Jessica Cameron is a force of nature. As well as acting in a plethora of low budget genre projects, writing and directing, she also co-hosts a riotous YouTube show, Scream Queen Stream, alongside actor/writer/producer Heather Dorff. There is a relentless energy to Jessica, in her acting and directorial efforts as well as in her antics on show on YouTube. Her lengthy resume now has strong directorial outings in the shape of Truth Or Dare and the her latest, Mania. A busy figure on social media, Jessica knows what her audience wants and exactly how to get it to them.
“Hi! Sorry about that,” Jessica says as our Skype call commences and she surprises me by showing up on camera. I sheepishly activate mine and grace her eyes with the sight of a tired and unshaven Englishman sat in his kitchen in Nottingham at 8pm while the 1pm Los Angeles sun illuminates her place on the other end of the connection. She had emailed to tell me she may be late, but it was only by a few minutes. “I was just at an audition and was like – Aaargh, it’s going to run over! Thankfully it didn’t by much.”
The moment she starts talking to you, Jessica is a bundle of energy and wise cracks. She’s welcoming and honest, without the merest hint of pretension. With greetings out of the way, the conversation quickly turns to the sanity of some creative types.
“If you think I’m sane then that’s worrying, as I’m super f**ked in the head”, she chuckles. “I mean, I love extreme horror and torture and all that good stuff.”
Nothing wrong with that at all.
“I know, but when I try to date, some people ted to think it’s weird.”
“They get all kinds of scared. If they’re like a Normie, they’re horrified. It’s like, run, run, run!”
Well that’s their loss, really. I understand you actually just got back from a trip over here in the UK, or thereabouts.
“I did! I was just in Ireland and Scotland.”
Was that business or pleasure?
“In my world, there’s no real line between the two. A little of both. I was originally in Ireland with Heather Dorff for ScreamVention, the first ever horror convention in Ireland. We were guests at that, which was awesome. Then we figured, f**k, we might as well go to Scotland while we were in the region, you know? I mean, I’m part Scottish and Irish, so any time I can get to go back to my homeland, then I’m all for it. I loved visiting Scotland. It’s actually my favourite place I’ve ever been.”
I’m liking the photos you’ve been posting from your trip, the crypts and things.
“Those were so fun! I take so many f**king photos – I’ll probably be posting them every day for like the next month. Oh my god, the videos. The videos are f**king ridiculous. Theres one where I’m clearly trashed and I decide I’m going to take Dorff’s makeup bag and do this poor gentleman’s makeup, with full blush and lipstick and everything. He had a lot of facial hair, and I was like ‘I’m just gonna draw the lips on the facial hair’… haha! He wore it all night like that!”
The Cameron/Dorff double act is quite a thing to behold, especially when viewing the Scream Queen Stream show.
“People ask if we staged stuff, which is funny. It’s ridiculous. It’s just how we roll (laughs).”
How did Scream Queen Stream come about?
“That was the fans. Fans and friends. They’re kind of interchangeable. I mean, I’m Heather Dorff’s biggest fan and I’m also her best friend. Basically the fans just wanted more content. We were doing stuff on periscope and on Vine, and it got to the point where I thought we might as well just do it properly. Periscope only keeps stuff up for 24 hours, after all. I was worried it wasn’t well-lit enough for YouTube and that maybe I should buy lights and really show what we do. Dorff took some convincing. She wasn’t into it at first, and it wasn’t until she realised that the fans are really loving it that she though, hey, maybe there’s something to this. I was like, I f**king told you! It’s just sharing more of our private lives. People see the movie stuff and we thought it would give people a look at the other side of the movie stuff. Our relationship is a good factor, too. Horror can be a little clique-y, so we want to show friendship. We get drunk and talk nonsense. It’s good.”
It’s good to see the other side of you, especially when people see the Truth or Dare or Mania movies. It’s good to be able to connect like that with people.
“Yeah, and you know what? It’s nice because it’s content that we have complete control over. We’re still waiting on full distribution for Truth or Dare. It’s been a long road for Truth or Dare, probably because it’s such a graphic torture flick. We have the crowdfund copies, but we’re having to wait on distribution to do their part. We contractually can’t put it out just yet, so it’s nice to have some material we can get out there. The Screamvention stuff we shot in Ireland is hilarious.”
I’ve seen some of that. It looked like so much fun.
“It’s just us being us (laughs). It’s not like a movie. I feel like my goal with the show – which we do through Patreon – is to get it to bring in like four grand a month so Dorff can act full time. That would be great. Then, if we could get to do another tier, I’m gonna see about having her move in with me and we could have a room in which there’s a 24 hour live stream. I would just sit in that room and f**king talk for hours. Well shit, let’s do this!”
Getting onto the movies, Mania seems to be getting a good buzz.
“Yeah, so far it’s been really, really good. It’s gone down really well on the festival circuit. We started late, in the Fall, so we’ve got another few months to go. It’s screened like 12 or 13 times and we’ve won eight awards for it, well, nine awards but one hasn’t been announced yet. I love t. It’s my sexy little Grindhouse flick and my homage to ’70s cinema and I’m kind of madly in love with it at the moment.”
From what I’ve seen of it, the film has some touches of Giallo as well as the Grindhouse feel, especially in the shots tinted a vibrant red.
