Kimberley Browning is more than the pebble in the lake, creating ripples. She’s the filmmaker equivalent of a boulder in a lake, whose Hollywood Shorts organization has triggered countless short films, industry alliances and talented members to make not just ripples, but big waves. At this point, to track all the relationships and films that somehow connect back to Hollywood Shorts would be impossible or, at minimum, a job for a top-tier statistician. If every filmmaker trained, inspired or working alongside Kimberley were to suddenly glow like a yellow highlighter, the city of Los Angeles – or at least its iconic Hollywood neighborhood – would be florescent.
Not only has Kimberley empowered others, she herself has made a significant and growing contribution as a director. Just last year, she sent a play to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Her documentary short Room 19 provided a glimpse into the world of Mrs. Yamashiro and her inspired students. She’ll soon be back in the theater with another round of The Car Plays, before traveling on location to shoot her debut feature as a director.
Hunter: Kimberley, you are one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met in my life. Maybe THE hardest working person I’ve ever met. You do so much – run a foundation, program film festivals. Talk to me about the struggle or strategy to give yourself time to develop your own projects to direct in the midst of all that you do?
Kimberley: That is humbling, and I do thank you for the acknowledgment. I do struggle often with prioritizing allowing time to develop and produce my own work. Running Hollywood Shorts for 20 years has been a complete joy, and I am so grateful to be on the front line of producing for so many amazing filmmakers. It is easy to look up and realize a whole year flew by and I didn’t get my own film done. I am getting much better about dedicating several months to do at least one of my own passion projects.
Hunter: Not only have you directed films and theatre, you’ve seen a LOT of people direct their first, second, third films. What are the common and perhaps needless mistakes that people make early in their careers that our readers might could avoid if have good intel?
Kimberley: This is such a tough question, and as you know, I could go on for hours on this one!
Many filmmakers don’t do enough research watching lots and lots of films. They get set on a script, and don’t realize it is not as original as you think.
Filmmakers don’t give themselves a safe space, a nest, to grow and learn in their craft. We live now in such a “shoot it and upload it” environment, that people put everything they make up and out there. Being able to explore and experiment, try out techniques and take chances means not everything is going to be fantastic. Being able to leave a film in the vault can be a very tough choice, but I think young filmmakers need to not try to get everything into every single festival.
Hunter: Once you put something out there, you are judged by the same people who judge multi-million dollar budget studio films. There’s no disclaimer, “This is my first film and only cost $7,500” and even if there was, no one would care. They expect high-quality content if they’ve paid to see your film or it lands in their queue to review. I was so impressed with the play you directed, Like Blood from a Cheap Cigar – which gained entry into the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Congratulations! How did this project come about and what inspired you to tackle a story about this complicated relationship?
Kimberley: Thank you so much. This play will always be very special to me. The playwright Genevieve Joy and I were hanging out at the Hudson Theatre after a performance of a play she was doing there. We were offered a slot their for upcoming Fringe Fest, and we jumped at the chance. Then we realized – we had to find a show! After exploring a few other plays, she pitched me this idea she had in her files, inspired by some of her own personal experience. It was so honest, raw and funny. My favorite trifecta. We had a great time developing the play, and getting to see it take on a life of its own was fulfilling.
Hunter: After spending so much time on film sets, what is it like to be a director in the theater? Do you prefer one to the other?
Kimberley: Oh no – they both have special and essential roles in my creative life. I could not do one without the other. I love directing theatre – especially between my production jobs in tv and film. It truly keeps my directing skills working and growing, and I get to really focus on performance and actors. It is a joy to just be the director, without the additional production whirlwind that can diffuse the director’s process. I am part of the directing ensemble of The Car Plays, and we have a new season opening at the Segerstrom Theatre in January. This is my favorite time, just beginning to work on the material and finding our actors. Knowing I can go right into rehearsal with my actors and just mold the story is exhilarating. I feel like I am razor sharp in my voice and process when I go back behind the camera after directing theatre. I love finding that I can have both in my life.
Hunter: This question is for our readers who are actors. What makes you trust an actor? What makes you distrust an actor?
Kimberley: Building and sustaining trust with the actors I am collaborating with is first built on the actors’ take on the material, and specifically their character. I love when an actor expresses deep subtextual comprehension of the story I am telling. I can then really build the platform where the actors can really safely explore, because I know we are both in the same car, driving in the same direction. I lose trust in an actor when I feel they are not taking risks, or more concerned with protecting themselves or their image so they play it safe with their choices.
Hunter: Room 19 is such a great title. It takes you back to that one special classroom or special teacher that impacted you as a kid. What inspired you to make this film?
Kimberley: That project began actually as a corporate video shoot gig! LA25 is a local South Bay community networking group that hosts an annual art auction to raise money for supporting arts in the region. A close cinematographer friend is a member, and he recommended me to do a video documenting their event. When I learned of the amazing work they were doing, and visited one of the schools designated as a recipient, I was profoundly moved to see the day-to-day impact they were having on their students’ lives, real solutions to help nurture arts in the classroom. Spending one hour with Mrs. Yamashiro – I just had to tell her story.
Hunter: So not sure how much you can say about it, but I hear you have a feature in development. How’s it going out there?
Kimberley: Yes, we are putting the film together, and I am extremely excited to have the opportunity to direct a new feature script by Rich Raddon. It is a wild ride, super natural ghost story, with a wonderful female kick ass woman! I am so lucky have this story come to me. The film already has been through the worst development hell – who hasn’t, right? But we keep pushing through and seeing some great elements coming together to get to bring this great character to the big screen.
Hunter: Fingers crossed! 🙂
Hunter Lee Hughes is an actor-filmmaker living and working in Los Angeles and founder of the open source production company Fatelink.