Kitty Kavey Interview
photo-Kevyn Major Howard of KevynMajorHoward.com
“I choose to write into my scripts women who are powerful, ethnicities who are represented in different or surprising ways, or seniors who are attractive, full of life and adventurous. I write what I want the reality to be, and at the least it may provide opportunities for actors to express themselves in a way they have not before.
Thanks for agreeing to this interview Kitty – we appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule.
I want to share your remarkable story with everyone. About 15 years ago you were in a motorcycle accident that left you clinically dead. You have battled back, overcoming some very serious obstacles along the way!
In 1988 I was involved in a motorcycle accident that left me with a traumatic brain injury, damaged the right side of my face/skull (the jaw, orbit and cheek) and lost most of the vision in my right eye. I also went into cardiac arrest, and had a stroke. Related to the brain injury, I developed a condition similar to hypoglycemia as well.
Sometime after the accident, I had a near death experience during which I visited a place other than here, and spoke with my grandmother. Becoming a disabled person changed my life, but it was the NDE that really set out the plan for me.
Let’s talk about your journey to where you are now- a successful, award winning screenwriter and actress, and Mensa member nonetheless!
It was a long road back from a very dark time in my life. I had spent almost five years at the time of the accident as a homeless person, which is not exactly the ideal way to grow up as a teenager/young adult. I struggled to get my GED, and went through two different brain injury rehabilitation programs, unsuccessfully. I was told I would never be able to read beyond a fourth grade level, and I should consider living in a group home where I could be cared for properly.
When the doctors and specialists don’t have much hope for your future, it’s hard to keep a positive outlook on your own. I deliberately choose to pursue goals that would challenge my diagnosis. It took a long time, but there have been milestones along the way to mark my progress. I took the test for Mensa three years ago, and passed. That determines I.Q. that falls within the top 2% of the nation. What the brain can overcome all on it’s own is amazing – and the difference between the person I was when I woke up after the accident and today is a miracle, to me.
You are coming off quite a year. 2006 was a real success for you and you were recognized with more than 20 nominations and awards. Share that with us. What kind of projects did you work on?
I have been screenwriting for only a year now, but have found it to be such a satisfying thing to do. My brother is a screenwriter, and I started taking a class just to better understand his work, and how to become a better director (from the writer’s point of view.) I entered one of my class assignments into a screenwriting contest, and won the Columbine Award from the Moondance International Film Festival.
I co-wrote two feature scripts with my brother, a western and a comedy, and another on my own based on a friend’s treatment, a period action/romance. All three have multiple awards, and I’m trying different genres as I develop my voice and style. My favorite to write is comedy. I have a cheesy, quirky sense of humor – even in the darkest of situations I try to find something to laugh about, and I think some of that comes out in my writing.
You are fortunate to have surrounded yourself with some very talented people. Tell us about them, how you are able to work together, and what you set out to accomplish.
My brother David and I are very close. I was adopted, and wasn’t able to begin looking for my birth family until I was in my early twenties. My blood brother didn’t even know he had a sister until shortly before I contacted him. We’re making up for lost time now – so it’s like we’re growing up all over again, but with each other this time. As I mentioned, we write together, and we do have the same odd sense of humor, so it works.
Eternally patient and the rock that anchors us is my husband, Ken. He has taken care of me since we met in 1996. I’ve been through surgeries to repair parts of my face, and regained much of the vision I was told I could not recover. Each year I learn to do more, and improve upon my skills. Like everyone, there are of course good days and bad days. Ken never complains when I’m slow, when I’m sick, or when I’m depressed. He doesn’t look at me as being less of a person, just perhaps as a person who needs a little bit more help than others.
Between the two of them, I am able to function well, have the assistance I need, and the support that takes me on to the next accomplishment.
You have entered a good number of scripts in competitions. The competition is fierce amongst talented writers. How does your work stack up? What do the judges want? How do you connect with your audience? What do you learn from competition?
As I’m still rather new to screenwriting, I’m learning a lot every day. The format is where I think quite a few other writers have difficulty. My brain injury makes that part easy for me. When something is very structured and the rules are clear and rigid, I can follow them well. It’s the freethinking part of creativity where I have a problem. Judges score on both the uniqueness of the idea of the story, as well as the technical aspects. Not just myself, but many writers write from what they know, how they think. That can lead to problems connecting with others, with the audience. You’re offering yourself, your creation on paper to be judged. Sometimes it’s hard to get the message of the writing out clearly, when you’re concentrating on the details and structure of the writing itself.
