Writer: Emily Reas
Interviewee: Jen McGowan
The world premier of Kelly & Cal screened on March 7th at the SXSW 2014 Film Festival. Kelly (Juliette Lewis), a once punk-rocker,free spirit, has been thrust into the land of suburbia, feeling emotionally detached from her newborn son and husband. Her nostalgia for her forgotten youth is released when she meets seventeen year old Cal (Johnny Weston). An immediate friendship is born as Kelly and Cal explore this unlikely relationship; however, the closer they get, lines start to blur. Kelly & Cal is a coming of age comedy that showcases a wide variety of talent ranging from the director, actors, musicians, producers, and everyone else who worked on this film.
I had the opportunity to sit down with director Jen McGowan (who was recently announced as the winner of the SXSW Game Changer Award. Go Jen!) to discuss the film.
“Kelly & Cal” Shines Bright at SXSW 2014 Film Festival
So Jen, how are you today?
Jen: I’m great, thank you for having me!
Awesome! So, the script is written by Amy (Lowe Starbin). How did you come to find it and why did you choose this script to film?
J: We both went to USC. We were in different years, but we met in an alumni program that started after we graduated called “USC First Team”. It was to foster feature projects amongst alumni. She had this idea, and, I think, 20,30 or 40 pages of the script written. We just totally hit it off, and I was like, “I wanna do that”. So we worked for about a year. She wrote; I helped by developing the material with her. Got the script done in a year. Took a year to find producers. Shot. Finished December 20th. And now we’re here.
Regards to the script, did the actors stay true to it or was there some improv going on?
J: No. Absolutely, Amy’s really good at dialogue, so there wasn’t a lot of need to change the script. There might be a word or two here, but very minor.
In the movie, Kelly has a band called “Wet Nap”, and also she has that song called “Moist Towelette”. I’m curious where this band name came from as well as the song.
J: Well, that was all in the script! The band “Wet Nap”, the song “Moist Towelette”, but I don’t know if you know that Juliette wrote that song for us, for the film. She wrote that and the closing credits song.
And this is not your first SXSW, you came in 2010 for your short Touch. Do you still have those newbie jitters or do you feel kind of content and can just relax in the city and the festival?
J: When I was here first, it was kind of programed like a side event as a part of Luna Fest, but we weren’t in competition or anything like that. This time, it’s a much bigger deal. It feels very different because we’ve got much bigger designs for this film than we had of course with a short film. So how do I feel? Honestly this thing is very overwhelming.
J: Yeah, kinda. I was just telling my editor the other day, we were reading reviews, and they’re great! I’m reading it and I’m like, “That’s really great for that person!” I’m just so detached from the whole thing! I think what’s gonna happen is when I get home it’s going to start sinking in.
And back to the film, how did you find your producers and financial support?
J: So that’s a really interesting story. In my previous film, the short Touch, premiered at the Florida Film Festival. It happened that one of the producers was there. This was years ago. She was there with her husband. I actually remember meeting them at a party. That was it, we had no interaction, we didn’t trade cards, nothing. Years later, she and her partner at Spring Pictures were looking for young, up and coming directors and were looking online. They found the Luna Fest program, and I was in it. They got in touch with me through that. Totally, randomly, and completely coincidentally, I happened to be developing this project at the same time. So it was through the democracy of the internet that this project happened.
Thank God for technology!
J: Seriously! You don’t have to be in L.A.! You don’t have to have family in the industry! You don’t have to have huge financial resources! You can find the puzzle pieces in different ways now.
During filming, what would you say is the most epic and memorable moment you can remember?
J: That is impossible to answer because your mind just goes blank and I just go, “I shot a film…” So…Epic? I mean, it’s not like we have vast explosions or anything going on in this film…
What’s something really cool that happened then! Maybe we’ll take off the “epic”.
J: Oh OK! That’s a little easier to answer! I’m like, “God that’s a lot of pressure!”.
So, Johnny Weston, who plays Cal, he did a film before called Chasing Mavericks and he’s in this great Paramount film coming out, and he has quite a fan base amongst the teenage girls. And we were shooting in this suburban area in a beautiful house that had this big long driveway,and I don’t know what I was doing, I think I was in the garage or something, and I heard these squeals! I was like what is going on?! And I walked out and I saw Johnny walking down to the end of the driveway,and there was like this gaggle of teenage girls. And they had been waiting there for like two hours to catch sight of him and hopefully get an autograph. I thought that was kind of sweet.
Since you are a female director-
J: I am.
I feel like you guys are kind of like the equivalent to Marines, you know “The Few. The Proud…Female Directors”.
J: I call us the unicorns actually.
Why the unicorns?
J: Because there’s very few of us and spotting us is a little difficult.
And you guys are majestic also! Why do you think there is a lack of female directors and filmmakers?
J: That’s a really long and complicated question. I mean, there’s so many reasons. I don’t think it’s a conspiracy, it’s not malicious. It’s a matter of this industry which takes a long time to change. The jobs that people want in them are incredible. You don’t give them up easily, you hold on to them until the day you die, so that means change takes a little longer, that’s all.
And how do you think we can start bringing in the new generation of female directors into the spotlight?
J: It’s a lot of things. We need female journalists. We need female executives, festival programers, we need audiences to say, “hey, I like these films” by buying tickets, blogging, tweeting, and spreading the word. So it’s a variety of things,and I think it’s a great time to be a filmmaker. People just have to jump in. It’s a hard job, it takes a lot of work. People just have to commit and say, “this is what my life is going to be”.
And speaking of films, do you have any up and coming projects that you are currently working on?
J: I have two. I have one called Milly to the Moon, which is written by another USC writer called Lin Hamilton. It’s about a young woman in her twenty’s who lives with her mom and her autistic brother, and she’s kind of like stuck, feeling she has to take care of her family. And she starts to be inspired by space tourism, so it’s about how that sparks her back to life. The other one is also written by Amy, who wrote Kelly & Cal. Tentatively, the title is Little Girl Lost and it’s about a murder in a small town and a blogger activist who thinks he’s going to save the day. It turns out to be much darker than he expected. They’re both very exciting projects.
To hear the full interview, listen below!