The romantic drama “Trust Fund” can be rented on Amazon. The short film “The Stylist” is found on Shudder. And the horror feature “Arbor Demon” is available on Hulu, Amazon and iTunes.
A decade ago, these movies, all made by KC filmmakers, might not have ever reached an audience. Now streaming media have beamed them into a viewer’s television, laptop or smartphone. Any time. Any place.
“Smaller movies like ‘Trust Fund’ rarely get the opportunity of a theatrical run,” says Sandra L. Martin, the film’s writer/director.
“We were fortunate AMC Independent gave us the chance for people to see it on the big screen in Kansas City, but we didn’t have the marketing funds to expand to a larger market. Alternative platforms give movies like ours an opportunity to be seen outside our own local market.”
Martin shot “Trust Fund” in KC three years ago, even though it’s primarily set in Chicago. The film is exclusively available for rent or purchase on Amazon. So far, the majority of customers elect to rent.
“There’s a lot of debate with filmmakers over streaming vs. theatrical. Personally, I love going to see a movie in the theater. It’s a completely different experience than watching at home. You’re more immersed,” the Lee’s Summit native says.
“But I don’t think because you can stream movies at home, it does away with the magic of the theater. It’s just an alternative. If you can’t make it out because you can’t get a baby sitter, or whatever the reason, you can still enjoy watching a great movie at home.”
According to an April comScore study, more than half of all U.S. households with Wi-Fi are using at least one streaming service. Netflix enjoys a healthy lead in viewers, followed by YouTube, Amazon and Hulu.
“Where I noticed the biggest difference is I’ve had a lot more people reach out to me after seeing the film since it popped up on Hulu,” says Patrick Rea, director of “Arbor Demon.”
“With Hulu, you pay a monthly subscription and can watch whatever they are streaming, while iTunes and Amazon are still currently charging to watch the individual film. Hulu has definitely made the film more accessible.”
The prolific Kansas City-based filmmaker Rea co-wrote the feature with “Kansas City Live” host Michelle Davidson and shot it in South Carolina two years ago. The movie received a limited theatrical run in four cities. But its distributor, Gravitas Ventures, immediately pushed it on multiple streaming platforms.
“It’s definitely where the industry is heading,” says Rea, who claims some of the best films he has seen this year have been far removed from the multiplex.
“There are so many platforms now that allow the public to watch great films from their living room. Sadly, this does take away from the theatrical experience, which is what most filmmakers strive for. Regardless, we have to adapt, and streaming is where indie filmmakers can get their work seen by a larger audience.”
Productions in the Kansas City area are on the rise partly because Amazon, HBO Go, CNN Digital and niche sites such as Shudder are courting indies and web series, says Stephane Scupham, KC’s film commissioner.
“In the past if they weren’t picked up at a film festival by a distributor for theatrical release, we wouldn’t get to see the work onscreen like we do now,” Scupham says. And the pace at which content is now devoured accelerates demand for more.
“The ways we consume that content will shift and bring about new challenges in the business,” she says. “But it is easy to say the industry of manufacturing entertainment (locally) is safe and growing.”
Here are some recent releases either shot in the Kansas City area or made by KC-based filmmakers that can be found on streaming platforms:
Patrick Rea describes his latest feature as “a claustrophobic thriller about a married couple and injured hunter trapped inside a tent by a supernatural threat.” The film stars Jake Busey, Fiona Dourif and Kevin Ryan. Outside the U.S., the picture is distributed under its original title: “Enclosure.” (Hulu, Amazon and iTunes)
“Audrie & Daisy”
Maryville, Mo., high-schooler Daisy Coleman and Californian Audrie Pott didn’t know each other when they were sexually assaulted by classmates and publicly cyber-shamed during unrelated incidents in 2012. But their stories are linked by this documentary that scrutinizes the “blame the victim” mentality within their communities. The cautionary tale won a 2016 Peabody Award. (Netflix)
“The House on Pine Street”
Shot in Independence and in the native Leavenworth of director siblings Aaron and Austin Keeling, this “homage to classic horror” concerns a pregnant woman (Emily Goss) coping with a recent mental breakdown by moving back to her insular Kansas hometown. She encounters bizarre happenings at a quaint rental house, but her workaholic husband and pushy mother assume the phenomenon is all in her head. (Amazon Prime and iTunes)
A hopeless romantic (Wesley Elder) is paid to break up a girl’s relationship by her disapproving parents. He then turns this skill into a booming freelance career until he falls in love with one of his clients. The KC-set comedy by Caleb Vetter is notable for being the lone starring role of singer Christina Grimmie, a former runner-up on “The Voice,” who was tragically shot to death by an obsessed fan while signing autographs after a concert. (Netflix, Amazon and iTunes)
“We envisioned it as a micro series that would be released on streaming media,” says Misti Boland, the Lawrence-based producer who co-created “Red Bird” with her husband, cinematographer Jeremy Osbern. She describes the Bleeding Kansas-era Western as a tale of “a mother who is a gunslinger on a bloody quest for revenge against the men who killed her only son.” The series earned four Daytime Emmy nominations this year. (Amazon Prime)
KC filmmaker Jill Gevargizian pulls from her own experience as a hairstylist to craft a gruesome short that has already racked up 20 awards. Najarra Townsend (“Contracted”) portrays the titular character who awaits her final appointment of the day. Although her client requests the “perfect look,” the stylist reveals more sinister intentions. (Shudder)
“Top Coat Cash”
A triple-threat project of director, co-writer and star David Tittone, this feature follows a professional MMA fighter whose losses compel him to return home to Kansas City. There he’s recruited by shady individuals from his past to rob banks. (Amazon Prime and iTunes)
Jessica Rothe (“La La Land”) plays an aspiring author who is content sponging off her family’s publishing company rather than getting serious about her literary ambitions. Then she discovers a secret trust fund hidden by her father that leads to a path of betrayal, redemption and European dreamboats. “It’s not a preachy story. But it’s got really great family values,” Martin says. “It’s got a type of entertainment that we’re lacking right now.” (Amazon)
Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”