Fantastic Fest 2012
By Don Simpson | November 19, 2012
During its 15-minute running time, The Quiet Girl’s Guide to Violence cleverly shows us the world from Holly’s perspective, thus allowing us the opportunity to burrow inside Holly’s head and relate much more closely with her. As the title of the film suggests, Holly does not say much, so director Rafael Antonio Ruiz relies heavily upon visual storytelling to convey Holly’s emotions. This is where Jennymarie Jemison comes in. She approaches Holly as if she is a character in a silent film, transmitting her thoughts via subtle facial expressions, gestures and movements. I suspect this will be a break-out performance for Jemison, as she truly owns Holly. I also suspect that audiences will demand to see much more of this character (if they know what’s good, they will also cry out for more of Kelli Bland’s Ivy) — which is a good thing, since Ruiz and Jemison would love to make Holly’s violent adventures into an ongoing series.
Smells Like Screen Spirit met up with Jennymarie Jemison and Rafael Antonio Ruiz during a series of brief respites from our respective Fantastic Fest 2012 shenanigans.
Don Simpson: Jennymarie, were there specific traits or characteristics that were important to you as a female actor while developing Holly’s character?
Jennymarie Jemison: If there is a role that I have been jealous of in film, it is Samantha Morton in Sweet and Lowdown. She never says a word, but her face can destroy you. You feel so much for her. I always thought that would be such a gift as an actor, that you had to do everything without using your voice. Even though Holly does speak, so much of what is communicated through her is non-verbal. You also don’t typically see lead characters in movies who purposefully try not to be seen. It is great how Rafael shot it, so that Holly is not always in the foreground, she is often just creepily standing behind someone. She is like a photo-bomber in her own life. I also like that this is a film about an observer. The audience is observing a person observing — it is like a hallway of mirrors. Holly is a victim because of whatever happened to her in the past, but she doesn’t feel sorry for herself. She has just accepted what her life has been; then when she takes action, she gets excited. It is the first time she realizes that she can have control over how her life will be. That was fun to discover that joy for her. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much love for a character before. I have a lot of affection for her.
DS: How did you approach Holly’s style and appearance?
Rafael Antonio Ruiz: The character type is pretty unique, it hasn’t been around a whole lot, especially someone who is designed in such a bold way visually. The sort of geek anger type thing for a female character… We have had characters like Enid in Ghost World –
JJ: — Well, and Enid is kind of mean, she makes fun of people. Holly isn’t mean. Don’t get me wrong, I love Enid and I love Ghost World. I wish Daniel Clowes would draw Holly! That would be really awesome!
RAR: That was our idea early on. We knew there was going to be a bold poppy quality to Holly’s look. Jenny was really strong at creating a nice bold graphic look of the character, then we got this great artwork by Tara McPherson and Phil Noto.
JJ: Both of their drawings look totally different, but they are also both totally Holly; which is also like Ghost World because Enid is drawn so differently — sometimes with zits, other times she is really cute — but it is always her essence. During wardrobe, we talked a lot about what Holly would wear if she was in a comic book, her costume basically.
DS: Can you talk about the funding of this production?
RAR: We knew that we were probably going to Kickstarter at the end for post production, but Jenny thought she could fund some of it, so we just wanted to get it in the can. That way when we started the Kickstarter campaign, we had something to show for it. That made people far more interested, because they knew we were going to follow through with it. As that point it was about raising the money to pay off the production, then the extra money would help build the brand — the sexy shirt I am wearing right now, plus of the buttons and stickers and such. The execution really was the appropriate branding. When we started, I told [Jennymarie] that I would work on this project only if she would be a producer. Part of that is because she is a uniquely dynamic personality that draws things to her.
JJ: People really want to know what they are backing, what it is going to look like. We could have said “we want to make this movie about a girl who has problems and a baseball bat…wouldn’t that be great?” I don’t think we would have gotten any money. So we shot everything first. We just didn’t have anything edited together, but Rafael put together a great teaser/trailer that was kind of The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo-styled with just glimpses of all of the gore. We shot a lot of crazy stuff that didn’t make it into this short — we originally shot this as a pilot so it was much longer — we had a wealth of imagery to use. I still don’t know what people gravitated towards, if it was the bullying message or just the name, the merchandise or the teaser.
RAR: And I have no illusions here. I really think it was the Kickstarter campaign that got us there. After the campaign got rolling, people liked it and we got attention immediately.
