If you didn’t get the chance to see Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together when it screened at Gene Siskel, you’ve got another chance! There will be a special, one-night screening of the film at Music Box on Thursday, April 26th, with an after-party at Blue Bayou. An extra bonus is that the film screening will benefit Howard Brown’s Lesbian Community Care Project. Party for a good cause!
The L Stop spoke with writer/director Wendy Jo Carlton, and actors Jessica London-Shields, Jacqui Jackson and Fawzia Mirza for some behind the scenes insight on the making of the film.
Wendy Jo Carlton (writer/director)
A: I had the privilege of reviewing Hannah Free for Frameline33. Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together (JJANT) is so different in terms of, well, everything! Can you tell us about the origins of the film?
WJ: Certainly, I directed Hannah Free, but the story came from Claudia Allen, so it’s someone else’s story. But JJANT—that’s my own screenplay. It makes it different in terms of knowing ahead of time what my vision for it was. And I think
I’ve always wanted to tell the story that I’ve lived many times in my life, which is the experience of wanting someone I can’t really have or being confused of how I really feel about another woman. It’s kind of a celebration of the gray area of what it’s like to be human, right? We tend to shift our weight from one week to the other, knowing what we want and who we want, but then we’re not always sure. It can be kind of messy, and messy is human and I was interested in telling that story.
A: Okay. And how long was production?
WJ: 17 days.
A: Oh, wow! That’s crazy!
WJ: Yeah, for better or for worse I’m getting into this habit of thinking I can pull stuff off against incredible odds financially and logistically. Once you set that standard it’s kind of like, ‘Oh okay, maybe 15 days next time with even less money.’ Oh no! Let’s go the other way… (laughs)
A: So, what would you say was your biggest challenge while making JJANT?
WJ: You know once you’re off to the races during production, I don’t know that I recall. It becomes kind of a blur of activity. So, I don’t know that I had a really big challenge other than trying to get enough sleep. And to make sure that my cast was happy, but that wasn’t difficult. That’s just like your normal thing to do…with most shoots that are this short and you have limited financial resources, you have to keep thinking on your feet and solving problems as you go. You just have to get in that mode or you’re not going to be able to pull it off. Luckily for me I had a great team around me with my director of photography, Gretchen. My producer was also a friend, Anne Hanson. These are folks who would show up and make sure I had coffee, even though they weren’t production assistants. I think to pull this off, you already have a have a good rapport with your team in place—your production team and also your cast believing in you and you believing in your cast. That’s the long answer. I think the biggest challenge was getting enough sleep and making the film without an Assistant Director.
A: What was the inspiration behind making the film a musical?
WJ: I’m a little bit nuts, I think that, ‘Okay, let’s throw something even more interesting into this story.’ The musical numbers for me are a more honest, straightforward expression of each characters angst, worries and concerns. That’s what’s great about music and musicals: you can be more literal and transcendent at the same time. So, I was interested in just trying that and everyone was game. I made sure not to do it too often, because it was really just a romantic comedy with musical numbers. I would never try to make a musical, per se.
A: I definitely feel like the songs came at a great pace.
WJ: Well good…thanks.
A: Lesbian friendships, courtships and romantic drama can be complicated. Are there any real life influences that made it into the film?
WJ: (laughs) Well sure, I have a very tight relationship with my best friend, Anne Hanson, who is also the producer. Some of the story is inspired by my relationship and friendship with her because she is an ex-girlfriend. And then we became housemates after we were no longer lovers, so sharing the same address and being so close and knowing each other so well, having a lot of physical affection and emotional knowledge of one another, people would assume we were together. But we weren’t—we had separate girlfriends and we were just housemates. Some of it’s inspired by that experience.
A: Right, right.
WJ: You know, I think with queer girls, with lesbian women, it’s a fairly common experience and I have yet to see a movie kind of name that and honor that. You know what I mean? I know you know what I mean.
A: Oh, absolutely. I have very close friends, best friends even, who I also used to date, and I think there are two camps on that: people who are friends with their exes and people who really aren’t, don’t understand each other’s positions. People see how close we are and they don’t quite get that it’s simply that we have this love for each other based off the fact that we used to date.
WJ: Yeah and the fact that you still really…it’s not going to work with anyone and I’m certainly not friends with all of my exes. It’s just when you have a particular relationship where you can trust that person and you know they’ve got your back and you each know you have the other person’s best interest at heart…it’s not game playing, it’s not trying to be possessive. It’s actually a supportive love that’s going to continue and you want it to continue. And it’s beautiful and you feel lucky to have it.
A: I agree. Lucky to still have someone around who you care about, and who cares for you.
WJ: That’s what I was trying to make a movie about.
A: Well, Roger Ebert is quoted as saying Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together is, “Charmingly written and acted”…how awesome is that?
WJ: (laughs) It’s really great! We couldn’t have known—I mean, it was an unexpected thing to happen. That he actually watched the movie and then gave such a positive review. You know, it’s indie and it’s micro-budget and it’s not straight or mainstream. That’s been a bonus.
