Making Mary Jane By Sarah Jacobson. I actually tried to make Mary Jane one year earlier and it was a total disaster. I wanted to shoot all the "fantasy sequences" with my school’s equipment since I could do it for free and I didn’t need a permanent cast for these scenes...
I actually tried to make Mary Jane one year earlier and it was a total disaster. I wanted to shoot all the "fantasy sequences" with my school’s equipment since I could do it for free and I didn’t need a permanent cast for these scenes. But everything was incredibly disorganized. I was doing everything myself, the actors didn’t show up and the people who were doing my favors were really horrible about it. I learned that I couldn’t do a feature in the same patchwork way that I did my first short film, I Was a Teenage Serial Killer. I did manage to keep one scene from that shoot, the "Fake Molly Ringwald Scene" in the movie, but two other scenes were thrown out.
Doing the initial adaptation of my book was so hard. I didn’t have the final ending until a few weeks before we started shooting which was freaking out the actors. I never showed anyone my script because I didn’t think anyone would care. The script isn’t the movie, so why show it? People who had read the script totally loved it, but I never took them seriously because I tend to keep things really flexible, just in case you have to think on your feet when a disaster strikes. It was only after I went to Sundance that I found out that people do care about scripts and that you can actually show someone your script and they might give you money! I honestly had no idea, I just thought you had to know the right people and so I figured I would have to do everything myself.
There were some characters I took out, it would have been too many people to keep track of. I wrote the part of Ericka for Beth because she’s so inspiring and I think there should be more women like her in films. The book dealt a lot more with Jane’s high school and there was much more about the change in the movie theater once the employees get busted for stealing. A lot of the sex stuff was added later because I wrote the book when I was 18 and there was a lot about sex I didn’t know about back then!
I was working at a film equipment place and when I was fired, or "laid off." My manager was like, "You’re not a salesperson, you’re a filmmaker" so she arranged a full equipment donation for me.
On unemployment with a $3000 grant and money from my friend who had just gotten her settlement from being hit by a car, I knew that was the time to start making the film. I also had two really great people who helped me assemble a kick ass crew and who knew how to break down the script into locations and a day schedule. Sunny Andersen, who does Girlyhead magazine stayed during the whole film. The other woman, who was great at the time, quit after a year because it was too much work for no money.
My big priority during pre-production was the actors. I met with the them every week for three months, just going over every facet of their characters, which was ultimately the best since we had no time on the set.
I worked with the actors really closely and would customize the characters to fit the people playing them. At our first meeting I had the whole cast go through the entire script and change the dialogue to fit the syntax of how they actually talked. I tried to give as much background on each character as possible. Also, in the beginning of rehearsals, I did a lot of trust exercises between all of us. The scene where Jane and Ericka are talking about masturbation, which is my favorite scene in the film, was originally written sort of stiffly and I couldn’t get the right tone with the dialogue. Eventually I had Beth and Lisa improvise the scene and I tape recorded it, telling them to include all the subjects that were in the original script. I used the transcription word for word, it worked so wonderfully.
The shoot went pretty fast. I shot in 30 days out of 36. And the days were pretty mellow since we had to be out of the movie theater by 5 PM. The long parts were adapting the script from a novel I wrote in college and trying to edit by myself on a flatbed with no money, no coverage and no prior experience with narrative conventions.
I didn’t have the movie theater location until two weeks before the shoot and that was extremely stressful, mostly on the actors who were all working day jobs except for Lisa, who played Jane. I had to keep pushing back the shooting date, but I think it was a blessing in disguise. Ultimately, your pre-production is your most vital/least expensive time and it’s important to get as organized as possible. Once you start shooting, everything’s in motion and it’s impossible to see the big picture, everything’s an endless set of details that mean nothing until later.
If you had asked me after we were done shooting if things went smoothly on the set I would have said no, but now with what I’ve been through just to get the film finished, shooting was easy. I had a kick ass crew. Adam Dodds, who did the lighting, was so patient. He and a couple other guys on the set started off as pretty innocent when it came to girls being really raunchy. At first they were totally freaked out by some of the dialogue and I think they were a little scared of Beth, I know they were terrified of me. One guy almost quit after recording the sound for the car sex scene. But eventually they got into it and afterwards they were glad to have gotten such an 'education,' especially our wonder boy, Lynn Struiksma, who ended up getting the most stickers out of all the crew. I had lots of great girls, too. Anjali Sunderam on assistant camera, who could change a mag faster than anyone and scare off homeless guys who were threatening production assistants with knives, Amanda Doss, Julie Sylvester, who started off in props and ended up being an assistant camera and then came back to be an assistant editor. It was really hard not to be able to pay anyone because there were days where they had to work at their day job and couldn’t be on the set. I'd much rather have one really tight, awesome crew, instead of rotating personnel, even though almost everyone who worked for me was cool.
