How Birmingham attorney Stacey Davis went from writing contracts to Hollywood screenplays.
Written by Timothy Best
In 1993, when MTV still played music videos and big, teased hair was the fashion, Stacey Davis sat down on one of the staircases of her high school in Grand Haven, Michigan. As she watched her fellow students buzzing to and from class, a lyrical notion came to her. It could’ve been the beginnings of a song, or maybe it would eventually turn into a poem. She wasn’t sure. But she was sure it was the first time she’d ever been aware of having a creative conscious. The spark of being inspired was an amazing feeling. It was exciting! Fresh! But then, reality took over. She had to get to class. So Davis rose, the moment passed, and she wouldn’t realize until years later that those few seconds on the stairs was a dream tapping her on the shoulder: The dream of being a Hollywood screenwriter.
For a long time, it didn’t seem like Davis’s life was headed west. In fact, after she graduated from Michigan State University, she traveled in the opposite direction. She attended the University of Connecticut Law School where she earned her master’s in business administration and her juris doctor concurrently. This was all very buttoned-down-business-suit stuff, still years away from the jokes she’d eventually sprinkle into her screenplays. While still in law school, she visited Birmingham and fell in love with the South. So after graduation, she decided to make her life here, accepting a job with a firm that eventually merged with Baker Donelson, a large legal practice with offices in several states.
For the next few years, Davis lived the life of an attorney, developing an expertise in entertainment law. The notion of creative writing was something she occasionally talked about, but by her own admission, didn’t pursue. That is until 2007, when she and her husband, Nichalaus Sims, brought home their infant son.
Within a few months of motherhood, Davis took a creative writing course and turned in an assignment, and her instructor told her it read more like a screenplay than anything else. With the spark of inspiration she’d first experienced on those high school steps rekindled, she developed the assignment into a short film screenplay called A Good Man and wound up winning the grand prize for short script writing at the 2008 Alabama Sidewalk Film Festival.
Realizing that her entertainment law client base of actors, producers, writers, and directors throughout the country was an excellent networking source, Davis started living two lives: one as an entertainment attorney and one as a blossoming screenwriter. She wrote some feature screenplays and started to shop them around long distance when time allowed, and in 2014, left Baker Donelson to open her own entertainment law practice. Meanwhile, she and her husband also decided they’d like to produce a short film together, and when Davis wrote the screenplay for a 10-minute comedy called The Sibling Code, they knew they had their project.
It’s the story of a brother and sister who come together at a funeral home to make arrangements for the loss of someone close to them. But it’s really an amusing analysis about the dynamics between siblings. “The brother and sister in the film are private tormentors but public defenders of one another,” Davis says. “Each one knows that no matter what, they have the other’s back, and that’s the sibling code!”
Although Davis and Sims intended to produce their film locally, directions changed when Davis sent the script to award-winning director/producer Roberta Munroe in L.A. Munroe is well known at film festivals around the world. Besides several short film and producer credits, she was the short film programmer at the Sundance Film Festival from 2001 to 2006. She is also the author of the best selling book How Not To Make A Short Film. Munroe has been featured on NPR’s “Weekend Edition,” as well as in a number of film industry trade magazines. She’s worked with the likes of Lilly Tomlin, Academy Award Winner Olympia Dukakis, and Saturday Night Live writer Paula Pell, to name a few.
After reading Munroe’s book, Davis sent her The Sibling Code. “I just wanted an objective analysis,” she recalls. Instead, she was floored when Munroe called within a few days wanting to direct the project. By sheer coincidence, she had been looking for a comedy short to direct for quite some time and there weren’t a lot of good scripts landing on her desk. “When I first read The Sibling Code, I laughed out loud!” Munroe says. “As a director, you’re always looking for people whose work style and ethics are in line with your own. I had the best time working with Stacey and Nick.”
In part, financing for the film occurred through a kick-start campaign that raised more than $20,000, but the film’s total budget is undisclosed. With Munroe on board, the local film Davis and Sims hoped to produce suddenly morphed into a bona-fide Hollywood production that allowed them to tap into a wealth of impressive resources.
Davis doesn’t want to reveal too much of the storyline, which is understandable when your film is only 10 minutes long, but is particularly proud that key behind-the-camera roles like the writer, director, and director of photography were all filled by women. She was also pleased with some stunt work done in the form of a “tussle” between the siblings, which she said was both fun and challenging to film.
The Sibling Code stars Jonathan Lisecki and Amy Okuda as the brother and sister brought together by the passing of a loved one. It also features veteran actress Amy Hill as the funeral director. Lisecki has numerous short film credits as an actor, director, and writer, and is perhaps best known for the film Gayby. Okuda has appeared on such shows as Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Grey’s Anatomy, and Californication. Hill has appeared in such films as The Cat in the Hat and 50 First Dates. Filming took place in early May at Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena, California. Mountain View is a popular go-to location for film crews. TV shows like CSI: Las Vegas and The Office, as well as several feature films, have shot there.
“The entire experience was amazing,” Davis says. “Everything from the weather, to the crew, to the casting and location came together perfectly.” Davis and Sims are working toward a private screening of The Sibling Code for Alabama patrons and friends in August, then hitting select festivals later in the year. “Exposure on the short film circuit helps to build up your reputation for bigger projects,” Davis explains. “But for now, just seeing your words on the page brought to life is pretty wonderful in and of itself.”
Davis has no plans to abandon her law practice. “I love my work and my clients,” she says. But she clearly isn’t being confined to one life and set of goals, either. When The Sibling Code plays at film festivals in future months, she knows she’s chasing another life that all of us would like to live: The life of seeing one’s dreams being realized. Juggling reality and dreams takes work, discipline, and a good dose of luck. But Stacey Davis knows there’s a lot of satisfaction in the trying. “You can’t just talk about your dreams,” she says. “You have to go after them!”