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Kari Kennon Talks About Making Films

Kari Kennon is a graduate of Centenary College of Louisiana with a bachelors in Theatre.

She has participated in productions as both an actor and as technical support for Louisiana State University of Shreveport, The Shreveport Opera, Stem Events on Line Avenue and Shreveport Little Theatre.

She has served as Vice President of the Shreveport Optimist Club as well as The Twelve Oaks Homeowner's Association.

Kari has lived all over the country and travelled far and wide taking workshops at various places including The New York Film Academy, The Omega Institute, and Houston Community College in an effort to become a better filmmaker and artist. Over the summer she completed two workshops at The Groundlings and Second City of Los Angeles with the intention of brining Improv Games to Shreveport. In her spare time she enjoys spending time with her dog Ella, playing Breath of the Wild on Nintendo Switch and reading Neil Gaiman books.

What draws you to filmmaking and the cinematic language?

Well, let me say first off, I’m basically a nobody. I went to USC briefly as a theatre major when I was 18 and when I was 20 I transferred because I couldn’t hack it in Los Angeles. Acting was my entry point into story telling and not getting parts was my incentive to learn all facets of production including PA work, 2nd assistant camera, associate producing and directing.

Truly, USC is the Mecca of all film schools and their theatre program is amazing as well. When I was there I got in touch with some good minds such as Paul Backer and Drew Casper. Drew Casper taught the film program’s intro level class which was in an auditorium once a week with spin off discussion groups on Fridays. I think I piggy back a lot off of what Drew Casper emphasized which is that cinema is a way to have a shared experience with your neighbor or community. You share a laugh with a stranger or a cry and the collective emotional engagement is healthy for a community.

Do you believe in film schools or does making a film teach you more than film school?

Hey, George Lucas went to USC and succeeded. That program served him. For an introverted teenage girl, it didn’t work, but each individual is so different and each era poses new challenges for men and women alike.

As an artist, I believe in living a dynamic life. Getting stuck in a programmatic curriculum may zap your wallet as well as your energy. That being said of course it’s a great way to network – especially in larger cities. I have attended Houston Community College as well as the New York Film Academy and those were great film programs but definitely nothing compares to being on a set with people who know more than you do – and that is also scary, showing up for years and years with everyone knowing so much more than you do! (I still know very little.)

There are literally hundreds of film festivals looking for content. I didn’t know the festival world existed until Gregory Kallenberg started the Louisiana Film Prize here in 2012. He strategically set a time limit on the short narrative films we produce here in northwest Louisiana so that they would be most likely to take off and be programmable at other festivals and he achieved that goal. Short narrative films are the bread and butter of film festivals and the folks who create films in northwest Louisiana have seen them accepted to Tribeca, Cannes, Holly Shorts and other prestigious ones as well.

Thanks to the Prize Foundation we have a close knit community here and there is a feasible progression for someone to go from a production assistant to a director in a few years if they had the will to do so. They may not get paid for their work but they wouldn’t be paying tuition either. We have a unique community in that regard. I’ve been told that communities like this are rare in other parts of the country.

What makes cinema stand out more than the arts for you?

I think those of us who are privileged enough to have a foothold on the medium need to be aware that they have the power to not only entertain but do good to their audiences spiritually.

When the movie “The Help” came out in 2011, the black lady who helped raise me (and worked for my parents for 30 years) went to see that movie with a friend. She loved it so much she didn’t leave the theatre until they had watched it a full two times through. That’s how hungry under-represented people are to see their stories told. It gave her a lot of joy.

I am not a psychologist or a licensed ANYTHING but I do think that cinema can be a device for healing and this country – regardless of who wins in November – is in need of healing.

Did you choose a certain directing style for making this film based on the script?

All of the men in my cast were very experienced so their initial instincts and choices even in the auditions were mostly right and it was just a matter of having a few rehearsals before we started shooting in April. Rehearsals before being on set are very important to me and save a lot of time in the long run.

With my lead actress, Tanya McMaster, I really made a point to instill in her mind early on that she really didn’t have to do anything – that the camera could pick up a single thought in her brain. So basically I told her don’t ever emote or force yourself to look a certain way. She’s been nominated for best actress at two festivals now and I find her ability to just listen and be “present” to be so lovely.

I always placed the men on the left and Tanya on the right. The dynamic and the predictability of that felt right for me. I think that comedy gardens need rules and right angles to best showcase the flowers.

How did you choose the cast and the crew of your film?

All of our male actors except for Terry Nelson (Safe Boy) came from Landrum Talent in Shreveport. Tanya McMaster (Caroline) responded to a post I made on Facebook about needing to cast my short. Dr. Karen Pendleton (Katherine) is a local physician and I had seen her talk at a special dinner eight or nine years ago and I thought she was fit and beautiful and had a whimsical spirit. I called her office one day and she was on board.

