Movie News & Reviews

Behind the scenes with Morgan Dameron, returning to KC for her feature film debut

KC native Morgan Dameron brought her cast and crew to Country Club Christian Church to shoot a pivotal scene for “Different Flowers,” which she wrote and is directing. With her are assistant cameraman Jordon Rioux (left) and director of photography Jordan McNeile.
KC native Morgan Dameron brought her cast and crew to Country Club Christian Church to shoot a pivotal scene for “Different Flowers,” which she wrote and is directing. With her are assistant cameraman Jordon Rioux (left) and director of photography Jordan McNeile.

The camera lingers on a close-up of actress Emma Bell in a lacy wedding gown. Her face registers a flash of apprehension as bridal chaos unfolds behind her.

Lavender-decked bridesmaids and flower girls hover, as do her pushy mom (Romy Rosemont) and blunt grandmother (Shelley Long of “Cheers” and “Modern Family”). Her sister (Hope Lauren) chows down on pizza, aloof to the proceedings.

Welcome to Scene 7F, Take 1 of “Different Flowers,” the feature filmmaking debut of Kansas City native Morgan Dameron. Having accumulated several years of behind-the-scenes Hollywood credits — most notably on “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” — she has brought her passion project back to the Midwest. It’s one of the first to be shot here since KC’s new film office took a more proactive role in recruiting productions.

“This is the launching-off point of the film,” Dameron says of this scene.

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“The premise is there’s a wedding. It’s a machine. It’s happening. The only piece of the machine that’s not working is the bride. So she decides to bolt, and that kicks off the whole road trip, the adventure and the reconnection of these two estranged sisters.”

Adding to the familial vibe, Dameron’s youngest sister, Natalie, darts in and out of the frame, pretending to touch up the bride’s makeup wilting in the August heat. Middle sister Mallory ambles around in back as the wedding photographer.

Dameron, with her red hair pulled into a bun, toting headphones and a magenta fanny pack, offers a few suggestions to her cast about the background action. She then retreats to watch the spectacle on a monitor with her cinematographer.

“Making a movie is like putting on a wedding every day,” she says.

In many ways, the action within this movie set swirls around the 27-year-old rookie director in the same way as it does her bride. Yet Dameron is nowhere close to bolting. She acts upbeat and confident. Equal parts coach, technician and community organizer, she’s embracing the opportunity to have the final say on a motion picture set.

The writer/director/producer has willed this production into existence after years of toiling as an assistant to mega-filmmaker J.J. Abrams. (And, yes, the character of Poe Dameron in Abrams’ “Star Wars” is named for her.)

Following a successful Kickstarter campaign that concluded in June, Dameron recruited a mixture of Los Angeles and KC cast and crew to shoot “Different Flowers” in her hometown. She describes the story as “a road trip and a comedy with some dramatic elements.”

[ Also filming in KC: Sporting a Royals tattoo, writer and star David Dastmalchian reconnects to his hometown ]

“Morgan had what we call ‘Plan A,’ ” says producer David Karp, a Philadelphian who has spent the last five years working in L.A. with Dameron.

On the set, Karp pulls out his phone and shows a text she sent him at the beginning of the process:

“Plan A: Finish script. Get financing to shoot in KC. Set dates. Gather crew. Gather cast. Shoot. Festivals.”

The sign-off on the text: “No Plan B.”

Filming wraps Aug. 22, but on this day Dameron wrangles dozens of extras for the wedding scenes. Nearly 200 congregate at the colossal Country Club Christian Church on Ward Parkway, a horde of relatives, friends, neighbors and former schoolteachers.

“The one thing I love about ‘Different Flowers’ is it’s really a family affair,” says co-producer Alisa Naso. “We have actual family members coming to set, but our crew itself has become such a family.”

A Northern California native, Naso graduated from the film school at the University of Southern California with Dameron.

“Morgan is so great with people. Great with cast. Great with crew. She’s so eloquent in getting across what she needs them to portray on camera,” Naso says.

Emmy-winning actress Long concurs.

“Morgan is a wonder. She has great energy and enthusiasm, and at the same time she maintains her focus and her vision beautifully,” says Long, who is also a producer on the film.

Despite Dameron’s professional background and the sheer number of comrades imported into her passion project, she didn’t hire a director’s assistant.

“I was in charge of organizing that for another director as we all know, so occasionally I have to slip back into assistant mode and go, ‘OK, if I was my own assistant, how would I structure this time?’ 

The Pembroke Hill School graduate says time management still looms as her toughest challenge.

“At the end of every day, I’m prepping for the next day. But we are also editing at the same time, so I have cuts to review. There are wardrobe approvals. Making sure a location has backgrounds …” she trails off before the list grows overwhelming.

Dameron may not have a dedicated assistant, but she can certainly lean on plenty of younger Damerons for support. Although 22-year-old Mallory portrays the wedding photographer, 17-year-old Natalie actually functions as the production’s set photographer. Meanwhile, 19-year-old brother Dylan handles DIT (digital imaging technician) duties, primarily ensuring the precious film data get stored correctly.

And parents Russ and Lori Dameron, who live north of the river, are usually on set handling various chores, such as dealing with media requests.

“I’ve seen it grow from Morgan making short films in our house to this,” says Mallory, still walking around with a prop camera slung around her neck.

“I’m actually the only sibling that’s not going into the entertainment industry. Obviously, Morgan is doing this. Dylan is looking into editing. Natalie is pursuing screenwriting — she just attended a big screenwriting camp. But I’m the odd one out; I’m heading to med school next year.”

Mallory says the most frequent question she’s asked is if the characters of Millie the bride and Emma the alienated sister are based on her own relationship with Morgan.

“Everyone wonders if I’m Millie or Emma, she says. “Or if Morgan is Millie or Emma. I think Morgan is both. That’s Morgan playing both roles at different times in her life.”

After the church sections wrap, filming moves to a farm in Baldwin City. Then the driving scenes between the sisters were scheduled to be shot along the stark highways outside Eudora. A splinter unit captures roadside stops throughout the region, including visits to the world’s largest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kan., world’s largest goose in Sumner, Mo., and “the Big Pump” in King City, Mo.

“There’s something really special about making a movie in your hometown,” the director says.

“This couldn’t take place anywhere else. Not only is it set here and in other locations around Kansas and Missouri, but it is such a character on its own. The Midwestern mentality. The types of people you encounter. The situations that mindset gets you into. The heat. The humidity.”

Those involved with “Different Flowers” can particularly agree on that last part.

“There’s no fake sweat in this movie,” Dameron says. “It’s all real.”

Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”

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