At our June 13 meeting, documentary filmmaker, Melissa Davey told her inspiring story of becoming a filmmaker at age 65 and gave us a behind-the-scenes peek into the process of making “Beyond Sixty” during our Q&A.
When Melissa Davey turned 65, she asked herself 2 questions: (1) Am I going to keep doing this same job? (She held a senior leadership role for 20 years.) and (2) What do I wish I’d done?
Since she was a kid, Melissa had always wanted to make a movie or be in one. She also loved stories.
At our meeting, she told her own story as vividly as if we’d been watching a film. Not surprising since Melissa is a filmmaker. She recently directed and produced “Beyond Sixty,” a 75-minute documentary about nine multi-talented women over the age of 60.
Melissa quit her senior leadership position and followed her mantra: Always take the detours because you might see something — and if you do, stop because it could change your life.
Always Take the Detours
That’s what happened to her 5 years ago when she took a detour and came upon the movie set of M. Knight Shyamalan, renowned director of movies with supernatural plots and twist endings like “Sixth Sense.” Shyamalan became the catalyst who changed her life.
Melissa explained how she happened to take the detour. She was attending an annual business meeting in D.C. and felt like she was in the movie, “Groundhog Day” – doing the exact same thing every single day. She couldn’t sit at the meeting another minute and left to call a friend and play hooky.
Her friend had to drop her daughter at her riding lesson and as they drove down the dirt road to the horse barn, Melissa spotted a movie set and film crew. She looked it up on her phone and discovered it was M. Knight Shyamalan.
Along with the information about the movie location was a donate button with an auction prize to win a day on the set with Shyamalan. She bid on it for 2 weeks and won! Her prize was a 10-hour day on the set with Shyamalan. He graciously took her through every step of his process while he explained what he was doing. At lunch he asked her what she really wanted to do and when she told him, he said, “Well, you better hurry up!”
On the drive home, she decided to quit job her and make a movie. She gave her boss a year’s notice and when she told him her plans, he said, “Yeah, that makes sense!”
Melissa started planning “Beyond Sixty,” while she was still working and earning a salary. By the time she left, she’d finished 3 of the women’s stories and hired a production company.
Finding the Women
She got leads for the stories from friends and spoke with more than 80 women, listening to their stories and trying to figure out how many she needed and which ones to pick. She “cold-called” each woman and said: “I’m Melissa and I’m a first-time filmmaker. I’m doing a documentary about women over sixty. Would you be willing to talk with me about your story?”
To her surprise, they all said yes and wanted to share their stories. They felt engaged with the project and had a sense of what part of their story was important to hear. By the end of the interviews, Melissa felt like all the women were her girlfriends and completely trusted her to tell their stories.
Production and Distribution
The process took 3 years and included traveling across the U.S. to interview the women – she spent 8 hours with each one. She ended up with 80 hours of film and had to edit it down to 75 minutes. That turned out to be the biggest learning experience as well as a lot of fun. She loved working with the editor, Ziggy Gamble who was just 27, and editing his first feature film when they started working together.
“It was the most creative project I’ve ever done and one of the most satisfying to be able to bring these women’s stories forward.” Her goal was to find women who were inspirational in their own way but if you passed them in the street, you’d have no idea who they were.
After the project was finished in 2019, she took her film to 8 different film festivals. It won awards and she’s still in shock that everything fell into place as well as it did. When COVID-19 hit, she couldn’t distribute the film as planned. But at the end of 2020, a distributor saw her film and wanted to distribute it. “Beyond Sixty” was released in April 2021 to the general public and now it’s available to stream on many platforms or for purchase on Amazon.
She felt both pride and apprehension when she took her husband, children, and 3 grandsons aged 14, 11, and 8, to see her film for the first time at a film festival in Pennsylvania. After the showing, Adam, her oldest grandson said: “Hey Grammy, that’s pretty cool!” Luke, the middle one said: “I’m really proud of you, Grammy,” and the youngest, Owen said: “Can we get some more M&M’s?”
Funding for the film was another instance of being in the right place at the right time. Initially, she used her own money she’d saved from her last job. When the film was finished, she showed it at Sundance Film Festival and met the CEO of UnitedHealthcare. A month later, UHC called and offered a large check to use for production and help with marketing her film.
Looking back, Melissa realized that she was so busy with work, life, and being a grandma, she never stopped to think about what she really wanted in life.
The biggest lesson she learned is that you’re never too old to do anything. Her paternal grandmother was one of her role models and Melissa took her advice to heart: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and don’t lean on a man for your needs or identity.
Melissa closed by saying she doesn’t know what’s next but she’s open to it. From making the film, she learned she needs to have a purpose every day when she wakes up and be connected and learning.