In Conversation With... Jessica Michael Davis
Jessica Michael Davis is a New York City based actor and filmmaker originally from Akron, Ohio who is currently developing multiple projects within the Sundance Institute. Her last short, Jane, was selected for multiple film festivals and won her a Best Actress award while her newest film Escaping Ohio recently wrapped! Read on to find out what it's like to work with an award winning Sundance Director and why rom-coms deserve another chance...
Clare - Miss En Scene: First of all, can you tell us about what you do as a filmmaker and what this involves?
Jessica: I am a multi-hyphenate (writer/director/actor). Most of the time, that involves me writing or co-writing stories that I’m passionate about, then going on to direct and act in them.
C: What or who inspired you to get into film - as a writer, actor and director?
J: My first inspiration, and still a huge inspiration for me, is Richard Linklater. I was first inspired by School of Rock (When I was 10-yrs-old, I wrote the script for School of Rock 2 and mailed it to him with a cover letter casting myself in the film.) His Before Trilogy, specifically Before Sunrise, was a huge inspiration going into this film, it was a different approach to the usual rom-com. I admire him for his passion, work ethic, and his approach to filmmaking, as well as his love for telling authentic stories and capturing intimate, human moments. I am also constantly inspired by artists and stories I encounter throughout my career. This is a beautiful industry to be a part of.
C: As a female filmmaker, what has your experience been like in the industry so far?
J: It’s been really great! I am still new to this business, and have heard of obstacles others before me have had to overcome, and for that, I am eternally grateful to those womxn, for it’s given me the chance to be able to find my way down this path with support, respect, and opportunities.
C: Are there any misconceptions about filmmaking that you would like to erase or set straight?
J: This has been said by others before, but I find it extremely helpful, but having to be “ready” to get started. There’s never going to be that moment when you feel ready or perfect (though, you do want to prepare as much as possible) But, you just have to jump in and learn as you go.
C: For anyone - particularly women and girls - wanting to get into film, what advice would you give them?
J: Do it, it’s calling you for a reason! This field calls for lots of risk taking, but trust your gut and know that with great risks comes great reward. Find your people! Whether that’s artists you collaborate with or people who support you, just make sure you’re surrounded by the best energy that will help you succeed. As amazing as this career path can be, it can also be challenging, and you don’t want to do it alone! I know I only have made it this far because of the people and artists in my life.
C: You're currently working on a project titled 'Escaping Ohio', a teen romcom which is in development. Can you tell me a bit about the background of this project and the other people working on it?
J: The film is set in Akron, Ohio - my hometown, and was created from my personal feelings and contemplations about success and happiness. I enjoy chasing the dream, and taking risks, but sometimes I stop and wonder if I’m really happy and I’m sure those who chose to settle down wonder what could have been. We have an incredible team on this, all artists I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know over the past few years. Our Director of Photography, Mike Zorbas, and Assistant Camera, Chase McCaffrey are both from Ohio, as well. Our crew was 50% women, including my amazing Assistant Directors, Audrey Thibault and Denisse Juliana Jimenez. Lastly, my incredibly talented Co-Producer/Star/Writer, Collin Kelly-Sordelet, most notably known for playing JJ Carney in the Tony winning play The Ferryman, as well as his role as Ray Cooper in the feature film Wildling, opposite Bel Powley and Liv Tyler.
C: What is the premise of Escaping Ohio and how are you going to put your own spin on a popular genre?
J: Escaping Ohio follows JJ and Sam, two 18 year-olds facing adulthood. While Sam longs for new adventures in California, JJ dreams of building his life right in their small town. When it becomes clear Sam intends to leave, JJ dares her to give him 24 hours to prove why Ohio - and JJ and Sam's future together - is worth sticking around for. Say the words “rom-com,” and films with formulaic plots, bland characters and generic happy endings come to mind. But Escaping Ohio avoids that fate with its whip-smart, sarcastic and multi-layered protagonist Sam, and by questioning what a happy ending actually looks like. Rom-coms get a bad rap for being generic entertainment, but I believe there’s an opportunity to bring authenticity to the genre while creating entertaining and thought provoking films.
C: Escaping Ohio is being developed at the Sundance Institute. How much of an impact is working in a well-established institution having on the production?
J: Developing the film with the Sundance Institute was incredible. I got to work one-on-one with a Sundance award-winning filmmaker to help me define my creative vision, refine the script, and plan production and post-production. It really helped me with bringing the best version of the film possible and gave me the confidence to trust myself and my vision.
C: With regards to the title, have you got links with Ohio? Why would someone want to escape from there?! (Speaking as a Brit who has never visited...)
J: I think anyone who comes from a small town can relate to the feeling of wanting to escape. You bump into small-minded people who have this view on the world, yet they haven’t traveled much or lived anywhere else but their town where everyone knows everyone. And, that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with small town life. But I think out of those small towns, come people who see there is a whole world out there to explore and learn about.
C: What are your hopes for this film?
J: My hopes with this short is to take it around to film festivals and share this story and film we (the cast & crew) all love and care for deeply. We realized after what felt like a truly magical production that we all worked together so well and we aren’t ready to say goodbye to this story or these characters, so we are planning to turn this into a feature film! So, I hope this short will excite audiences for a feature length version.
Click to enlarge the images in the gallery below - they are all Behind the Scenes shots from Escaping Ohio:
Check out Jessica's Insta or website here: JessicaMichaelDavis.com and for more information about Escaping Ohio visit the crowdfunding site for where you will find cast and crew bios, or follow the film on Instagram.