Outfitted in jeans, a nondescript white T-shirt and a sleeveless denim jacket, Jesse Pringle unlocks the gate of an auto parts store that doubles as a salvage yard.
It’s just off Interstate 435 near Eastwood Trafficway in Kansas City, a perfect spot for two actors and a cameraman to shoot a promotional video for the award-winning Web series “Kill Em All.”
The series is produced by Pringle and Westwood resident Shawn Wright. Wright, a professional camera operator by trade, also serves as the director and editor.
Pringle, who created and wrote the series, plays the leading role.
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The series made its debut last year with a red-carpet event in the Power & Light entertainment district.
“This is classic Carson McCullough,” Pringle says of the filming site. “This is so ‘Kill Em All.’”
Carson McCullough is the protagonist that Wright and Pringle are bringing to life in “Kill Em All,” an Irish-Italian crime drama set in Kansas City.
Pringle spends much of the evening being chased by a gun-wielding Mafioso gangster played by Eric Davis.
Wright knows his production is in good hands and isn’t on the set this day. Instead he is in Westwood packing and moving into a new home.
The resulting footage will be used to promote the show and perhaps even make it into a scene for Season 2.
Davis, an “Average Joe” who has a day job, comes to his role with a ripped chest and bulking biceps. He will repeat his on-camera ambush of Pringle three to four times before the trio moves inside for more filming.
“Does my character have a name yet?” Davis screams at Pringle as cameraman Graham Shirkey, filming in Wright’s stead, checks footage to make sure action is up to par. Pringle replies with an off-color joke.
“Bad Guy Number 1,” Pringle says after more prodding from Davis.
Davis, a sales representative for a genetic testing company, landed the role through a friend’s previous business relationship with Pringle.
Pringle, Davis and Wright attended the same high school in Lee’s Summit in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“A friend of a friend got me hooked up with Jesse,” Davis says, still clutching his semi-automatic prop handgun. “This is my first time acting. I like it. It’s kind of fun. I wish I could do it forever.”
So far Pringle and Wright have been working for critical acclaim because they have not turned a profit on the self-funded project.
“I think it’s really good,” Davis says. “They’re getting better and better as they go.”
Wright’s interest in filmmaking took root as a young child.
If there was a video camera around, Wright would have it on his shoulder. His aunt had a VHS camcorder, and he would be the first one to pick it up at family events.
Wright honed his skills in high school and college, where he majored in communications at the University of Missouri.
Pringle first appeared on stage in a fourth-grade school production. He continued acting at Lee’s Summit High School where he lettered in football and track. Eventually he would sign an athletic scholarship to play football at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph before the entertainment bug bit.
He would work as a bail bondsman, store manager, boxer and mixed martial artist before shifting to show business.
Pringle’s pedigree as an athlete and dramatist showed he had the tools to be a stuntman, and that’s what he did at first after relocating to Los Angeles in 2011. Before long he was tapped for nonspeaking roles.
Wright took notice of Pringle’s exploits and reached out to his old classmate, who was anxious to bring his movie set experience back to the Midwest to produce high-quality content.
Wright was a willing cinematographer.
The two couldn’t be more different in stature, but creatively they jell.
Pringle is muscular and tall with broad shoulders.
Wright is shorter than most, wears glasses and has an understated appearance that complements his cool demeanor.
Although both grew up in Lee’s Summit, they weren’t great friends in high school. They reconnected years later to make a dent in the emerging genre of digitally produced films and Web series.
Together, Pringle and Wright are part of a growing population of Kansas City-based filmmakers eschewing the Hollywood formula, said Larry Garrett, a board member of the Film Commission of Greater Kansas City.
“The business has changed dramatically,” Garrett said, days after Kansas City announced Stephane Scupham as the city’s new manager of media and film. “Things like Jesse and Shawn’s series now can be played in places that you have never seen films before. They can go straight to the Web. That has opened up some opportunities for sure.”
Those opportunities include independent filmmaking for entrepreneurial and creative minds such as Wright and Pringle.
“Kansas City is a very robust film community from the standpoint of the number of people doing independent filmmaking,” Garrett said. “Most of it is digital. It’s a lot less expensive and much faster to produce. Anybody can do a movie now. It has totally changed.”
“Kill Em All” is the story of Carson McCullough, an Irish tough guy hell-bent on revenge for the murders of his parents and brother by the Italian Mafia in Kansas City. In Season 1, Carson links up with his brother’s widow, Kate, and conspires to exact revenge.
Their goal is to “Kill Em All.”
Even though Carson carries a torch for the mob boss’s daughter.
Season 1 consists of four episodes, each seven to 10 minutes long. Season 2 shapes up much the same, but with added cast members and a longer first episode. The latest season premiered in October with another red-carpet event at the Dubliner in Kansas City’s Power & Light District.
The series can be viewed on www.killemalltv.com or on YouTube.
“The one thing I’m excited about is, we are broadening the story to include more ethnicity of actors,” Pringle said. “We start to get into other ethnic groups in Kansas City. I hate being one-dimensional or two-dimensional.”
A former R&B singer here, Pringle — now a resident of east Kansas City — ventured off to Hollywood about three years ago.
By chance, the chiseled-chest, square-jawed, bald Pringle caught the attention of the director of a feature film being shot in Los Angeles. The director offered Pringle a speaking role in the film, a small part that would help earn him a union card from the Screen Actors Guild.
The SAG, which merged with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists in 2012, is the gold standard for union representation for those in the entertainment industry.
Pringle has more than a dozen film and television acting credits to his name, and most of the 35 people who have worked on the series are now eligible for SAG-AFTRA cards.
