Bart Weiss

Dallas VideoFest’s PAWFEST: Come Experience the Fun and Connective Power That Animal Videos Can Create

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Photo credit: pixabay

By Eunice Nicholson

Dallas – Whether it’s the technical details of shooting or the meticulous process of editing, Will Braden has always loved making films. He also loves cats. As creator of the Henri, le Chat Noir video series and curator of the original CatVideoFest, Braden continues to bring cat lovers around the world the opportunity to delight in watching more than a hundred professionally curated cat video clips in one showing. An added bonus: Nearly half the ticket proceeds of all of his shows go to local animal shelters.

And, because of his love for animals and community, Dallas VideoFest Founder and Artistic Director Bart Weiss is teaming up once again with Braden to showcase PAWFest (Formerly CatFest) at The Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff Thursday night, August 23. This year dog videos are also included in the show, which starts at 7:00p.m. sharp. The doors open at 5:00 so you can come early to get to know some of the local animal welfare folks and check out the pets available for adoption.

The Texas Theater. Photo credit: The Texas Theatre

How Weiss and Braden Connected

The original idea of doing a festival of cat films says Weiss, comes from Braden, who at the time was curating the CatVideoFest reel for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

“I’d heard about it for a few years, then it sort of struck me, why isn’t anybody bringing this to Dallas? I thought this would be a really great thing to do so we called the Walker, we asked for the touring package and to add a local component, we asked local filmmakers to contribute.” Weiss says.

Weiss’s PAWFest, which is part of VideoFest, falls under the same video umbrella that all the festival events do, so in other words, cat videos have also evolved from video culture. But most media, Weiss says, is crafted in a different way.

“If you think about how most media is created and consumed; you bring a crew together to make a documentary or narrative film, you bring in actors and you tell a story. Now that’s a good thing and we show a lot of that, but there’s also this other place for people to have a much more direct relationship with their worlds where the technology is not really important. Many of these [cat clips] are shot with a mobile device and they are not edited with the fanciest of editing software, yet they have the ability – mostly through the performance of animals and the love of the person who’s doing it – to transcend technology. And if you think about what we stand for as an organization, its people making images that connect with audiences that can make you feel better about the world. This is the core of what we do.”

When Will Met Henry

Will Braden with Henry. Photo credit: Will Braden

Braden took over the reigns of running the business side of CatVideoFest a couple of years ago when the Walker was ready to move on. CatVideoFest is a Social Purpose Corporation (SPC) says Braden, which translates to bringing great cat videos to the world and at the same time, raises money for local animal welfare organizations.

Braden is also an award-winning filmmaker for his series, Henri, Le Chat Noir, which he started shooting in 2007. After completing Henri 2 Le Paw Leux in 2012, he got some attention from late film critic Roger Ebert when Ebert wrote on one of his social media channels that Henri 2 was the best Internet cat video ever made.

Who is Henry? He is a beautiful 14-year-old tuxedo cat who was adopted by a member of Braden’s family  from an animal shelter in Seattle. Henry is sort of retired now, says Braden.

“There is something very special about Henry. I attribute so much of the success of the video series to him because he would sit there very politely with hot lights and cameras going all around him. He was so easy-going. He made it work.”

In 2012, people started coming out of the woodwork when Braden made a Facebook page for Henry’s character. Then the Henri video went viral really quickly.

At right around the same time, the Walker was doing its first Internet cat video festival. When they made a call for submissions, Henri 2 was submitted over and over, and it got the Walker’s attention. Since it was clear to them that Braden had real talent, they reached out to him and asked if he would help with the festival reel. So he did and 2012’s CatVideoFest was a big success. He even won their top prize for Henri 2: the Golden Kitty award!

Braden remained involved with CatVideoFest, putting the reels together for the next two years. In 2015, when the Walker decided to move on, Braden decided to step up and took the festival under his own wing, with a continued focus on raising money for cats in need.

“From the beginning, every show had a partner, a local animal welfare organization doing something to benefit animals, specifically cats. Dallas is a great example of that.”

According to Dallas VideoFest Managing Director, Raquel Chapa, nearly 50% of the ticket proceeds are donated to Dallas shelters. This year, a portion of the proceeds will go to: MADE in Texas Assistance Dogs, The Spay Neuter Network, Cat Matchers and the Straydogs Inc.

When the Dallas VideoFest team reached out to Braden and told him about their idea to do a dog and cat festival, he saw it as a great opportunity and immediately said yes.

