Today I sit down with producer Jemma Jones to talk about upcoming projects, advice to young filmmakers, and about what success as producer means to her.
So tell us a bit about yourself. You have a Kiwi accent. Where are you from?
I’m from Auckland, New Zealand but I was born in Leicestershire, England. My mom was travelling when she was pregnant and had me in England. Once I was able to get on a plane she took me back to New Zealand.
Okay so getting started let’s start out with something easy. What is your favorite movie of all time?
My favorite movie of all time is In the Name of the Father directed by Jim Sheridan. I remember watching the movie when I was ten with my Nana. I remember feeling the emotional power the movie gave me. I wanted to make other people feel that. It’s crazy how much a movie can affect you forever. I think about it all the time still and force other people to watch it.
How about favorite movie of 2012?
A movie called Keep the Lights On that was at Sundance. I think it just got released on iTunes a couple of months ago. It’s about two gay guys back in the early 90’s that follows one of them going through drug addiction. That was my favorite one at Sundance. My favorite big movie was Silver Linings Playbook. Maybe even Lawless.
The director of Keep the Lights On, Ira Sachs, actually sold me my ticket to the screening. I didn’t know it at the time but at the end of the movie I saw him get on stage for the Q and A and realized who he was which was kind of funny. I was so glad I went to that movie though. The characters were amazing.
What are you looking forward to most coming out next year?
There’s a movie by Susanne Bier coming out called Serena. It actually has Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in it and is set in North Carolina.
Silver Linings Playbook Two?
I know. It’s funny because I knew about this movie before I even knew about Silver Linings. I’m really excited about it. I love Jennifer Lawrence and I love pretty much every single movie Susanne Bier has made. Both Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper did such a good job in Silver Linings that I think this one is going to be awesome. It’s set in depression-era North Carolina so it will be different too.
I’m also excited for Anchorman 2. Anchorman is one of the only comedies I love because I’m not really a comedy person.
What kind of work have you done in the past as a producer?
I’ve done a lot of shorts. I think that’s how everybody starts out when they are trying to develop and hone their craft. Doing a lot of short films was integral for me in developing the skills I need. It also helps in figuring out who you want to work with, what kind of stories you want to tell, and the general vibe of projects.
What projects do you have coming up?
I’ve got a few things. I’m producing Rex ’84 with Adam Zielinski and Constanza Castro. We’re still in early pre-production. I’m also producing three music videos with Brett Walters for this group called Hardnox who are Las Vegas based. I’m doing a short film with Lenna Karacostas. That’s about it. I’ve also got a short with A.J. Ovio that we’ve been working on for a long time but we just have to wait until our schedules open up to finish it.
Do you plan on moving to L.A.?
I do have plans to go to L.A. I would like to get out there within the year. I love Vegas and everything I’ve been able to learn here. The accessibility of locations and that kind of stuff makes things easier when making movies in Vegas. But going out there would be about extending myself and being in the center of where the business happens.
However, if the right filming opportunities came up for me here then I would probably stay until they were exhausted. If I had the opportunity to work on a project that I really want to make or that I really care about I would stay for sure. To me it’s all about the project and the people working on the project.
You went to UNLV. Would you recommend people starting out to go to film school? What do you think about grad school?
I would absolutely recommend people to go to film school. I don’t know if graduate school is necessary but film school, yes.
I’m so thankful for the UNLV film department because I basically met all my friends there. I was from New Zealand and I didn’t know anybody when I moved here. I only knew about five people from an improv camp I went to and most of them had already graduated. I was by myself and didn’t know anybody. I took Production One and that’s where I met most of my friends and I’m still friends with them today. I would hang out with them outside of class and helped give me a social life and enhance my college experience. It was nice being able to work on set with my friends and be creative and then outside of those hours we could go to bar after and hang out all night.
I developed these great working relationships that turned into personal friendships. That was integral for me. I talked to other majors at UNLV and they would complain that they didn’t know anyone in their classes and how the environment was very anti-social. It’s been five years since I moved here and still I have those friendships still that I made in the first year.
If it was more affordable then maybe I would flirt with the idea of going but I am also a huge believer in going somewhere and working really hard and gaining merit that way. Show up on set, bust your butt, and people will recognize it and there will always be room to work your way up. I would like to just be able to move out to L.A. and try to work at an entry-level position and see where I could get myself in two years. Grad school does help you learn a bit more and you create contacts that could last you forever but I feel like I had that in film school. L.A. is expensive enough so I would rather just dive in head first and see where I can get.
My biggest disappointment is when it comes to working on projects that don’t pan out. You spend a lot time, months and months, taking meetings and getting locations and then the project doesn’t happen.
My biggest success is a tough one. It’s more like a bunch of little successes that pile up.
Oh! I know. My biggest success would be when I call someone up that I have already worked with and want to work with more and they want to work with me again. Someone said to me one time that my sets were a lot of fun and that I make sure that everyone is taken care of and that they just really liked being there and that they wanted to work on my future projects. When you work on a student level where nobody is getting paid and they are just doing you a favor, if they are able to take something away from that experience and want to come back, I think hell yeah! That’s a success for me.
I always try to repay the favors that others have shown me. Developing relationships with people is vital. I don’t like the idea of relationships where you are the one always asking for something and never giving back.
There’s a huge stigma about producers being a-holes but that’s just not me as a person. I can be stern when I need to be but there’s no need to be rude or disrespectful to someone especially when they are working for free to help create something awesome. I can’t respect people who are like that at that level. I try really hard to steer away from that. People want to work with people they like. They don’t want to be around a bunch of miserable people.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in producing?
Find people you like being around. Chances are if you like them as people then you will like them on set. Set has long hours and you spend a lot of time together so it’s just a matter of finding people you respect and want to work with. Surround yourself with people who will support you.
Work for free if you have to. Get on set. Find out what you want to do. Do you really want to be a producer or do you actually want to be a cinematographer or director. The only way to find out is by being on set and learning the different jobs. People change jobs all the time at the beginning.
What kind of movies do you want to make and who do you look up to?
I’m a huge fan of Christine Vachon. She’s an independent producer based out of New York and she’s one of the co-founders of Killer Films. She’s got two really great books that are for producers. I really respect her and her company because they make risky movies about subject matter that studios generally won’t approach. She’s had such success with her films with that subject matter that she can now pre-sell most movies they make. People know that despite the controversial issues, she will crack out a great movie like Boys Don’t Cry. In her book she talks about how she signed on to this movie about two lesbians and how there was no money. Even now she still has to try to find money. She has never sold out and stayed true to the subject matter of the scripts.
As far as the movies I want to make, I want to make movies that show people how to be better people. I go to see movies to watch how characters live their lives and how they grow and the challenges they face. In America, we don’t think about a lot of things. There’s so many countries that don’t have clean water or food to eat. They have huge issues. They don’t treat their people properly. Stuff like that is really important. I’m an advocate for bringing attention to those issues.
Having people open their minds a little would be my goal. I don’t know if narrow-minded people open their minds but if they are open to it then it’s worth it. I know some people will never come around to some things but if there is a little piece of their mind that can be opened, then I want to make movies for those people so they can explore the world’s issues more.
I follow directors too. Susanne Bier is my favorite. After the Wedding is one of my favorites. Jim Sheridan is my other favorite. As a film student you spend so much time sitting in film classes analyzing things and looking at shots you forget to feel. When I watch a movie and am so engrossed in the story that I don’t even think about that stuff, that’s what I want to make.
Thank you so much for your time today Jemma and best of luck on your upcoming feature Rex ’84 and your music videos!
If you want to know more about Jemma check out her information below: