This article was originally published on June 1, 2018 on Cinephile's former website.
Jen West is an independent filmmaker based in Atlanta, GA. Here's my interview with Jen for the latest Artist Talk.
CP: Hi Jen how are you?! It’s been a long time since we were roommates in the Pink House.
JW: I’m doing great! Always missing Wilmington and our Cucalorus family.
CP: I just saw you got married? When did this happen? I’m so behind the curve.
JW: Yes! We got married last June at Bonnaroo on a ferris wheel. We celebrate our one year next month. Time flies! I love my life with James.
CP: Cinephile is a new blog I started to where I just want to be engulfed in my nerdiness of film, reviews, ideas, and the filmmaking process. I thought you would be perfect, because you are doing so much right now producing your first feature film. Where do you find yourself in the process of producing Electric Bleau?
JW: I’m excited for Cinephile! Making my first feature has been a journey. I started writing Electric Bleau during my Cucalorus creative residency back in 2015. Not one day has passed in those 3+ years where I haven’t done something proactive to move the project forward. It’s always in the forefront of my mind. Currently we are working with a casting director out of NYC to attach talent. I learned on this project more than any other that it’s the team that brings something to life. I’m so grateful for our producers Stacey Davis and Molly Mayeux’s passionate efforts. It’s nothing short of a miracle for any film to be made, much less by a first-time feature director like myself.
CP: So you were working on writing the screenplay for Electric Bleau when we were at the Pink House. How were you inspired to write the story?
JW: Yes! I got accepted to the Cucalorus creative residency with the purpose of working on Electric Bleau. I have several inspirations behind the story. First and foremost, I wanted to tell a story about female empowerment in the form of sisterhood within the thriller/horror genre. I knew it was going to be set in Louisiana. Ever since living there as a child, it’s been a muse for several projects.
CP: Can you give us a little synopsis about Electric Bleau?
JW: As the gift of a rare blue moon, Creole twin girls are bestowed upon the Benoit family every generation. Each pair of sisters also inherits an unwanted, yet irresistible, harmonica cursed with the evil spirit of Josephine who is determined to find her long-lost babies from another time past.
Bonnie and Bleau, the most recent Benoit twosome, live as struggling punk rock musicians in 1980’s New Orleans. By day they work at Vivian’s House of Voodoo, belonging to their biological Aunt Vivian Benoit. By night they transform into the wild duo know as Electric Bleau, performing in dirty dive bars to ecstatic punk crowds. When possession of the hypnotic harmonica falls into Bleau’s hands, she must decide what’s most important in life - her family or her aspiring career.
Electric Bleau has social commentary on the death of white feminism. Josephine, the white matriarch of the Benoit family, feels entitled to take from her descendants. It will be up to Bleau and Bonnie to stop the vicious cycle.
CP: How do you keep the will to cross the finish line per say when it comes to filmmaking? I really feel like a lot of people don’t understand how hard it is. For me it’s a love hate relationship.
JW: I’m an optimistic person with a strong desire to see things to completion, but there have certainly been days where I question what the future holds. Ever since the very beginning, I could visualize this movie being made. During the process I’ve been told no more times than I ever imagined. That’s hard to hear over and over again. You have to believe in what you’re doing to push through. One of the things that helped me was talking to other first-time feature directors who’ve actually made their films with similar budgets as Electric Bleau. For a lot of them it took 2 – 3 years. During that time your script evolves, team members change, and unexpected opportunities present themselves. Some films don’t make it through the process. If you embrace the obstacles hopefully your project only becomes stronger.
CP: Do you think economy effects your creativity?
JW: My creativity has been flowing despite the requirements of surviving day-to-day. That’s been a real gift. I’ve used some of my slower times to write and develop new projects that I hope to tackle after Electric Bleau. It’s easy to feel anxious waiting all of the time, so funneling that extra energy into something productive can only help hone your craft.
CP: How has being in Georgia helped?
JW: Moving to Atlanta was the right thing for me to do. I’m originally from Birmingham, Alabama, and while I miss home, I feel like vital connections and relationships were established here that I otherwise wouldn’t have made. Everyone’s path is going to be different.
CP: You’re a seasoned filmmaker. What are some things that go on behind the scenes when producing a film that you wish you knew when you first started? I’d like to give some newbies an inside glimpse and maybe some veterans who never had the same issues as you…not yet anyways.
JW: If you don’t have features under your belt and you want to make something with a budget of $250,000 or more, then you’ll need to have monetary value in other areas like cast. And you can’t do this without having credible team members who can vouch for your abilities. Even then, it’s a journey to find the talent who gets you and your project. It takes time and a magical combination of efforts to put the pieces together. Just know that you will make mistakes, and to be kind to yourself in the process. The learning curve never stops.
CP: How did you find yourself on the path of filmmaking?
JW: I was first exposed to the concept of indie filmmaking at one of my first graphic design jobs I landed after college. My boss wanted to create a feature on his own, and it had never occurred to me that it was something a person outside of Hollywood could do. I was immediately hooked. I became a part of the Sidewalk Film Festival family not too long after that and started working on other people’s projects. I wrote and directed my first short film in 2006.
CP: On producing one of your films what’s a moment that stands out to you as you just knew you were
doing the right thing?
JW: This happens to me all the time, so it’s hard to pick just one. I often get this feeling while being on set, or enjoying something I’ve created with an audience.
CP: What’s a moment you second guessed yourself as a quality filmmaker?
JW: I had a lot of questions about my identity as a filmmaker after my first short film in 2006. The path to what I defined as success wasn’t as clear as I thought it would be. I took a few years off to make sure it was what I really wanted to do. Once I got back on set for my second short, Crush (which was co-written and co-directed by Rebecca Pugh), I knew for sure that it was my life’s purpose. I haven’t stopped creating since!
CP: Do you find yourself, over time, becoming a full-time filmmaker?
JW: I think I’m closer than I’ve ever been. If Electric Bleau takes off, then I’ll officially be able to say this. At least for a time! I’m glad I’ve taken the last few years to write and develop other projects that will be ready to produce on their own time-frames.
CP: Are there any creative milestones that you feel you need to achieve to feel you’ve really succeeded as a filmmaker?
JW: This answer will change depending on the chapter of life that I’m in. For now I’d say success looks like having several big projects off of the ground and growing opportunities to create content.
CP: Do you feel you balance the business of filmmaking and the creative side well? Have you cultivated great relationships to help during the overall process?
JW: I think I do a decent job. I get out there and meet people and I have connections in lots of places. Relationships are a big part of any filmmaker’s foundation. If I’m not an expert on something, then I make sure I have the resources to fill in the gaps.
CP: What’s some advice that you will give someone who’s dreaming of one day becoming a filmmaker?
JW: Follow your own path and timeline. Don’t compare yourself to others. Do the best work you can within the means that you have. Push yourself. Visualize your goals.
CP: I do know we need to catch up sometime. And I apologize I was just in Atlanta and I did not reach out to you, shame on me. What do you have twirling around creatively after Electric Bleau?
JW: Oh man! I would have loved to see you. Next time for sure. My newest babies are Raven Realm (limited-series) and A Kind of Creature (feature). I’m so excited about them both!
CP: Any other tidbits you feel I should’ve asked or that you want to add on?
JW: I’d like to add that I love you!
CP: Awe Jen! Love you too! Thank you for doing this! I am so excited!
To see more information about Jen and to view her films please visit: