Recent UNO Alumna Creates Award-Winning Film, Wins Best Director

The spotlight continues to shine on Kd Amond, a screenwriter, director and producer who graduated from the University of New Orleans in June. With the help of 16 UNO students and alumni, the UNO alumna has created an award-winning film that continues to take home prizes.

“The whole experience was invaluable and I couldn’t have made the film without it,” said Amond, 27, of her graduate school experience. “I totally wasn’t expecting any of this.”

Amond won Best Director last month at the 2012 International Television Festival (ITVFest) in Los Angeles for her film,The Woodshed, which was also nominated for Best Drama, Best Screenwriting and Best Actor. Now she is looking ahead to October, when her short film will compete for a Jury Prize at the 23rd Annual New Orleans Film Festival. The Woodshed  is also a contender that month for the Best Short Film award at Fear Fete Horror Film Festival in Baton Rouge, where it has already won the prize for Best Psychological Short Film.

“Having the equipment and the names to produce something like this, without UNO, would have cost at least $50 grand. So to be able to have all these resources…all of the professors and all of their knowledge and all of the equipment I needed to complete this film was invaluable,” Amond said. “I lived in the color correction suite last semester.”

Amond’s prize-winning streak is a welcome joy but no surprise to UNO professors who selected Amond in May 2011 to receive a $5,000 film scholarship sponsored by New Orleans philanthropist Geri Nims. In May, they also awarded her Best Director and Best Film prizes at the 5th Annual UNO Film Festival. The film festival, co-sponsored by the New Orleans Film Society, took place at the Robert E. Nims Theatre in the University’s Performing Arts Center.

Amond, who hails from Livingston, La., received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Louisiana State University, before pursuing her true passion – filmmaking - at UNO.

The Woodshed is a short film that she wrote and produced as her thesis in order to graduate in June with a Master of Fine Arts degree in Film Production from UNO’s College of Liberal Arts.

“The story was so intense it was either going to make me cry or write something, so I made it into a script – I exaggerated it extremely, but it was the muse,” said Amond.  “I heard it in January 2011, wrote the script in March, proposed it in May as my thesis prospectus and then I got half of the NIMS scholarship to make it.”

The movie’s plot was inspired by a true story of a girl who escaped from the religious cult of the Children of God, said Amond. The story came to Amond through a friend and instantly provided inspiration. Her short film “borders the genres of suspense drama and horror, with a generous sprinkling of Southern Gothic,” Amond said in a plot outline that describes The Woodshed as the story of a young woman named Grace “who escapes from the tortuous constraints of a religious, free love cult and…meets Bari, a shy, Southern recluse who soon becomes Grace's only hope for survival.” (UNO alumna Ashton Leigh plays Grace in the film. Hunter Burke, an up-and-coming New Orleans actor who was nominated for Best Actor by ITV Fest and the New Orleans Film Festival, plays Bari.)

The story was a loaded one and had several narrative arcs, Amond said. During the year-long revision process she refocused the film to tell the story of Grace.

“I literally wrote it in maybe two days, but then I tweaked it for months and kept getting input from my classmates and professors. I got input from a lot of people,” Amond said. “From the time I wrote my prospectus, it changed a good bit. It started at 15 pages and it finished at 25 pages.”

Ever-creative, Amond raised another $5,000 crowdsourcing, modeling her fundraising efforts off Kickstarter, an online fundraising tool that allows entrepreneurs and artists to raise money for projects. She developed her own fundraising tool using a PayPal account and web video message to raise funds that would help her film production along with the Nims scholarship.

“I knew that it would take $10,000 to do it right,” said Amond, who filmed a large portion of her film at the historic Laura Plantation in Vacherie, La. and wanted to pay her talent. The funds from the Nims scholarship assured that she “locked in” her actors and locations early in the film production and planning processes.

Production moved around South Louisiana, from the grounds of Laura Plantation in the Cajun town of Vacherie to a swamp-surrounded cabin along the Amite River in French Settlement, then to a cornfield at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center and a gas station in Chalmette before coming home to New Orleans.

Amond chose the locations to create the cult’s secluded environment -- including no technology except a telephone booth and old pick-up truck from the 1960s. Filming took 11 long days.

“It was exhausting but it was fun,” Amond said. “Trying to find a gas station with a pay phone was a challenge. But there’s one in Chalmette!”

Amond’s cast and crew was made up entirely from UNO students or UNO graduates, with the exception of her costume designer, said Amond.

The UNO alumna is now editing also editing UNO MFA alumnus Todd Campbell's first feature film The Mourning Hills, which aims to hit the festival circuit within the year. Amond also co-wrote, produced and edited Fragments, directed by UNO alumna Rebeccah Rodrigues Metlen. The film stars two actors from The Woodshed (Ashton Leigh and Todd Owens) and is an official selection of both the New Orleans Film Festival and the Rome International Film Festival. Amond is currently working with Metlen on turning the script into a psychological horror feature.

The awards she received at ITV Fest earned Amond the opportunity to pitch her work to several networks in Los Angeles, she said. On their advice, she is staying put for the moment in New Orleans and staying in contact on several scripts that she now has in treatment. She hopes to build a life where she can travel back and forth.

“I fully believe that New Orleans is very close to being its own self-sustained Hollywood of the South,” said Amond. “A lot of talent now comes in to the city from L.A. But the talent is here, it’s just not seen yet. I think that goes for all of it – the scenes, the equipment, the talented actors -- it just hasn’t come into its own yet.”