WCW Jaclyn Gramigna: Filmmaker & Poet

A few weeks ago, I had the rad opportunity of interviewing filmmaker Jaclyn Gramigna -- of course over coffee.  Jaclyn is an award-winning director who pushes boundaries and social consciousness.  She does all this with a dose of humor. I had the opportunity of working with her as she was the director for our friend Dru’s music video “Familiar”.  She's also an avid home cook and musician. Jaclyn’s work pushes people out of their comfort zone and she is currently working on a project that is pushing her out of her comfort zone ---  HER FIRST FEATURE FILM

Photo credit:  Mika Arava

Photo credit: Mika Arava

After talking to her, I was amazed as to the process she uses and the fact that she uses her love of writing poetry to express the ups and downs of the feature film process.  Below are two of my favs:

In every post, Jaclyn also gives the reader an insight into the inspiration behind the poem.  There were times when I was reading her poetry on my tablet, where I found myself relating to what she was expressing going through a life-changing project. 

Check out our fun Q & A below:

O.C.O: How did you get into filmmaking initially? Is it something you were interested in since you were young, or did it develop later?

J.G: Growing up I was obsessed with theater and I wanted to be an actress. I always got into the plays and musicals but I never got a leading role. Feeling discouraged, I decided to apply for a summer filmmaking program for high schoolers at NYU. I always loved writing stories and watching movies but never thought I could make them until I did that program. I was hooked immediately and have been making movies ever since. 

O.C.O: Tell us about your first feature film.

J.G:  In short, my feature is about a chance meeting and the worst-case scenario. In slightly more detail…after a freak train bombing, an isolated nomad nurses her childhood friend back to health. Their shared trauma (and sense of humor) ignites a heated love affair but his dark secret tests her capacity to love. 

It’s about my worst fears and two people coping with mental illness in different ways. I’ve been working on the script for upwards of three years and I’m very ready to have this film baby (lol). 

O.C.O:  How has writing poetry helped you cope with the demands of upcoming feature film and life in general?

J.G:  Writing poetry has been like journaling, without having to write all the in-between words. It’s been cathartic in a way that other writing hasn’t been lately. It doesn’t feel like work, it’s just raw feeling…disjointed as it is…the natural rhythm of my brain without TRYING to make beginnings, middles and ends. I’m not saying I don’t revise my poems, I usually do, to an extent but it feels like the pressure is off. I can just let whatever words come out of me be. With my scripts I agonize about “getting things right” and “will this come across” but writing poetry feels like finger painting. I hope I don’t offend other poets who may agonize over their poems but for me it feels like freedom and that has been invaluable for me...Having something I’m not so precious about. I’m not expecting to get anything out of writing poetry other than writing it. 

O.C.O: What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities that make a film better for you?

J.G: To me, a great film can carry you away. It can transport you into the “shoes” of someone (or something) else and make you feel how they feel. As a film school graduate, I sometimes have a hard time seeing past technical flaws, so if I can get totally immersed in a film, to me, that’s a sign of greatness. I think the best films are ones that can make you feel something, put you outside of your comfort zone and still manage to entertain you. They linger in your social consciousness and can be reignited as you experience things in your life. 

Photo credit:  Vladimir Weinstein

Photo credit: Vladimir Weinstein

O.C.O: You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

J.G: What a great question. I have gotten the opportunity to work with many different collaborators and each one has come to me differently and organically. The Director of Photography (DP) that is probably my most frequent collaborator (and is slated to shoot my first feature) is someone I met at NYU. We had mutual friends and I was recommended to her when another DP wasn’t available for a short film I was doing. It turned out to be a huge blessing because she and I clicked creatively and we’ve gone on to work together on multiple projects. I think part of it is building a relationship outside of the collaboration. Another frequent collaborator is an actress/writer I met while taking an improv class. We knew immediately that we clicked on a friend & taste-level, then after following each other on social media and seeing that both of us were “doers,” she reached out to me to direct a play she had written and we’ve been collaborating as actor/writer + director/producer ever since. Another collaborator I met on Twitter and then become friends in real life, so you never know! I think it’s all about a feeling. In the end, it can be a very intimate relationship, especially if you are co-writing something, so trust and shared values is really important but I also try to look out for people who have different strengths than me, so we can compliment each other. Like any relationship, it takes work and some days my collaborators and I disagree but we work through it, or we realize that the collaboration isn’t meant to be and move on, no hard feelings.

I am currently searching for a verrrryyyy important collaborator, a creative producing partner for my feature! So if you know anyone…

O.C.O: Who inspires you on a daily basis?

J.G: My little sister, Kathryn, who (at 23) is a 3rd grade teacher, working incredibly hard, tirelessly, selflessly, shaping young minds. She is a force to be reckoned with. The women in my life, in general, inspire me every day. Just knowing that we’re all in this together and that it’s going to be damn hard but if they can do it, so can I. The amount of women I know who are not "taking no for an answer” and persevering as a woman in (insert any) industry is massive and their presence alone inspires me. 

Photo credit:  Vladimir Weinstein

Photo credit: Vladimir Weinstein

O.C.O Films evolve through the creative process – sometimes most dramatically in the editing process. It’s often really hard to reconcile the difference between what was desired and what was achieved. How have you encountered this and how do you move through it?