The only strange thing on the set is that the actors kind of became their own clique and there was definitely a separation between the cast and crew. That’s never happened to me before. Ultimately I think it worked out because the actors became really close and during every spare moment they were working on their lines and their characters. I’m grateful that everyone worked so hard for the film, it really made a difference.
I shot on a CP-16 and we had about four 1K lights. We recorded on a Nagra 4.2 with a shotgun mike except for this one weekend when we got some wireless mikes, those were great! Someone insisted on lending me a dolly, but I was impatient with setting up the tracks and the tracks didn’t go very far, so I only used that three times. I used my personal Bolex for the date scene at the end where Jane and Ryan go bowling, in the park and running along the side of the road. My feeling is, I don’t need anything fancy, if I can just tell the story then that’s fine. I'd rather have no production values but a good story than a beautiful, boring film.
We had a continuity guy who was pretty horrible, he was the boyfriend of the producer who eventually quit. I think, ultimately, it was the assistant director, Amanda Doss, who made sure everything was shot. She was amazing. She would give out stickers to the crew member who did the best job of the day and it really made people strive to do their best. Some of them still have their stickers! I only storyboarded the super-complex scenes, like the sex scene in the back of the car and the punk rock party (one of my favorite shoots). Next time I’m not going to shoot my own film. I'd like to take more time planning the shots and the lighting in pre-production. It’s my goal to have absolutely every element of the film reflect the subtext of the script in harmony: the acting, the shooting, the lighting, the art direction (we had none on Mary Jane), the editing, the music, etc., whether the viewer consciously knows it or not.
Towards the beginning my shooting ratio was 2:1, but then as shooting went on, I would shoot bigger chunks of the scenes from different angles instead of being really strict about having only two or three lines during each shot. It was easier on the actors and eventually easier in the editing room. But I went into heavy debt after the shoot because we had to buy more film. Luckily, some people were so impressed that I actually finished the shooting that they gave me money afterwards. One of them was drunk when he promised me money and I called immediately the next day and held him to it. Because that had happened to me before with an ex-boyfriend who had promised to give me all this money when he was really drunk and when I called him two weeks later he had already spent the money on drugs.
I got a good deal up front with my lab on processing, but then they really fucked me over with my print so it wasn’t worth it. They did a real shitty job and I had to threaten them with lawyers and they still weren’t going to fix it. Then Mary Jane got into Sundance and they were like, "Maybe the print could use some fixing." I hate them, I still think the timing of my print is sloppy. For film, we got a great deal from AGFA. I sent the sales rep I Was a Teenage Serial Killer and he loved it! But the movie film department went out of business so I can’t go back there for my next film.
I got sciatica and still have muscle damage in my back from editing so long and hard. I set up an office in the worst neighborhood of San Francisco, 6th and Market, and would stay overnight lots of times only to come out and be made fun of by crusty punks, spit on by homeless guys or laughed at by prostitutes. For the first 3 months it was very glamorous and then it just sucked. Editing I Was a Teenage Serial Killer was so much easier because it was more experimental and I didn’t have as much dialogue. With Mary Jane the film is dialogue from beginning to end and that makes it a hundred times harder to keep continuity and have the editing flow smoothly.
It was kind of a pain to deal with assistant editors. At first it was fine, but then everyone either moved or got real jobs and then I had this series of crazy, unreliable, egomaniac volunteers who would come in and drive me crazy. I'd like to do AVID next time, also so I can try out lots of different cuts and not have to find all the film, physically and spend hours reassembling. If you are going to go on film, though, you have to buy Film/Sound Editing Nutz and Boltz by 'Film Guy' Tom Bullock (ISBN 0964039001). I have never been so organized in my life as when I set up my editing room. I could find any frame of film or sound out of ten hours of footage.
As for reshooting, I just had some pick up shots and some stuff I came up with at the last minute when I had an editing problem. After the shoot, most of the actors scattered so reshoots were impossible anyway. That’s the thing with San Francisco is most people only live there for two years and then they move.
