Director Jen McGowan shares exclusively the journey to create her feature debut Kelly & Cal starring Oscar nominated actress Juliette Lewis (Cape Fare, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape).
You received a BFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. What first got you interested in filmmaking?
I did but I actually studied acting there. I first got interested in filmmaking after I finished NYU and tried making a film on my own for myself, and my friends to be in. When I did that I realized directing suited me far better than acting.
Kelly & Cal tells the story of a punk-rocker turned suburban mom. Can you tell about the inspiration behind the film?
Well, really the person to answer that is the writer, Amy Lowe Starbin, but I’ve heard her answer this before so I hope she won’t mind. It was a combination of experiencing new motherhood and a memory of having been attracted to a guy who used a wheel chair she sort of combined elements of those two things to create a script that examined identity, aging and new parenthood.
Oscar nominated actress Juliette Lewis did an outstanding job in the lead role of Kelly. How did you end-up casting Juliette?
Thank you. Amy and I had her in our minds when Amy was writing. She was our dream cast. But we didn’t really think we’d get her. It was an incredible amount of luck. When we offered the project to her it just so happened that she was starting to act again after having taken six or eight years off to tour with her band. Also, she really connected to the material and she & I hit it off too. Lots of things you can’t really plan for. But I am so grateful it worked out that way. She really is my perfect Kelly.
The relationship between Kelly & Cal played by (Jonny Weston) is quite complex. Can you describe the writing process for Kelly & Cal?
I can in as much as I developed the script with Amy. When we first discussed the project she had about a third of it written I believe. But she knew what she wanted to do with it and knew the characters intimately. Basically, she would write, I would read and give feedback. We would talk. She would write again. As a director I love working with writers because I know the script is being crafted specifically for me so the development process is very constructive. I think writers also enjoy working like this because they know they’re never going to get opposing notes. There’s only one of me!
Filmmakers often wonder how to fund their next project. How did you raise funds for your feature film debut?
I know. It’s the worst. The tricky thing is each situation is not really replicable until you get to the studio level. And even there projects are being set up in ever more complicated ways. For me, quite honestly, my producers discovered me online. They happened to be looking for young up & coming directors and I happened to have a short, TOUCH, playing the festival circuit at that same time and it was doing really well winning a bunch of awards. They saw my name popping up again and again.
They got in touch through LunaFest and asked me if there was anything I wanted to make. I had KELLY & CAL ready to go so I said YES! I sent them the script; they loved it. And they were able to put together all the finance through private equity. That’s pretty much a nice way to say “film-loving rich people”. Like I said, not exactly repeatable. But they key takeaway in that is you just have to always do your best because you have no idea where it can lead. If my short film sucked, this film would never have happened.
You were a finalist for the prestigious Clint Eastwood Filmmaker Award. Can you give us some advice for aspiring directors?
I was! Well, for all filmmakers, just make what you love. You have to have a point of view and an opinion and then just make it. Don’t try to copy any one else just do your thing. And give yourself time. This is a very different time than when anyone who got into Sundance got a deal somewhere. Take your time. Do your thing. Let the world catch up to you.
You studied acting at the Atlantic Theater Company under William H. Macy. What made you change your direction?
He taught a couple of my classes. As did David Mamet and Felicity Huffman, I loved acting. And I was good at it. But I did not at all care for the business of acting. I think I was just impatient but I felt as a director I had more control over my work and my career. That may not actually be correct but it’s how I felt. No way to know what would have happened, but I love where I am now so it doesn’t matter. And my acting studies and experience gave me the best training for my directing so it was a good route for me. Everyone has to find the path that works best for him or her.
Kelly & Cal premiered at South By Southwest in 2014. How much involvement did you have in post-production?
I worked with my editor, David Hopper, who cut my short films. We cut out of the office in the back of my house so I would say I was fairly involved. Maybe too involved! You’d have to follow-up with him. J we cut in LA and we colored and did sound post in NY. I was there from first draft of the script until final delivery. Editing and sound design are incredibly important to me. They really are the last secret weapons of movie making.
Getting feedback from an audience is essential for any director. What has been the reaction thus far for Kelly & Cal?
It’s been incredibly positive. From critical response to individual members of the audience it has been overwhelmingly positive. I’m very, very grateful.
Kelly & Cal is available to purchase and rent on itunes, Amazon, and Google Play.