaking before, and, with our first attempt and now working on our second film, “Terminal,” we became the latest examples of the great demographic shift emerging in Johnson County.

We are proud to be able to play a small part in the artistic story of the 435 South area that is being written. Whether it ultimately finds its expression on canvas, as sculpture, dance, music, or even as independent films, this “play” titled “The Future” has never looked so bright.

Categories: People