“There is a stark contrast to what kind of cat videos you can show and what kind of dog video you can show, so I have to be sensitive to that,” Braden admits. “It has to do with how we see cats and how we see dogs. Cats are sort of aloof and think they’re better than everybody else and so we like to see videos of them falling off a chair or slipping into some water. Dogs on the other hand, are so obedient and loyal, if you see a dog fall off a chair, you go, is he ok?”

Each year Braden puts together a new reel of 100 to 110 clips.

“From August to August, I go through tens of thousands of cat videos and find the best and put them all together on a reel that is about 70 minutes long. I sort them into categories and into montages; add music and things like that.”

Careful attention is paid to how the clips are grouped together so that it creates an experience that is organized in a deliberate way. The finished product is a professionally curated and edited reel that will be watched and enjoyed by a ‘sea of cat lovers’, as Braden puts it.

“And the idea that we are doing some good too, raising money and awareness for shelters. That will always be a component of CatVideoFest. It is very gratifying to have a job I enjoy and know that I am doing something good at the same time.”

Back to Bart

BART

Bart Weiss. Photo credit: TheaterJones

“What I really didn’t understand, until we did it [CATFest] the first time, is how important it was, Weiss admits. “I thought this was just a fun summer thing to do. For the Dallas Video Festival, we take ourselves very seriously. We talk about the deep and dark issues of the world and how to make the world a better place and this is certainly a different kind of event. I distinctly remember the first time we did this, we had a packed house at the Texas Theatre, which is a very large theater [645 seats], and not an easy thing to fill up.”

When the lights went down before the first video came up, people were making cat sounds all over the theater and Weiss realized what they had touched on, was exactly what they were trying to accomplish with VideoFest.

“We try to find work that connects to an audience at a very deep emotional way. Say you are at a Latino festival or say a LGBT or African-American festival, what you’re doing is you are connecting an audience with films they don’t see in the real world and they don’t have the chance to connect as an audience, together. That film has this sort of connective tissue that helps create community and makes you feel that you’re not alone.”

That is particularly true since most people watch cat videos on their computer alone, and then they share them with someone else who watches them alone.

And just so you know, Bart and his wife Susan live with and share their lives with four cats and one dog.

“The animals we have in our house are very important to me. They help me put the world into perspective and PAWFest celebrates my personal relationship to them just like the ideas that I think about or am concerned about. How wonderful it is that I can bring people together to have a good experience watching cat and dog films and to feel better about their love for their animals. That’s what this is really about.”

Photo credit: Dallas VideoFestWhere:
Texas Theatre
231 W. Jefferson Blvd in Oak Cliff
214-948-1546

When: 
Thursday, August 23, Doors: 5 p.m., Show: 7 p.m.

Tickets:
$15
https://www.prekindle.com/events/VAD

CHANGING THE WORLD THROUGH FILM: MEET DALLAS VIDEOFEST CO-FOUNDER: BART WEISS

 

Bart Weiss. Photo by Robert Hart. Courtesy of Theater Jones

Bart Weiss. Photo credit: Robert Hart/Theater Jones

DALLAS: What do Bart Weiss, co-founder of Dallas VideoFest, and a polka band have in common?

A lot.

Let me explain. When Weiss arrived for our interview in Oak Cliff to talk about his background and the 28th annual VideoFest, which runs Oct. 12-18, he asked me about my drive down from Denton. Having been reminded of Denton, he began talking about a well-known polka band based there: Brave Combo, a Grammy-winning polka/rock/world beat band—and self-described “nuclear polka”—that has been part of the North Texas music scene for more than 35 years.

“I’ve known about the band almost as long as I’ve been in Dallas,” Weiss says. “They take all these songs and play them up-tempo and they attract a lot of people. They are really reviving the art form and keeping it alive.”

When he asked the band if they had ever had a film made about them, their response was “no.” He thought there was something wonderful about them so he said, “Let’s do it.” Now, Weiss has nearly 75 hours of performance footage of the band and is working on a documentary about them.

“When the group formed they could make money selling records. But now they have to survive on touring, these guys are not young and are constantly on the road. It could go away easily.”

“This is one little part of everything else I do,” Weiss says, modestly.

That’s an understatement, considering that like Brave Combo, Weiss is never lacking for things to do. When he’s not producing, programming, teaching or involved in some aspect of filmmaking, he’s spreading his infectious love for film wherever he can.

