This has been without a doubt the most surreal year of my life, and the year before I had walked on the Millennium Falcon.
I was on a film festival panel recently with several other directors and we were asked how long we’d been working on our respective projects. The directors rattled off their answers: five years, seven years, ten years, a lifetime. The microphone was handed to me. “Eight months,” I exclaimed. The room burst into applause. Until that moment, I hadn’t fully realized what a speedy path it had been. About a year before I had jotted down a note in my phone; “Plan A. Finish Script and Film Movie.” There was no Plan B.
The script was a road trip dramedy called Different Flowers about a persnickety bride named Millie, who on the day of her big Midwestern wedding, makes a split-second decision to jilt her fiancé at the altar. With the help of her spunky younger sister, Emma, she embarks on a life-changing adventure.
Growing up in Kansas City, Missouri, I got used to creating opportunities for myself from an early age. The film industry there was small. Really small. I convinced teachers to allow me to do documentaries or visual presentations instead of – or in addition to – term papers. I started attending Independent Filmmakers Coalition meetings at twelve, and at 16, I founded its student division. Without a clear path before me, I decided to take matters into my own hands – founding a film club at my high school, making my own short films, participating in every Midwestern filmmaking contest I could find. I was helped on this path by the local branch of Women in Film. It was there that I got my first film internship working for one of their members, a very special lady named Sue Vicory, who, a decade later, is an executive producer on Different Flowers.
The road to making this movie was a fast one, but by no means an easy one. How does a first time filmmaker raise a budget, find a cast and assemble a crew? Well, I found that all you really need is a little help from your friends.
To Kickstart the budget, we embarked on a crowdfunding campaign. I made a pitch video and sent it to everyone I knew, and asked them to send it to everyone they knew. I advise only doing this once in your career! We flew past our goal thanks to the overwhelming support of friends, family and strangers. This success so early on in the process inspired me to keep pushing forward. People wanted to see Different Flowers.
Remember that thing about friends? Well, in Jessica Sherman, I found the most wonderful casting director I could hope for. Having worked with her before, I knew she was the right person for the job, but she really outdid herself with this cast. One of the things I was most nervous about was finding actors who you would believe were sisters from the very first reel. In Emma Bell (Millie) and Hope Lauren (Emma), we found that and more. Not only had they never met before we began filming, but the very first scene on Day One of production takes place halfway through the story. This meant that the two women had to instantly have a believable, sisterly rapport. We had no time for extensive rehearsals, and our movie depended on creating a grounded and authentic relationship between them. From our first read-through, I knew I had nothing to worry about. They were perfect for each other – quickly becoming inseparable until other actors were asking if they were actually related – and their unique, relatable chemistry comes through so clearly on screen.
Then, Shelley Long came on board to play wise and wise-cracking Grandma Mildred, and I was so honored when she asked to produce as well. She had been a comedic icon of mine since I was a little girl, and she surpassed every expectation. I was blown away by her dedication and mastery of her craft. Everyone stood up a little taller when she entered a room. To top it all off, Romy Rosemont rounded out our stellar group of women, and I cannot tell you how many takes I ruined because she made me burst out laughing in the middle of a line.
More friends – new and old – joined the fold, and I found myself surrounded by a group of incredibly talented women. Our production designer Molly Goodman infused each set with such a strong sense of character. Her ability to transform a space on a tight budget is downright magical. A similar wizard in her field was VFX Supervisor Kaitlyn Yang, whose invisible work you will never spot in the film, but trust me when I say the details she pulled off are significant. If you thought I was juggling a lot of balls as director, writer, and producer, you should meet Heidi Seager-Bowles. She headed up hair, makeup AND wardrobe – and excelled at all three. A bonafide powerhouse, she pulled off many minor miracles on a daily basis. Then there were the Naso sisters, Alisa and Dana, co-producer and script supervisor respectively, who brought incredible dedication – and contributed to the sister vibes on set.
I also have to mention that you have to keep an eye out for the women in my family who make cameo appearances in the opening scenes of the film. They’d been the stars of my work since I was big enough to hold up a camera, so it only felt appropriate to find places for them in my first feature film.
We shot for 18 days in the middle of a hot and humid Missouri summer, but the heat didn’t stop us from having something of a fairy-tale production. Everything that could go right, did. We needed to shut down the main street in the City of Weston, Missouri in the height of tourist season, no problem. We needed to find the perfect farmhouse, complete with a pond, a barn, and chickens and we found it in the middle of Kansas. Not just that but it happened to be owned by the most wonderfully kind and accommodating family, who had no problem letting an entire crew take over their lives for two weeks.
Then we needed a red jeep to play the part of Emma’s well-loved car Albert, and wouldn’t you know, we found exactly that in a used car lot near our home. Not just that, but the owner of the lot let us borrow it free of charge for the month of filming! (Thanks, Jerry at Arc Auto!)
One of the most rewarding aspects of this journey has been inspiring other young filmmakers to pursue their passions. We found one of our all-star production assistants when she recognized me from our crowdfunding campaign in the Kansas City airport and asked to be involved. After my two 11-year-old cousins spent a day on set, I received a photograph from my aunt of them at the kitchen table, writing their own screenplays. Recently another one of our production assistants told me she’s decided to shift her college major to film production. Forming these connections as you start out in film is so important, especially for women. I know I wouldn’t have had the courage to take this leap had it not been a path forged by many, many women ahead of me.
It’s extraordinary that less than a year has passed since we began this journey, and now audiences are seeing the finished film. I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished. It is the film I set out to make – It’s emotional, funny and heartfelt. I didn’t have to ask anyone for permission, and I got to make it with my family and friends. I hope Millie’s journey and the female-powered creation of this movie inspires other young women to follow their hearts. It certainly inspired me to continue following mine.