Thursday, October 4, 2012

Interview with Jessica Judd, Co-director of "Own Worst Enemy." The movie screens at Saturday 10/20/12 at 2 pm

What are the challenges and rewards of making an independent sci-fi movie?

I’m a screenwriter first, and the sci-fi and horror genres are my first loves.  I’ve always loved low-fi sci-fi films, so developing "Own Worst Enemy" with Mike and Dan first as a script and then bringing it to life with Mike as a film was very exciting.  Own Worst Enemy was made for 40K, so the challenges really become about creating effects, props and sets that sell the science fiction, but still cost practically nothing.

Another big challenge is developing the script so that the scenes are both contained and dynamic.  There are many times when you want a scene to take place in a bigger place with more people, but have to work together to keep it contained and practical.  It’s been a real learning experience for me because as a writer, I quickly go into the larger budget world, so it’s wonderful to be challenged to make the story dynamic without the flash.

You and your husband Michael are a filmmaking team who live and work in LA but you began your film careers and educations in Michigan. Thriller! Chiller! says Welcome home!Tell us about how your connection to the state of Michigan has influenced you as a storyteller (or not)? 

Growing up and going to college at the University of Michigan have shaped so much of who I am as a storyteller.  Michigan will always be home and continue to inspire the core of my characters.  I think Michigan is filled with hardworking, caring, struggling, strong, creative and innovative people.   Some of the most successful and hardworking creative professionals in the film, book and music industry are from Michigan.  Also, Michigan is filled with some of the most beautiful places in the world.  Those people and places go into every story I tell.  I like down-to-earth people in extraordinary situations, overcoming difficult obstacles and earning their success; I think people in Michigan fit that description.

Do you continue to have a connection with the filmmaking scene here in Michigan?

I went to high school in Traverse City and my parents still live there.  I absolutely love that Michael Moore renovated the State Theater and brought the Traverse City Film Festival to Michigan with the help of so many amazing volunteers.  It’s really transformed a part of Traverse City and the state that is very exciting.  I did come back and volunteer one year and my mom volunteers every year.  Mike worked on "Gran Torino" when it came back to Michigan and we’re always looking for way to work in our home state.   Mike has stayed very active as a GVSU alumni, earning young alumni of the year in 2010 and speaking to the film students.  I remain connected to the UofM film alumni and hope to come back and work with some of the students in the future.  I know that if Michigan had more film job opportunities when I was getting out of college, I would have stayed.  Now, of course, I hope to stay connected to the great work Thriller! Chiller! is doing to promote genre film in the region.

One thing I find very interesting about the story (written by Michael Judd and Daniel Peretti) is that “Own Worst Enemy” is not only a time travel movie with lots of mystery and intrigue and comedy for sci-fi fans, but it also has a deeper desire is to tell the story of relationships with others and with ourselves. Jealousy, love, and neurosis that come out of being wrapped up in competition and success, and the tendency to focus the wrong things that don't help us meet our goals and only fail us when we lose what we already have. I like that it's story that is equally about both the male and female points of view.

Are these some of the reasons that you wanted to tell this story, or did these themes emerge later as part of the collaborative process of filmmaking?

I definitely wanted to tell this story because so many people could relate to it.  As a sci-fi lover, I like to bring new viewers to the genre.  I also love that it allows both the male and female leads to have equal control over the outcome of the resolution, nobody exists just to serve another character’s journey.  In fact, for much of the story, our two leads are having two very separate journeys, which I think happens in most broken relationships.  The story is also unique because even though the plot is centered around James Keaton’s dilemma, the actual story that must be resolved is that of Leila Locke, the female protagonist.   I love that Leila becomes involved in the time travel and does not just react to what Keaton is doing, but starts affecting the plot as well.  And what makes it even more fun is that there is a second Keaton who becomes critical in the resolution of the story.   Even the antagonist’s motivation is relatable and mirror’s Keaton’s own conflict. Everyone is causing their own problems more than any nefarious outside force, which is pretty much what most of us do in our everyday lives.  The truth is that at different moments and in different relationships we’ve all been every single one of these characters, male or female, good guy or bad guy.  Many movies would benefit if they didn’t focus so singularly on one character’s journey and allowed the audience to relate to every character.   I love the resolution of this film.  It allows you to watch a man and a relationship fall apart because of his very human self-destructive nature and ambition, but leaves the viewers hopeful that we can change that part of our own natures.   As you said, it’s a movie that can appeal to an audience that may not normally go for sci-fi, but will still satisfy the fan of the genre.

Do you have plans for a next project?

We do.  I write a lot of horror and we would really like to direct a horror film.  One of my horror scripts is a semifinalist at the Slamdance Film Festival 2013.  I’d love to make that one and Detroit would be a fantastic place to film it.

Mike and I are also working on a dark comedy/thriller that definitely have two strong leads, one male and one female as well as a lighter comedy that also involves a strong male and female lead.   As always, it’s all about which one comes together first.