TIFF 2016 Exclusive: Producer Kimberly Steward Talks Manchester By The Sea

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TIFF 2016 Exclusive: Producer Kimberly Steward Talks Manchester By The Sea
Posted by Wilson Morales

September 12, 2016

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Playing at the 2016 Toronto Film Festival is director-writer Kenneth Lonergan’s critically acclaimed film Manchester By The Sea, which stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol, and C.J. Wilson.

The film had its world premiere earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival.

In Manchester by the Sea, the life of a solitary Boston janitor is transformed when he returns to his hometown to take care of his teenage nephew. The story of the Chandlers, a working-class family living in a Massachusetts fishing village for generations, Manchester by the Sea is a deeply poignant, unexpectedly funny exploration of the power of familial love, community, sacrifice and hope.

After the death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is shocked to learn that Joe has made him sole guardian of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Taking leave of his job, Lee reluctantly returns to Manchester-by-the-Sea to care for Patrick, a spirited 16-year-old, and is forced to deal with a past that separated him from his wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and the community where he was born and raised.   Bonded by the man who held their family together, Lee and Patrick struggle to adjust to a world without him.

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Producing the film were Chris Moore, Josh Godfrey, Kevin Walsh, Matt Damon, Kimberly Steward and Lauren Beck. For the St. Louis native Steward, who’s the daughter of World Wide Technology, Inc. chairman and co-founder David L. Steward, Manchester is the first of hopefully many feature films that her production company will get off the ground.

In 2013, Steward formed K Period Media, a company that develops, finances and produces story-driven, commercially viable and thought-provoking content spanning media from film and television to digital and interactive platforms. According to an article from Variety, “the small staff of four includes herself, Lauren Beck as head of production and Josh Godfrey, who’s assisted big-budget directors and producers, as head of development.” K Period Media financed the $8 million film before it was picked up by Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions after its Sundance premiere.

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K Period Media’s releases to date include the noted documentaries Opposite Fields, about the first entrants from Africa to compete in the Little League World Series; Thomas Allen Harris’ Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People, which examines African Americans’ long history with photography; and the forthcoming Looking for Terry, chronicling the efforts of inner-city students to train for the daunting Fordham Law Moot Court. Also in the pipeline is Conversion, a feature drama whose script made the film industry’s heralded “Black List” of the best unproduced screenplays in 2012.

Blackfilm.com caught up with Steward as the film is set to hit theaters in October.

What was the attraction to the script?

Kimberly Steward: Kenny (Lonergan) is such a realist in his writing down to just what you really see on screen. I think it really captures the real heart and humanism of what you really experience through tragedy. I thought it was a really good message of hope.

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Was there anything in particular you and Lauren were looking for before you found this one.

KS: I am attracted to stories that people can connect with and resonate with. A lot of true character stories I’m drawn to, so when this came across our desk it hit our sweet spot. We actually centered around another script called ‘Conversion’ earlier on, probably two years prior to reading Manchester by the Sea, but once we read it we fell in love, realized that they were rolling into production and we were trying to hit a target of a couple of months after we had read it, so it was like get the wheels turning and let’s go.

As this is you is your first film off the ground, what are the challenges for you doing an indie film?

KS: I think it’s just being the first time. Two things. From the financing side understanding the process and managing … between the financing and the budget. Also being on the ground as a producer and making sure we were doing everything that we could to support our director. Making sure that we weren’t making decisions about the creative that were only contingent upon the financing or the money. We tried to separate ourselves in those moments and really focus on supporting him and his vision.

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At any given point as the producer dealing with the finances, did you say to yourself, “Am I getting in way over my head, or we can do this?”

KS: I had a pretty supportive co-producers, with my producing partner Lauren Beck and Matt Damon and Kevin Walsh and Chris Moore. It was kind of like the passing of the baton to each other. It was strength in numbers.

From those who have seen the film, it’ received a lot of glowing buzz and reviews. What has been the experience so far from Sundance until now?

KS: I have said it and I’ll say it again. It feels a little bit like a Disney princess, so at the other end of your rainbow you get to your first project and you’re just happy to actually have the film made and the film that you love. Then to get the accolades we have gotten from different critics that we have admired and read before is just over the top for us, and just a little surreal.

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Did you and the other producers talked about what else needed to be added on or left out outside of Kenny’s vision?

KS: No, I think that when we were brought on it was very important to Kenny that the script stay intact as is and the creative elements that we chose. There’s definitely a thought process going in to understand how to achieve each piece that he needs to make his vision. I think that from us it was just really about supporting him. I think that you figure out the numbers as you go along, day to day, and making sure that you can hit a certain schedule.

We were set at 28 days but we had an extra 3 days that we added on which I thought was needed because we had to go through a difficult winter process. First two weeks we were in Massachusetts, it was one of the worst winter storms on the Eastern Coast. We had about three or four feet of snow and when it was cold winds blowing in as well. I think that we were able to manage it and keep it very true to his vision.

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At what point did you want to be a film producer?

KS: I think it was when I got out of the publishing and went into doing set design. I worked under Marcus Hay. From being able to do work on commercials and then videos and understanding that process. I had such a passion for getting stories into the world that I thought were important. I think it was just more of a journey and then kind of came into fruition. This feels like the best use of all of my skill sets and to various jobs I’ve done. Knowing that I’ve wanted to be able to use my skills to help support auteurs and creatives and also working with first time filmmakers.

Because you happen to be a black female producer and there aren’t that many of them, do you feel a sense of responsibility in terms of creating films maybe for the black audience?

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KS: Absolutely, I think that everybody wants to be included, on the camera and off the camera. I think that we are being inclusive across the board because being a woman and also being a black woman I think it’s important to put stories out there that I’m passionate about creating and in the process of creating, to make sure that certain stories are out there that we can diversify what’s actually seen and released, and the kind of partnerships that we’re doing with the distribution companies on the content that they’re releasing.

Besides Manchester is there anything you’re getting ready to get off the ground or are you waiting to see the end results of this film?

KS: We are actually working on six other projects. You know how it goes, the first script that we acquired we thought that it would be the first project that we would do, and then we realized that there are lots of elements that go along with that. As far as packaging and getting either projects that we are developing from original ideas to co-producing with other partners. We have various projects in various stages. The next one we should be announcing pretty soon.

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Are you a film geek or are you just a businessperson?

KS: I think a little bit of both. I think all three of us, from our head of development, we call him a cinephile for sure. Lauren and I definitely consider ourselves film geeks.

And at the end of the day, if anyone hasn’t caught up to Manchester by the Sea, what’s a good reason to see it.

KS: I think it’s a story that everyone can connect with. It’s about a family going through tragedy but definitely leaves you with a sense of hope, and I think that that’s something everybody can connect with.


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