This spotlight series highlights some of our Next Level Grant recipients. In this spotlight, we spoke with Caitlin Burris about the making of her short film, ‘Keepsake’.
Caitlin Burris is an advertising copywriter with screenwriting aspirations. Originally from California, she grew up in a small mountain town called Tehachapi. Caitlin studied at UCLA, where she completed her Bachelor’s in Communications and a minor in Film & Television. Soon after, she packed up her skis and moved to Utah.
Caitlin got her start as the first female “production dude” at Park City Television, where she wrote an Emmy-winning commercial campaign and is currently a full-time copywriter at MRM/McCann. In her free time, she dreams up new narrative projects and hopes to write a feature-length screenplay.
Her latest project is Keepsake, a short film about a young girl who struggles to carry on a basketball legacy without the help of life’s greatest coach.
What led you to write and document this story?
I wanted to tell the story of a young girl with a rich interior life, complex emotions, and real ambition. Framing it in the sport’s genre allowed us to slowly reveal the true coming-of-age narrative at the heart of the film. It’s a complicated portrayal of a girl reflecting on hard questions in those defining high school years.
How did you prepare for this film?
I spent about a year writing and revising the script. Once I felt confident in the story, I asked Mikkel Richardson to direct and Bennett Duchin to serve as director of photography. Mikkel and Bennett are both working professionals in the Salt Lake industry, passionate creatives, and invaluable collaborators. The three of us were determined to see this project through. From there, we brought on the rest of the crew— experienced local filmmakers who volunteered their time to make something special together. The next big hurdle was casting. We spent several weeks finding the right cast, knowing that performance would be critical for our character-driven story. Ariana McGee, Bryce Bishop, and Ashtyn Lundberg all blew us away. Once we had our key players, it was a matter of putting in the work. We spent a year in pre-production, scouring thrift stores for wardrobe, canvassing neighborhoods for the best locations, and continuing to discuss how major themes would shape our story.
What was your day-to-day experience while filming?
We filmed in November of 2019. It was definitely surreal to see a whole year of pre-production culminate in just three shoot days. We were fortunate to have a very experienced crew, so my primary focus was making sure that everyone felt supported and had what they needed. Mikkel had already rehearsed with the talent ahead of time, and we were all aligned on our goals. The team showed up and did what they do best.
What did you take away from this experience?
The biggest takeaway for me is that every individual plays a vital role in the filmmaking process. We all think a little differently, have complementary skill sets, and bring our own perspectives to the project. I felt really lucky to be surrounded by such talented people, and I’ll continue to seek out more opportunities to learn from them in the future.
What do you hope your audience takes away after seeing this film?
We hoped to tell a simple story with lots of heart—touching on universal emotions that leave the audience with compassion for our young protagonist and reflective about their own formative experiences.
Is this career path something you always wanted to pursue, and how did you initially get into the industry?
I’ve always been fascinated with the film industry. My dad grew up in Van Nuys, and I remember hearing old Hollywood stories as a kid, but what really interests me is the storytelling. I got a VHS camcorder in fourth grade, and “making movies” became a favorite pastime of mine. As I got older, it became an excuse to keep playing pretend. I participated in a film club at UCLA and had the opportunity to work on some student projects, but Keepsake is really my first filmmaking endeavor.
How did the Next Level Grant help you in the process of creating this film?
Not only did the Next Level Grant provide us with the necessary funds to complete our project, but it also gave us the push to stay motivated and keep putting in the work. Throughout this whole process, the Utah Film Commission has continued to check in and make us feel valued and supported. I’m so grateful for their ongoing interest in this project and our future filmmaking goals.
Do you have upcoming projects that you’re working on?
I’m currently going through The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier and planning out my next script. Whether or not this script is ever produced, my goal is to write a strong screenplay with a thoughtful story structure. I’ll share more when I get further into the writing process.
What advice would you give to a local who is trying to get into the industry?
When I first started producing Keepsake, I was intimidated by the talent agents and other industry professionals I had to coordinate with. But I realized that if I’m humble enough to ask questions, people are usually kind enough to provide answers. I’d much rather admit that I don’t understand something than miss a valuable learning opportunity. So that would be my advice: be sincere, ask a lot of questions, and remember that everyone’s just doing their best.
You can learn more about Caitlin Burris in our Utah Film Directory.
The Next Level Grant Program provides funding for local directors and producers that are currently working on a project in the state of Utah. The Utah Film Commission seeks to cultivate original storytelling by providing the extra push for filmmakers to get their film to the “next level”. This program funds projects of all stages from development to production and distribution. More information on our next round of funding will be available soon. Read more about the Next Level Grant Program here.
This interview has been slightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Allie Russell is the Marketing Coordinator for the Utah Film Commission. For any press and media inquiries, contact the Utah Film Commission at email@example.com.