Not too much changed from my original script to the finished product. I found that I could cut a lot of dialogue down. When you have actors fleshing out the roles, you don’t need to explain everything, you can just have the actors actually act. You know what they’re feeling from their faces, their body movements. Originally the character of Matt, the alcoholic, was supposed to be more of a model-type guy, just totally gorgeous, but Andrew DeAngelo was so manic and strange, I really liked his performance. Also Ryan, the smile-y face guy, was originally more of a mentor to Jane, but the character of Ericka sort of took that over. I feel like I made the movie I wanted to make. I’m really happy with the film.
I ended up being homeless. While I was shooting I was crashing on the floors and in the spare rooms of some of the crew members. Most of the cast and crew didn’t know that until afterwards and I still don’t tell too many people about it. It was horrible. When the shoot was over I was broke, homeless, had used up all my favors and had no privacy to recuperate after such an enormous undertaking. I tried to get away by visiting an ex-boyfriend in the woods in Northern California (not the drugs one. This one went insane but is currently on medication and I hear he’s doing pretty good now). Instead of getting some rest, we fought the whole time, he was homeless too so we were sleeping in my van and it was fucking freezing and then my van broke down on the way back to San Francisco.
I ended up selling it for $60 to some guy on the verge of being initiated into the Hell’s Angels. That sucked because I was going to sell the van for rent money to get a place. Luckily, I got a job doing a music video for Man or Astroman?, which wasn’t a lot of money, but it helped me get back on track.
As for the film’s soundtrack, I originally was thinking about the music of my youth, Midwest garage rock like HÜsker DÜ, Replacements and Soul Asylum. Not only are those bands impossible to get now, but I found that the spirit of Mary Jane was different once it was shot. I got so much help from the punk rock community and so many of my locations were once legendary punk rock venues, it just made sense to go with a punk soundtrack. A lot of songs we used were by people we knew. Beth Allen, who plays the punk chick, Ericka, is in the Loudmouths, which is an amazing band. I used 3 songs of theirs. Davey Havoc from AFI is in the film, we used two of their songs, Dale from Steel Pole Bathtub has a quick scene as an extra so Steel Pole let us have one of their older songs. And then bands I just love, like Babes in Toyland, Red Aunts, Mudhoney, Cosmic Psychos, Mark Mothersbaugh (who gave us a song when we couldn’t get rights to a Devo song because of their fucking publishers), Azalia Snail, Tiger Trap, Cockpit and Timco. It was really difficult to get clearances and have to deal with lawyers and music publishers who only care about money, but ultimately the bands really helped out. That or I made chocolate chip cookies and sent them to whoever was giving me a hard time. It worked!
I knew enough to not get married to any one thing. Being a student of George Kuchar taught me to be totally flexible. I was bummed when I had to give up "Gimme Some Action" by Fear, but I know filmmakers who weren’t able to get their films out for years because they were stuck with music rights problems. I tried to make each song completely reflect the character and what kind of music they would be listening to at that moment. But also with each song, if you listen to the lyrics, I tried to have a cool subtext that matched the scene, but not too obvious. Like after Jane loses her virginity and everything’s going wrong for all the characters after the opening party, "Flat Out Fucked" by Mudhoney was a joke on several levels. Or the Loudmouths’ song "Tura Satana" at the end when Jane gets the last laugh on the jerk she lost her virginity to. I also tried to have every song be about love, crushes or fucking since it’s a coming of age movie.
When I premiered the film at the Chicago Underground Film Festival, I was sitting in back and this guy in front of me was shifting in his seat the whole time and he kept yawning, so I thought everyone hated the movie and was pretty bummed. Then, at the end, there was about ten minutes of hardcore applause. It was so gratifying. Lisa, Chris (who played Tom, the cute guy) and Greg (who played Dave, the boss) had come out to the festival and the audience asked us questions for at least an hour. All through the festival people were complimenting us. I was so relieved. It was like, 'Oh good, all that work paid off!'
The reaction at South by Southwest in Austin was just amazing. The film sold out three shows, turning 100 people away each time, and the response was incredible. That town totally got where the film was coming from. It’s been pretty obvious that the audience for Mary Jane is with music fans and people who grew up with a love/hate relationship for Molly Ringwald movies. Also, Groningen in Holland was the same thing. There’s a club called Vera where most of the bands in Mary Jane have played and not only did the film sell out and do incredibly well, but also I felt completely at home with the employees and the audience. My film booker here in Holland told me that most bands love to play in Groningen (it’s Henry Rollins’ favorite stop in Europe!). The town has got such a great spirit. I haven’t had too many bad screenings, actually. The response has been overall pretty good.
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