Women in Film
The Kansas City-based filmmakers you’re about to meet are undeniably talented. They have achieved amazing accolades, all while raising children and pursuing other careers. And, in most cases, these creative women are just getting started.
But what stands out most about these women is how absolutely supportive they are—of one another and of all filmmakers in Kansas City, especially fellow females trying to break into the field.
These filmmakers offer each other encouragement, feedback, a good laugh; whatever is needed, whenever it’s needed, they are there to help, mentor and shape the future of women filmmakers in Kansas City.
Michelle Davison has always lived her life in the spotlight—first as a dancer and later as a television news journalist. But it wasn’t until Davidson turned 30 and moved to Kansas City that the upbeat blonde began a career in filmmaking.
“From the moment I stepped on set, I had the most amazing experience,” says Davidson. “I loved every second of it; I was hooked.”
Five years later, Davidson has a long list of film credits—as a writer, director, actor and producer—and hosts and produces a TV show on KSMO, “CinemaKC,” featuring filmmakers and their short films. She is also the president of Kansas City Women in Film and Television (KCWIFT) and active on other boards promoting filmmaking in the Kansas City area.
“I surround myself with people who are way more talented than me,” Davidson says with a humble laugh. “I’ve been really fortunate.”
Fortunate, yes, but talent is also a clear factor in Davidson’s success.
Her directorial debut, “Ready to Pop,” won Best Comedic Short Film at the Stella Artois St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase and earned her a Best Actress in a Comedic Role award, while the comedic Web series, “The Unreal Housewives of KC,” which Davidson wrote, produced and starred in along with Meagan Flynn, won a regional Emmy.
And, perhaps most exciting for Davidson, who dreams of selling a screenplay to a big-name studio, her screenplay “Off White” made it to the second round of the Austin Film Festival and finals at the Omaha Film Festival and Tulsa Film Festival.
“I’ve been lucky to team up with some really experienced filmmakers,” says Davidson. “I didn’t go to film school, so I’ve just had to sit back, watch and learn. I continue to learn every time I go on set.”
A recent acting part on the Starz series, “Boss,” starring Kelsey Grammer, gave Davidson yet another opportunity to learn from experienced actors and filmmakers. Yet Davidson says she’s learned the most from fellow Kansas City filmmakers.
“I have been so humbled by how many people have helped me and mentored me in Kansas City,” she says. “I’m just thrilled to hopefully return the favor.”
Broadway was never an option for Meagan Flynn, who swears she can’t sing or dance. Instead, the Montana native moved to Los Angeles after college and began trying to make it in Hollywood.
One of her first jobs was for a television series pilot that never aired.
“I only had three lines, but it was the first thing I booked that wasn’t for an extra,” says Flynn. “It was a big deal.”
Acting parts here and there, along with bartending and barista jobs, followed that first role, but in 2008, Flynn left LA behind and moved with her husband to Shawnee to be near family.
“I didn’t even know that KC had a film or theater industry, but then I got here, and there’s this huge independent film thing — people making documentaries, it was so exciting,” says Flynn.
Once in Kansas City, Flynn quickly connected with Davidson and others on “The Unreal Housewives of KC.” Flynn was an executive producer (a first in her career) and also starred in the Web series.
With the Housewives parody a hit, Flynn took on another first—directing. “The Wingman,” a Web series, made it to the semifinals of NEXTTV’s Web series competition.
Over the next two years, Flynn wrote, directed and produced a variety of documentaries, features, Web series and short films, including “Always Come Home,” which was funded by a grant from the Kansas City Arts Council. She also scored Best
Supporting Actress nominations at the Aphrodite Cinefest and Underdogs Film Fest.
One of Flynn’s all-time highlights, however, has been her role as a flight attendant questioning George Clooney in the Oscar-nominated “Up in the Air.”
“‘Lovely’ is the only word I have for George Clooney,” says Flynn.
Working with George Clooney wasn’t the only perk of her role in “Up in the Air.” Hollywood jobs also help fund what Flynn calls her “passion projects”—short films and maybe even a feature film someday.
“There’s such a good community of women creating really, really good work here,” says Flynn, who is also on the Kansas City Women in Film and Television board. “Maybe it’s because we are working harder to prove we’re filmmakers; we’re not women filmmakers, we’re just filmmakers.”
Jennifer Friend never imagined a childhood of making home movies with her sister would lead to an exciting future as a filmmaker.
Friend, who lives in Overland Park, first became a teacher and then a principal in the Shawnee Mission School District before taking on a position as an associate professor in the UMKC School of Education.
But when her husband, Tim, had to write a screenplay for a class, Friend pitched in, helping produce a short film about a people-eating insect.
The two had so much fun and success working together (their film was released on DVD along with a full-length feature), they decided to write their own full-length feature.
“Cadaverella,” a modern Gothic version of the children’s classic, was showcased at the 2006 Jubilee Film Festival and honored as a grand award finalist at the 2006 American Artist Film Festival.
“Bonnie and Clyde vs. Dracula,” a feature-length horror film, was their next joint venture. With filming in St. Joseph and two LA-based actors on board, Friend and her husband enlisted the help of their son and his band, Mr. Fish, as well as family, friends and colleagues.
“Instead of going to a lake house for vacation like some families, we went to St. Joseph and made a movie,” says Friend.
Next up, Friend is turning a screenplay for “The Rest of Her” into a short film—a project funded by a grand prize win from AMC Theatres and Kansas City Women in Film and Television at the 2012 Kansas City FilmFest. She’s also continuing to work on educational documentaries, including “What Kids Love & Hate About School,” and teach graduate classes at UMKC.
“For Tim and I both, we just want to stay here and make feature films,” says Friend. “It’s not something we can make a living at, but for us, it’s an opportunity to be creative and share that creativity with our audiences.”
photos: Matthew Taylor