Bravo Combo. Photo credit: Jane Finch

Bravo Combo. Photo credit: Jane Finch

How he got his (film) groove on

Weiss grew up in Philadelphia and chose Beloit College in Beloit, Wis. to study psychology. Being a quiet town, he soon discovered that Beloit had a flourishing film society that showed two films every night. He went as often as he could.

“These were films that I’d never seen before—foreign films, independent films—a totally new world for me,” he admits. Then one night someone in the dorm was showing experimental films and projecting them onto the dorm room walls. The films were like nothing he had ever seen before and he thought, “this film world should be really fun.”

When he had taken every film class that Beloit offered, he knew he wanted more. So he returned to the city of brotherly love and enrolled at Temple University, which had a reputable film department. There he earned a BA.

Weiss says his family was totally supportive of his desire to study filmmaking.

“My father’s idea of a good movie was a James Bond film,” he chuckles. “But my mother was more into the arts so she understood a bit more. They significantly helped me through graduate school, and going to graduate school at a relatively young age (right out of college) allowed me to teach as I was developing all the other things that I was doing.”

Next, Weiss studied documentary and narrative film making at Columbia University and earned an MFA in Film Directing in 1978.

After Columbia he began teaching at Manhattan College and College of Mount Saint Vincent. “I realized teaching was a really good thing, something I could do very well, and it’s remained very much a part of my life,” says Weiss, who teaches film at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Three pillars

Everything he does professionally comes from one core philosophical point of view: “The world can be changed by people watching good films.”

To him, film is an important medium because films have a transformative quality. Movies can cause audiences to have empathy for people they don’t know, help them understand things they don’t, and alter their moods.

There are three pillars in Weiss’ life that support this viewpoint: Running VideoFest, teaching aspiring want-to-be filmmakers, and making his own work.

“I want to teach people how to have a positive impact,” he says. “I want to show films that present different ways of dealing with the world and I make films as well.” The security of teaching allows him to pursue all of his passions with the sense of vigor that he might not otherwise be able to.

Photo credit: Google photos

Photo credit: Google images

In 1979, Weiss was offered his first tenure-track position at Charleston State College in Charleston, W. V. After a couple of years, he realized that he wanted more from his life and his work. So when he told a colleague, Don Pasquella, that he was ready for a change, Pasquella told him he had a job for him, teaching at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas.

At the time Pasquella was the head of SMU’s film program. While it wasn’t a tenure-track job, he told Weiss the position could be become one after he started teaching. So in 1981, Weiss gathered up his possessions and drove down to Texas. He excelled at his craft at SMU, but the tenure-track job never came and within two years he was without a teaching job. The quality of his work at SMU was validated in 2002, when one of his students, John Davis, was nominated for an Academy Award for his work in Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.

The video bar scene

“One of the great things about being in Dallas is that opportunities are everywhere if you look for them,” Weiss says.

One night while having dinner in a restaurant, a man struck up a conversation with him about how popular music videos had become in New York nightclubs.

“So he called me up, while I was still at SMU and said: ‘I just got this place on lower Greenville and I could either turn it into a gym or do that video club thing we were talking about. Do you want to do that?’” Weiss said yes and began working at On the Air in 1983.

It was a small place with a large TV screen in the front, and a DJ booth upstairs. In no time, the club became very popular. People would show up before and after going to other places.

“It was one of the few totally integrated clubs in Dallas, meaning: black, white, Latino straight, gay—every kind of people. It was an amazing place,” Weiss recalls.

Now that he was in the music business, he soon discovered that every major record label had an office in Dallas. So once a week he would go over to Warner-Electra-Atlantic, Polygram, and CBS records and ask for the latest VHS or Beta hi-fi copy of their music.

“We always had the newest material for all these records. People would dance to Devo, Talking Heads, and Michael Jackson videos. This was a big deal, a major cultural force.”

 

Michael Jackson's Thriller. Photo credit: Google images

Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Photo credit: Google images

To add to the club’s music video collection, Weiss would take the 7-minute records and 3-minute videos and re-edit them to make dance versions. If a piece of music didn’t have a video, he would shoot one and reedit and recut it so people could dance to it.

As far as he knows, Weiss and his crew were the first DJs in Dallas to do record scratching. They also had VHS Beta decks wired through cable that allowed them to switch live and play images from all over. It was an incredible experience, he says.

Weiss had come from a long established tradition of making film, where you work on it a long time, and when it was finished, you had a print.

“At the club, I could easily cut a video to make it quicker or slower and then watch the audience’s response. It was like a gift to get a really difference sense of audience. Most filmmakers never get to do that, so it worked out really well,” Weiss says.

Weiss as a video columnist

When On the Air closed its doors, Weiss helped open The Video Bar in Deep Elum. While he worked there he met a lot of people, including writers for the Dallas Morning News (DMN).

“One day I said to one of the DMN writers, it would be nice to write a story about music videos and she said ‘good, work on it.’ ”

He was working on it when he got a call from the same woman, Ellen Kampinsky, now Senior Editor at Glamour Magazine, asking him if he would like to write a regular column on music videos.

“I’m not a good writer, it’s a struggle for me, too much ADD to focus to write well,” he laughs. “Ellen worked with me for about a month and helped develop me into an almost acceptable writer.”

Photo credit: Googles images

Photo credit: Googles images

Then came budget cuts.

Next, he literally went across the street, to the Dallas Times Herald, and they picked up his column. At about a month into it, Weiss discovered an emerging new home video business and told his editor he wanted to write a column about what was new in music video. So he would find out what was renting and selling and in his column, list what was popular.

Then came more budget cuts.

Next, he traveled to New York and sold his column idea to United Features Syndicate and that worked well for a year and a half.

“I was in hundreds and hundreds of newspapers and paid $50 per week,” he chuckles. “My column was included in these slick packets filled with horoscopes, ads and all kinds of junk that went out with a lot of newspapers.”

“That was an exciting time in my life when I was writing.”

While he was writing, Weiss continued to teach part-time at the University of Texas at Dallas, Northlake Community College, the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Texas at Austin.

The birth of VideoFest

One day, John Held, a friend who managed an alternative gallery in town, asked Weiss if he would like to produce a video art program at the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA). It sounded like a great idea to him, so they created an event called Video as a Creative Medium. It was a two-night event that showcased local and international work and it attracted a lot of people.

“It went way better than we had expected,” Weiss admits.

Yes, the event went better in more ways than one because during one of the two evenings, he met the woman who is now his wife, Susan Teegardin. Little did she know, the next year she would be working side-by-side with him on the first Dallas Video Festival.

Later when Held and Weiss met with Elizabeth Berry back at the DMA to discuss further plans, Held decided he was not interested in doing more. Suddenly, Weiss had an idea. “What if we do a video festival for four days? Berry said yes and instantly became the festival’s co-founder. “When do you want to do it?”

They looked at the calendar and scheduled the festival over four days in the fall of 1987.

“I had no idea what I was doing but there were a few things that I did know.”

One of which was to get a good video projector. Good projection was a challenge at that time and very expensive. Luckily, he had a contact in Las Colinas who owned a high quality projector. They made a deal and he had his projector.

Next he had to get the word out.

“I was still writing for the Dallas Times Herald, so I called the programmer at the USA Film Festival and asked how much they charge for an ad. He told me ‘$650 for a full page.’ ”

Then he called his contact at Warner Home Video and told him about the festival and sold him an ad for $650. Weiss sold three ads that day and had the funding to pay the festival’s projectionist and from there, he found interesting works and created the programs. He’s been producing the evolving festival ever since. Weiss never sold another ad beyond the first festival. As the festival’s programmer, it could be a perceived as a conflict of interest.

The nitty gritty about film and video

In 1987, there was an incredible difference between film and video, says Weiss.

“Right now people use the terms interchangeably, back then there was a lot of difference. Video was inexpensive and people were doing edgier documentaries. Artists (music, painting, sculpture) were using it but there were very few places to have their videos screened. Film festivals out there were screening films and did not know how to show video.”

At the time, other video festivals around the country were aimed at small niche audiences, but Weiss’ reach was broader, hoping to attract a more diverse audience. So it was important to have good projection, a classy program and good design elements. As a result, people responded positively.

He also had this idea: instead of individual tickets for each program, they would sell day and full festival passes.

Photo credit: DallasVideoFest.com

Photo credit: DallasVideoFest.com

“I wanted people to come because of a film connected to a political or a social issue or a cultural identity issue they are interested in. But my hope was that they would come to see a particular program, then wander around and find other things to see that were interesting.”

Over the years Dallas VideoFest has covered a large body of work including the history of video art and documentaries, just in terms of media. And each year they have programs about how media affects all of us. Weiss believes it’s important to understand the media’s role in our lives.

At this year’s festival, one of the films that will be screened is called The Brainwashing of my Dad, directed by Jen Senko. It’s about her father, who starts watching Fox News and listening to Rush Limbaugh. She soon notices a change in him. The film covers the history of how right wing media has evolved.

Weiss says we are at the intersection of art and technology and as different technology emerges, he wants to showcase the many ways art can be made from it, from video walls to virtual reality, to high definition.

“We do show films like other festivals, but there is a total difference in what we do…every year we drastically try to change and do something we’ve never done before,” Weiss says. “I tell my board, if there isn’t a possibility of failing I’m not interested in doing it.”

He is serious about that.

A triple hit

This year Weiss has included two new works that he says are radical. Last year, The Lodger, a 1927 silent Hitchcock film was set to a musical score performed by the Dallas Chamber Symphony. This year they’ve added a third dimension: dance.

On opening night, VideoFest will present the 1927 silent film, Metropolis, along with an original musical score by composer Brian Satterwhite and again performed by the Dallas Chamber Symphony. Making this a triple collaboration is dance, choreographed by Christopher Dolder and presented by SMU’s Meadows Dance Ensemble. The dancers will perform on two platforms at the Dallas City Performance Hall while the film rolls and the musicians play.

Photo credit: DallasVideoFest.com

Photo credit: DallasVideoFest.com

Dallas Chamber Symphony Artistic Director Richard McKay is very excited about this year’s alliance.

“What’s so special about the program is that we are pioneering a new day of digital collaboration,” McKay says. “We’ve created a cohesive experience between film, music and dance so nothing seems separate. And working with Bart, who is an expert in silent film, makes this a wonderful partnership. He is great working with people and a good influence on all of us.”

That’s the number one new thing. The number two new thing happens during the weekend evening programs of the festival. Before each of the film screenings, percussionists, poets, and performance artists will perform. The purpose, Weiss says, is to bring the entire artistic community into the festival.

There’s something about Big D

Like most things in his life, producing a television show for KERA was not something he sought out or planned to do. But friends at the station suggested he create a show, called Frame of Mind, which features independent films produced by Texas-based professional filmmakers. So he did. And a few years later, when both producers left the show, he in 1995, he became the sole producer.

“It started out being on the air once a month, then once a quarter, then whenever I had time. Then last year we got together and made this a real TV show with a regular season.”

It’s incredible he says, that someone who doesn’t work for KERA is able to program for the station.

“There is something about the Dallas community that will let me do this and it’s really rare,” Weiss admits. “Most cities, most film festivals don’t talk to each other or help each other.”

Weiss serves on festival juries (watching and evaluating films), and does Q&As in Dallas and beyond. This year he worked with the McKinney Classic Film Festival and the Asian Film Festival of Dallas as well as many others.

“He a funny guy,” says Alicia Chang, Executive Director of the Asian Film Festival. She serves on the board of the Video Association of Dallas, which Weiss is president of. The two support and help each other. “He has so many interests and projects he’s involved with and still offers to help each year. He’s what you think of when you think of an artist—extremely passionate and cares about people.”

“It’s the personalities within the art community,” Weiss says. And in the same vein, people who teach film and video work together. Whether it’s SMU or UTA or UNT. “There’s a real spirit of cooperation.”

Downtown Dallas. Photo credit: Googles images

Downtown Dallas. Photo credit: Googles images

Finding a home at UTA

Weiss joined the film program at the University of Texas at Arlington 17 years ago. It’s a place, he claims, where students don’t make student films, they are students making films.

“We don’t let our students make films that don’t mean anything or don’t have the potential to change the world. We are really hard on our students, if they bring something in and it isn’t right, they do it and again and again.”
Most of his students don’t come from privileged backgrounds. Many are first generation college students, so making it in the film business is a really big deal, Weiss says. “Sometimes it’s fighting their parents to let them do this.”

As we were wrapping our interview, he tells me a story about a student named Iris Lopez. Having made some nice films in his media class, he asked her if she had shown them to her father. She said her father was not interested and didn’t support her decision to study filmmaking. In her next class with him, she made a beautiful Spanish film about two kids who were broke and hard up. At the film’s screening, Weiss was facilitating a Q&A and said, “I understand there is someone special here tonight.” Iris responded, “Yes, my father,” then motioned to the back of the theater where he was seated. Unexpectedly, her father stood up and in front of everyone, told her how proud he was of her. In that moment, the entire dynamic of their relationship changed.

“We do things like that at UTA,” he said as he wiped the tears from his eyes.

Bart Weiss believes that the world can be changed by people watching good films, whether they’re about the media or a polka band.

Listening to him passionately speak about his life’s love, there’s no doubting that he’s right.