“One of my goals was to give nonunion actors in Kansas City, and the Midwest in general, an opportunity that I didn’t have and others don’t have to get their eligibility right off the bat,” Pringle said.
Anthony Ladesich is an assistant editor and post-production supervisor for the series. He is serious about his craft.
The burly, bearded Ladesich sits in front of a computer at his office near Kemper Arena, cutting unneeded footage. He gently strokes his beard as he offers suggestions to Pringle.
Ladesich and Wright have worked together professionally on many projects, including camera work for Nike, Budweiser, Google, Wal-Mart, Sprint, LG and Missouri Lottery commercials where Wright is Ladesich’s right-hand man.
The roles were reversed for “Kill Em All.”
Wright brought Ladesich along during the editing of Season 1, and so far in Season 2 he has assumed an even bigger role.
With Wright tied up moving to a new house, Ladesich helps edit Season 2’s opening episode. Pringle offers ideas but mostly sits back and lets Ladesich work.
“It’s better for me just to step off,” Pringle says. “They’re professionals, and this is what they do.”
Ladesich, a Kansas City resident, likes Pringle’s hands-off approach.
“I was kind of brought in as a fixer,” he says. “Shawn edited the first episode (of Season 2) and did an amazing job. He kind of reached a couple of dead ends, and I just came in and helped him figure it out.”
The editing process is a somewhat tedious one for Wright.
“Overall I have a pretty concise idea of what I want,” the bespectacled Wright says. “When I shoot I have a certain thing in mind. ... I love to be there for every step of the editing process, but I also trust Tony. He’s really good about putting things together.”
Earlier this spring Pringle, Wright and a few cast members spent time in California collecting hardware at the annual L.A. Web Fest.
They also used the time to shoot a few scenes for the upcoming season.
“Kill Em All” earned five awards for best writing in a Web series (Pringle), best directing (Wright), best drama series, best guest actor (veteran Hollywood actor Richard Tyson of “Three O’Clock High” and “There’s Something About Mary” fame) and best trailer score in a series.
The five awards were among the most handed out during the festival, hailed as the “world’s biggest” with more than 26 countries represented.
“The more people that know about our series, then the more opportunities we have as actors and actresses in Kansas City,” Pringle says.
The recognition was rewarding.
“It was inspiring,” Wright says. “I was very proud of what we did in Season 1. The episodes were bigger than I thought. Although we had big plans for them, when it was all finished it was really gratifying. To be on a bigger scope and receive national awards for what we did, that was really validating.”
Shawn Edwards, a film critic for Fox 4 News in Kansas City, has been a fan of “Kill Em All” since its debut.
“Jesse has filmmaking somewhere inside his DNA,” said Edwards, director of the Kansas City Jewish Film Festival, which ran from Oct. 11 to 19.
Pringle and Wright were among those Edwards recognized at the Jewish festival for recent contributions to the area’s film community. “I like the way he set everything up, and I like the execution. It’s really good quality.”
The accolades for Season 1 garnered Pringle, Wright and company an international distribution deal with a company based in France. “Kill Em All” was also an official selection for the recent Miami Web Series Festival.
The Film Commission’s Garrett is not surprised by the success of the series.
“You look around, and there are quite a few Web series that popped up around town,” Garrett says. “I think Jesse and Shawn have been a little more aggressive in terms of promoting and getting the word out.”
Speaking of promoting, there’s little doubt that Pringle is the star that drives the “Kill Em All” vehicle. Literally and figuratively.
The baby blue eyes. The 6-foot-4 frame. He has the look of a movie star.
Taking a cue from what he learned in Hollywood circles, the face of the franchise opted for a guerrilla marketing campaign to promote the series. He drives a pickup truck around town that’s wrapped entirely in a “Kill Em All” mobile billboard.
T-shirts with a gun-toting Carson McCullough are for sale on the website.
“Name one studio in Hollywood that’s putting out a television show or a feature film that doesn’t have a billboard or a sign on the side of a bus,” Pringle said. “I’m taking the formula that Hollywood has established and trying to use it here.”
Wright says although Pringle is featured prominently, the series’ leading man is a team player.
“There’s two sides to Jesse,” Wright said. “He’s got a very motivated, intense sort of persona, and it comes through in his role. At the same time, he’s the first dude to tell you, ‘Good job.’ He has a great sense of humor, and he is really easygoing. The dude can be pretty silly.”
Pringle believes there are three versions of himself; the writer, the producer and the actor.
“It’s an ever-balancing act, because it’s three different personalities arguing with each other,” he says. “It’s thrilling to be able to see really motivated and talented film production crew and cast members still have that fire for making their dreams come true.”
He also gets to watch “all these people on set create a vision that I had in my head.”
Edwards has reviewed and interviewed countless of today’s hottest movies and their stars. He recognizes the approach Pringle has taken to push “Kill Em All.”
“He’s definitely has that guerrilla style of filmmaking that you saw in the early days of Quentin Tarantino … and even early Spike Lee,” he said. “He’s like, ‘I’m going to use my hustle to get my story told, and when I do it, the quality is going to be to the point that I’m respected as a filmmaker.’ That’s kind of cool to me.”
Pringle has put blood, sweat, tears and his own finances into the production in hopes of landing “Kill Em All” on the big screen with an even bigger Hollywood budget.
He won’t divulge an exact amount, but producing a Web series is not cheap.
“Imagine what we could do with a real budget,” Pringle said as the days got closer to another unveiling of Carson McCullough’s plot for revenge. “Coming from the L.A. market, I witnessed successful Web series make a profit with financing from major studios. That was my concept: to bring it back to Kansas City and set the bar.
“Working on it and building it with my own personal assets is punishing, to say the least. But I’m very pleased with what we’ve made.”