FILMMAKER TAKES HOME GOLD FOR LATEST PROJECT ABOUT WOMEN'S RIGHTS
Featured article image courtesy of Lauren Sowa
WOMAN EMPOWERMENT BROUGHT STRONG BY ABOVE-THE-LINE FEMALE FILMMAKER
Jessica Alexandra Green is an award-winning actor, director, editor, and producer who currently has five short films and two web series in the festival circuit. Two of which, her recent projects ‘The Red Lotus’ — a drama about women's rights and sisterhood — nominated for Best Short, Best Director (Green), Best Actor (Jared P. Smith), and won for Best Ensemble, and ‘Scratch This’ — a comedy about sisterly love turning sour — which was nominated for Best Short Short at the ‘HOTYS’ Film Festival.
Amongst her recent honors include an Indie Series Award nomination for Best Director of a Comedy for her work on ‘Awkwardly’ and New York Women In Film and Television Short Film Competition winner of both Best Comedy and Grand Prize for ‘Scratch This’. Originally from Chicago, Jessica graduated from the School of Theatre at Florida State, and continued her education in New York under the legendary Wynn Handman. She has spent time working in film both in Los Angeles and New York. While traveling back and forth, we were able to take a moment of her time to discuss her recent win.
- Mary Swanson
NIE: Thank you for taking your time and having this interview with us. Congratulations on your film ‘The Red lotus’’ for winning Best Ensemble at the ‘Hang Onto Your Shorts’ Film Festival. What can you tell us about this project?
Jessica Alexandra Green: Thank you, I am very proud of this cast, they are so deserving of the Best Ensemble achievement. This is an extremely important story to be told, unfortunately even more important today than when it was originally written; it takes place in the very near future after a ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade. Our story shows what it may be like to go back to the days of illegal abortions. But it is also a story of women coming together to support each other, and the love between two sisters, who may not have the same views, but are there for each other when it really counts. This project was a collaboration among a team of women who wanted to put a human face on this issue- showing people on both sides of the line, and just give a taste of the horrors that will become a reality if women no longer have the legal right to choose.
“Acting is not about becoming someone else, acting is about allowing yourself to be yourself.”
- Jessica Alexandra Green
I came onto this team as director/editor/producer before the story had even been written, as did most of the cast, and it was something that we were able to be a part of from conception. We shot the majority of the film at The Dragon’s Egg in Ledyard, Connecticut, which is an artist’s space for theatre, dance, and healing arts. This was a wonderful space for our story and a gorgeous location to shoot and stay in. I am a huge fan of shooting on location, even for short shoots, as it brings the cast and crew together on a deeper level than if they go home every night, and I think that bond is reflected on-screen.
NIE: Why the decision as a director to edit your own film? And most feel there should a separate individual editing the film to get a “true” edit instead of how most directors are persistent for certain scenes to be included because they personal love them compared to the arc, structure and overall flow of the film. What is your opinion on this matter and do you feel this is true? If so, or not, why?
Jessica Alexandra Green: I got into production because I am an actor and have been intensely interested in the art of filmmaking ever since college. I was a theatre major, but spent all of my free time hanging around the film school (there were no actors enrolled in film school) learning as much as a could being on the sets of the student productions- and no doubt driving everyone crazy with my endless questions!
A few years ago I began editing narrative work. It had actually never occurred to me to be a director, I just loved the art form and now that I was editing, loved fitting the puzzle of the film together. I directed my first film as a fluke. I was producing, acting, and editing, and I couldn’t find a suitable director. It was suggested to me that I direct it myself, which at first I laughed at, but then decided to give it a shot. To my surprise I absolutely loved it (and also learned that was way more hats than I wanted to wear for a single shoot!) By beginning my life in production as an editor, and still working consistently as an editor- I read scripts with an editor’s eye... I see the shots in my mind and exactly how they will fit together to tell the story I am envisioning. So for me, the only thing that made sense was to edit my own film, because the edit already existed in my mind before the film was even shot.
When the time comes for me to direct a feature, I’m sure that I will have another editor on-board working with me, as I do think that additional point of view in post is very beneficial. When working as an editor myself, I enjoy working with the director and seeing how we bring the piece to a higher level through our collaboration.
NIE: What was your experience working with the actors and what helps you, with the background as an actress yourself, to guide and direct them in various scenes and situations?