For information about the more than 200 films that will be screened during the festival beginning Oct. 13, click here.

 

Photo credit: Google images

Photo credit: Google images

The Brainwashing of My Dad
This feature is also published on Theater Jones. Click here to view along with full coverage of the festival.

DOING IT HER WAY: ENTERTAINMENT PUBLICIST KELLY KITCHENS CELEBRATES 20 YEARS OF CHEERING HER CLIENTS ON

Kelly -TCMFF-Judy dress

Kelly Kitchens in her “Judy Garland” dress at the 2010 TCM Film Festival. Photo credit: Mark Wickersham

DALLAS: When Kelly Kitchens attends the Turner Class Movies (TCM) Film Festival in Hollywood each year, she dresses like Judy Garland and other classic stars. It’s her way of celebrating her love of classical film.

When she hosts a round table session – where writers, bloggers and podcasters gather to interview film producers, directors and actors – she doesn’t rush them, she gives them plenty of time to have a “real conversation” with her clients.

And when public relations’ newbies, (who could become potential competitors) ask her for advice on how to get ahead in the media relations/entertainment publicity business, she always says yes.

With this kind of passion for the entertainment industry, appreciation for the media, and genuine concern for others, it’s no wonder that this well-connected media relations and entertainment publicist is one of the most respected in Dallas. And this year marks her 20th anniversary.

HER FIRST LOVE

Kitchens first discovered her love for writing when she joined the yearbook staff during her sophomore year of high school.

“The instant I was in there I knew,” Kitchens recalls. “I thought then that if I could work on the yearbook for the rest of my life, I’d be happy, because it gave me the excuse to know absolutely everything that was going on at school.”

This was also a time when she learned a valuable real life lesson, thanks to her yearbook advisor.

“She stood up on a chair and ripped up a story that I had written into little pieces and say, ‘Now, do it again.’ Even though that was really hard on me, it was good for me because when you enter the world of journalism, if it’s not up to par you have to start over.”

Eva Smith and Kelly Kitchens working on Houston High School Year Book in 1986. Photo credit:

Eva Rover and Kelly Kitchens, members of the Cy-Fair Senior High School Yearbook Staff in 1986. Photo credit: Cy-Fair Senior High School, Houston, TX yearbook

After spending her childhood in Fort Worth and El Paso, at the age of 12, Kitchens moved with her family to Houston. Having always loved the North Texas area, she planned to return to that area to attend college. When she heard that the University of North Texas (UNT) had an excellent journalism program, in 1986, she headed to Denton.

Beyond her degree plan, she studied art, astronomy, esthetics of film, philosophy of art and music, the Texas blues and more. Kitchens also studied at the American College of Switzerland for a semester in 1989 as a part of UNT’s Classic Learning Core Capstone Seminar program.

“That was such a gift to me.”

With a solid foundation in place, she headed into her journalism classes. But half way through her junior year when she met with her advisor, she told him she didn’t want to go into news reporting.

“I didn’t want to write about murder and politics, I wanted to do feature writing and I wanted learn about criticism.” When he refused to let her go down that path, Kitchens quit and became an English major.

What a coincidence it was that as soon as she switched from journalism to English she started doing journalism, when Southern Methodist University’s (SMU) student “rag” publication came looking for UNT writers. They wanted to expand their student paper, The Student Voice up to North Texas.

“The two schools are as different as night and day,” Kitchens says. “SMU’s paper covered Greek life. At North Texas, you’ve got to cover music, the arts, and theater.”

When the SMU publisher said he didn’t know anything about the arts, she told him not to worry because she did. So she started covering all the bands coming out of North Texas as well as writing theater reviews. It helped that all her friends were artists, so she starting writing features about them. And that’s how Kitchens became UNT’s entertainment editor of The Student Voice.

Kelly Kitchens with Martin Mull at the 2000 Dallas VideoFest. Photo credit: Photo courtesy Video Association of Dallas

Kelly Kitchens with Martin Mull at the 2000 Dallas VideoFest. Photo courtesy of Video Association of Dallas

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

When Kitchens graduated from UNT in December of 1991 that was about the same time the Dallas Times Herald folded. And with D Magazine having been sold to American Express the year before (the magazine returned in 1996), that created a void in Dallas’ hard news coverage.

At that time, the Dallas Observer covered the entire local music and arts scene in their weekly guide, but they soon shifted their focus to hard news, now that The Dallas Morning News had less competition.

In 1992 the Observer went from having local bands on the cover to covering the mayor and city hall. “Entertainment stuff got pushed to the back,” Kitchens says.