A: JJANT is also kind of a mini-ode to the city, as it was shot in and around Chicago with a Chicago cast. Would you agree?
WJ: Yeah, I wanted Chicago to be its own character within the story and wanted to kind of show that, hey, these girls don’t have a car. They’re younger; they’re working hard to pay their rent and still trying to chase their dreams. I was interested in them getting around the city and not being of a car culture. But being more vibrant, more active, more enjoying themselves in the world. So they’re taking the train, riding their bikes, getting around on a scooter. I was just interested in showing the city, but not how we typically see it and feel it with it so many cars and so many highways and all of that. Maybe it’s like a secret agenda of mine of my life philosophy.
A: How did the decision come about to have the Chicago Music Box screening benefit Howard Brown’s LCCP?
WJ: I wanted to do something that would be somehow connected with the city I live in and my community. That would bring attention to something that’s lesbian-oriented, so I called JT Newman. It was her idea to make it specifically LCCP in terms of the benefit. She works for them at Howard Brown. Even before she worked at Howard Brown, she was doing burlesque and doing events that were queer girl, spoken word stuff. I actually met her at a spoken word event she
A: What projects do you have coming up next?
WJ: I’m working on a feature-length screenplay, that’s a suspense/romance set in a convent. It begins with a messing person, it has lesbian protagonists, and there’s something going on at the convent, something you wouldn’t expect, which will be revealed. It’s called The Disappearance of Sister Pauline.
A: That sounds pretty cool.
WJ: I just sent it to the Outfest screenwriting lab, so if they end up picking me, I at least get to go get more feedback in LA in June. We’ll see. I made it to the second round, but if that doesn’t happen, I’ll still go full steam ahead and try to manifest the next production. I just need to find a convent! (laughs)
A: I guess that’s not as easy as it sounds.
WJ: No, no it’s not. I just thought of another answer for your previous question about a challenge I faced on the film: trying not to fall in love with everyone. You can add that!
A: (laughs) Never put me in position of power with hot people—it would be a lawsuit waiting to happen.
WJ: Oh my God…oh no, I keep my boundaries! I’m real good, though it doesn’t mean that you’re not emotionally affected.
A: And they’re bringing your characters to life, too, so…
WJ: That’s true! I think it does kind of help. That’s why I just want to make a series of queer films. My goal is to make a feature film every other year at minimum, just because I feel kind of urgent. I feel that there are so many other stories I’m interested in telling, that there’s demand for and interest in, but with my own queer twist on it. I’m always interested in working class stuff, as well, which is often another, or its own, queerness in the culture we live in.
A: Well, we’re definitely not all Bette and Tina in our big house in LA!
WJ: Oh, yeah. Which is exactly what I didn’t want to do with Jamie and Jessie, or playing with another genre with Sister Pauline, so that were not even in kind of the real world, it’s a thriller-suspense thing.
A: Well I look forward to seeing your next film and catching up with you again soon!
WJ: For sure, come out to the screening and the after party is right across the street at Blue Bayou. Come by, it should really fun!
A: For sure! Thanks, again, Wendy Jo, for talking with me!
WJ: Thanks for taking the time!
Jacqui Jackson (Jamie)
A: You worked with Wendy Jo on Hannah Free – what was it like working with her again, especially on such a different type of film? And how did you get involved in this film?
J: Wendy Jo and I worked on Hannah Free, which was where we met. We found working together quite pleasant and agreed that we wanted to work together in the future, so we stayed in contact. She and I went to the Dyke March in Chicago
after the DVD release party of Hannah Free, and we gave my good friend Jessica London-Shields a ride there. Wendy Jo saw us together and thought we looked like a couple (we aren’t), and came up with the idea for this film. It was a very different experience, especially since Wendy Jo created this story from the ground up. I saw how much of a collaborator she is during this film, and how she works to include everyone in the process of creating the finished product.
A: Describe your character for us.
J: Jamie has a lot of confidence in her abilities—she doesn’t fail and she doesn’t hear the word “no” often. So when she decides that Chicago is too small, she goes. When she decides to have a no-strings-attached arrangement with a sexy lady, she makes a move. She doesn’t really take into consideration how her actions affect others though, and this backfires when her best friend Jessie falls in love with her.
A: What drew you to your character? Are you similar to Jamie in any way?
J: Jamie is a Chicago-based actor who is about to move to NYC…at the time we were filming, I’d just made this move, as well. Other than that, I really like the transformation that Jamie has to go through once she starts to understand that she’s hurt someone dear to her. Her choices in her situation are very interesting to me.
A: Speaking of the situation in the film, have you ever fallen in love with a best friend?
J: Yes! I’ve been in that space where you feel such deep love for a friend that you question whether you want to move the relationship to another place. I think lots of people have been there. It’s a confusing space—the friendship is so important to you that you feel you can’t risk telling them for fear of losing them.
A: Music is obviously a huge part of this film—how comfortable were you with singing and how did you prepare?
J: I’ve always been comfortable singing. I love to sing! Actually. I was in lots of show choirs and musicals in high school. Still, I’ve never done it on film before, so I had to figure out how to perform for a camera rather than on stage.
A: What is your all time favorite queer and/or lesbian film and why?
I just watched Romeos, a German film about a transgender man who falls in love with a gay cisgender (non-transgender) man at his college. It’s very tender and quite well done. I’m a big fan of XXY and Spork, two very different films—one is a drama and one is a quirky comedy—about young people living with intersex conditions. I think I like these films because they’re about people who are silenced or outcast somehow, who have to deal with not only huge transformations within themselves, but with how the whole world around them deals with their “otherness”.
A: How do you feel that Jamie and Jessie is different than other lesbian films out there?
J: Aside from the music, JJANT is a non-rom-com, it’s not a girl-meets-and-gets-girl story, it’s more complex. And it doesn’t resolve neatly. I guess that feels more true to me, that we don’t always say everything on our minds and in our hearts, and sometimes things just get left dangling.
A: So what’s up next for you?
J: Hopefully I’ll be working on some stuff here in NYC, where I live. I’ve mostly been working on the business side of film making but, now that I’m settled and paying the rent, I’d like to start working on stage and screen acting again.
Jessica London-Shields (Jessie)
A: What was it about the Jamie and Jessie script that initially piqued your interest?
J: I was actually on board for the project before the script was written. So, I suppose the main thing that piqued my interest was that I was given the amazing opportunity of having a part written for me, and having input into who that person would be. The fact that the script was queer and new and different in its stylistic approach was icing on the cake.
A: For those who haven’t seen the film yet, tell us about your character.
J: Jessie is a college undergrad. She’s kind of into her best friend/roommate. She’s a girl who finds herself caring about things too much.
A: One thing I really liked about Jessie is that she’s a wee bit awkward, though in a charming and relatable way. How much are you like Jessie?
J: I would say that I am a wee bit awkward, as well. It’s a part of my personality that I like, and try not to shy away from it. I purposely allowed Jessie to be kind of similar to myself…a younger version of myself.
A: What was it like working with Wendy Jo? What was the vibe on the set?
J: The vibe was very comfortable. Wendy Jo definitely makes you feel looked after and valuable. She’s also one of those directors that really welcomes what you have to bring to the table, which makes the production process feel very collaborative.
A: How comfortable were you with all the singing?
J: I am not a singer, but at the same time I didn’t prepare. In retrospect, perhaps I should have. Awkward?
A: What is your all time favorite queer and/or lesbian film and why?
J: I am a big fan of the BBC miniseries Tipping the Velvet, based on the novel by the same name by lezzie author Sarah Waters. I think I broke my DVD copy from over-watching. It combines many things I love: queers from an older era, girls in drag, performance, camp, and British accents.
A: Thanks for taking the time to answer questions in the middle of preparing to go to Germany! What projects do you have coming up next?
J: I’m going out of town and traveling for a little bit. So I guess I’m working on myself. Project of me!
Fawzia Mirza (Rhonda)
F: Rhonda is part of this little love triangle between Jamie and Jessie. She’s tough and fiercely independent, but finally falls for a girl in this film.
A: Is this the first time you played a lesbian onscreen? What has that been like for you as an actor or as a person?
F: Well, this was the second film I ever shot where I played a lesbian character, but it was the first film that was released—the second one just released this month. It’s been great on both fronts: I love portraying characters that in some ways reflect me, or a community I’m a part of. Although, what I also love is that you never hear anyone use the word ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ anywhere in the film.
A: I didn’t even notice that! You seem to have quite a few love scenes in the film – how easy or difficult were they?
F: I don’t think it’s ever easy to physically connect to someone you aren’t involved with especially with a bunch of people watching and filming you. And this was a first for me. And it was also a challenge. Wendy Jo definitely was great with making sure that only the essential crew were in the room during the scenes, to maintain a safe, comfortable and professional environment.
A: Talk a bit about being cast to play a woman named “Rhonda” when most of your roles have been connected to India/Pakistan cultural identity.
F: It was fun to play a character where my ethnicity was not a central part, or even any part, of my casting. It’s easy to get pigeonholed as being able to do only one kind of thing, either on stage or on screen. It’s not often I get to play a “Rhonda” or a “Jane.” That being said, I do love playing South Asian women on screen and you’ll see that in other projects I’m working on.
A: Tell us about the other projects.
F: The Queen of My Dreams is a short film I made with my friend/ collaborator, Ryan Logan, currently touring the festival circuit about Bollywood, drag and identity. And a film I’m in, Promise Land, where I play an Indian lesbian dealing with her mom and the government, is releasing for one-night screenings throughout the spring and summer at AMC theatres nationwide.
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Angelique worked in advertising for six years, but quit once they stole her soul. She has been the Marketing & PR Director for Reeling, Chicago’s LGBT International Film Festival, for the last three years. She can currently be seen going out too much and ignoring the stack of books on her floor that she really wants to find the time to read.