A burgeoning filmmaker, Savannah Rodgers is a part of the “small, but mighty” Kansas City filmmaking scene in Kansas, MO. She is a film student at the University of Kansas and acts on the Board of Directors for Kansas City Women in Film and Television. Also, she is the film director of “Politically Correct,” a short film that has been screened at independent film festivals, among others, at the Festigous online festival.
MissCareerLess spoke with Rodgers about being a female filmmaker and the subject of “Politically Correct,” a film that examines the balance – or lack thereof – of political correctness, diversity and creativity in a TV writer’s room – and Rodgers’ own anxieties as a writer. But we also discuss the emotional and professional affect Kevin Smith’s “Chasing Amy” had on her and her work, and how sexist or homophobic comments not making their way to her.
Kim on behalf of MissCareer/Less: What was the inspiration for “Politically Correct”?
Savannah Rodgers: Politically Correct was inspired by my own anxieties. Because I’m a total masochist, I like to torment myself by thinking about how people could react negatively to what I have to say or how I represent a character. So, these characters are a personification of how I feel when I write. We thought it would be funny if it were a group of television writers trying really hard to be too respectful towards everyone, so they didn’t get any work done. Their misguided notions of respect ultimately hindered any progress from being made.
MCL: What feedback have you received so far from the film?
SR: Well, for the most part, people have been kind about it. It’s been rejected from as many festivals as it’s gotten into, though. Surprisingly, LGBT film festivals reject it the most, which I thought was going to be kind of our niche crowd.
We initially made the film for a local competition, and the judges really didn’t like it. I was surprised, but Laura Kirk [the actor who plays Allison] told me something important. It was something like, “Your film is your baby. You think it’s the most special and wonderful baby out there, and some people will think that too. But to everyone else, it’s just a baby.” For the record, I really like our baby. It was my first movie, so there were a lot of mistakes made throughout the process. It’s not perfect, but it’s still funny. The actors are really proud of it and, you know, I have a film out there on the festival circuit now. It’s been a huge first step for me.
As proud as I am to call this my first film, I know I have a lot more to offer.
MCL: You talk about rejections. How do you keep yourself motivated when faced with obstacles?
SR: It’s a combination of strong intrinsic desire and not putting all my eggs in one basket. I was at New York Comic Con recently and saw Seth Meyers speak. He was discussing how he keeps himself motivated by always working on another one of his projects to keep from burning out. I do a lot of that. There’s always something else to work on. If a festival doesn’t like my movie, that’s fine. I like it. Who knows? They may like my next one.
MCL: How do you think you and other writers should approach stereotypes and the hegemonic norms that are pervasive in film and television?
SR: The internet is an excellent resource for people who don’t know where to start on topics of diversity. It’s more than just having people of color in your films. By embracing diversity in the world, you can create more original projects. For the most part, a lot of commercial films are the same regurgitated stuff we always see. I would love to see an epic romance where the film passed the Bechdel test; the love story wasn’t toxic, and it wasn’t two gorgeous white people holding each other’s faces on the poster. Just educate yourselves on what else is out there. It’s not as hard as we’re making it out to be.
MCL: What inspired you to be a filmmaker?
SR: I saw Chasing Amy at age twelve. Though I was probably too young, it changed me. It helped me come to terms with a lot of what I was dealing with emotionally though I wouldn’t realize that until much later. It also showed me that writing could be a career. The monologs in that movie are awe-inspiring. I’ve seen that movie probably two hundred times, and I could still cry watching it today. On really hard days, I watch it to remind myself of why I wanted to make movies in the first place.
I’m also continuously inspired by new things I see. A few years ago, some friends turned me on to Girls. I love pretty much everything about it. Lena Dunham, Jenni Konner, and Judd Apatow have created something beautiful in terms of raw emotion and what millennial white people are like. The episodes “Beach House,” “All Adventurous Women Do,” and “Female Author” are reference points for me on how to become a better writer.
MCL: Share with us an excerpt from one of the awe-inspiring monologs you refer to.
SR: There are so many great speeches in the movie: Kevin Smith really knocked that one out of the park. I’d have to say the one that made the biggest impact was Holden’s speech to Alyssa in his car. It’s the ultimate “I love you” speech. The line, “Please know that I am forever changed because of who you are and what you’ve meant to me,” might be my favorite out of the whole monolog. There’s also another great one that I thought critics of the film ignored, for the most part. It’s where Alyssa and Holden are in bed, and she’s explaining why she chose him as a partner despite identifying as a lesbian. It’s complex and compelling.
MCL: As your own experience with “Chasing Amy,” films can be a powerful influence on people’s lives. What emotional issue did “Chasing Amy” address for you and how the film helped you to come to terms with it?
SR: Chasing Amy really helped me figure out my sexuality. It wasn’t immediate, but by the time I could find a word for what I saw onscreen through the Alyssa Jones character, I felt much better about myself. That word ended up being “pansexuality.” Figuring out who I was attracted to and that it was okay to feel that way really helped me get out of my own way as a person and a filmmaker. A lot of LGBTQ+ people don’t like that movie because of the way it portrays Alyssa’s sexuality, but it’s perfect for me.
MCL: Since you have had such a strong reaction to a film, how do you seek to create that impact for your future audiences?
SR: The goal with any film I create is to make the audience feel something. For Politically Correct, I wanted people to laugh, but also question the way we see representations in media. If a strong reaction is evoked through a film I’ve made, I’ve done my job. Making the best characters possible will help me get to that place in my future projects.
MCL: The existence of a filmmaking organization dedicated to female filmmakers (Kansas City Women in Film & TV-KCWIFT) speaks to the challenges of women in the industry. Can you discuss these challenges from your and/or your colleagues’ perspectives?
SR: The biggest issue I’ve had on sets is when people test me to see what they can get away with. You know, sexist jokes – stuff like that. They’re trying to see how “cool with it” I am. But no one has outright said any sexist or homophobic comments to me. I would hope they know better. I also think it’s difficult for people to know how to get into the business at all. KCWIFT helps to give you a support system and gives you resources to find what you’re looking for.
MCL: What are your 3 top pieces of advice for women in filmmaking industry?
SR: I’m not sure I’m in any place to give anyone advice at this point in my career, but the best advice I received when I started was to seize every opportunity. I think that’s working out damn well for me.