Suddenly it was clear that there was an opportunity knocking on Kitchens’ door. So in December of 1993, she became the first editor hired for a new, all arts and entertainment magazine called, The Met. In her role as calendar and film editor, everyone, including arts organizations and their publicists big and small, had to contact Kitchens to get into the paper. In no time, she became the person who knew everything that was going on in the visual, performing arts and film world in North Texas.

“I just loved it! That’s when I figured out that I loved working and talking to people more than I loved writing, which was weird because all my life I thought I wanted to be a writer.”

While at The Met, Kitchens’ ability to work well with others did not escape the notice of co-worker, Todd Johnson, hired on as the advertising art director within a few days of the paper’s launch.

“Kelly is a great communicator and has a great presence. She really knows how to make you get excited about the story she is telling!” Johnson says.

So when Kitchens’ editor wanted her to do more writing and less editorial work, she knew it was time to consider her next move.

“I called six of my favorite publicists and asked them if they thought I could do what they do.” Inspired by the willingness of each of them to take her under their wing and give her a shot working on some projects, Kitchens left The Met on March 31, 1995.

(left to right) Todd Johnson, Kelly Kitchen and Chad Tomlinson during their "Met" days in 1994. Photo credit: Kris Hundt

(left to right) Todd Johnson, Kelly Kitchen and Chad Tomlinson during their “Met” days in 1994. Photo credit: Kris Hundt

Unintentionally but appropriately, she says, she started her own business the very next day: April Fools Day.

CREATING KELLY J. KITCHENS MEDIA RELATIONS & ENTERTAINMENT PUBLICITY

It started with JoAnn Holt with the Dallas Summer Musicals (DSM). One of her very first projects was Hello Dolly starring Carol Channing. ” She was absolutely delightful,” Kitchens’ says with a smile. She worked with the DSM on more of their projects, and then some of the other publicists started giving her projects when they were too booked to work on them.

Other clients she helped early on were the Dallas Classic Guitar Society, Little Tuna Theater and Kitchen Dog Theater’s Hamlet. And a little later some of her first “solo” clients included: actress Morgana Shaw, actress and singer Denise Lee and Playwrights’ Project Fundraiser.

“Public Relations is such a huge umbrella. It can include crisis management, investor relations and much more,” Kitchens says. “I do media relations. I am the liaison between my clients and journalists.” And her clients are from the entertainment side, primarily film and theater.

While ninety-five per cent of Kitchens’ business has been referrals, many have come from the press she worked with during her time at The Met. Jane Sumner, a former film critic with The Dallas Morning News, was the first person to recommend her for a film.

“To have the press recommend me, that to me is the highest compliment,” she says proudly. “What a gift.”

So as it happens, Kitchens learned the media relations/publicity business from the other side – as a film editor and critic. “During those early years, I went to countless movies and screenings, and I knew everybody else (in the media) going. So I just started contacting them, and 20 years later many of them are still on my list. I didn’t have to network my way into it. We knew each other so they approached me differently.”

Kelly Kitchens and Mark Wickersham on the red carpet at the 2014 TCM Film Festival. Photo credit:

Kelly Kitchens and Mark Wickersham on the red carpet at the 2014 TCM Film Festival. Photo courtesy of TCM

ONCE A JOURNALIST ALWAYS A JOURNALIST

Kitchens feels fortunate to have a background in journalism. And she takes the ethics of journalism that she studied at UNT, very seriously. She is careful to maintain professional boundaries with the media.

“That’s been my philosophy along the way, what I give them is what I would have needed as an editor. To know what they need is an important part of it. Pictures, the b-roll (broadcast quality footage for TV news), having access to the people they might want to talk to, things like that. My public relations training was being a journalist.”

And while many publicity firms that have an A, B and C lists of media contacts, Kitchens has only one. “I include everybody as equal because they might pick up a smaller film, which is great because then it can be pushed out on Facebook and Twitter. I’m a one-woman band so I try to do everything I can on the media side so my clients can rise to the top of their game.”

BACK TO BASICS

According to Kitchens, 2001 was her biggest and best year ever. Her client, the Angelika Film Center opened that summer in Dallas, and everything was wonderful. Then 9/11 happened and everything changed.

“People stopped leaving their homes and did not go back to movies or go out to eat,” she recalls. “Clients were saying we love you, and we want to work with you, but we just can’t afford it.”

So for a time she relied on her editing skills and went to work at ad agencies doing in-house editing and proofreading.