Jessica Alexandra Green: I had a great time working with this group of actors! One of the wonderful things about the cast coming together so early in the process and being producers on the film, was that the characters were written specifically for those actors. Being an actor myself, I speak the language of acting, which makes communicating with the actors I am directing so much easier. I can also see when something is not working for an actor and am able to find different methods of approach so the scene makes sense and feels organic for that individual.
NIE: What was your favorite part of filming this movie? And what have you learned specifically from this movie that will help you in your profession in your various filmmaking positions?
Jessica Alexandra Green: My favorite part of filming was being on this gorgeous location, with all the options it gave me for shots, which really opened up the possibilities for how to tell this story. I also loved working with our talented DP [Director of Photography], Mike Magilnick, and the working relationship that we had on set helped continue to map-out for me, what I wanted that director/DP relationship to look like on subsequent projects.
“Acting… may be many different facets of yourself, but the soul of the character is always you.”
Jessica Alexandra Green
NIE: What does this film mean to you? And how has taking on so many positions changed you?
Jessica Alexandra Green: This was a very quick production... we went from pre-production through post in about a month. So this was a great lesson in staying organized and on track- especially when wearing multiple hats! There are so many moving parts in a film production, as well as so many people and ideas, it is really important to be able to keep the big picture in mind while still handling all of the small details.
NIE: Where did the desire to be in the film industry stem from?
Jessica Alexandra Green: I have wanted be in entertainment for as long as I can remember. When I was in preschool we did a class play where every child got one line, and when my turn came up I decided that I deserved some extra stage time, so after delivering my line, I just kept ad libbing until one of the teachers almost had to drag me off the stage! When I was in elementary school I would write plays and make my classmates perform them.
Through junior high and high school I was acting in school plays and community theatre, singing in the choir, competing on speech team, and participating as one of the anchors for our in-house high school tv news broadcasts. But when I got to college and had the opportunity to spend time at the film school is when I really fell in love with the whole process. There I studied theatre while spending my free time at the film school, and took a semester studying acting in London.
After school I moved to L.A. where I did some acting work and helped run a small production company. From there I came out to New York where I mostly acted in Indie Films, until a few years ago when I began editing, and eventually directing and producing.
NIE: What techniques do you use to direct your actors versus playing them? What position in the industry and what role(s), either directing, producing, editing, acting, have been the most challenging for you, and why?
Jessica Alexandra Green: Every project, every character, and every actor is different and requires a different combination of tools from your creative tool belt. There is no one set technique that I use for either directing or acting... I use whatever I can to serve each story. I draw on a combination of what I have learned in my training and in my work, and also from personal life experience. I find producing to be a different type of challenge than the other roles, in that it is the most business-minded and least creative (although a producer does have to be creative in coming up with solutions to the problems that arise in the course of the production!) So there is less play in this position, and a lot more paperwork!
NIE: What obstacles do you face as an actor and what do you do to overcome and achieve your goals?
Jessica Alexandra Green: There are sooooo many people who want to be actors, and it is a challenge to set yourself apart from the crowd. So one of the things I have done is creating my own work. I am co-creator and co-lead of a short comedy web series “Scratch This.” I have teamed up with two other actor/producers Laura Dowling Shea and Jessica Sherr, and a director/producer Jody Lauren Miller, to create this unique series about three self-centered sisters whose sibling rivalry always ends in riotous physical violence. Creating your own work as an actor gives you an outlet to be seen rather than waiting around for someone to hire you, and it lets you play the parts that you love to play.
NIE: What do you personally take out of a production when you are a part of it and what impact does it have on you?
Jessica Alexandra Green: Every production is a completely new experience and I learn more every time. For example, my current project, “Scratch This” the series, has been a lovely journey so far and we are just getting started! This is the longest-term project that I have worked on, we are now a year in, which has given me an opportunity to go deeper in understanding the story we want to tell and the characters we are playing. It has also deepened the working relationship with my co-creators, we are such a well-balanced team because we each come from very different career backgrounds and thus all have different strengths. Any challenges that arise in the production process are easily handled because we know just which person to go to that has already worked with similar situations.
“Live a happy life doing something… that you love.”