J.G: This is something that everyone who makes a movie (especially with a low budget) encounters. You spend a crazy amount of hours preparing to shoot your film, then almost as many hours shooting it, but in the end, as you say, the film is really made in the cutting room. Luckily, I think I came to terms with the idea that “the film you shoot will be different than the film you write and the film you edit will be different than the film you shot” pretty early (in college). To be honest, once I got over the despair of not getting the thing I had originally envisioned I really warmed up to the idea that every film will be an evolution. That’s kind of the magic of it…you plant a “seed” of an idea as the writer (and/or director) and then you bring on a bunch of other people who take that seed and nurture it with you. There’s no way it’s going to come out exactly how you pictured it, how could it? There are directors who will disagree with me but I love treating my films like living beings that grow and change organically. You might not get exactly what you wanted when you first started writing, but you get something else that you never could’ve written on your own. Every project is a learning experience, and I have definitely learned things the hard way, but it has made me freer in the process and more confident about the things I know and my ability to ask for help with the things I don’t. 

O.C.O: Do you find it challenging to be a female director in a male dominated industry or have you not been affected by that?

J.G: This is a loaded question…what I feel is most challenging is being taken seriously. Finding the balance of being an approachable, friendly person and standing up for myself. I’ll give you some examples of sexism I have experienced as a filmmaker who happens to be female…

At film festivals: 

Man: You have a film in the festival?

Me: Yes!

Man: You’re the actress?

Me: I wrote and directed it. 

Man: Oh wow! Good for you. So it’s your first film?

I know, it doesn’t seem that bad, but the fact is, I’ve directed 12 short films, some that I have been hired and paid to direct and the assumption that if I have a film in a festival, I’m either the actress or it’s my first film is really frustrating. Not that there’s anything wrong with being an actress or making your first film (OBVIOUSLY) but the assumption is the problem. 

I had an experience recently working as an Assistant Director on a film where the Director of Photography (a man) was basically trying to direct the film (the director was a woman) or force shots he thought were necessary (in exchange for the shots the director wanted and had shot listed). At the end of the first day I took the guy aside and reminded him that this wasn’t his movie, that I had conceded to him his shots earlier in the day but that we needed to get the shot that the director wanted and had conceived of for a reason, whether he understood it or not. He immediately agreed with me and apologized but the next day I overheard him undermining me multiple times (he was speaking VERY LOUDLY to his all male camera team) saying that he "wasn’t allowed to have opinions” because he's “just the DP,” so on and so forth. He then continued to literally ignore me the entire day. It was infuriating and confusing because I have been very lucky to have worked with many amazing men who do take me seriously and don’t feel like they have to “swing their dick around” (pardon my French…) but it was a brutal reminder that often, a man will not take a woman’s word at face value. 

I don’t want to think of my gender as a weakness because I love being a woman but every time something like this happens it scares me. It also makes me want to work harder…go ahead and underestimate me, let me prove you wrong!

O.C.O: Who is your favorite fictional character?

J.G: Such a hard question…my childhood self would’ve said Alice (from Alice in Wonderland…I was obsessed). I love Clementine (from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), I love that she is unapologetically herself. I’ve always had a hard time truly being myself, because I’m scared of what other people think (though I’ve gotten better at this) but she wore herself on her sleeve and I love that. I also LOVE Jessica Jones (you know this, Kosi). She’s complicated, she has darkness, and she’s strong but still vulnerable. Despite the fact that she has super powers, she embodies what real women are and can be. BAD ASS. 

O.C.O: What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

J.G: I have very mixed feelings about film festivals. I have had the opportunity to attend a decent amount, mostly local and some have been wonderful (they are what you put into them) but I’ve gotten a lot more out of joining groups (like The Filmshop and The FilmmakeHers). I think some (more prominent) festivals can really help launch people’s careers but these days, from my perception, people that get into those festivals, mostly already have the connections. 

They can be a great way to meet other filmmakers and grow your network of collaborators, and I’ve met some wonderful people at the festivals I have been to. Mixed feelings about spending so much money on submissions and never knowing for sure whether my film has been watched…wondering if it’s even worth it to submit if I don’t “know someone.” There are just so many festivals that rather than feeling like each one is getting me closer to achieving my dream, I sometimes feel like I’m caught in a vicious “pay to play” cycle, where I never have enough money to really compete. 

Photo credit:  Oak & Ash Music

Photo credit: Oak & Ash Music

O.C.O: What advice would you give to female creatives dealing with self-doubt? 

J.G: Push through. We all have it (at least most of the people I know do). Talk to your friends and family, your therapist (a stranger on a train), you are not alone. Sometimes I feel terrible and I’ll force myself to write about it…reading the words back on the page makes it a little more manageable. The monster in my head can now be erased, crossed out, torn up, or just put in a drawer. It’ll come back, but there are a lot of pages to fill :-). 

Check out Jaclyn's reel below and follow her on instagram + twitter // @JACoLYNtern. 

 Read more of her rad poetry each week at: http://jaclyngramigna.com/blog