‘My Dead Friend Zoe’: Travis Kelce’s producer debut set for world premiere at SXSW

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – An Oregon-made film is slated to premiere at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin, Texas, this month, exploring parts of the veteran experience while supporting veteran organizations across the United States.

My Dead Friend Zoe” is a dark comedy following the story of a female Afghanistan veteran and her relationships with her dead best friend from the Army, as well as her estranged Vietnam veteran grandfather.

The film stars Sonequa Martin-Green, and Natalie Morales, along with Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, Utkarsh Ambudkar, and Gloria Reuben.

“It’s a film about friendship, family, loss, humor, and heart, and based on a lot of my experiences during and after the military with PTSD and the whole veteran experience,” “My Dead Friend Zoe” writer and director Kyle Hausmann-Stokes told NewsNation’s KOIN.

Enlisting in the military one month before 9/11, Hausmann-Stokes served five years in the U.S. Army and received a Bronze Star in Iraq.

As a veteran, he champions efforts supporting mental health, gun safety, and his fellow veterans, co-founding Veterans in Media & Entertainment, a nonprofit organization that connects current and former members of the military to jobs in the entertainment industry.

Now, he’s making his feature film debut with “My Dead Friend Zoe” — with a three-time Super Bowl champion as an executive producer.

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce on the red carpet at the Kansas City Chiefs ring ceremony at Union Station on June 15, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jason Hanna/Getty Images)

“I hope that people come away from this film seeing veterans in a deeper or more nuanced way. I think so often, in film and TV, we’re portrayed in these extremes of this larger-than-life hero that’s literally in combat or war. On the other end of the spectrum, we’re broken veterans with some kind of anger, or alcohol or drug addiction, and it doesn’t really portray all the middle parts, which is where most of us live,” Hausmann-Stokes said.

“I’m excited for people to come out of the film seeing veterans for the humans that we are, for the huge asset that we are to society and to the country,” he furthered.

“My Dead Friend Zoe,” was originally set to film in the Midwest, where Hausmann-Stokes is from, before a last-minute decision to film in Oregon.

“We both found unanimously that it was just a fabulous experience [to film in Oregon,]” said Paul Scanlan, co-founder and CEO of Legion M, one of the production companies behind the film.

The movie was filmed around Portland, Forest Grove, and Molalla during the summer of 2023, and inspired Hausmann-Stokes and Scanlan to film future projects in Oregon, crediting the state’s “outstanding” film tax incentives and its friendliness towards independent filmmaking.

“I’ve done a lot of commercials and a few TV shows that have taken me all over the world, but Portland was one of my favorite places, one of the most accommodating,” Hausmann-Stokes said.

The filmmakers enjoyed Oregon’s diversity of locations for the film, from industrial areas in Portland to a rodeo in Molalla, where they found a sense of community both on and off set, along with another military connection.

Scanlan recalled one of his favorite memories shooting the film was when the director of the Molalla rodeo — who is also an Army veteran like Hausmann-Stokes — allowed them to film the rodeo as long as the community could honor the film director for his service.

“The only way he would allow us to film there is if I agreed to be honored at this rodeo, which included putting me in the back of a pickup truck and driving out into the middle of the rodeo with pyrotechnics, and music, and I’m just I’m behind the camera guy, and there’s all these people there cheering and it was pretty surreal,” Hausmann-Stokes said.

“My Dead Friend Zoe” follows an Afghanistan Army veteran’s relationship with her dead best friend as she reconciles with her estranged relationship with her Vietnam veteran grandfather –starring Sonequa Martin-Green, Natalie Morales, and Ed Harris. (Shared with KOIN via Christopher Black)

The film also brought community members together for a scene at a Molalla park, featuring a craft fair with local artisans during a Fourth of July celebration.

“Everybody heard that this was a film about veterans, and it was so special to see all those people come out and support us like that,” Hausmann-Stokes said.

That support is also shining a light on veteran organizations across the United States, including The Mission Continues, the Bob Woodruff Foundation, and EveryTown for Gun Safety: Support Fund, who are impact partners of the film.

The filmmakers additionally partnered with Radiant Media Studios, which provided extra funding with green energy tax credits, marking the first film to be funded with the tax incentive, as reported by Variety. It also brought Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce to the project as an executive producer.

Kelce, whose high-profile romance with Taylor Swift has sparked a frenzy, has hinted about plans to dip his toes into entertainment following his “Saturday Night Live” appearance last year.

“My Dead Friend Zoe” premieres at SXSW on March 9, in Austin Texas.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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