Most of my crew were from Shreveport. Two were from Dallas. Our DP, Jeremy Spring, travels between New Orleans and Shreveport. Thankfully, our G&E from Dallas (Russell Rakestraw, Caleb Robertson) and Merina Khan (now in Los Angeles) gelled well together. I think if time allows, it’s always good to let the DP have a say in the G&E unit. It’s often desirable to find people who have worked together before.

How did you fund your film and what were some of the challenges of making this film?

I am 34 with no children so my art has been my priority and I have funded my last two films with my own money.

Truly I am just not “spacially adept”. I have heard that this may be more of a female thing- which may very well be why there aren’t as many female directors. Blocking camera movement, blocking extras and actors is not my strong suit and so Rich Hansil was able to do that for me and dear god, it was truly two people at a time sitting down for a meal or a drink so there wasn’t much movement to block. It was all pretty quick and painless.

Jeremy Spring was our DP and I regret not getting him on board sooner. He was tied up on a project right before we shot in April but all in all I was very happy with the look and the LUT and he didn’t need much input from me for us to get the right look.

Do you consider yourself an indie filmmaker and what would be the most difficult thing about being an independent artist?

I consider myself an artist first and foremost and have attempted several mediums so I guess I’m not exclusively a filmmaker. I think the hardest thing for me is going from short-term collaboration to short-term collaboration and never having a troupe or company to brainstorm with for a sustained period of time.

Creativity in total isolation is nearly impossible. Fortunately, I’m at the point now that I have cultivated a few close relationships that seem to have both a career facet as well as a friendship facet.

What is the distribution plan for your film?

Festivals generally don’t want films that have been more than two years out from completion. By the time “Fast Forward Style” is done on the festival circuit it will be the end of 2021.

There really isn’t money to be made in short films from what I can tell. They are a calling card for the director and reel material for the actor in my experience. Eventually I’ll just put in on my website

As far as I know, we are slated this fall for Portland Comedy, Barebones in Muskogee and we will have our second screening at Silicon Valley International Film Festival in December. I have considered doing some sort of sequel to “Fast Forward Style”.

What is your cinematic goal in life and what would you like to achieve as a filmmaker?

My cinematic goal would be to convince everyone to slow down. The wisdom of nature and the wisdom of the body doesn’t happen on the same time-frame that the mind’s chatter happens. Women telling stories is important. I have a theory that women are inherently a little more in tune with the rhythms of the body which demand a slowing down.

Our world is very out of balance because our metric for gauging intelligence is totally based on speed. IQ is a function of time. We revere people who can do things quickly. What about all these anxiety disorders? So many people can’t sleep. Consumerism is also a result of this speeding up.

If you could tell stories in a theatre in such a way visually that they had some sort of measurable therapeutic value in the body, then yes, that would be something worth doing. If you think of cancer as an uncontrollable replication of cells, it would definitely benefit the body and mind to have an efficacious means of slowing down if you could really reach your audience on a somatic level.

My goal used to be simply to have fun. I’m a Joseph Campbell acolyte and he coined the phrase “follow your bliss”, which is what Improvisation and theatre games are for me. As I get older, my goal is to maybe light the path for people facing mental illness. I’d like to make a film about that journey. Facing stigma that permeates conversation and general perceptions even 8 years after my hospitalization I think there’s really a need to fortify young people today for whom every interaction poses a new opportunity for the erosion of their well being and self esteem. Every year the DSM comes up with more ways to erode their self esteem.

What kind of impact would your film have in the world and who is your audience?

Shakespeare talked about “holding the mirror up to nature”. Art is a means of “tuning” us. Art is a means of showing us via metaphor or allegory or innovative imagery what is going on and what our potential might be. We are all instruments but none or few of us really have a grasp on what reaching our potential would look like. We don’t have solid role models in every day life who are reference points. It’s hard to tune a guitar or a violin in a vacuum. Instruments need other instruments.

Music is an objective science. I wish acting were too. In music you know if you’re hitting the note or not. In other mediums, there’s little consensus about what we are doing. Maybe some Greek guy already came up with a formula for this back in Athens. My approach to the actor is one that addresses a person in the hopes of helping them reach a state of congruence or alignment. The actor has to have a baseline of authenticity before he or she can play someone else. I would like to have good experiences making relationships with my actors and co-creators and have less emphasis on the end product. I guess I want to have good experiences in the production itself.

Ultimately I would say my audience would be young people or I would hope to be a voice for young people and older people who still have some youth in their spirit. I want to be that person at the podium who tells young people not to give up- not to smoke the cigarette or cut the wrists or drive into the ocean. Things do get better if we can learn to love ourselves and remain fiercely optimistic and continue simply showing up – preferably with a mask on. Things I recommend for young artists, comedians, actors: 1.)Joseph Campbell (*interview with Bill Moyers)

2.)Neil Gaiman (books>movies and commencement speech “Make Good Art” is on YouTube

3.) Upright Citizen’s Brigade (UCB is an accredited school that now has online classes) 4.)Brene Brown 5.)Christopher Durang (***** five star playwright. The funniest stuff you’ve ever read)


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