After too much rain, the weather is shifting and it’s starting to feel like summer! Soon we’ll be heading out to Pride and celebrating our community. This month, I was able to interview Savannah Rodgers, who has just graduated from the University of Kansas in film studies. Rodgers not only creates short films, documentaries, and music videos, but also began her own production company, Professional Amateur Productions. Her latest short, Sketches, is out on the film festival circuit, and she has a number of other projects in the works. One thing is for sure, Savannah is keeping herself busy!
As a film major at KU, you have clearly been interested in the film industry for quite a while. When did you start creating your own films?
I began directing when I was 19. There are probably films I tried to make when I was a kid somewhere on DV tapes, but my first attempt at a proper short film was going into my sophomore year at KU.
I understand that you began your own production company, Professional Amateur Productions, in 2014. What led you to that decision?
Professional Amateur Productions was created out of necessity. I feel there’s a severe lack of accessible LGBTQ+ stories presented to “mainstream” audiences. The most representation for queer folks in media can usually be boiled down to a common trope, like Kill Your Gays or some kind of sassy gay friend stereotype. I’d like for my work to help bridge the gap. The company was started to have a brand we could push: telling LGBTQ+ stories that were accessible to the rest of the world.
Your short Politically Correct (2015) received quite a few awards and accolades after its release, which is fantastic! Did you feel increased pressure to perform after that? And if so, how did you handle that pressure?
I wouldn’t say I feel any kind of immense pressure at this point. I’m young, as is my career. The idea is to continue to build off of any success I’m having, which I think I’ve been doing. It’s incremental progress toward both short- and long-term goals. I’m really just thrilled that I’ve been able to have any kind of success with it.
Your 2016 short, Sketches, had its world premiere at the Slamdance Film Festival, will have its Ohio premiere in June, and was recently in the inaugural Gilbert Baker LGBTQ film festival, May 5-7, in Parsons, Kansas. What is the premise behind Sketches?
Sketches is a short film revolving around two women falling in and out of love. It’s a silent film that looks like 16mm film. The immensely talented Meagan Flynn wrote it, and I’m grateful to have had the chance to direct. I normally do comedies, so this was a great change of pace.
How long did Sketches take to make from inception to the final version, and what have you enjoyed most about creating this film?
We actually had very little time to do Sketches. We made it for the Digital Bolex Fearless Filmmaking Showcase at the Slamdance Film Festival in 2016, so we maybe had a week from the contest announcement to when we began shooting. Meagan sent me the script, I rented the Digital Bolex D16, and we all got to work quickly. We shot for three days. The final edit was done three days later. I typically wouldn’t recommend that type of schedule, but it obviously worked out for the best.
I really enjoyed learning to become more flexible with this film. It was challenging. We didn’t have much time or many resources, and we were all exhausted. This process really stripped a lot of my rigid edges away. Plus, I worked with some lovely, patient people who were down for the ride.
What do you find to be the most challenging part of the filmmaking process?
In my experience from my films, the most challenging process is making sure the script is just right before shooting. It’s important that the script stands for itself and doesn’t confuse anyone. My collaborators are great, so we always have a great time on set. That’s the best part of filming. I also wish editing didn’t take so long, but there’s a lot of room for fun there as well.
Which directors have inspired you?
That’s hard to say. There are so many excellent directors and showrunners who have really had an impact on me. I’m a big fan of a lot of talented people. If I had to focus on one person, I’d have to say Ryan Murphy [American Horror Story, Glee] has been one of my biggest influences. He’s a genius. I didn’t know what a showrunner was until I started studying his career. He’s broken down a lot of barriers to create better LGBTQ+ representation on screen and off. I’m grateful.
What would be your dream film to make (no budget restrictions, etc.)?
A queer, more comedic reimagining of Streets of Fire. Easy. Instead of the world being a futuristic version of the 1950s, I’d set in in a dystopian future version of the ’80s. Diane Lane would have a cameo, and I’d want Jim Steinman consulting with Jack Antonoff for the music. It’d be wild.
Congratulations on your recent graduation from KU! What’s up next?
Thank you so much! My next film hitting the festival circuit is called Dragtivists. It’s a short piece about the intersections of drag performance and activism. While that’s playing at festivals, I’ll continue working with some amazing collaborators. The next big goal is to direct my first feature, which will be at least a year away. So, while I work hard on that, I’ll continue developing short-form content in order to hone my skills and keep getting better.
And, for a little fun, what name would encapsulate a documentary about your life right now?
No Longer Precocious.