Meet a northeast Indiana expatriate making waves in LA with her unique approach to filmmaking

When you think of a director, what image comes to mind?

Women are rarely behind the camera, even in 2019. In fact, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, women account for only 31 percent of all creators, directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, and directors of photography combined.

While these statistics may be dismal, one northeast Indiana native is challenging the status quo—and being recognized for her artistic endeavors on a national scale.

Makenzie Hart has directed a short film that was honored at the HollyShorts Film Festival in August 2019 at TCL Chinese Theatres in Hollywood. Hart’s film, the seven-minute “Spin Cycle,” was her senior thesis project, co-written with her partner, Jordan Pollak.

Hart poses with her creative team at the HollyShorts Film Festival in August 2019

The film was among 6,000 submissions from around the world and one of 400 chosen to screen at the festival. Since it was shot on 35mm film, it caught the attention of festival-goers and organizers alike.

"Spin Cycle" took home the award for “Best Shot on Film” at the 15th annual festival, putting Hart in a very small league of auteurs and professionals who continue to shoot using film.

The award came as a huge surprise to Hart. Shooting on film entirely was labor-intensive, and her professors thought she was crazy at times for doing it. But the validation was sweet in its own right, she says.

“I think the most important part of it, especially as a young filmmaker, was being recognized for my work,” Hart explains. "It’s rare, and of course, made me feel like I was on top of the world, unstoppable. It prompted me to think about my next project, too. How am I going to make something better than this one? How am I going to keep growing and keep challenging myself?” 

Hart refers to "Spin Cycle" as the biggest challenge she has taken on as a director thus far.
Hart, who attended Studio School Los Angeles, initially hoping to be an actress, says she owes her success in the film industry in part to her parents, who were willing to take a chance on her dreams.

“I went to Holy Cross Lutheran School in Fort Wayne until seventh grade,” she says. "I was long interested in the entertainment business, and that year, my parents were like, 'Okay, we'll let you do this for real.’ So I moved to Los Angeles that winter, and I started auditioning for things with my sister.”

While Hart didn't end up pursuing acting, the experience proved to be educational and helped her find her niche in the entertainment industry. She moved back to Indiana and graduated from Carmel High School, but returned to the West Coast after graduation.

Now 22, she has a soft spot for the time she spent in Los Angeles as an aspiring adolescent actress. 

“I still use things I learned through that experience today, like when I'm interviewing and having to show people who I am in a short amount of time," she says. "That wasn't really my true calling, however. I always kind of craved just a little bit more control over what I was doing and over the creative.”

Hart co-wrote and directed "Spin Cycle," which was well received.

Over the years, Hart has been able to explore various facets of the entertainment business, which she believes has made her a more well-rounded filmmaker. 

“As I learned more and more about the industry, I started to learn more behind-the-camera stuff, where I could really be a part of the actual process and have more say in what was going on,” she explains.

“Spin Cycle" is a fruit of those efforts. A psychological thriller, the film stars Sarah Elizabeth-Mitchell and Ryan Lee Hughes, telling the story of a woman’s nighttime visit to a lonely laundromat and her encounter with a man there.

“The initial inspiration came from the concept of a laundromat and the types of people who normally go there and how that has an effect on the overall mood and vibe,” Hart explains. “I was interested in laundromats and how they were used differently back in the 1970s compared to today. People would go there to meet their date, for example.”

Drawing on that nostalgia, Hart says she wanted to add an element of suspense and a feminist undertone to the story. Those intentions are reflected in the plot. For example, when approached by a man with ambiguous intentions, the protagonist is faced with a fight-or-flight decision, and the film keeps you on your toes.

Filmmaking is an art that takes time and effort to hone, Hart says, and success looks different for every artist, but she believes that her hyper-observant nature, always taking in everything around her, will serve her well in the industry.

“A lot of the best ideas for films and scenes come from things that have happened to me or to people around me,” she says.

On that note, Hart has her next film project in the works set where she grew up in northeast Indiana and inspired by 1980s lake culture there. It’s a lighthearted piece about friendship and coming-of-age, she says. Her team is in the process of rewrites and preproduction now. 

But why her native Indiana as the backdrop for this story? It's her intention to give the Midwest credit where credit is due, she says.
"I want to portray the Midwest and the people who live there in a different and more endearing light than what we’ve seen before on-screen," Hart explains. "And given that I grew up there, I have the unique perspective to tell the story that way." 

There's also something to be said for the communal mystique of the lake, she adds.

"The lake and the culture that surrounds it, for me, symbolizes a place that transcends time, space, and all differences, where people from all walks of life can come together and have a shared experience," she says. "That is truly special and almost magical—something that’s rare these days." 

To learn more about Hart and her work, visit her website. 
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Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a freelance contributor for Input Fort Wayne. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.