Film in Kansas City

Film in Kansas City

Film in Kansas City possesses a rich heritage and a large film community. The Kansas City Metropolitan Area has often been a locale for Hollywood productions and television programming.

Film heritage

The focus on filmmaking in the Kansas City area more or less began in 1931 when University of Kansas advertising graduate F.O. Calvin founded the Calvin Company in Kansas City. Calvin, an industrial and educational film production company, grew from a small business located in a one-room office to becoming the largest industrial film producer and 16 mm lab in the world during the 1950s and 1960s. Calvin was throughout its life a technical innovator and creative force within the nontheatrical film industry, an early developer of 16 mm release printing and sound-on-film technology, and a prolific producer, winning several hundred film festival awards, until it ceased operations in the early 1980s. In total, by that time, Calvin had produced about 3,000 mostly short films. Calvin made promotional and advertising films for some of the largest Fortune 500 companies in the country, including DuPont, Goodyear Tire, Caterpillar, and General Mills. Calvin's impressively large studio and office headquarters was located at the corner of Truman and Troost roads in Kansas City and many of the company's productions were filmed in and around Kansas City, showing street scenes, local landmarks and activities. However, a great deal of filming was done on-location in other parts of the country or the world, especially in government and educational travelogue film projects.

In addition, local actors and actresses (particularly those with experience in community theater productions, local radio and television) were used by Calvin as actors in their films, and many aspiring, talented young film students and filmmakers from the Kansas City area were employed by Calvin as directors, writers, cameramen, editors, sound operators, etc., etc. Among these local filmmakers were Robert Altman, who was born and raised in Kansas City and who got his first filmmaking experience as a film director at the Calvin Company during the early 1950s. Altman directed about 60 to 65 25-to-30-minute industrial films for the company over a period of five or six years. After leaving the company, Altman produced, wrote, and directed his first feature film, a juvenile delinquency melodrama titled "The Delinquents" on-location in Kansas City in 1955, using local talent and crews (with the exception of lead actor and Hollywood performer Tom Laughlin, the future "Billy Jack"). It was this film that not only introduced Altman to Hollywood and positioned his foot firmly in Hollywood's door, and grossed $1,000 for distributor United Artists, that also opened people's minds up to possibilities of feature filmmaking in Kansas City. Following "The Delinquents", local movie theater exhibitor Elmer Rhoden Jr. produced another film about juvenile delinquency, "The Cool and the Crazy" in 1958, using mostly local talent and crews once again. The film, with its rabid anti-marijuana message and over-the-top performance by Hollywood lead actor Scott Marlowe has attracted quite a cult following over the past few decades.

That first rapid tide of locally-produced feature films ebbed for a while through the 1960s, although in nearby Lawrence, Kansas, industrial filmmaker Herk Harvey produced and directed the cult classic horror film "Carnival of Souls". Harvey was a film director for Centron Corporation, a Lawrence-based industrial and educational film production company. In 1967, Hollywood director Richard Brooks directed a feature film about the murder of the Kansas Clutter family, titled "In Cold Blood", and filmed most of it in and around Kansas City and the surrounding farmland, where the murder actually took place. This was another chance where the local acting talent, usually confined to industrial films, got to appear in feature films. Brooks and crew were very pleased by the outstanding acting talent to be found in Kansas City, and cast several locals in supporting speaking parts. In the early 1970s, Raquel Welch breezed in through Kansas City to shoot exterior scenes for her exploitation film "Kansas City Bomber", and afterwards Kansas City became a center for the production of independent B films and melodramas. Local producer-director Lamar Card shot the low-budget 1976 movie "The Student Body", a "wild youth" film similar to "The Delinquents" and "The Cool and the Crazy", using local talent and city streets as setting for a wild drag race through downtown Kansas City. Hollywood actors and directors involved in film production in Kansas City during the 1970s included Pam Grier, Fred Williamson, Warren Stevens, and Linda Lovelace, and productions filmed in and around Kansas City during the time period included "Bird Lives", "Mrs. Bridge", "Bucktown", and "Linda Lovelace for President".

