The Shape Shifter: film student Kelly Thompson prepares to shoot latest SMC Film 33 project
SMC film student Kelly Thompson is preparing to tell a story about the way consumer society distorts our sense of physical beauty. Thompson is the latest auteur to be given the chance to shoot a short film as part of SMC's Film 33 production course. Her script entitled "The Shape Shifter" was selected by the program's head, professor Salvador Carrasco, to be funded, produced and released as a full, professional production. The program has already garnered much attention and praise with projects that have made it all the way to the Cannes film festival in France and won numerous awards at national film festivals. Now Thompson is preparing to join the ranks of SMC's emerging film generation with the program's first ever comedy.
The script reads like a stinging comedy full of compassion for its characters. It takes fun jabs at the world of weight loss products while looking profoundly at the inner pain and emotional scarring of hating your own appearance.
"It's a really personal script for me," said Thompson while sitting down to discuss her project. "It's about a woman who sells weight loss products on an informercial and she knows they don't work," she explained. "She finally has to come to a decision on whether she can continue doing that or not. It's a moral decision."
For Thompson the topic strikes a personal chord because of personal experience. "I've struggled with weight loss issues and body image issues. I think people who buy those kinds of products are looking for an answer, to find happiness."
The combination of storytelling and personal experience makes Thompson's script vibrate with a unique sense of insight. As she herself puts it, the story flows out of her own journey in finding self-acceptance.
Thompson herself found inspiration for the script when she worked on a weight loss infomercial where behind the cameras, the personalities behind the product obviously didn't believe in what they were selling.
Starting off as a Biology major at Sacramento State, Thompson decided to move to Los Angeles and pursue her passion for writing and storytelling while working on film sets. "I wanted to take classes and learn more about the technical aspect of filmmaking and from the first class I took, professor Carrasco's class on film history (Film 2), I got so excited about talking about movies all day. I loved it," she said.
Thompson then moved into the renowned Film 33 program where Carrasco selects a script from several submissions and the class then produces the script into a professional short film. "There were a total of 20 scripts that were submitted. Ultimately I had to write something that was personal and that I cared about. I don't think I would be good at writing or directing something I couldn't relate to," she emphasized.
The cosmetically Darwinian culture we currently inhabit was a subject that, as Thompson discovered, others could relate to when reading her script. "When we first read the script in the class tons of the students stood up and discussed how they've had to deal with body issues. Either with physical insecurities or other things," she recollected.
The issue also crosses gender divides. "It wasn't just women. It's always kind of sold that women are the ones who deal with body issues but it's guys and girls. It makes me feel less alone."
One of the ironies of "The Shape Shifter" is that it will attempt to critique something that at times feels inherent in Hollywood culture, especially the way women and men are portrayed in movies as specific body types. Hollywood and celebrity culture tend to define what is considered "beautiful."
"While casting I was trying to think of a dramatic actress who is overweight and I couldn't. They are so underrepresented, the whole variety of body types," said Thompson. "The movies I appreciate the most are the ones that either make you think about something or they can make you see things in a different way. Movies can be used in a very powerful way."
Not only is Thompson taking on the Hollywood body stereotype, she is in a sense tackling another issue: The lack of women directors in the industry. "It's always something that I've been aware of. The statistics are really bad. I think 2% of DGA directors are women. It's an exciting opportunity. I love that about the SMC film program, that professor Carrasco tries to have equality between genders and economic backgrounds and races. Everyone who gets a chance deserves it."
The next step is now pre-production which entails putting together a $20,000 budget, location scouting, casting and even the design of a logo for the weight loss company in the script. Her producers, fellow SMC film alumni Michael Osborne and Carrie Finklea (who was the female lead in Gus Van Sant's Palme d'Or winner "Elephant"), are now hard at work to make it all happen. "There are no egos, we're really really busy trying to nail things down," shared Thompson.
When asked if looks do matter Thompson in a sense revealed the essence of her script. "I think they do. There's this snap decision based on looks but people need to look beyond that. It's natural but at the same time it impedes us. It holds us back from seeing people as they are."