“St. Pete always struck me as how Brooklyn would be portrayed if ‘Friends’ was updated and set in Brooklyn instead of Manhattan. Except with palm trees.”
So says Lisa L. Kirchner, writer, lead actor and producer of the locally shot film “My Dinner with Steve.”
Scenic St. Petersburg is a supporting character in Kirchner’s film, where Jen, played by Kirchner, is introduced pedaling feverishly through downtown trying to make a date with Steve, portrayed by local actor Todd Sheeler. She makes it (mostly) on time to the Iberian Rooster on Central Avenue, where the dinner that unfolds is at times sweet and funny, at other moments anxiety-inducing and painfully awkward. Mostly it’s all those things at once. Kirchner’s take on the romcom is relatable to just about anyone who’s been on a first date, with a fresh, personal spin stemming from the fact that both main characters are written as recovering addicts.
“In my case, I want to tell stories about human imperfections, and how we must learn to live with them,” Kirchner says discussing how she came to the original concept for the film. “Now, that’s pretty bog-standard stuff, but I’m bringing to it my own layer of experience, as a woman, and as someone with two plus decades in addiction recovery. We hear so many stories of people battling addiction, but far fewer about living with it.”
Kirchner is an experienced storyteller, sharing her own life to help others navigate theirs. She is the author of two memoirs including “Hello American Lady Creature: What I Learned as a Woman in Qatar,” which brought her to St. Petersburg in the first place during a promotional book tour. She liked the city enough to move here, and has since gone on to create and host True Stories, a monthly themed storytelling show in collaboration with Trish Collins, Keep St. Pete Lit, and Creative Pinellas. She also does on-camera work with Home Shopping Network. These connections brought Kirchner into contact with a variety of television and film industry professionals.
The transition to telling stories on film was a next logical step.
“I met filmmaker Amy Nestor,” Kirchner says. “We talked about doing a documentary project, but then she moved and we shelved the idea.”
But another idea, a story rooted in a book Kirchner was working on, continued to ferment. When Nestor reached out sometime later to say she’d be in town and was interested in the project, the pieces quickly came together.
“The script and project came together in less than a month, but before that I spent years on the book,” Kirchner says. “‘My Dinner with Steve’ is extrapolated from maybe a page or so in that book.”
Nestor would become director of photography and editor on the project, while the rest of the cast and crew, like co-star Todd Sheeler (Steve), is rounded out by industry pros recruited through Kirchner’s various working relationships, including that with St. Pete’s Andi Matheny Acting Studio.
“That place has certainly encouraged growth in the talent pool locally,” she says, “which is what made it possible for me to connect with many of the people involved.”
That included Director Eugenie Bondurant, who brought her prolific resume of film and television experience, as well as years as an acting teacher and coach both in Tampa Bay and Los Angeles.
“She’s created a wonderfully supportive creative environment here,” says Kirchner.
The film is nearly done with post-production and will start making the rounds on the festival circuit soon.
“I’m applying to festivals now and have created an opportunity for people to get in on the action and help us apply to more,” Kirchner says, noting that the film is hosting a virtual auction through the film’s website to raise money to get the final product out into the world. “We’ve gotten incredible early feedback – an exceedingly pleasant surprise to me. I’ve been a writer for a long time and have become sadly accustomed to putting work out there and getting crickets in reply.”
Watch a trailer and learn more at mydinnerwithstevemovie.com.