Even though she's only been in Kansas City for five and a half years, Michelle Davidson Bratcher has embedded herself in the local film community and works with several local organizations. She's president of the Kansas City Women in Film and Television, co-host of the CinemaKC show and the hour-long weekday talk show KC Live. She's also a member of the Kansas City Screenwriters and producer, writer, and star of several local films. I recently got to sit down and ask her how she juggles her multiple roles. I should also mention that I co-wrote the short film "Rhubarb Pie" that Michelle appeared in back in 2008.
KC Live does a terrific job of covering the arts. How do you decide who to put on the show?
Our producers are really awesome about reaching out to people. They also get a lot of people that want to be on the show, especially lately that it's kind of caught on that this is a great platform to talk about your business, not-for-profit charity event, or a play they're trying to promote. I come from a news background and had the mentality that that's not news, even though it's interesting, and it's relevant, and people want to hear about it. In the news business I usually interview people during the best or worst time of their life, after something horrible had just happened to them. With this show, people want to come on and tell everyone in Kansas City (that's watching - I don't know how many people that is) about their events or their product or their restaurant. So it's nice when you go to work and people are excited to see you. Sometimes they're really nervous, but they're excited to be on the show.
KC Live received a lot of negative feedback when it first started.
Any time you try something new, and you change someone's schedule as far as TV viewing habits, they have to adjust to the style of our show, and Michael and I as hosts. People were going from a national show to a show about Kansas City, and there were some people that were angry because we changed their day. It's only been on since July. It takes time. People now know what to expect from a local show. We don't have forty producers like The Today Show has, but I think that it's grown on people and our numbers are really great. The feedback we're getting now is just so positive and people are grateful and appreciative that we have a show like that.
How do you come up with a new wardrobe every day?
Thank goodness for Standard Style. They dress me every day. I was a stay-at-home mom for five years, so my wardrobe consisted of yoga pants, jeans, t-shirts, pajamas, and maybe the occasional dress if I got a sitter and went somewhere. I'm not a very stylish person, so they make me really fashion forward. Their clothes are amazing and I wear things I probably wouldn't think to wear. I go in and pick up my wardrobe for the next day, and we've become really good friends. It's great to partner with a local business, which is what our show is all about. They help style you and they're cutting edge with their fashion knowledge. It makes me kind of feel special.
CinemaKC is in its second season interviewing local filmmakers and showing their short films.
We're working on season three. The show has grown tremendously. It's primarily volunteers and donations, people just wanting to support filmmakers in Kansas City. It's kind of cool to say your short film is also being broadcast to a big audience. I think that our filmmakers are appreciative and excited, and everyone that works on the show knows that what we're doing is worthwhile, and we're working for free because we're doing something good for the film community. We can feel that.
Do the limitations of broadcast television make it hard to fit some films in?
In order to make a short film fit the 22 minute format of television, you have to make some changes, and there are some films you can't show because of FCC guidelines. You miss out on some amazing short films that are being made in Kansas City because they have to fit what is appropriate for television. That's why I hope that if we keep promoting the filmmakers, the people will go watch online or go to a film festival. Even though television has limitations, I think in the end it's a really great thing for filmmakers. They're someone that probably self-financed their movie, working on the weekends, but they're making films that are compelling or tell a great story, and they live in Kansas City. It's cool that I can put a spotlight on local filmmakers on CinemaKC and KC Live.
What are your goals as president of Kansas City Women in Film and Television (KCWIFT)?
I see it as a great platform to promote film in Kansas City. I think anytime you can get people together to ask what can we do to make filmmaking in Kansas easier or better - a screenplay contest or have seminars - it just makes Kansas City a better place to be creative. One of the things I wanted was to have a short screenplay contest specifically for female writers, because I felt like everyone that's mentored me as a writer have been men. The first thing I ever wrote I took to the KC Screenwriters, which is primarily men. I think that was great for me. I've had a lot of mentors in film - men and women - but primarily the people that have helped me have been guys. In television there are women everywhere. There are tons of ladies in the newsroom - female news directors, female general managers, female producers. There's lots of female leadership in local television, but in film I didn't have that experience. I wanted to encourage women to tell their stories because there are so few female screenwriters.
