Five Questions With… Naomi McDougall Jones

Editor Note: Hamish has another in his series of Five Questions With…

Hamish came up with this idea because he was accumulating too much material for his Famous News Sushi column and asked if he could do these mini-interviews. Why would we say no?

Thank you Hamish for being such a trooper for us. We really appreciate all fo your hard work.

Let us know what you think of these interviews in the comments below.


 

TGG: Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?

NMJ: Hi! Yes! My name is Naomi McDougall Jones. I am a writer, actress, producer, women in film activist and, as of recently, authoress. My first feature film, which I wrote/produced/starred in, Imagine I’m Beautiful (2014), won twelve awards on the festival circuit before receiving a theatrical and digital release and is now available on Amazon Prime.
 

Trailer:
 


My second feature film, Bite Me, which I also wrote/produced/starred in, I’ll be telling you about more in the next question.

In addition to my work on my own films, I am an activist for women in film. My TEDTalk, What it’s Like to be a Woman in Hollywood went viral amidst the Weinstein/#metoo moment, has been viewed over 1 million times, and can be seen on TED.com.
 

 

I am the Founder and Chief Impact Officer of The 51 Fund, a private equity fund dedicated to financing films by female filmmakers.

Link: https://www.the51fund.com/

I am also currently finishing up a book, The Wrong Kind of Woman: Dismantling the Gods of Hollywood, which will be published by Beacon Press in February 2020 and is available for pre-order on Amazon now.

 


TGG: Could you tell us about your latest film, “Bite Me”?

NMJ: Bite Me is a subversive romantic comedy about a real-life vampire and the IRS agent who audits her. It is a unique, while universally relatable, story about outsiders fighting to be seen and offers a fresh blend of two beloved genres. This film is my second collaboration with director Meredith Edwards (who also directed Imagine I’m Beautiful) and, we’ve been told that the film “speaks in a voice all its own, making your heart weep with laughter, ache with longing, and leave the theater fluttering with joy.”

It stars, in addition to myself, Christian Coulson (Tom Riddle from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Nashville, Mozart in the Jungle, Love is Strange), Naomi Grossman (Pepper from American Horror Story), and Annie Golden (Orange is the New Black and Hair, in addition to generally being a legend.)

Trailer:
 


TGG: What was the inspiration for taking your film on the road yourself?

NMJ: Here’s the deal: the way that independent films are normally distributed right now is terrible. It’s terrible for filmmakers and it’s also terrible for audiences.

What’s happened as a result of streaming, Netflix, and a decline in movie ticket sales is that distribution companies are now acquiring masses of independent film content and essentially dumping it into the marketplace with little (if any) marketing money or strategy behind them. Our films then get lost in the abyss of iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, etc, where there is almost no chance that anyone beyond our families and friends will ever find them.

This is obviously terrible for filmmakers because no one is seeing our movies and our investors are, therefore, not making their money back. But it is also terrible for audiences who consistently ask me, confused, “Why don’t they make good movies anymore?” The problem is that we are making good movies, they just don’t know how or where to find them.

My first feature film, Imagine I’m Beautiful, got a traditional distribution deal, as did the past films of my producing partner Sarah Wharton’s, and we’d had pretty disappointing experiences, both from a financial and experiential perspective. So, when it came time to release Bite Me, we just looked at each other and said, “No! This film is too good. We know there’s an audience for it. We’re not just throwing it off a cliff again.” We decided we would try to take out the middlemen – sales agents and distributors who routinely take up to 95% of all of a film’s profits – and began calling theaters directly, seeing if they would screen our film if we came and did a Q&A and a Joyful Vampire Ball after. So many theaters said “yes,” that we actually had to stop booking screenings for the tour at 51 because we figured we couldn’t do more than that in 90 days without dying. Then we just drew a line between those places where we had theaters, rented an RV, moved into it, and that became The Joyful Vampire Tour of America, which we are now 33 screenings and eight weeks into.