“Yes! We did some really cool things with those scenes. I won’t spoil what the point of those dream sequences are, but they all have a purpose, and they’ll all lit in that sort of Giall
o, David Lynchian style. It looks so cool. Really they were my favourite part to do, because anything was on the table. We weren’t tied to any semblance of reality.”
What was the experience of directing MANIA like?
“It was hard. I mean, It’s always hard when you’re the leader of a ship, but especially in this situation we are actually dong t as part of our cross-country ‘Kill The PA’ tour, so we were shooting two movies essentially back to back along with a documentary about the process. So that presented a bunch of challenges, but I would argue that there are bunch of challenges when making any movie. Like, we lost a location, but that happens anyway. It was a real challenging shoot. There was a lot of nudity and a lot of really intense scenes, so those were definitely a challenge, and then it was really hard because when you basically live with people for 24 hours a day on an RV, travelling cross-country, there’s just… If you have people who have like chemical dependencies or other issues that make it difficult for them to be around people, it gets really tiresome and you’re trying to get away but where can you go? You’re all going to be everywhere everyone else is. It was hard, but I’m really happy we got through it and really happy with the end result.”
Do you feel your experiences as a director have now influenced the way you work as an actor?
“Y’know, I feel I’ve always been easy to work with on set. My mentality is very laid back – you want me to show up early? Sure! Stay late? No problem. Do my own wardrobe and hair? Whatever. I’ve definitely made that more pronounced now in terms of how much I’ll do for a movie I love. I don’t mind working long hours in this business because I love it so much. I think, hmm, I think now I try to prevent problems. Like if someone says, hey, this character should were these bracelets, I might point out that those bracelets may present a sound issue. That sort of thing. I never thought of that stuff before. I’ll bring things along because there may be instances where wardrobe is provided, but it’s like five sizes too small. There was one day I showed up on a set and all of the female cast had the same coloured t-shirt on and weren’t in a sorority (laughs). I try to avoid that kind of thing.”
As a director, how do you get the best out of your cast?
“It really depends on the actor. I think number one, you need to make sure they’re as comfortable as can be, and hopefully you get actors that understand on a low budget movie you won’t get a trailer. Being honest with people so they know what they’re getting into. Making sure they have what they need in order to perform properly. There may be actors who were great in another role but not great in the one you’re working on, so you do what you can to save the movie. Work your ass off to make it work, dialogue, ADR, whatever it takes. It’s a case by case thing. As an actor myself I do understand the stresses and concerns they’re going through.”
And conversely, would you say your acting work has made you a better director?
“I’d say there’s a good and and bad side to it. I mean, inevitably almost every set I’m on there’s someone who doesn’t take me seriously.”
Oh yeah. I know that feeling.
“They can be like, oh yeah, she’s an actress trying to direct, or whatever. I have to be like, actually this is the actress who’s paying your ass, so shut up (laughs). You also get men who just don’t want to take orders from a woman.”
It’s 2016. What the hell?
“It shouldn’t even be a thing. The fact I have breasts shouldn’t make a difference to what I’m saying. I’ve been on over 70 sets. I have experience. I can do the job. It’s like, weren’t they aware of me being a woman when they took the job? Come on. I’ve had this on every set, so when directing I have to think about whether it’s going to become so much of an issue that I have to get somebody off the set or if it’s something I can get around and work through with them. I honestly think that some guys don’t think it will be a problem, but then on set it sort of bothers them. On Truth Or Dare – I won’t mention who it was – some guys who are friends of mine apparently overheard some of the other guys on the set talking about who of the female cast they would f**k and why. It was so disrespectful. You never hear women saying that about the men. It’s something I think we fight against every day and I think that every day we show up to the set and we’re on top of our game and earn our positions, I really think that’s how we change it. Don’t just put on a happy face. If you work hard and are passionate about it, people will eventually recognise it. It’s not about gender.”
The end product speaks volumes about the work ethic involved. What maintains your interest in genre cinema?
“You know, I’m a horror fan first and foremost. There’s nothing on Netflix or Hulu that I want to see right now. Look through stuff. There’ll be a ton of paranormal stuff, ripoffs of Paranormal Activity. You can guarantee you’ll find something like Paranormal Entity, Paranormal Experiment, The Paranormal Actives… y’know? You’ll probably find the Wrong Turn type films… twenty-somethings lost in the woods, and so on. I’m not finding the content I want and so I’m making it myself. Look at Mania for example. I mean, NOBODY is doing a f**ked-up lesbian love story. When I first came up with the concept I thought somebody must have done it, but no. Who wouldn’t want to see it? It’s Thelma and Louise with tits and blood. Why wasn’t anyone making these things? Because they couldn’t get funding as it’s not trending. I don’t care about trends. I just want to see something good and something different and I want to see something that people worked their asses of for so that it could be as strong as possible. For me that’s why I do it and why I’m going to keep on doing it.”
“Also, the other benefit is that I don’t feel there are very many strong female roles out there right now. I think we’re getting a little bit better, but there’s still this thing where the female character has to be perfect. I say be complex. Be human. Making them real is uncommon. Be the angry wife. Be the pregnant girlfriend. People aren’t just those things. We’re many different shades.”
“At the end of the day, try to make the best movie you can. Low budget movies will never be perfect, God only knows my movies aren’t perfect – they’re low budget films and they’ll never be perfect – but you can sure as Hell try your damn hardest.”
And that, right there, is how you make it.