FMA '20 alum Jessica Milner shares what she learned from the experience of directing a short film and studying in LA through Temple's Study Away program in the interview below!
We caught up with Jessica, who is newly relocated to Los Angeles and will be screening her short film, Ripple, at the St. John's International Women's Film Festival October 14-18. Congrats to the Ripple team for this prestigious selection! Check HERE for tix!
Tell us a little bit about your short film Ripple. What was the inspiration for this film, and how do you see it fit into the important, necessary conversation around sexual violence?
Ripple is about how in the wake of a sexual assault, a teenager faces emotional turmoil exacerbated by the reactions of friends and the estrangement of her mother. Because the main protagonist is a female who has been sexually assaulted, as writer and director, I have been able to use my similar experiences to mold the story to try to reflect the realities of this form of abuse. The awareness of sexual assault is rising but knowing how to respond to a victim who is confiding in you still remains a grey area to some. It is vital to be prepared to know what to say and understand what place a survivor is coming from, and this film tackles the result of poor responses.
What was the process of making this film like for you? Are there any particular lessons you'd like to share with other emerging filmmakers?
When I was writing the script, I wanted to get as many eyes on it as I could. As this screenplay revolves around perspective, I wanted to make sure that what I was writing struck a nerve with people, and they felt that each of the characters had their own identities and reasons for reacting the way they did. I found it very important to receive as much feedback and criticism as possible, working through everyone’s comments and figuring out common threads and patterns between them. This was my first big project that I had done so far at Temple. During pre-production, I went through a very hard time deciding if I was going to direct Ripple. I knew a lot of male directors in my class, so my original thought was to find one of them. I don’t think I trusted myself to be able to jump into something that I didn’t completely know how to do… until I read an article about how females are less likely to direct because of the same shared fear that that I had, but the message was to try, to try and possibly fail but do it anyway with heart. The article sparked some confidence in me which eventually grew into giving every part of myself into this film. I kept that quote close to me throughout the entirety of the filmmaking process. Keep trying different things even if it does not pan out because one of those times, something will stick, and it will take you in a direction you maybe wouldn’t have imagined.
I saw that you spent some time interning in Los Angeles in 2019 - tell us a little bit about that experience.
I spent nine months interning in Los Angeles in my junior year, four of which was through the Los Angeles Study Away Program. I do not have enough nice things to say about the program. It was amazing and inspiring to be out in Los Angeles, surrounded by Temple students, learning and experiencing a taste of what the industry is going to be like. I know LA isn’t for everyone, but I felt a motivating energy there that never went away the entire time I was there. The classes were held at a live studio, Raleigh Studios, which was exciting, and I learned from the best teachers, Lou Pepe, who taught us how to maneuver the industry, and specifically to “Only Connect,” and I was able to learn the skills that I eventually applied to Ripple through Kelly Thomas, who taught producing and Tanuj Chopra who taught acting and directing. I was able to apply what that I learned at these classes in LA directly to working on Ripple. The internships that I worked at were so insightful, and I was able to read dozens of scrips and learn how to give constructive feedback. Through the connections that I made, I was able to find another internship that lasted through the end of the summer after the program was over. If you have the opportunity to go, do it!
How did your time at Temple inform your current trajectory as a filmmaker? Any favorite memories or especially important classes?
Temple has been able to provide me with many different types of classes, helping me finetune what I would be open to doing and what I don’t want to do. There were many classes that were very important to me. I was able to learn more in depth about what it truly meant to produce a film in Doug Claybourne’s class, and then I was able to learn how to take what I had produced and get it out into the world in Leann Erickson’s distribution class. She has been instrumental in helping Ripple get to where it is today, and I cannot thank her enough for that! (And I won’t ever forget the Moving Camera Olympics class with Michael Kuetemeyer!)
What is next for you?
I have officially moved to Los Angeles, and Ripple has been selected officially for the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival! I am very proud of everyone involved and who has supported Ripple in some way! A piece of advice I would have is stay in contact with the people from Temple, support Temple students and alums, and be someone who can be a helping hand. If you see this and you’re also out in LA, don’t hesitate to reach out and we can have a social distanced lunch!
We were so glad to chat with Jessica and congratulate her on Ripple's success!