JJ: We got a lot of great buzz from Kickstarter because on the first day that we launched we were 60% funded. That doesn’t mean that we ended at 10,000% funded, but we did get about 150%. After that first day, we were really wondering how much money we were going to make. You can never relax if you’re running a good Kickstarter campaign, you have to treat it like a baby and use it like a PR machine. We then got put on the staff picks of Kickstarter on day two, and that opened us up to a whole new audience. We have so many international backers, it’s crazy. I never budgeted for international shipping, I didn’t know how popular we would be. We had an angel investor from Vancouver who gave us $1,000 — we don’t know who she is, but she is stoked about the movie!
RAR: We find that the fans from the Kickstarter campaign are extraordinarily loyal and giving — even outside of just giving us money. We’ve worked hard to show our appreciation for their support. This is meant to just be the beginning; this is hopefully just the first stop for the character. I think Fantastic Fest has been very good about being the right place to go with it. I think we are going to get a lot of geek love, and we just want to have fun with it and see where it goes from here.
DS: Jennymarie, what were the advantages of also functioning as a producer on this film?
JJ: I loved it. Usually when you’re an actor, you are sequestered in some room, completely separated from everything. I understand why filmmakers want to keep their actors separated, so they don’t know if there are any problems. For me, especially since I co-wrote the script too, that was the most wonderful gift. I would be doing all of this producer stuff — when you get to locations there are always issues, looking at wardrobe and making sure releases are signed — and, oh shit, now I have to act! But for me, since I worked on the script it wasn’t difficult at all to slip into Holly. I’ve known who she was for months. At the same time, when you are isolated as an actor, all you have is your own performance. When you have the bigger picture as a producer, it is all at the service of the story. Every scene I was in, I did what I wanted Holly to say, or what we needed to get. As an actor, you don’t know any of that stuff. You have to hope you are making the right choices, but you don’t really know. A lot of directors don’t tell you if you are doing a good job or not. You just have to trust that they hired you because they liked what you were doing when you got the job in the first place. They are so worried about everything else, the last thing they care about is you.
It was also great during post. That was the only time I haven’t minded watching myself on film. With this movie, I was looking at everything. During editing it was really easy to choose between different takes — a lot of it wasn’t performance based, it was more about which take the camera didn’t go out of focus, these little considerations that you don’t even know about as an actor.
After I started producing, I began to realize that I was good at it. Kind of like Holly in the movie, she starts blossoming and coming into her own. There’s that one line in the mean where Jeff asks Holly if she is doing her thinking and she says “yes.” Then he says, “Did you like it?” And she says, “Yes, and I want to do it some more.” That’s how I felt working on this film. Especially when you are a woman actor, and you are not in your early 20’s anymore, it is the most powerless you can be. You are sitting around waiting for some opportunity and they are few and far between. A lot of times the script isn’t great — you think, “Wow, this is a piece of shit! I hope I get it!” If I can avoid having that experience again… I am very excited about being able to generate my own work and create characters like Holly. It seems like female characters are always tangential to the story, so if something isn’t working with the story, it is your character who is compromised. If I am the master of my own destiny, it is going to be hard to take that away.
DS: How far out is your vision for this series?
RAR: The original idea for the first episode was really to follow the BBC model — a self-contained stories with a limited number of episodes. Once you are done with that set, you can do another set. That was always at the forefront of my mind. I would like to have runs that are achievable, that can be done like a graphic novel equivalent of a story. From there, we do the next graphic novel series. You can never look too far ahead.
JJ: What I like about this short is that you are rooting for Holly, and you want her to figure stuff out to make her life good. Everything is so compressed in this short, the arc needs to go all the way. I assume that if we do shoot a pilot for a series, things won’t be so extreme right off the bat. I want the feeling to continue that Holly is trying to figure stuff out, but she is so late to the game. She is still so childlike in a lot of ways, she has to grow up more. She has to have experiences that people usually have when they are much younger, but she has just been so isolated. It is almost a coming-of-age story for an adult.
DS: Jennymarie, do you plan on continuing to live/work in Austin?
JJ: If we get the funding, I definitely want to shoot this series in Austin; not only because money can go a lot farther here, but there is so much here. There is so much talent here. So many people who are working for well below for what they deserve. To be able to have a production with an actual budget and be able to pay people actual wages, that is so exciting! I have worked on a lot of sets in Austin, and there are the little gems from every short or commercial that I have worked on. I start salivating every time I think about my dream team of people I want to work with — people who I really love as people, but who also really great at their jobs; people who have chosen this artistic life in a town that can’t support it financially.