Today we’d like to introduce you to Kenzie Elizabeth.
Kenzie, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
“You can’t be what you can’t see.”
I never really knew what I was going to end up doing exactly, but I always knew I was going to tell stories. I was a kid from the western suburbs, writing super haughty and self-righteous anti-smoking commercials, and acting them out with my sister for our parents, or performing in the plays at school, or making homemade movies on a huge and broke camcorder — whatever it was — it was always about getting that little story to come out.
For years, I wanted to tell stories by being in them. Performing the stories themselves. So after high school, I went to school in Boston to study acting, and it was there I found a love for improvisation and writing, and a little inclination for more creative control jumped on me.
I left Boston after a year and half, and moved to Florence, Italy. Honestly, I think I hoped to fall in love with something that wasn’t as hard or terrifying to me as a career in art is. I studied cooking under Slow Food Movement chefs and learned my way around a professional kitchen, drank all the wine, modeled for painters, and traveled alone. But the creative call inevitably pulled me back to Chicago.
The wicked thing about writing and improv, is you create your own universe. I fell into improv out of a dare, and it was there I was able to finally see the stories I could relate to, see myself in — because WE were creating them. I was done waiting for people to put me in something. I wanted to make those stories happen.
I found my way back to creating those stories, seeing myself as a queer woman represented, and falling into film was the natural progression for me. I worked in casting, I was a producer, I was a co-owner for a small production company, and then I made the leap to start writing and directing my own stories. Investing in the arts community in Chicago — the community that helped me find myself and my story.
I still act and perform when a project is fulfilling and exciting, but filmmaking is where my heart is. Filmmaking is collaborative, all consuming, sometimes exhausting, but it’s where I see myself and my community full realized.
You can’t be what you can’t see — so create what you wish to see.
Has it been a smooth road?
Of course there are obstacles!
But that’s where the sweet, sweet gold is. Because after the setback happens — you don’t get the funding, or the perfect shot, or the role you want — you realize what is meant for you, and what is meant to teach you.
Every set back is another opportunity to be creative.
Being an independent filmmaker is tough, it’s a long game, but it’s rewarding in ways I never saw coming. I never thought that when it snowed on the one day we were set to film outside, that it would make our film look and feel more like Chicago than if it hadn’t. Or when we didn’t get into that one film festival we wanted, that it would give us more time to work on another project that means so much to us.
And ask for help. Because we can’t do this crazy thing alone, and it’s always good to remember that your community has your back.
We’d love to hear more about your business.
As an independent filmmaker, Elizabeth Productions, focuses on uplifting minority narratives and bringing a fuller scope of representation to film and television. You can’t be what you can’t see — so we are making stories you can see yourself in.
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Chicago is THE place. Our stories and our hustle are real. And when television and film are created and made here, you can feel it. It has a life to it that is hearty, and complicated, and grounded.
If someone was just starting out, I say: TRY EVERYTHING. Don’t believe you are just an actor, or only a writer, or only a comedian. Every aspect of the process has something to teach and learn from. If you want to get something made, you have to get your hands on every aspect of it.
And if we are creating stories about Chicago — from the moment of conception and to the final product — they need to be IN Chicago. Our life can’t be replicated in other cities. It’s too unique.
Wendy Mateo, Lorena Diaz, Page Durkin, Stace James