Some contests do coverage on scripts – which is a reader giving their opinion on format, story, marketability, etc. A few readers give excellent notes, most do not. You do learn to take coverage with a grain of salt. What helped me the most was providing coverage for other people’s scripts, which I do now through the Scriptwriters Network. It’s much easier to be objective with scripts other than your own, and you can learn the patterns of where writers typically miss the connections to their audience. It taught me how to take a new point of view when addressing my own writing.
Were there any 2006 projects that stood out in your mind? Maybe one that was an unexpected success or one in particular you would like to tell us about.
I was most surprised by my class assignment winning the award at Moondance. However, I feel closest to the comedy feature script I co-wrote with my brother “The Man with the Package.” Again, both my brother and I share the same quirky humor, and this script exemplifies the type of work I really want to do. I think laughter is some of the best medicine. Although there are a few things about diversity and challenge is the subtext of this story, I think it will satisfy the audience with humor.
What draws you to the world of entertainment?
The first thing that took me towards this path, was modeling. I could work when I was well, and not when I wasn’t. The hours are shorter than a traditional job, and I felt empowered to be viewed as photogenic and attractive, particularly after the damage to my face.
Acting followed soon after. Again, my hours could be flexible. My agent knew I couldn’t work certain jobs, and that I needed to be booked with my husband (both because I didn’t drive, and because I needed his assistance where vision was an issue and his watchful eye for my sugar levels.)
In either case, I got to be or look like other people. Even as a background artist I can explore what it might be like to be a security guard, and airline stewardess, or another occupation – if only for a few hours.
Directing and writing satisfies creativity, the need to express my voice and ideas with others. It also allows me to contribute directly to other people. I can write a part specifically for an actor, allow them to express what they need to get out. As a director I can inspire actors to give it all to the audience, freely and without inhibitions. It’s a beautiful thing to watch as it develops before you, as characters become real and alive.
Film intertwines commerce and art. What surprised you about the world of entertainment? Most people have a distinct image of Hollywood glamour and all the fame and fortune. Is it what you expected or did you find something different?
So far, only one thing has really surprised me. Generally, my being disabled hasn’t been too much of a problem for most people. What has been holding me back is my gender. As an actor, a model or a voiceover artist, I never experienced that. There has always been an issue with me being a Webmaster, but I attributed that to the computer geek stereotype. When I moved to the other side of the camera, and the business side of the industry, Hollywood became a much more hostile place.
I’ve heard stories of the most competent females having door after door slammed in their face, only because they were women. I have also had the experience where that has been the case. At first, my husband and brother thought I was just making it up, but as time went on and they were witness to more than one occasion where my gender was an issue, they now agree. It’s hard to be a woman in Hollywood.
You approach some very strong stereotypes head on and with a sense of humor. What can the diversity community learn from you?
I think that fighting together to dispel stereotypes in the media might be something to try more of. We tend to cluster in groups – that’s the group for Asians in the media, that one for Hispanics, that one for the disabled, etc. Since I grew up in a colorblind world – the brother I grew up with is black, I’m a medium color, and my adopted mother is Caucasian, I never divided people by ethnicity.
Disability is also something where it’s seems silly to me to classify people by the types of disability they have. In my case, as far as the entertainment industry goes, just tell me what you can do, and what you want to do. If I can provide the opportunity, I will. It would be nice if agents/employers felt the same way.
I’ve been told that Middle America is not ready to see Asians in lead roles, disabled people in “normal” roles, certain interracial relationships, etc. Hiding people and preventing them from being seen in the media because one is worried about the box office numbers or show ratings is not a way to make a change.
The diversity community now more than ever has the opportunity to support independent films and projects that challenge the “Middle America” thinking. We’re all people and we’re Americans. We deserve to be equally treated, and with equal opportunities in film and television.
An element of your talent is the ability to connect with people in a humorous way. Your scripts play with expectations, stereotypes, roles society allows us. Which you present in a way that is fun, how are you able to do that?
I have cried my way through too many documentaries, and felt depressed and helpless to change anything afterwards. I think humor wraps the problem in a way that’s palatable. I am not alone in desiring change and acceptance of all people, colors, creeds and disabilities. When you entertain with a story, it can perhaps offer hope or inspiration to those who do feel that they are alone and misunderstood, and are not being fairly represented in the media.
A writer chooses what they want to write. I choose to write into my scripts women who are powerful, ethnicities who are represented in different or surprising ways, or seniors who are attractive, full of life and adventurous. I write what I want the reality to be, and at the least it may provide opportunities for actors to express themselves in a way they have not before.
Tell us a little about how you choose a project. What gets you interested in one project rather than another?
