Alumna’s short film honored at world’s most prestigious festival
Katie Damien, ’01 | Filmmaker, Gorilla with a Mustache Films
By Angie Lewis, ’03
Growing up in a family of movie buffs and watching the Oscars every year, it seemed Katie Damien, ’01, was predestined for a future in film. In fact, she made her first movie when she was 12 years old. And, she hasn’t stopped making movies since.
Born and raised in Florida, Damien chose to attend UCF because, in her opinion, it had the best film program in the state.
“Film students could direct their own work, they got to keep all the rights to their films, and Orlando is the perfect place to be for filmmaking, with all the studios nearby and the city being so production friendly,” she explains. “‘The Blair Witch Project’ had just come out, and UCF’s film program was the place to be.”
Today, she’s the owner of Kd Multimedia, a writer and director, and one of five producers in Gorilla with a Mustache Films.
Damien started the film company with a team of filmmakers she joined in 2010, in order to compete in the 48 Hour Film Project. After winning the competition’s top prize for their short film, “Touched by Angels,” they decided to make more movies together.
Last year, the group competed in the National Film Challenge. But, instead of competing against other local filmmakers, they were competing with filmmakers around the world. In addition, each team was assigned a genre, a character, a prop and line of dialogue that had to be used in its film.
After a long session of brainstorming, one of Damien’s teammates told a story about a friend who rented a car and ended up with the same make and model someone else at the agency had already rented. He didn’t realize he drove off with the wrong car — until he stopped, opened the trunk and found it full of drugs. So, it got them thinking: What would you do if you suddenly found yourself accidentally in possession of a bunch of drugs? And, again, the group won for its short film, “Joint Effort.”
“I was out of my mind excited [when I learned we won],” Damien says. “I was screaming on the phone with the other members of my team. I was in an office full of people when I found out, and they all started to gather around as I was jumping up and down, screaming like a fool.”
But, the excitement didn’t stop there. The National Film Challenge win sent their film to the Short Film Corner at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.
“I knew that Cannes was the top prize, [but] I had to get on a computer real quick and look for myself to make sure it was true,” Damien continues. “When I saw the win with my own eyes, that’s when the screaming started [again].”
Not surprisingly, Damien’s biggest dream is to some day win an Oscar.
“But, in the immediate future,” she says, “I’d just like to have a big enough budget that I can do all the things I want to in a given movie, and be able to pay all my cast and crew properly.”
Q. Who was your favorite professor, and why?
A. Sterling Van Wagenen was the director of the film program when I was there. He also taught a directing class that I took. He was amazing. It wasn’t just the knowledge he imparted or the extremely helpful real-world advice he would give, but he had a soothing demeanor about him. He had a way of squeezing your shoulder that just made you feel like everything would be okay. And for a stressed-out film student, sometimes a shoulder squeeze was exactly what you needed. Mary Johnson was a fantastic screenwriting teacher! I still use her template for creating characters when I write scripts. Mark Gerstein and Lori Ingle were also amazing editing teachers. I learned so much from them. And, I can’t skip Jonathan Mednick, my documentary film teacher. He gave me the best advice my senior year. I was working on a short documentary, and he watched it as a work-in-progress and told me: “Make it about the people. Tell their story and the rest will fall into place.” He died suddenly and unexpectedly that summer. I will always carry those words with me.
Q. How has your UCF degree helped you in your career?
A. Having a film degree, while not essential in this industry, has certainly opened a lot of doors for me. I think the quality of the education I received helped boost the professionalism of my work by leaps and bounds. I was able to try new and difficult things, take risks and fail, all without losing credibility, because I was in a supportive learning environment.
Q. Describe some of your previous films.
A. I’m just now releasing my first documentary feature film, “My Toxic Backyard,” about a community that has been fighting for clean, safe drinking water for decades since it discovered its water was contaminated by an old manufacturing plant where toxic chemicals were dumped into the ground. I’ve made a few comedy films — one comedy/horror about a vampire with a toothache. I made a short drama, “Second Parent,” about how gay parents can’t jointly adopt a child. And, I made a horror film about a couple that accidentally runs over a guy with their car and soon find themselves victims of an elaborate scheme.
Q. Are you currently working on any other film projects?
A. I’m currently in post-production on my first comedy feature film with the same group I made “Joint Effort.” It’s called “One Hell of an Angel,” and it’s about a demon who gets in trouble for asking too many questions in hell and is punished by being forced to work with an angel on an impossible mission to get a washed up rock star to write a song that will change everything.
Q. All-time favorite movie?
A. “Strictly Ballroom”
Q. Worst movie you’ve ever seen?
A. The first movie I ever made as a kid. It was so bad I destroyed it.
Q. Favorite movie genre?
Q. If someone made a movie about your life, what would the title be?
A. “The Mad World of a Creative Mind”
Q. What or who inspires you?
A. In the film world, Robert Zemeckis. That man can make any kind of movie and make it well.
Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. Beer taster. I’ve heard that’s a thing…
Check out Katie Damien’s day-by-day journal of her experience in Cannes.