March's filmmaker of the month is Los Angeles-based director Jen McGowan. Her first feature KELLY & CAL (Juliette Lewis & Cybill Shepherd) premiered at SXSW where she won the Gamechanger Award. The film was released theatrically by IFC Films to rave reviews.
McGowan got her start with award-winning short films, CONFESSIONS OF A LATE BLOOMER and TOUCH, both of which played at over a hundred festivals worldwide. TOUCH qualified for the Oscar when it won the Florida Film Festival.
McGowan studied directing in the MFA program at USC where she was honored with a scholarship from Women in Film and a grant from The Caucus Foundation. She received her BFA in Acting at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, studying under David Mamet, Bill Macy & Sam Shepard at the Atlantic Theatre.
She is the creator of filmpowered.com, an international skill-sharing, networking & jobs resource for professional women in film and television. With nearly 2,500 active members, Film Powered was named Best in LA by LA Weekly, is part of the Sundance Women’s Initiative Resource and was featured in Forbes.
A Film Independent Fellow, finalist for the Clint Eastwood Filmmakers Award, recipient of the AWD Breakout Award for Excellence in Directing and one of Vulture’s Women Directors Hollywood Should Be Hiring, she was named one of 50 Women Who Will Change the World in Media & Entertainment by the Take the Lead Foundation.
The tv series she created, Angelica, about the last remaining abortion clinic in a small Midwest town was one of twelve series selected from 4,000 submissions and the only American project for the MIPTV In Development program at Cannes 2018.
McGowan’s second feature film, the survival thriller, RUST CREEK, is being released in theaters January 2019 by IFC Midnight. RUST CREEK won three ‘Best of Fest’ Awards at the Breckenridge Film Festival in 2018, including Best Director and Best Drama.
Tell us your backstory. How and why did you get into the filmmaking?
I started studying acting at The Atlantic Theater Company while I was at NYU. After that I worked in the production of tv commercials and music videos to pay the bills and that really exposed me to the possibility of filmmaking. As I very quickly became disenchanted with the life of an actor I became curious about Directing and thankfully was accepted to the MFA Directing program at USC when I applied. Never looked back.
How many films have you completed? What is your favorite project you have worked on and why?
Not including little film school type stuff, I’ve done two shorts (CONFESSIONS OF A LATE BLOOMER and TOUCH) and two features (KELLY & CAL and RUST CREEK) that have done the festival circuit & been distributed. My favorite film is always the one I’m working on right now!
What’s harder? Getting started or being able to keep going? And what drives you to continue making films?
It’s all hard. They key for me is just focusing on the work, on what I can do. There are so may things I can’t do or don’t have control over that it’s just entirely pointless to focus on them. Every day, I just get up, do the best I can with the tools I have, do that until I fall asleep and get up and do it again. Eventually I guess it all adds up.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Everything! The news, art, a bike ride, a conversation with a stranger, my dogs, whatever. Anything that sparks an idea is fair game. I kind of exist in my own little world so there’s always an element of detatchment for me. That’s sort of my listening and observing place.
What films have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?
These are really hard questions. There are so many movies that are influential to me for different reasons. I have very eclectic tastes. Some movies I love because they make me laugh (BLAZING SADDLES, 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE) some I love because they were beautiful (CAPOTE, THE ICE STORM, THREE COLORS: BLUE) and some because they’re my go to movies that I can watch any time (pretty much anything with the word BOURNE in it).
What are the next project or projects you are beginning work on?
It’s a very exciting time for me. I have my own projects that I’m working to get set up - tv series Angelica and feature films THE BELL, BLUE BALL, PA and YOU WILLL DIE AT MIDNIGHT. But because of the success of RUST CREEK I’m also having a lot more opportunities for director for hire projects. So I have no idea which will be in production next, but I hope to get these all made in the coming years. I’m aiming to be shooting a movie every year or two and some tv in between.