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Jenn Garrison: “It’s an exciting time to be a creator”

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With a foot in the Lone Star state and a foot in queer theory, Jenn Garrison makes undeniably unique short films – The Funeral Singer and Checkout are two of the most daring, strange, and affecting shorts on Crackle. We got a chance to talk to her about her experience as an outsider filmmaker, the impact of web video on directing, and who should win the Texas Democratic primary on Tuesday.

Crackle: How long have you been making movies? Was filmmaking a lifelong ambition?

Jenn Garrison: I’ve been making films since 1999, but I never set out to be a filmmaker. I received my undergraduate degree in Sociology. Then I started a career in commercial radio upon graduating, [where I became fascinated by] the media’s relationship to society, so I decided to go to graduate school in Media Studies. While in graduate school I made a documentary, called PrizeWhores, about a group of senior citizens that went to radio station remotes – promotional events where fans meet DJs and win prizes. Through that process I discovered a passion for documentary filmmaking. So, I went back to school for an MFA in filmmaking, thinking I would continue to make documentaries. In film school, I discovered narrative work and directing actors. I fell in love with it and realized a new passion for utilizing film as a way to tell stories and represent characters and storylines that I felt weren’t being represented. It’s been quite a journey, but I think it’s been the right path for me.

Crackle: What projects are you working on right now?

JG: Right now I have three features in development. I am currently pitching my first feature film, JO FM, [about] an obsessed fan who kidnaps a radio DJ because she won’t play Morrissey anymore. The two leads are both women and they are trapped in the Goth movement and the music of 1989. I am very excited about it, as I’ve been working on the script for over a year. I am also writing another feature that’s a gay-themed ballroom dance movie. Finally, my short film, Checkout, was optioned by a producer to develop into a feature film. I think we can pitch that one as a gay Wedding Crashers.

Crackle: On your website, you describe yourself as a “minority voice in a hegemonic system”. How does this shape your approach to filmmaking? Can we see this at work in your shorts on Crackle, “The Funeral Singer” and “Checkout”?

JG: An interesting question. I am a woman and I am queer, so naturally that will inform the types of stories I want to tell. I truly feel that anyone in our system that is not a heterosexual upper-middle class white male is a minority and needs a voice. As a filmmaker, I try to focus on what I can bring to a story that is unique. But, to lighten things up a bit, I think I can come into a meeting and pitch myself as having the female perspective with the male gaze. Perhaps I’ll meet a Gatekeeper who’ll laugh with me on that one.

In Checkout, I was trying to tell a story that reflected misperceptions about identity and sexual politics. I really wanted to communicate the point that all is not as it seems and we shouldn’t project our sense of what we think of as “normal” onto others. And, I chose to take that higher, heady idea and communicate it within a comedic story about two friends in a friendly competition involving sexual politics.

In The Funeral Singer, I really liked the underdog character of Lisa. I think that I tend to root for the underdog as a result of feeling like a minority voice and I was drawn to helping the audience feel Lisa’s desire to shine and live her dream.

Below: Jenn Garrison’s The Funeral Singer

Crackle: What was the inspiration behind “The Funeral Singer”?

JG: Jamie Preyer, who wrote the Funeral Singer, attended a funeral and was taken by the young woman who sang at the service. She imagined what that girl’s life was like and then she wrote the script and approached me to direct it. Since I had just done a gritty, realistic piece, I saw a chance in The Funeral Singer to create a surreal world for the characters to live and breathe in while still telling an accessible story about wanting to shine and live your dreams. It really is a Cinderella story, albeit a warped one.

Crackle: So, what’s your take on the Oscars? Who deserved to win and did? Who got robbed?

JG: I think the Oscars this year were very predictable and I agreed with many of the choices. No Country for Old Men was such a great film! The only surprise for me was that Julie Cristie did not win. I loved Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose, but my pick was Julie Chrstie. I also thought there was a chance for an upset with Ellen Paige in Juno, who I really want to work with one day. And, I was thrilled that the documentary “Freeheld” won for best short documentary.

Crackle: The Texas Democratic primary is at the center of the news universe right now. Who are you voting for?

JG: I am a firm Hillary supporter. I think that at the end of the day she is the best candidate, period! It’s a shame that race and gender politics have entered this race as much as they have.

Crackle: What impact have online video sites—like Crackle, YouTube, etc.—had on your career as a director?

JG: It’s been great as a platform to show producers and other filmmakers what I can do and what types of projects interest me. I think it gives new makers and under-represented storytellers a venue for their work to be seen and heard. Ultimately that is the most important aspect of being a filmmaker to me: having the ability to share stories along with your interpretation of the world around you and the worlds that you create. It’s an exciting time to be a creator.

Watch the rest of Jenn Garrison’s videos on Crackle.

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