Meet Kit Carson and Cynthia Hargrave, indie film’s whirlwind team.
WHEN HE WAS 21, L. M. “Kit” Carson read Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer and decided that it should be made into a movie. So the novice screenwriter wrote. And wrote. Fourteen drafts later, someone pointed out to him that he might want to consult with Percy or at least Percy’s agent. So Carson—who grew up on a farm in Irving the grandson of Texas Ranger Lewis Minor Carson, for whom he is named—traveled to the New York office of an aging woman who had also represented Margaret Mitchell at the time of Gone With the Wind. She didn’t have much time for a novice from Texas. “There are professionals involved in this, sonny,” she crowed dismissively.
Years later, 50-year-old Kit Carson is himself a professional. Those fourteen drafts proved to him that he had talent, so he spent more than two decades writing screenplays for films such as Paris, Texas and Breathless. And in 1990, when he tired of uncredited rewrites and unhappy compromises, he turned to producing, which is what he and his wife, 35-year-old Cynthia Hargrave, do today.
They started out slowly, which is to say they set up shop not in New York or Los Angeles but Dallas—“The wrong place to find material to produce,” Carson says. Well, not entirely wrong: A 1993 encounter with the sons of a family friend led him to Bottle Rocket, a short film that evolved into a feature released in 1996. The positive experience wasn’t enough to keep them in Texas—they now live on Long Island, New York, in the Hamptons—but it did jump-start their producing activity. “The studio system didn’t smush the film,” Carson says, “so we thought we’d do it again.”
They are currently involved in all manner of projects, the most prominent being Hurricane, a bittersweet look at teenagers adrift that won multiple awards at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival. When Carson first read the script in 1995, he says, “it ended in the kind of clichéd hopelessness that is easy to reach when you’re talking about kids stranded on the Lower East Side. I said, ‘Put more hope in it and I’ll look at it again.’” Writer-director Morgan J. Freeman added a more ambiguous finish, and Carson and Hargrave came aboard as executive producers; Carson even took a small part. “I just wanted to protect the film as much as I could,” he says, “and cover the mistakes a first-time filmmaker always makes.”
Helping first-time filmmakers has been Carson and Hargrave’s specialty since they met on the set of Texas Chainsaw Massacre II in 1986. He wrote that film and she helped produce it, a division of labor that essentially continues today. Hargrave has an accounting background, but she blanches at being pigeonholed as a nonartist. “Every time you spend a dollar, you’ve made a creative decision,” she says. Carson, meanwhile, has experience in journalism and documentary filmmaking—a natural extension, he says.“The idea of wanting new things to exist in the world has always driven me. Journalists wake up every morning and say, ‘What’s going on?’ People in Hollywood don’t know, so I look other places.”