Independent Film

The Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City

Sue Vicory started the not for profit film production company Heartland Films, Inc. in 2003. She produced the documentary short "Homelessness and the Power of One" which premiered in 2005. Her current documentary entitled "Kansas City Jazz and Blues; Past, Present and Future" is due to open in April of 2009. Sue sits on the Board of Kansas City Women in Film and TV.

The Day After

In 1982, ABC-TV selected Kansas City as the location for their dramatic and controversial made-for-television film, "The Day After", about the aftermath of a Soviet nuclear attack on Kansas City. Jason Robards was the star, and although most of the post-attack action took place in Lawrence, Kansas, several scenes before the blast were filmed on location in Kansas City, and about 100 extras from Kansas City were used. At the end of the film, Robards returns to his home in Kansas City, stumbles through rubble and devastation, and finds his home, having a confrontation with radiation victims taking residence as squatters in the rubble of his house. Director Nicholas Meyer used the demolition site of the old St. Joseph Hospital in Kansas City as the set, and as Robards stumbled through this destruction for the cameras, wearing makeup that made him appear to have lost half his hair from radiation and to have suffered serious flashburns, traffic slowed on the surrounding streets and passers-by strained for a closer look as Robards lifted a human arm from under a fallen building—just the arm, severed at the shoulder. In 1983, "The Day After" was aired on TV and Americans responded to it soberly and broke down at the thought of a nuclear war. It is to date the most-watched and highest-rated TV event in the history of television.Fact|date=April 2008


Recently, many popular feature films have been produced in Kansas City, including "Mr. and Mrs. Bridge" (1990); "Article 99" (1992); "Kansas City" (1996), a film about 1930s Kansas City and Kansas City Jazz music, directed by native Robert Altman; "Asteroid" (1997), which is loosely based in Kansas City; and "Ride with the Devil" (1999), about the anti-slavery/pro-slavery schism during the Civil War that took place on the Kansas-Missouri border near Kansas City. Recently, the Greater Kansas City Film Commission was founded to encourage producers to film in Kansas City, and the FilmFest Kansas City and [ Kansas City Filmmakers Jubilee] were begun as traditional local festivities.

The newest films to come out of Kansas City are "CSA: Confederate States of America" by Kevin Willmott, which premiered at Sundance, and "AIR", a feature length musical.

In television

In 1953, an aspiring 28-year-old Robert Altman, after producing several local television commercials outside of his work for the Calvin Company, turned to television as a new and more wide-open market for his next side project and he and Calvin associate Robert Woodburn shot a dramatic 15-minutes-an-episode anthology series titled "The Pulse of the City" in Kansas City using Calvin talent and local thespians. They were amazingly able to sell the series to the independent DuMont Television Network, who ran it for one season (1953-54).

More recently, the show "Mama's Family", starring Vicki Lawrence, is generally considered to take place in the Kansas City suburb of Raytown, Missouri. Although no state is given in the series, many cast members made that suggestion.

The ABC series "Married to the Kellys" took place in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kansas, and was originally entitled "Back to Kansas".

UPN's "Malcolm & Eddie" also takes place in Kansas City.


Kansas City has several major film festivals and many specialty series throughout the year. The longest running festival is [ FilmFest Kansas City] , initiated by the Film Society of Greater Kansas City in 1994. It has the strongest lineup of international films and takes place in the Fall at the [ Screenland Theater] in Kansas City, MO.

The [ Kansas City Filmmakers Jubilee] in April each year at the [ Tivoli Cinemas] in Kansas City, MO began in 1997 as a celebration of independent filmmaking with a focus on the work of Kansas City area filmmakers. The first juried festival, it has awarded over $180,000 in cash and prizes in its first ten years and brought in over 200 visiting film professionals to share their work and insights to the creative process. It has expanded to accept work from all over the world and has developed year-round programming.

The newest festival is the [ Kansas International Film Festival] in Overland Park, KS. Formerly known as Halfway to Hollywood, KIFF has a strong focus on documentary works and adopts a special focus each year.

Other film events include: Electromediascope, Jewish Film Festival, Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, Harvest of Arts Film Festival, Hispanic Film Festival, and KAN Film Festival.

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