In the 1990s Omaha native Jaime King's fresh face and lithe body graced the runway fantastic for the likes of Gucci and Alexander McQueen in New York and around the globe. She did provocative shoots for Vogue, Mademoiselle, Glamour, Cosmopolitan and other trendy mags. She appeared in music videos. She was a Revlon girl in the same media campaign as Halle Berry and Eva Mendes.
Heady stuff for a girl in her mid-teens who left Westside High School to pursue The Dream. She actually began modeling at Nancy Bounds Studios here. A New York agent discovered her at a fashion graduation show.
But when King comes for the Omaha Film Festival this weekend she's arriving not as a model or actress – the career she's known for today – but as a filmmaker. She's appearing with a "deeply personal" dramatic short she wrote and directed titled Latch Key. She shot the movie in and around Omaha last winter, using local youth actors alongside industry veterans, including her husband, director Kyle Newman (Fanboys, The Crazies), who's also one of the film's producers.
Latch Key shows as part of a short film block on March 9 that starts at 6:15 p.m.
This writer-director thing is no passing fancy. The directing bug bit her in her teens and she angled for years to make her own films, debuting with the short The Break-In (2011). She now has several film projects in development, including a feature she co-wrote, Polar Seasons, that her good friend Selma Blair (who appears in Break-In) may co-star in. King's interest in writing – she pens a style column for The Huffington Post – goes even further back, to her childhood in Omaha.
"Before I went to Westside it wasn't that easy for me. I felt like I didn't fit in. I wasn't like a jock or a cheerleader or your typical type of kid in that way. I went through a lot of bullying in school. So I wrote a lot and that really helped me to get my feelings and emotions out. All I did was read and write. That was all I really cared about. I so immersed myself in all of these creative things.
"Writing for me has always been the most freeing part of my life."
She turned to the pen when her boyfriend at the time died. That experience informs Latch Key, whose young protagonist, Emma, deals with a sudden loss.
"It comes from me having this experience of being young and losing someone very suddenly, and waking up not understanding how the world can continue when your whole world feels like its been shattered."
Having to grow up fast the way she did informs another script she's looking to develop, Life Guard.
"I write a lot about coming-of-age and what it's like to grow up very quickly and how to handle that type of thing. I guess I'm inspired by what we have to go through to become adults or to make our way in this world, but I guess all good stories are about figuring out who you really are."
Once considered an enfant terrible and party girl, she's many years sober after battling a substance abuse problem. She long ago made the successful transition from modeling to screen acting (Happy Campers, Blow, Pearl Harbor, Slackers, Two for the Money, Sin City). She has major roles in a pair of films due for a 2012 release: Pardon and Mother's Day. She also stars in the CW comedy Hart of Dixie.
Does she harbor regrets about having gotten swept up in the high-pressure model subculture, with its ultra-thin obsession, stealing away as it did part of her youth?
"Not at all. I feel very blessed, I feel everything that's happened in my life has been perfectly on track for me, through the ups and the downs, through everything, and I feel so incredibly lucky that I was discovered and that my parents stuck with me and made a difficult decision to let their young daughter go off into a big world.
"Through modeling I got to travel all over the world and I got to meet some of the most amazing people, and I was smart, I saved my money and I knew I wanted to go into filmmaking."
Besides, being a model was her idea from the start. Always interested in fashion, style, photography and film, she set out to get noticed, make it to New York and use this platform as a springboard to a film career.
"I wanted to live a very creative life and not necessarily taking the traditional route of going straight through high school and onto college. I just didn't feel that was right for me. I needed to be doing something creative. It may seem odd for someone that age but I just knew that was my direction.
"As an adult now looking back I feel a lot compassion and gratitude towards my parents for letting me follow my dreams."
While she still does fashion spreads, walking away from lucrative modeling gigs didn't set well with her entourage.
"When I told them I was quitting modeling at the height of my career people weren't happy about that because they were making a lot of money off of me, but I was lucky to have some people who were supportive."
Of the high profile film roles she landed right out of the gate, she says, "It was just one thing after another and I think it happened because I never doubted myself, I went into it thinking that's what I was meant to do."
Acting's worked out better for her than it has for many former top models. And as much as she finds that career satisfying she needs more to feed her creativity.
"I don't feel completely whole just doing that. I feel whole when I'm writing and directing and acting, when I'm creating material and stories that I feel should be told and will move and entertain people," she says. "As a creative person you just want to create."
She could have made Latch Key anywhere but she felt pulled to do it in her hometown, where her entire family still lives and where she gets back to visit a few times a year.
"I have a really romantic view of where I was born and raised," she says. "I have these very distinctive memories of every single season in Omaha and what it felt like to grow up there and to have a space of your own where you could run along the train tracks and be out in a park or farm by yourself or yet be in the Old Market and go find a great record or comic book or see a great show or concert.
"So much of my creativity started there, and I feel like there's a great creative community there. I just really want to honor that."
Her sister, Sandi King Larson, put up Jaime, her husband and two fellow producers and let her home stand-in as Emma's dwelling.
King gives a shout out to Young Filmmakers In Nebraska for helping her fill her crew and to the Ralston Public Schools for letting her use Ralston High School as a location. She had an inside woman there in her sister, who works at the school. The head of Ralston's drama department, Todd Uhrmacher, helped King cast via Skype auditions-interviews. Alexis Jegeris, who plays Emma, is among several Ralston students in the film.
King says she was impressed by how her young cast "were really willing to go there for a film that's very honest and raw and real," adding, "I can't wait to come back for the film festival to show the kids what a beautiful job they did."
The artist is part of several panels at the OFF Filmmaking Conference. For details, visit www.omahafilmfestival.org.
Read more of Leo Adam Biga's work at leoadambiga.woredpress.com