When I provide script coverage for other people, I don’t get to choose the genre or style of the project. In my own writing, I do. For me, usually, the script and the story start with an actor. I meet a lot of actors – some who inspire me with their look, their personality, and their dreams. I write characters based on particular individuals – which helps keep them consistent throughout the story. I can ask myself, “would that person react that way to that situation? What would they do?” and have a real person to base the character on. That also makes casting really easy!
How much of your personality do we see in your work? What do the people who really know you say about what they see in your work?
It’s half me, and half my brother – although we are very similar, in most of my work. For the scripts I’ve written on my own, it’s all my personality. I just don’t know how to write from another point of view than my own. I think the people around me see the potential in my work, but until I have proven myself on the big screen, I don’t think anyone is certain that that day will come. Except for me, of course.
No one can argue with your personal courage, spirit and determination. Taking risks is something entirely different. Are you a risk taker?
Yes and no. I don’t tend to take risks with my health and well-being. For example; It is dangerous for me to go to an amusement park (head injury, heart condition) – so I tend to not do activities that involve sports, or things where I’d need full vision, a strong heart, etc.
On the other hand, I take risks with career and lifestyle. I learned as much as I could about acting in Florida, then decided to move to NYC to study acting and voiceover. After 9-11, my husband and I returned to Florida. I went on the Internet and found the best headshot photographer in the world. We drove (I don’t fly) to Los Angeles so I could have my headshots done. The opportunities here were far more than what we could achieve in Florida, and we made the decision to move here. There are a lot of moments like that, where you make a decision and it changes your life. Some people mull it over, set up a safety net or a backup plan – not me.
That I think is a willingness to gamble on an uncertain future, which is a risk. If you look at the number of people who are in my situation and are successful screenwriters, directors or even actors, the odds are not good. Lucky for me, I ignore the odds, and take the chance anyway.
What does the word disabled mean to you?
If you look it up, the word means: To deprive of capability or effectiveness, especially to impair the physical abilities of.
I think that disability manifests in different ways for different people. In my case, I had abilities before the accident that I no longer have. There are certain things I can no longer do, that I could before. I am differently abled than other people, and have learned unique ways of dealing with the conditions that impair my body and mind.
The definition of handicapped – a physical or mental disability making participation in certain of the usual activities of daily living more difficult – is closer to what I think of when I think of myself. In this way of thinking, there are very few people I know who are not handicapped in some way, and seems to be a quite normal human condition to overcome.
There are some amazing assistive technologies available to aid persons with disabilities of all kinds. What has been your experience with assistive technology?
I’m still looking for a good speech-to-text program for writing. I’ve tried a couple, and they just didn’t work out well for me. I do use larger fonts on my home computer, which helps my eyes a lot. Unfortunately, after a bit of regular reading, they tend to just give up and not focus for a while. My brother and my husband are the best at assisting me in remembering things, and driving me around. That’s the two biggest issues I deal with right now – memory and vision. So far, I haven’t found anything that helps with that save for time and patience.
You have obviously struggled to achieve what you have today. Tell us about your battle to overcome so many physical challenges. What words do you live by?
I had a number of opportunities where I could have given up and depended completely on someone else for everything. The struggle was not giving in to that, not listening to the doctors who wanted me to live in the group home, and not staying on SSDI. It was even suggested once that I get a Seeing Eye dog.
I don’t know who I’d be if I had given into the temptation of being completely taken care of – fed, clothed, and housed by the state. They (doctors, specialists) didn’t encourage me to think on my own, or to be creative or different. But one wouldn’t have to deal with the responsibilities of paying bills, obligations to friends/family, or societal pressures either. In your mind it’s not your fault that you were in an accident, you’re just a victim.
It’s hard being responsible, accountable and proactive. What keeps me going is the idea that everything is possible here in America. The only limits we have, are the ones we allow on ourselves. Just because everyone else has had a particular experience or result in business or life, does not mean you will. Your experience can be different, unique because you are that, and because we live in a country where the glass ceiling is breakable. Or you can forget the ceiling altogether and just go for the roof.
What can we look forward to from Kitty Kavey in the coming year?
I have packaged three feature scripts together for which I’m seeking funding. I will also continue to write and do script coverage. I am seeking agency representation, and would like to join the Writers Guild of America.
If we can pull together funding in 2007, I will be directing the films too – and inventing a new way to accommodate my physical limitations to create successful (and hopefully award-winning) movies with a message.
Thanks for spending some time with us Kitty, best of luck to you in all of your endeavors and please do stay in touch with us!
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