2013 Spotlight Award Winner: Lacey Leavitt

Filmmaker Lacey Leavitt captures the sparkle of the Emerald City
Brangien Davis  |   September 2013   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION
Filmmaker Lacey Leavitt’s new web series, Emerald City, is based on the Wizard of Oz and set in Seattle. Photographed at Gas Works Park, July 18, 2013

You could say Lacey Leavitt is OK with getting hit from all angles—especially since the shy and steady Ballard-based filmmaker has spent time as a local roller derby skater for the Tilted Thunder Rail Birds and Rat City Rollergirls. Her competitive name, Rambo Connection, says it all: On the track and on the set, Leavitt, 31, artfully combines the sweet, “let’s put on a show!” spirit of The Muppets with the no-holds-barred determination of John Rambo. “I’m always putting out fires in different places,” she says. “I just figure out which is burning the brightest.”

At a bakery near her small SoDo office, she quickly lists the four films she’s currently producing: Sweetheart Deal, a documentary about prostitutes working Aurora Avenue; Sadie, written and directed by fellow local movie maven Megan Griffiths; The Automatic Hate, a psychosexual drama she’s coproducing with Alix Madigan (of Winter’s Bone); and Sweet Cheeks, a surreal comedy about a disembodied tush, which Leavitt says is “like Little Rascals meets The Jerk.” Oh, and she remembers one more: America’s Fighting Dinosaur, a short faux-documentary that her boyfriend, Steve Snoey, is directing and animating.

A producer’s job is to be an alchemist—to spin elements into gold. “It’s like throwing the perfect dinner party,” Leavitt says. “Getting the best people there, having the right mix of personalities.” She says it’s not just about who has the right skill set; it’s about creating a pleasant, artistic environment for the director. (Being an alchemist who deals well with stress is a plus.)

Leavitt, who lives in Ballard, didn’t start out dreaming of becoming a producer. Growing up in Lake Stevens, she was always drawn to storytelling and ended up in the University of Washington’s cinema studies program. “I first came to film as a writer,” she says, “but I quickly learned there’s a real need for people who are good at organization and management.” She interned with the Washington State Film Office (now Washington Filmworks, home of the Washington State Film Incentive), and in 2003, leapt at the chance to move to New York City and work as an unpaid assistant for Seattle-based line producer Jennifer Roth on the film The Squid and the Whale. It was the first time she’d ever worked on a movie, and she says, “It got me where I am.”

Ten years later, Leavitt is in the throes of a thriving independent film career. (She quotes the adage “It takes 10 years to become an overnight success.”) She’s produced and directed the documentary Blood on the Flat Track: The Rise of the Rat City Rollergirls (where she gained her love of the sport), and produced or coproduced several acclaimed indie films, including Griffiths’ The Off Hours, Colin Trevorrow’s Safety Not Guaranteed and Lynn Shelton’s Touchy Feely—all of which were made in Washington and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. “I know this streak will end,” she says, “but it’s been a ridiculously amazing gift.”
This summer she coproduced two more promising films: Shelton’s Laggies, a dark comedy starring Keira Knightley, and Griffiths’ Lucky Them, about a music journalist, starring Toni Colette, both due out in 2014.  

While coproducing (a more logistical role) gives her the chance to work with directors she admires, Leavitt says her true love is the “long game” and creative reward of producing. “I don’t ever want to stop producing—even if I do write and direct more.”

This year, she’s doing just that. In June, she won a funding award from Washington Filmworks to write and direct a web series called Emerald City, her neo-noir retelling of The Wizard of Oz, inspired in part by Gas Works Park and set in our own Emerald City. “If I could, I’d make every film here,” she says. “I love it here.”

ONLINE: leakypictures.com
UP NEXT: Laggies premieres at the Toronto Film Festival in September; cross your fingers for Lucky Them to play Sundance in January.