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Webster alumna Kimberly Steward hits big as producer on Manchester by the Sea
UPDATE (1/24/17): “Manchester by the Sea” has been nominated for six Academy Awards, with the ceremony to be broadcast February 26, 2017 on ABC. The film has been nominated for include: Best Picture for the film’s producers, including Steward, Best Director for Kenneth Lonergan, Best Actor for Casey Affleck, Best Supporting Actor for Lucas Hedges, Best Supporting Actress for Michelle Williams, and Best Original Screenplay for Kenneth Lonergan.
This year, Academy Award-hopeful film “Manchester by the Sea” opened on the festival circuit with immediate attention from Hollywood after being acquired by Amazon for a wider release. The film’s success has been emotional for producer Kimberly Steward, a Webster University School of Communications alumna.
“I do feel like a Disney princess,” Steward said.
The film is the first project from Steward’s company K Period Media. Variety Magazine named her one of “10 Producers to Watch” after the film’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2016. The film was also screened at the St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF) Nov. 5.
Variety’s New York Bureau Chief Ramin Setoodeh said in an article “Hollywood insiders are already comparing her to Annapurna Pictures founder Megan Ellison,” who rose to fame with independent hits like “The Master” and “Zero Dark Thirty.”
Manchester by the Sea boasts an all-star pedigree in front of and behind the camera. Matt Damon co-produced the film, which stars Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams. The story is about Affleck’s character, Lee, who is given custody of his deceased brother’s son.
However, Steward would have helped finance the film regardless of the all-star cast.
“I have scripts that I absolutely love that have no attachments,” Steward said. “You want to do this from the most authentic side.”
Steward graduated from Webster University in 2003 with a degree in broadcast journalism. While at Webster, she started a wedding design company, which sold everything from invitations to wedding dresses.
“In some ways, I think that was a safe place to fall [into] being a girl from St. Louis and I was a little bit afraid to really tap on what my passion was,” Steward said.
Steward credits journalism professor Eileen Solomon, her advisor, for helping her discover her passion.
“We’d just have these conversations just about how to really package yourself and market yourself and what really inspires you,” Steward said. “She was the one that kind of pushed me down the road to start developing content in a different way from the producing side.”
Solomon said Steward always had a positive attitude that helped her reach her level of success today, something she also exhibited in school.
“She was always a very positive person who was excited about learning and about meeting people and talking to people and exploring the world,” Solomon said.
Steward applied for an internship with W Magazine, a publication dedicated to fashion. After graduation, she got a job on the advertising and marketing side of the magazine and then moved to the editorial side. She founded Kess Agency in 2010 in New York City, a company that represents photographers, stylists and hair and makeup artists.
“I’ve been kind of throwing darts around the creative, which in some ways helped to be able to produce,” Steward said.
Steward loved creating. She took that passion and applied it to the world of film through her latest venture, K Period Media. The company, founded in August 2014, seeks to connect with famous film studios, distributors and financiers as well as develop and support new and existing talent.
Kevin Walsh, who also produced through his company B Story, introduced Steward to the script for “Manchester by the Sea.” Steward then received the chance to sit down with Damon and producer Chris Moore. Steward said Damon was always hands-on with the production and incredibly supportive of the film’s director Kenneth Lonergan.
Lonergan and Damon previously worked together on the film Margaret. However, the film ran into post-production problems with disagreements between Lonergan, his producers and editors. These problems resulted in lawsuits.
Steward said seeing Lonergan back on the red carpet brought tears to her eyes.
“He went through such a hard experience,” Steward said. “To see him talk about his film and feel good about that, and know he nailed it this time and everybody wanted to hear what he had to say, that was everything.”
Wherever the future takes her, Steward, an African-American woman, aims to help diversify the film industry.
“I think it’s important for diversity…to be included on camera, but also off it,” Steward said.