TGG: As we saw above, in 2016, you gave a great TED talk on women in Hollywood. Do you think Hollywood has changed?

NMJ: I really, really wish the answer to this question was an unequivocal ‘yes,’ but it isn’t. I do believe there has been change. There is greater awareness about the fact that characters need to be more representative of the actual human population in terms of race, sexuality, gender, etc. On screen representation is still underwhelming, but is the place that we have seen the biggest real gains.

Behind the camera is a different story entirely – almost all of the stories are still being told by overwhelmingly white, male, cis, straight, able-bodied men. The trouble is that the studios – panicky over being yelled at – have sent out a lot of press releases effectively saying, “Look! We hired this woman!” So everyone has this sense that things are or have changed. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. In spite of some high profile examples to the contrary – Ava DuVernay, Patty Jenkins – the number of female directors of top studio films actually went down in 2018, even amidst this public outcry, to 4% (it had previously been at a still woeful 5%). When women are 51% of the population and 50% of film school graduates and yet are directing 4% of top studio films, we are not talking about a problem that is going to correct itself with some press releases and a few high-profile hires. We are talking about nearly a century of the systematic and institutionalized exclusion of women’s voices from cinema, which is not something that can be fixed magically overnight without some serious vision, leadership, and hard work from those in a position of power. I remain extremely skeptical that there is real commitment to change from those stakeholders at the top.

My upcoming book, The Wrong Kind of Woman: Dismantling the Gods of Hollywood dives deep into all of this: how women have been historically and currently shut out from behind the camera, what attempts are underway now to address this, and, most importantly, a look into a grassroots revolution that’s gaining strength at the fringes of the industry from women, like myself, who have had enough and are finding ways around the existing system to build a new industry.

TGG: Finally, how can we best support you? (Where can we buy your stuff, follow you on social media etc)

NMJ: Oh! How lovely!

  1. It would be really, really excellent if you would watch Bite Me!
     
    You can FIND A SCREENING ON OUR TOUR here: https://www.bitemethefilm.com/screenings

    OR

You can watch the film any time and place you like on:

Seed&Spark: https://www.seedandspark.com/watch/bite-me (our preference),
iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/bite-me/id1457605251
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Bite-Me-Christian-Coulson/dp/B07QBVSZ23/ref=sr_1_11?keywords=bite+me+the+film&qid=1557176151&s=movies-tv&sr=1-11
or GooglePlay.: https://play.google.com/store/movies/details/Bite_Me?id=s6HqpTtaDgY&hl=en_US

2.If you’re interested in our journey on The Joyful Vampire Tour of America and/or are a filmmaker interested in learning more about distribution and possible alternatives, we have a documentary filmmaker along with us, Kiwi Callahan, who is making a docu-series in real time about the whole tour. Every Saturday since the tour began and continuing through the end of it, Kiwi has released a 10-20 minute episode on YouTube:
 

https://youtu.be/keIisDY8eeo

 

so you can follow along on journey, which, I can tell you, has already been quite the journey. In that series, we are offering ourselves as a radically transparent case study to other filmmakers – sharing all of our data, numbers, and strategies – so that they can learn from, innovate on, and replicate all of our successes and mistakes. Our goal is to help build a new eco-system for independent distribution that empowers filmmakers and audiences and removes the fat-catty middlemen from the equation.

3.You can follow the film on social @Bitemethefilm on Instagram and on Twitter @Bitemethefilm and @vampiresdontbite on Facebook or, better yet, sign up for our email list on our website www.bitemethefilm.com

4.If you’re interested in checking out my book, The Wrong Kind of Woman: Dismantling the Gods of Hollywood, it comes out February 4th, but is already available for pre-order on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Wrong-Kind-Woman-Dismantling-Hollywood-ebook/dp/B07RK4YT5N/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=wrong+kind+of+woman%3A+Dismantling+the+gods+of+hollywood&qid=1561673595&s=gateway&sr=8-1

TGG: Thank you so much for sharing your stories! I really look forward to hearing more from you soon!


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