As the personal assistant to filmmaker J.J. Abrams, Morgan Dameron has seen her share of wonders on the job.
“I’ve gotten to witness first-hand things I would never imagine being a part of,” says Dameron, who grew up in Kansas City and started with Abrams’ production company after graduating from film school.
But then there was the day she sat proofreading the screenplay for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
While Abrams worked in his office behind her, Dameron noticed a familiar name among the main characters in the latest draft: Poe Dameron.
“I couldn’t believe my name was on the page,” she recalls.
Abrams and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan explained to her that Dameron, the X-Wing pilot played by Oscar Isaac, simply sounded like a “Star Wars” name.
“It’s still something I can’t wrap my head around that there are Poe Dameron Legos and lunchboxes, that there is a character out in the world that has my family name.”
Now the real-life Dameron is busy making a name for herself in the movie industry. She returns to her hometown this August to shoot her feature film debut.
“Different Flowers,” which Dameron also wrote, tells the story of combative sisters Millie and Emma. On the day of Millie’s wedding, Emma helps her run away, and they hit the road together.
“They say sisters are different flowers from the same garden,” Dameron says in explaining the title.
“The story is very personal to me. … It’s about being with the people who bring out the best and worst in you. I have a big family. I feel most at home when I’m around them, but they also drive me crazy. Everyone can relate to that.”
The 27-year-old feels she has come to a crossroads similar to the one her characters face.
“Millie goes on a journey where she has to figure out who she is and how to stand on her own two feet for the first time,” Dameron says. “I’m at the moment in my life where I’m following my dream, taking a big risk and making my first feature. It’s scary, exciting, exhilarating, inspiring — all at the same time.”
Currently, her project is “deep into pre-production.” June 14 will be the final day of a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign that has already exceeded its $50,000 goal. Her department heads are hired, including cinematographer Jordan McNeile, a fellow Kansas City expatriate. She envisions the crew will be composed of half Los Angeles and half KC personnel.
She’s still casting the film, and interested actors can apply via DifferentFlowersMovie@gmail.com.
“You wear a lot of hats in independent film,” she confesses. “Right now my brain is equal parts director, producer, writer, casting associate …”
She’s often asked why she wants to shoot the picture in KC.
“I really wanted to make a movie about an experience similar to mine growing up — places I loved and have deep memories associated with. I know that shooting somewhere (away from L.A.) was going to infuse the project with a specific feel. There’s nothing quite like the Midwest in August, when it’s incredibly hot and humid. The tensions run high for that reason,” she says.
She also believes Kansas City’s recent developments — from the hiring of a film commissioner to the introduction of tax incentives — have boosted her hometown’s moviemaking potential.
“Kansas City could be the next Austin,” she says. “That started with people needing a creative community that wasn’t as expensive or jaded as Los Angeles or New York. It feels like Kansas City is on the brink of something big.”
Dameron was born in Kansas City, Kan., and grew up in Kansas City, North. While attending Pembroke Hill School she became serious about a Hollywood career.
After being cast as an actor in a few local commercials, Dameron acquired her first production experience on a feature directed by Sue Vicory, the documentary “Kansas City Jazz & Blues; Past, Present & Future.”
“I met Morgan back when she was in high school,” says Vicory, who employed the novice as her primary intern.
Vicory remembers Dameron as a take-charge worker who operated without the need for supervision. Vicory says she’d often “overprepare” for Dameron, because of her keen efficiency.
“Morgan is a visionary and a risk-taker,” Vicory says. “As a writer/director, those are qualities that are needed to persevere and take an idea from script to screen. One of the things I like the most about Morgan is her quirky nature. She is a true independent filmmaker.”
Upon graduating from Pembroke in 2007, Dameron headed to the University of Southern California, where she majored in film and television and minored in English. This led to an internship with Bad Robot, the production company founded by Abrams.
Meanwhile, Dameron began crafting her own short films that traveled the festival circuit. Locally, she earned the Trailblazer Award from KC Women in Film and TV, and AMC Theatres’ best young filmmaker award.
After working as a set intern on 2013’s “Star Trek Into Darkness,” she was promoted to be Abrams’ assistant. She describes the “Lost” creator as “inspirational, generous and incredibly talented.”
Perhaps the most impressive of her duties was an actual role in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” She landed a credited cameo as resistance officer Commodore Meta.
“I spend a lot of time behind the camera. So to have a camera on me, I was very nervous. But it was really exciting,” she says.
Dameron says she enjoyed an inside joke with Oscar Isaac.
She recalls, “We would see each other on set and he would say, ‘Hey, Dameron.’ And I’d say, ‘Hey, Dameron.’ ”
Although her last name now resides as a permanent part of pop culture, few make the connection when she’s showing her driver’s license or writing a check. However, there is one perceptible change.
“For the longest time, people would pronounce it ‘Dam-er-ron.’ It’s ‘Dam-ren.’ It rhymes with Cameron,” she says. “Lately, people enunciate it correctly.”
Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”