- Jessica Alexandra Green
NIE: You have been on editor on many projects. What is your process of editing, what program(s) do you prefer to use, and what about editing do you really enjoy?
Jessica Alexandra Green: I work in Premiere Pro CC. The shape and flow of the story is achieved in the editing room. I love working out what the film will become. It is putting together a giant puzzle- the footage is the puzzle pieces and you have to figure out how to fit them together to tell the story you want to tell. You can give the footage from a film to 10 different editors and you will get back 10 different films. In the editing process, you decide what the audience sees and when they see it, and based on that, it determines what story you are telling.
NIE: What would you say is the biggest asset for any filmmaker in the industry to achieve?
Jessica Alexandra Green: Contacts- this industry is all about who you know.
NIE: What are some of your secret tips that help you in this industry to keep grounded and focused?
Jessica Alexandra Green: Have a life. Art is about life, so if you only focus on the work 24/7, you will not have life to pull from and inspire you. Life experiences enhance and richen your art. life surprises you giving you fresh perspectives and lessons you never saw coming... so never stop living life because you have chosen to work in this industry. Also, the industry is a long, slow climb... you are going to be here for awhile, with no guarantee of every achieving certain goals or milestones. So if you are waiting to live your life until ____, then you may spend you whole life waiting and never get around to having a life. Life is now, you don’t get another go-around. Do your art, do what you love, but live your life too.
NIE: Who inspires you?
Jessica Alexandra Green: My acting teacher Wynn Handman. He just turned 97 years old, is still teaching, and a documentary about his life will soon be coming out on Netflix, ‘It Takes A Lunatic’. His classroom is the place I have learned the most about myself and who I am. He sees you in a way that makes you feel as if you have never really been seen before, as if you have never seen yourself before.
The sheer number of lives that he has touched is absolutely staggering. In his life he has taught so many wonderful and acclaimed actors, who I am sure that he touched as deeply as myself, and those actors have gone on to touch so many lives with their incredible work. His contribution to my life and this industry is truly immeasurable and the ripples of that contribution will continue indefinitely.
“Relationships are key, spend your time with people who are already where you want to be.“
- Jessica Alexandra Green
NIE: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to pursue a career in the field?
Jessica Alexandra Green: I would say the same thing the Dean said to my Freshman class on the first day of theatre school- If you can think of anything else that you would rather do, or you can picture yourself doing anything else in this life, get up now and go do that. This industry is beyond difficult, yes there is a possibility of some incredible highs, but there is a guarantee of incredible lows. If you don’t have something throbbing in your soul that won’t allow you to do anything else, then go live a happy life doing something else that you love.
NIE: What are the most impactful words of wisdom someone told you and who was it?
Jessica Alexandra Green: Wynn Handman, “Let it be.” By this he does not mean leave it alone. He means let it exist, let it live inside of you, let it be.
NIE: What are three things you would say to your younger self that you know now?
Jessica Alexandra Green:
Relationships are key, spend your time with people who are already where you want to be.
Acting is not about becoming someone else, acting is about allowing yourself to be yourself. It may be many different facets of yourself, but the soul of the character is always you.
Most acting schools teach acting, but not the business of the industry or how to get jobs. Educate yourself early on these things... maybe go for a marketing degree! You will spend the majority of your time marketing yourself and a much smaller percentage of time actually acting.
NIE: That is so true. We couldn’t agree more. Marketing is the key factor in this industry. So speaking of marketing, what’s next for you?
Jessica Alexandra Green: This summer I will be acting in the film “From Venus With Love” by Gillien Goll, a film taking place in the summer of 1967 where, under the guise of a light-hearted mystery, we discover the seeds of the Women’s Movement and how very little some things have changed since then.
Both “Scratch This” and “Awkwardly” (a comedy web series in which I directed 3 episodes) will be a part of The Sicily Web Fest in August. I am thrilled to be there supporting both series and having new and exciting life-experiences.
NIE: Well, thank you for this wonderful and insightful interview. It has been our pleasure speaking with you. To wrap this up though, is there anyone you would like to thank?
Jessica Alexandra Green: My husband, Stu Heidemann. I could not have imagined a more supportive and loving partner. He has encouraged me every step of the way, he has been there for those guaranteed lows, and never given up on me, even when it would make our lives easier if I were to choose another path. He believes in my dreams sometimes even more than I do. He is my rock.