We spoke to Jennifer Reeder, who’s film ‘A Million Miles Away’, was screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015 and won numerous awards internationally. She gives us an insight into her inspirations, her filmmaking process and why you should apply to film festivals.
Tell us about your job, what you do etc.
More and more, I am making money as a filmmaker, but my “day job” is as a professor in the Moving Image area of the School of Art and Art History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I teach filmmaking and screenwriting.
What lead you to become a director?
When I was younger, I was a ballet dancer and I feel a connection between filmmaking and choreography for instance. Maya Deren was also a dancer. I took an “expanded arts” course as an undergrad student after nearly failing a sculpture course. We had to perform and make videos for that class. During the “making videos” part I felt as though I had recovered a phantom limb. I have not put down my camera since then and that was over 2 decades ago.
Who are your filmmaking inspirations?
I already mentioned Maya Deren. She may seem like an obvious choice but it truly is the case that Meshes of the Afternoon was a gamer changer for me. I also really love the whole catalogues of both Kelly Reichardt and Todd Haynes. They craft very special stories. And I am always curious about what David Lynch is up to of course. Among the new comers, I am watching out for Ana Lily Amapour, Dee Rees, Eliza Hitman and Josephine Decker. It’s a good time to be a woman behind the camera in my opinion.
What inspired you to make A Million Miles Away?
I wanted to make a film in which the girls are the heroes. Most of my films feature an unruly female protagonist and this is no different although in the case of AMMA, there is not one, there are about 23. AMMA is also a film about an adult experience and reversing the expectation who has agency and authority. In the case of AMMA, the girls know more than the adult woman. Learning goes both ways and coming of age is a life long process.
How long did it take you make from start to finish?
We did the casting in December of 2013 while I was still writing the script. We shot over three days in January of 2013. Post production did not begin until that summer and then we had a cut ready to send to festivals in September. All the final mastering was completed in December and it was ready for its World Premiere at the IFF Rotterdam in January 2014.
What was the hardest part about making this short film?
The hardest part was simply keeping track of so 24 people in front of the camera. The girls themselves and the adult lead were delightful to work with. There were just A LOT of bodies in one small room.
How involved are you with the filmmaking process?
Do you have a team or are you very hands on? I do have a team, which includes a producer, a DP, a sound engineer, PAs and an editor, but I am entirely hands-on at every level of the process. When I started making film/video projects I did everything and I have no intension of giving that up. I love love love my team and a lot of that has to do with trust. We trust each other but at the end of the day, I have the last word.
What are you working on now?
I am shooting a new short film called Crystal Lake in July. Its about a group of girls who takeover a skate park from the boys. I am also currently in development for two new films–a teen feature length film set in Rural Kentucky called AS WITH KNIVES AND SKIN and a speculative fictional take on Hansel and Gretel called ALL SMALL BODIES. All Small Bodies is a mid-length European Co-production between the USA and Germany (Arte) and will be shot in Germany in April 2016. As With Knives and Skin is being partially funded by a Creative Capital Grant and will be shot in July/August 2016 in Kentucky.
Do you apply to festivals regularly and if so, how do they benefit your career?
I apply to festivals constantly. It’s the only real like a short film has. I have had enormously positive exposure from film festivals. This year, two different films of mine screened back to back at Sundance and Berlin – that was very validating. I have also won a nice amount of prize money from film festivals.
Do you have any tips for young filmmakers who don’t have a great deal of resources?
All you need is a good idea. A good idea for a film will make a good film – its not about the best camera or a big budget. A determined filmmaker with a good idea can make that film with some string and a shoe box. My advice is JUST MAKE THE FILM!