July Spotlight: AMERICAN HONEY

 In Blog, Crew, directing, Film, Film Office, Filmed in KC, narrative, Production, Spotlight


If you didn't know the 2016 Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize
winning film AMERICAN HONEY filmed in Kansas City last year, don't worry. 
The reason you didn't know is because the production kept their presence 
here very quiet. They asked  us not to discuss the project, actors or locations 
with anyone outside of those who were involved on a "need-to-know" basis. 
That meant no media, no social posts, no newsletter content about how 
exciting it was that they were here filming here. 

It was a great pleasure assisting this production. Knowing that this 
brilliant director was bringing her first US feature to Kansas City was 
incredible. Now that filming is done and they have premiered at Cannes, we 
can share some anecdotes that shed light on how the film office works with a
production like AMERICAN HONEY. First, watch their trailer and see how 
much KC you can find -

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1SpWZm1PLc]

Andrea Arnold’s “American Honey” plunges the audience, with dizzying hand-held exhilaration, into the lives of a couple of dozen young pierced and tattooed drifters who have banded together into a roving derelict cult, driving around the Midwest in a van, where they have a scam going to use their hustle and beauty to guilt-trip people into buying magazine subscriptions. You may never have seen a movie that so eloquently captures the feeling of living not for the future but for the moment — and, let’s be clear, living that way is not a good thing. But there’s a haunting question that shadows the flying-high hip-hop catharsis of “American Honey,” and that is this: How did these kids get here? -Owen Glieberman, Variety

The film’s writer and director is British talent, Andrea Arnold. She achieved an Academy Award for her short film WASP (2005), her first feature RED ROAD was accepted to Cannes Film Festival as was her next feature FISH TANK. RED ROAD is highly praised by many critics as the one of the best British Films in recent history and won the Jury Award at Cannes in 2006. FISH TANK won the 2010 BAFTA award for Best British Film and also won the Cannes Jury award that same year.

american honey grop

Riley Keogh, Sasha Lane, Andrea Arnold and Shia LaBeouf at Cannes (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian)

AMERICAN HONEY is a travelling film. The story has a band of young people travelling from Oklahoma to North Dakota. In early Spring before filming Arnold brought her key crew along the route. When the team stopped in Kansas City in early April I had the chance to spend time with them. We enjoyed quite a delicious dinner at Blue Bird Bistro and I learned that  most of them had never been to KC before and were delighted (and amazed) at the City, the cultural feel and the friendliness of the people.

They hired actors from Kansas City through Wright Laird Casting, including Laura Kirk who is featured in the movie trailer saying, “I am trying to be Christian but I can see the devil has a hold of the two of you…” Click here to a KC Live interview with Laura Kirk talking about her experience on the film. As Laura mentions in this interview everything was very secretive. She had to park away from location and get shuttled in to the home where she was filming. In fact the cast was not aware of any of their next filming locations. When they arrived in KC they had no idea they were going to film here. I suppose Arnold wanted to keep things as authentic as possible and by not telling the cast where they were headed it kept them in a bubble of the film-story.

The animal actor featured in the trailer is a dog named Van Gogh from KC Pet Project. We were happy to learn he found a forever family shortly after filming took place.

American Honey Dog and I at KSHB

Van Gogh and I  in green room at KC Live

The answer is everything the movie is really about. They are refugees of the new American non-dream. The heroine, Star (Sasha Lane), is fleeing a home of indifference and abuse, but in nearly three hours, hers is the one and only backstory we get, and that’s by design. The movie is saying: We don’t need to hear the other backstories — we know them in our bones. They’re about children who have not been given the structure and love they need, because the love and structure was disintegrating above them. “American Honey” is about the morphing of youth culture into a big-beat deadbeat party. What’s beautiful about the movie is that the characters have lost their innocence, yet they remain innocent. They’re the fallout of the new world. -Owen Glieberman, Variety

american honey photo

(Photo courtesy of FilmComment)

Locations assistance was one of the major areas of support we were able to give the production. I worked closely with Location Manager, Mark Jarrett (Friday Night Lights). I would give him and his scouts letters of endorsement and verification from the film office to leave at homes and businesses and worked to find owners of properties as well as ideas for locations and, believe me, no stone went unturned. Film office volunteer Lauren Groom helped, several contacts in real estate came up with ideas, the hired KC location scouts Rick Cowan and Kris Mercer worked hard on securing locations as well. During the months of working together Mark and I had several stories and adventures but one day takes the cake –

Exterior Shoot. Day. I received a frantic call from set — someone was jack-hammering in the street in front of the house they were filming.

I immediately called the City who confirmed they weren’t doing any work on the street. The next thought was the Neighborhood Association. The production had blanketed the street with notifications but had not contacted the Neighborhood Association specifically. I discovered that the association had scheduled this very day to revamp the stone urns at each end of the street. (Learning moment for all productions…always contact homes associations!) I spoke with the president of the association, explained about the film and how we are working together as a City to support this work and asked if they could reschedule the work or move it later in the day (and all without mentioning Shia LeBeouf) — which he graciously agreed to do. However, the vendor jack-hammering did not get the memo. The Assistant City Manager Pat Klein came to set to help to stop the vendor from continuing.

Thinking the worst was behind us I got back to work when I received another call from set. Would you believe that now an afternoon party was blaring loud music that was carrying through the air interrupting the audio for the film?

As with many film productions, regardless of location, sometimes you run into roadblocks. This particular day the production had its own in the form of a jack-hammer and a loud afternoon party on another block, which as it turns out, was a rocking pool party with DJ and bounce house for a graduating 5th grade class. It was the biggest craziest 5th grade graduation party I’ve ever crashed!

AMERICAN HONEY managed their schedule and got all of the scenes the following day free of interruption.

Even though that particular day was stressful … they had a great shoot experience in Kansas City. Our industry (from casting to talent agencies, scouts to production assistants to the film office) showed up in a professional way, and our City showed up and supported this production. Andrea Arnold replied to my note of congratulations after Cannes Film Festival and she sends her best to us all in Kansas City.

It’s hard to begin where to start with my praise of Stephane and her team. Our shoot wouldn’t have been possible in the manner we wanted to film without their support, creativity, and around the clock help.  By the end of our time in KC, they had been crucially involved with every one of our departments. Stephane was responsive and provided multiple solid crew references and even helped coordinate interns through the nearby Universities. On a state border made up of many individual city suburbs with varying municipal governments and codes, Stephane was indispensable in quickly navigating the proper paths to permits, notifications, and police support. From casual dining, to set, to cocktails, to city managers’ offices Steph handled her job with poise, grace and style.  Leaving KC, I look forward to working with her again down the road and now count her amongst one of my friends.  –Mark Jarrett, Location Manager, American Honey

Filming took place from approximately May 19 to June 2. Among the locations used for the film were an Extended Stay Inn, a residence in KCMO, exterior locations in Mission Hills and Downtown KC. On one of their off days the crew enjoyed Worlds of Fun.

Even though this was an extremely private production the news eventually broke on its own when a resident spotted the star Shia LeBeuof standing on a nearby lawn.



We are incredibly excited to see this film! Stay tuned to KC Film Office news and social media where we’ll keep you posted on local screening opportunities this fall.

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  • John

    Great work in keeping this out of the media and helping keep the production on time and in line…