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Courtesy Sean Hackett
Hackett and Carole
Sean Hackett, as a boy, with his mother, Carole, who had a large influence on his filmmaking career.
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Courtesy Sean Hackett
Hackett and his mom
Sean as a boy with his mother, Carole, who had a large influence on his filmmaking career.
Kansas City Roots
Sean Hackett is all about family. Much of what this 29-year-old filmmaker has become has its roots in family and friends. So, it’s appropriate that his first feature film, Homecoming, debuted in his beloved hometown of Kansas City at the Kansas City FilmFest in 2011.
However, his path hasn’t always been a direct one. He’ll be the first to tell you each detour and every job along the way has prepared him for where he is and where he is going.
The creation of a filmmaker
Movies played an important role for Sean as a child growing up in Kansas City, Kansas. They provided an escape from real-life drama while Sean’s mother, Carole Hackett, underwent cancer treatments.
“My wife loved outdoor plays, movies,” Sean’s father, John Hackett, says. “When Sean was young, she would read to him all the time. She did a lot to encourage him.”
Their once-a-week movie excursions provided topics for discussion. During her illness, movies were both a way for her to connect with Sean and a distraction from her treatments and health.
Carole passed away in 1998. Sean was only 14 at the time, but Carole and Sean’s shared love for storytelling on the big screen led Sean to pursue filmmaking after graduating from Rockhurst High School in 2001. He went to Pennsylvania State University where he majored in creative writing and hoped to land a job that would use his talents. But a chance meeting with producer Jerry Abrams, who was a guest lecturer there, led to more than hope. Sean introduced himself to Jerry and gave him an elevator pitch, and in the summer of 2005, as Sean was packing up his car for an internship in Baltimore, he got a call for an internship on David Fincher’s film Zodiac. So he headed for Los Angeles instead.
Once in L.A., Sean began learning the business from the ground up. He created his own film school by working jobs in all areas of the industry—agent training, distribution, and more—but he never worked at a place longer than a year.
He worked as a producer, an actor, and a casting director as well as various other positions on films such as Shakespeare with Fries and All the Kings Men, and the television series The Amazing Race.
Sean says one film that particularly made an impact on him was Cyrus, directed by brothers Jay and Mark Duplass. Their style of filmmaking, where everyone on set was treated like family, really sparked Sean’s love for filmmaking. It was a set where everyone loved being there so much that they’d almost do it for free, he says.
It was a template for the type of set that, as a director, Sean would soon foster.
“I wanted my first film to be small and personal,” Sean says, reflecting on his first feature film, Homecoming, which won Best Narrative Feature at last year’s Kansas City FilmFest, which was held at AMC Mainstreet in downtown Kansas City. “I got to see the film on the big screen; that alone is worth every minute I packed into the film,” he says.
“Especially in an AMC theater–I’ve probably seen 400 movies in an AMC theater in the last 10 years but seeing it blown up and hearing the audience laugh to it and cry to it was monumental.
If I’d had an inkling that I would win, I would have got a shirt and tie,” he adds, “but instead I was in a flannel shirt and sneakers.”
Since then, the film has been accepted into seven film festivals and taken home Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature at the Columbia Gorge International Film Festival in Vancouver, Washington.
The Kansas City FilmFest award was particularly poignant for Sean, says the film’s co-producer, Tim Larson, because it’s his hometown. “You always harbor a little hope when you’re in a competition, but none of us expected it.”
Based loosely on a personal experience of Sean’s, the film is the story of Estelle, an Army medic in Afghanistan who comes home for two weeks on leave. Her mother proceeds to celebrate all of the holidays she’s missed, while her friends try to reconnect with her and understand what their close high school friendships have become.
"This is a story that hasn’t been told very often...the sacrifices that people make—mind, body, spirit, family, and home,” Tim says. “They are just as poignant but very difficult to portray. We loved the insight. It gave you a lot to think about, but you can come out of the theater feeling hopeful.”
In addition to his storytelling skills, Sean is also adept at bringing the cast together. “He is really great at making you feel like you’re going to be part of something big,” says Brea Grant, the actress who plays Estelle. Brea has also appeared on television shows such as Heroes and Dexter. “He has a way of talking about his projects with a lot of passion, which gets you excited about it too.”
Some of that passion comes from his Midwestern roots—the hospitality, community, and influences with which he grew up. Two well-known Missourians, in particular, gave Sean courage to step into the film industry: Mark Twain and Walt Disney. They had big-city mentalities but came from small towns, he says, and they made beautiful character pieces.
“If I was born in New York or California, I might not have wanted to be this,” Sean says. “I see a lot of films that aren’t made in ‘real’ America,” he adds, “and I see the breadbasket of America to really be a great place to tell stories.”
Love Letters to Kansas City
Coming back to Kansas City has long been a dream for Sean as a filmmaker. “I am good friends with many other Kansas Citians in L.A., and we meet and sit around and talk about what we love about our hometown,” he says. “We’ve been waiting for a director to come to K.C. and do a film.” And that director is Sean. His next feature begins filming in Kansas City this fall.
Sean calls it a “love letter” to the city in which he grew up. Farewell Tour will show off the iconic scenery and local secrets that together make Kansas City home for Sean and so many others.
In the film, a 16-year-old boy comes to terms with his mother’s illness by visiting all the places she loves with a few turns along the way. “My pitches sound like the saddest movies in the world,” Sean says, “but they turn out with a feel-good twist. “I love movies that showcase a city. For me and my mom, every time
I go back to these places they give me that hair-raising memory of her. That’s where her soul is to me.”