FRANK MERLE, WRITER/DIRECTOR OF #FROMJENNIFER

Frank Merle has been a favorite here at Sinful Celluloid since his feature THE EMPLOYER. It’s been some time since we’ve chatted, so it was great to sit down and discuss his latest film #FromJennifer.

Do you remember where you were when you came upon the project?

Yes! I was having drinks with my friend Danielle Taddei, the actress who would go on to embody the title character in #FromJennifer. She was bemoaning the uniquely modern pressure of having to maintain a strong social media presence in order to compete as an actress, and how she had lost out roles to less qualified actresses because they had more followers than her. The idea for #FromJennifer just popped into my head: an actress who goes on a killing spree and films it all to gain internet fame.

What was the initial appeal for you?

I loved the idea of doing a film with a female protagonist who devolves into the antagonist and following that decent into madness. I also wanted to do a film in the found-footage style that completely justified its own existence. My pet peeve with most found-footage films is that I always ask myself “why are they still filming this” whenever the scary stuff starts. Dude, just drop the camera and run already! So I was excited about the challenge of making a found-footage film that avoided that trap.

Did the project change, if even slightly, due to budget or other creative decisions, as the shooting date approached?

The project changed a lot, for the better, during production. There were some scenes I shot early that just weren’t working, but when I realized they’d probably have to be cut, I knew I needed new scenes, or else the movie would be too short. So I wrote several new scenes, in the middle of the shoot, that ended up being my favourite.

How long of a shoot was it?

About a month, on and off. It wasn’t a gruelling schedule, except for a few longs days when we had to bang out a bunch of pages due to location constraints. But some days, we would just shoot for a few hours and then go grab drinks. It was a pretty fun, low-stress shoot.

Was it local? Or were parts of it filmed all over?

All shot in Los Angeles. The exteriors were Larchmont Village and Toluca Lake. The interiors were mostly friends’ apartments or businesses.

Tell us about some of the marketing activities conducted to promote it.

Talking to you, of course! Other than that, there are three different trailers floating around online, all of which make the film look totally different. But that’s because it’s a difficult movie to pitch. It blends genres and has a lot of twisty surprises. You sort of have to see it to understand what it is, which doesn’t lend itself easily to traditional marketing.

How important is a social media presence for a film?

Such an ironic question, considering that this film spoofs the relationship between film and social media. But I get it, because people need to discover a film in order to see it. The good thing about social media is that when some a movie is legitimately good, it can go viral thanks to people spreading the word on social media.

What’s one thing people probably don’t realize about making movies?

When people visit a film set for the first time, they’re usually surprised by what small chucks of the movie are being made at a time. Hours or days are often spent on what ends up being a few minutes of screen time. Even when things are moving much faster on a lower budget film, it still feels like nothing is happening to an outside observer.

What was the initial goal of the project, for you. Has it succeeded, in terms of that goal, or is it too early to tell?

The initial goal was to experiment with my friends on a quirky movie that would end up being entertaining to watch. I personally think the results are pretty entertaining, and that’s the feedback I’ve been getting from early audiences, so I’d say I’ve succeeded, in that sense.

What’s the future hold for you?

If I could see the future, I’d be at the race track right now. But I can’t. So I’m just going to keep making movies. I have several scripts ready to go, at various budget levels, so it’s just a matter of getting a greenlight from investors, which always seems to take longer than I’d like. But whenever I’m not writing, I’m pitching, so I optimistically anticipate I’ll be back in production soon.

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