KCWIFT's first short screenplay contest was held last year at KC FilmFest and was very successful, with a $1,000 prize.
We wanted to reach out to storytellers all over the world. About half were from the KC area, and the other half from all over the world. The top five last year were from Canada, Texas, California, and two from Kansas City. When they came to Kansas City, one of them said they wanted to come make their film here. It's a way to say "look what's happening in Kansas City." And in the internet age, you can work with people all over the world. You can work with a writer in Canada and make the film here, and then do the graphics in Europe, and edit the film somewhere else. Technology has really opened doors to people anywhere to make great films, to make videos for the internet, and they're getting seen all over. The idea that my films are getting seen all over the world gets me excited. I'm just this little filmmaker in Kansas City and people are watching me everywhere. It's so cool.
Obviously the contest is focused on writers, but having actors do the staged reading was amazing because two of the films were made, and they were using the actors that were cast in the staged reading. We helped make these connections where actors can come in and work with filmmakers. We're all about networking and connecting people with other people that can potentially help them tell their story. We want to support and encourage as many different types of the filmmaking process as we can.
Last year KCWIFT was promoted by Google.
We started a new website and it was really simple. We put some films on it, and a membership directory, and some pictures. Then Google contacted us and said, "We love your website. We love what your mission is. We'd love to feature you." So they had a crew come out of New York and did a video on us that featured our organization and our website and how their online tools can help business like ours increase our membership and visibility. When we launched the website our attendance and membership went up dramatically. We're really excited that they picked us to spotlight. Google is sending two of our members to Washington, D.C., in February to learn about how to build our website and make it even better and reach out to more people.
What is your background and how did you get into journalism?
I grew up in St. Louis and went to journalism school in Columbia. I was a morning anchor there for a couple of years and then went to Springfield, where I was a consumer investigative reporter and a weekend anchor. Then we went to Houston and I produced an hour-long talk show on KHOU, and then we came to Kansas City.
My first film that I auditioned for was Last Ounce of Courage and I played a reporter. I loved working on a film set. It was long hours but it was exciting after working in news, which is really run-and-gun deadline-oriented because you have to have a news package every day. Film is deadline oriented, too, but there's more freedom to be creative. In news you only get one take, because it's live. In film you get two or three or seven. I was a much better fake reporter than a real reporter, but it opened the doors to a whole new world. The first short film I ever acted in was "Rhubarb Pie". I was really nervous and didn't know what I was doing, and everyone was really nice.
I worked at a television station when I was 16. I did vignettes between commercial breaks. I also performed at Six Flags and danced and sang all over the Midwest. I even did a show in Los Angeles for WB when they were launching their new shows. I liked being in television, so when I was figuring out what to do with my life, I thought I'd continue in television. I was torn - do I dance professionally in Los Angeles, or do I go the journalism route? I still dance and even worked at a dance studio while I was working in news. I want to surround myself with creative people, even if it's not what I do professionally. I just want to be around people that are really talented. That's why I do KCWIFT and why I joined the KC Screenwriters group: to be surrounded by people way more talented than me, and hope it rubs off.
Your husband is on the board of the Kansas City Repertory?
He is the treasurer, and he's banker at Commerce Bank. He loves creative people, too, and he is involved in the one aspect of the performing arts in Kansas City that I'm not involved in. He loves the Rep. He loves supporting actors, and I just go to watch talented people. There is so much talent in Kansas City. It blows me away.
What can we expect from you this year?
I hope to produce a feature film. We're raising funds for Enclosure that Patrick Rea is directing and I co-wrote with him. Hopefully we'll be making that in 2013. This time last year I had no idea I'd be hosting a television show Monday through Friday, no idea about some of the films I've been a part of, no idea that KCWIFT would take off the way it has. It's been a really exciting year. I just try to stay open and surround myself with really talented people and maybe be a part of something exciting and cool. You do your best to attract people to come together, and then you step back and let people do their thing and let other talents shine.
KC Live airs at 10 am, Monday - Friday, on NBC. CinemaKC airs at 11 pm on Sundays on KSMO. You can find out more about KC Women in Film at www.kcwift.com or the Kansas City Screenwriters at www.kcscreenwriters.com.