Filmmaker Jody Barton talks about taking the reigns on the latest installment in the popular, micro-budget ‘Jennifer’ series on FOR JENNIFER.
Hi Jody, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Please tell us about the film and how the idea manifested for you?
Jody- For Jennifer is part of a series of films starting in 2012 with James Cullen Bressack’s ‘to Jennifer’. It was a project he started with Chuck Pappas. The first feature shot on the iPhone. The idea was that even with limited resources, you could still tell compelling stories. They asked me to be a part of it and I was all onboard.
Then Hunter Johnson came on with a script idea for a sequel. A grittier film, ‘2 Jennifer, about Spencer, a guy whose obsession with making a ‘to Jennifer’ sequel drives him to madness. The film is all shot on the iPhone. And then from Frank Merle, ‘From Jennifer’, a film about social media obsession, and Jennifer’s (Danielle Taidei) slow and violent descent in to that world. Frank’s film also utilized go pro cams in addition to the phone. And now we had a series!
With For Jennifer, we wanted to continue the shooting style of having all the shots come from a character perspective. So, every shot in the story has to justified as to why it is there. It can make writing a challenge, but I think it adds a strong element of realism. And realism is great for a horror movie. We also worked with phone cams, flip cam, steady go pros, and a drone. It gave us more opportunities to shoot the film in a unique way. While maintaining the integrity of the story.
In For Jennifer we bring the stories together. James (EP, Prod), Frank (Prod, DP), and Hunter (Prod, Editor, ‘Spencer”) all took very active roles in coming together to help me bring the film to life. It is written as a standalone film, so it is not necessary to have seen the previous films to understand this one, but hopefully it will encourage you to check out the others as well.
What was it like working with the cast?
Jody- Loved my cast. I came at this as an actor first. With an ultra-low budget film like this, you have to find people who love what they do. Actors who will take it upon themselves to do a lot of the things that would be done for you on a larger budget film. I tried to give each them room to bring their qualities to these characters. I can’t thank them enough contributing their talent.
Is it difficult to shoot a film like this? You are filming people who are filming themselves? Reality/meta world work. And the multiple screens?
Jody- It creates a challenge when you always have to justify why the camera is there and turned on. There is a lot of movie within a movie stuff going on, and it allowed for many opportunities to justify people filming themselves. And by the end it is taken to the absurd degree. Poking fun at the genre.
By not using the standard observational style of shooting there were shots that we just could not get. But others we just had to find inventive ways to shoot.
The split screens were something we talked about a lot. We needed a way to show the substance of the previous films. With observational filming we could have shot over the shoulder, or filmed the screen, but there was never a way to make sense of it. So, the split screens worked well to be able to tell the audience clearly what the character(s) was watching. As the movie progresses, the excess of cameras becomes its own story, and I thought we could continue using split screens in some places to intensify that. Then it just took figuring it out in the editing room.
You wear quite a few hats. Do you think it helps? The more you do, the more you know? I always like to learn about everything so I would think it would help.
Jody- I have been an actor first in my career. And many of the films I have done have been small budget/independent projects. People on these sets often are asked to do way beyond their job title and you can learn a lot from them. But with James, Frank, and Hunter on set every day I knew I had experience behind me.
Although my characters from the other films make appearances in this one, the only acting I had to do was that first scene. Which is the only scene we shot for this film that was not shot from the character’s perspective. So, when on set I was able to focus only on directing, which gave me plenty to do.
You played Martin in To Jennifer, and you wrote with James Cullen Bressack. I think the two of you are talented. What was it like working with James?
Jody- James is one of my favorite people in the world. We started working together about 9 years ago on short film called ‘Unmimely Demise’. I think you can find it on one of the Theatre of the Deranged’ collections. From there we did the notorious movie “Hate Crime”. Early on we had a great working relationship and James always had a creative drive unlike anyone I’d met. A few years and films later he’s one of my very best friends.
The great thing about working together on films is we can be fully honest about things we agree and disagree about, but continue moving forward with the same goal of making the best film we can. On For Jennifer, as creator of the series and EP, James could have been more demanding in what he thought the film should be. Instead he gave me the freedom to make the movie I wanted to make, while being there through the whole process to make sure I had what I needed. I’m eternally grateful for him asking me to do the film in the first place, and getting me the people and tools, I needed to make it happen.
What challenges did you come across making the movie?
Jody- An ultra-low budget film like this always presents challenges in getting your vision on screen. First is finding people who will help while being offered little to no compensation. They have to just love making movies. Nick Kekeris came on early as someone who from day one was there to do what needed to be done to get it moving. And the willingness of Hunter Johnson and Frank Merle to take such important roles in the development of this 4th installment was everything. It became a team effort with everyone pitching in to get the film made.
From the birthday party guests, to the actors in the audition scenes, to Rachel Hardisty playing my scream queen washing machine lover; the film is filled with people who came on board just to help out. That is always the biggest challenge in a low budget project. And I could not have been more fortunate with the people who showed up.
What do you want to say to the fans that will be watching the movie?
Jody- Thanks for giving it a shot! With low budget horror you never know what you are going to get. But we are really happy with how this film turned out. It’s a horror movie with a lot of suspense driven action, but there is plenty of humor as well (See comedy legend Don Barris and his partner Maryjane Green in the audition scene!) Independent film is different in those that come from production houses in that the filmmaker has the freedom put their ideas on screen, without being beholden to other interests. It’s the purest way to make a film. And every time someone watches it, it supports all independent film. If you like it, please leave some good reviews and tell all your friends about it, that helps too.
I thank you so much. You did a great job with For Jennifer.
FOR JENNIFER is out now On Demand