Note: This is a guest post from Raymond Quinton.
Bringing Hollywood to Kansas
I have known Kevin Willmott for 40 years. Every time we see each other, we immediately revert back to those two wildly imaginative kids in the basement of his Junction City, Kansas, home talking about wild and crazy ideas we had while listening to Richard Pryor records and Ramsey Lewis 8 track tapes. We had no idea what we would do with our lives, but it had to be something creative and crazy.
Fast forward 40 years, and we both did and are still doing some crazy, creative professional things. Kevin single-handedly brought Hollywood to Kansas, writing and produced his own films with financing he scrounged from multiple sources. He caught Hollywood’s eye after he produced a film called “Ninth Street” about our home town and starring Martin Sheen and Issac Hayes…before they made their Hollywood comebacks with West Wing and South Park. He was then tapped to write scripts for major Hollywood players like Spike Lee, and he’s sold scripts to other Hollywood A-list players who bought the options and put them in the vault for potential production. His sometimes scathingly satirical movies, such as CSA (Confederate States of American) pushed the envelope on subtle social racism. His underground short called “The After Birth” is a satirical mocumentary about Obama’s birth certificate debate. And, as an activist, Willmott lectures nationwide about is socially relevant movies such as “The Only Good Indian,” starring famed Native American actor Wes Studi. And, he’s quick to display his crazy sense of humor and irony with his indy film “Destination Planet Negro.”
Recently, Willmott’s script for Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq” received critical acclaim as one of the most creative lyrical approaches to an ancient story; adapted for modern day Chicago. Many movie critics, including the New York Times writers, pegged it for an Academy nomination for best picture. That wasn’t to be, and the fact that it wasn’t created a firestorm in Hollywood. The film was ground-breaking as well in that it was the first major movie financed by Amazon Studios for general commercial release; effectively shifting the creative origins of movies from Hollywood to Seattle. This is a major trend, and Willmott found himself right in the middle of it…from Lawrence, Kansas.
In March, I went home to Kansas for my Mom’s 90th. I only had an hour to spend with Kevin in Lawrence. He still had a few film classes to teach at Kansas University. He is adjunct professor for the film department. He was editing his next independent film, “The Association.” So, we met at his apartment in a sleepy Lawrence neighborhood then drove to studio near campus. We immediately reverted back to those two kids as my wife and his producer watched in amazement. The most creative people in the industry are often the ones who can do it on their terms; who don’t sell their souls for the pot of Hollywood gold. They maintain their integrity. And, after the runway lights go out, they keep doing what they love to do.
I have been hoping for years that Kevin could be a guest at the Portland Creative Conference. He’s a one-of-a-kind guy; funny, thoughtful, insightful. He will truly be a unique addition to this year’s event.
Raymond F. Quinton
Author / Editor / Publisher / Musician / Business Development Expert / Sustainability Advocate / Publications Adviser