“I was really glad that I had those hard skills, and they were sharp enough for me to be able to go in and take on those high-pressure jobs,” Kitchens admits. Still, her most valuable lesson was learned during the post 9/11 lean times, when she approached Stan Levenson, with the Levenson Group, an icon in the public relations world.

“I was so honored when he responded back to me and asked me to work with him on growing the arts district (to what it is now). But the politics at the time (2004) were not her cup of tea, and it was challenging work. At one point she left Levenson a message letting him know that things weren’t going that well. Then he called her back and left a message for her, one she will always remember.

He said, “I think it’s important that I manage your expectations on this.” Meaning that when you’re dealing with things that you can’t control – the City of Dallas, politics, and all that back and forth, you have to be realistic about results, Kitchens explains.

“Those are the most valuable words that I have gotten from anyone, and I use those words all the time because it is my job to manage my clients’ expectations. Meaning if I have a client come to me and say, ‘Oprah would love to read my book or Ellen needs to hear my music.’ Those are usually unrealistic expectations.”

While Kitchens admits she too is a dreamer, it’s very important to keep her clients’ feet planted firmly on the ground. “While you want more than just your mom, your aunt and your best friend to read your book or come see your play or film, you want people who you don’t know, to talk about your work, and that is where I come in,” she says with a chuckle.

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX

Kelly Kitchens with George Schlatter and Bart Weiss at 2013 Dallas VideoFest. Photo Credit:

Kelly Kitchens with George Schlatter and Bart Weiss at the 2013 Dallas VideoFest. Photo courtesy of Selig Polyscope

Some of Kitchens’ current clients’ include: Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas – DFW, the McKinney Classic Film Festival, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: the Musical and Dallas VideoFest, the oldest and largest video festival in the United States and one of her oldest clients. It’s co-founder, Bart Weiss, has worked with Kitchens on several of the festival’s projects over the years.

“We at VideoFest are a small but loyal bunch, and Kelly is a prized and valued member of that team,” Weiss says. “When people make mistakes, there is a magic in her laugh that makes it hard to get mad at anybody, and I think that is important!”

“She has also helped us get more people to the festival by helping us transition to more alternative media than focusing on the major papers.”

What Weiss is referring to is Kitchens’ media round table events, which include bloggers and podcasters.

“I love to lean on the bloggers and podcasters, anyone working online, to cover the smaller films that wouldn’t see the light of day because the traditional media might only be able cover one or two of the 100+ films being screened at the festival.”

And continuing to find people who are interested in the smaller films and who like classic films, much like Kitchens and her husband Mark Wickersham, is paramount. That is one reason the couple has been attending the TCM Film Festival in Hollywood since 2010. She goes as a fan but makes the most of the business opportunities, too.

“I’ve become friends with the festival director and programmer and I get referrals to different films and events that happen at TCM that we try to bring here.”

Click on the clip below to watch Kelly and Mark being interviewed by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz!

PAYING IT FORWARD

When she started her own firm, six publicists brought her in to work with them. “They also passed clients on to me. To me, that was paying it forward and helping me create my own successful business.”

And the day before this interview, Kitchens had talked to a young woman who wants to go out on her own. “She asked if I could talk to her and I said yes, I always say yes,” Kitchens admits. “I think we live in a very abundant world, and there is room enough for all of us. If what I do is part of your dream, now please don’t steal my clients, but I want to help if I can.”

She also tells them they really have to want to do this because it’s hard work. “You have to be ok with the fact that it is very rare for a journalist to interview you; it’s not you getting the glory.” She adds that it’s important to find something in each client that can be appreciated.

And although Kitchens grew up hating her name, she admits that it has become her best marketing tool because everyone remembers it. And so, after 20 years of nurturing and growing her firm – Kelly J. Kitchens Media Relations/Entertainment Publicity – is something she is proud of.

“I love the process of what I do from beginning to end; from the meetings to creating a proposal (well, maybe not creating the proposal part!), to talking it through with a client and then actually doing the work. And what comes from it, whether it’s a grand success or a bust – all I know is that this is why I was put here on Earth, to be a cheerleader for other people’s projects.”

The Wickershams at home in 2014. (left to right) Juliet, Kelly & Mark. Photo credit: John 'Doc' Strange w/ Selig Polyscope

The Wickershams at home in 2014. (left to right) Daughter Juliet, Kelly & husband, Mark. Photo credit: John ‘Doc’ Strange w/ Selig Polyscope

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