Jessica Sharzer Interview – Writer/Director of SPEAK

published on July 2, 2020

[Music]

well hey guys thanks very much for

tuning in today I am very excited to be

able to talk to the writer director of

the film speak which I covered on my

first new overlooked segment I haven't

done that in a long time but the

quarantine and everything is the perfect

time to start talking about movies like

that that you guys can watch and I'm

sitting here with Jessica Chartres she's

a writer she's recently written in the

film a simple favor

she'd wrote the screenplay for the movie

nerve and this was her writer and

director debut so thanks so much for

coming on I appreciate it thank you I

think this movie is very special I don't

see a lot of movies that feel this real

some of it for me could be the fact that

I'm from the Midwest as well being in

Ohio and it's just something that seems

very realistic about the movie but I'm

curious how this project came to be

because as I was researching the film it

was hard to find info about it there was

little tidbits here and there but not

that much and I'd love to be able to

provide fans of the movie sort of the

making of experience coming from the

person who actually made it so could you

talk a little bit about how you were Eva

cross it so first of all it was a long

time ago but I will talk about

everything I can remember and I do

remember a lot because it was very

meaningful to me so the way it happened

was I was in film school at NYU I went

to grad film over there and I had a

short film that did a lot for me did

very well at won some awards at

festivals and it got me an agent and all

of that and someone at Showtime who was

a junior executive there at the time had

seen the short and I had what's called a

general meeting with her so it wasn't

for any particular project it was just

hey how are you what are you interested

in and then about six months after that

she reached out to me and she said I

have this project that I think you might

be right for there was already a script

that had been written and there was

obviously this book had that had been

read in schools won all kinds of awards

for young adult literature and she sent

me both and I

which one should I read first and she

said read the script and I read the

script and I didn't really get it I just

I I felt like I just didn't understand

what was what was you know going on in

it and then I thought well this book has

won a lot of awards I think I'm gonna

read the book so I read the book and

basically I called her back and I said I

really feel like I would want to rewrite

the script if I were going to do this

and luckily Showtime and the producer

agreed to that and we were in a big rush

because I got the job in the spring and

then we had had to shoot in the summer

because we needed kids and we needed

schools and so if you're not shooting in

the summer you you know the cost of

shutting down a school and also of

paying for tutoring for a cast full of

kids would have been prohibitive based

on the budget and the budget was very

low so we had to shoot in the summer and

I got the job maybe in May and we had to

shoot in like July basically so it was

very fast and we just made the movies

super fast and we made it for just under

a million dollars we brought most of our

crew out to Ohio and we chose Ohio

partly because it's a right-to-work

state and so we could have essentially

Union and non-union crew working

together that's terrific

yeah and it also was the right look for

the film some of our crew was coming

from Texas and some were coming from New

York so we all met in Ohio and it was 21

days of shooting our lead actress was 13

years old which means from the time she

leaves her hotel until she gets back is

9 hours and she's in every single scene

so basically what we had to do was find

a stand-in for her so that we could keep

shooting when she went back to the hotel

so there were certain complications with

it just to made it a little bit more

challenging we had very short days which

was nice for the crew I had heard that

there was an issue with a flood yes okay

can you talk a little bit about at a

high school

Hana high school in Columbus Ohio or

outside of Columbus and think it's in

the town of Gahanna and there was really

extreme weather given that we were

shooting in the summer we had a

hailstorm we had flooding we have like a

giant downpour and for some reason it

got into the school I don't know exactly

why because in theory they must have had

weather you know with the school before

but for some reason there was flooding I

remember flooding in the halls of the

school which obviously with electric

equipment is super dangerous so we had

to completely shut down and clear clear

the set because that's a risk you can't

you can't afford to take were there any

sequences that you decided to create

around this flood or the rain like like

the rain yeah there yeah the the last

night we were shooting was actually the

flash back to the party where she was

the party and she needs Andy so it start

we had her all dressed up and the makeup

and the hair which had taken hours to do

and then it starts raining and the party

was set for outside so the and it was

our last night so we couldn't basically

put off the scene so it was my choice to

shoot the scene in the rain and have

them kind of dancing in the rain and

celebrating which did not make the

makeup and hair people very happy

because they had worked so hard to

create this look for her that was like

done in an instant but it actually added

a lot it was one of those great moments

where you're making a film and you

improvise and suddenly it becomes a

different scene but in a better way it

just made it made it very special it

made it very romantic for me that they

were dancing in the rain yeah

and it's funny because watching the

movie before hearing anything about

flooding a rain I would never have

thought that that was improvised at the

last second or made up on the spot

because it feels very natural to what's

happening at that point because the

character Melinda she's experiencing

sort of this like pop romance feeling of

you know euphoria that's that's supposed

to be what everyone experiences when

they're young

and in the rain before it's you know cut

short and then the horrific event occurs

and so that really just added something

to the whole movie and that's what was

great that's a great experience to me

like when every director is on set and

there's something about the environment

that that just changes everything

I think that's the mark of a good

filmmaker is when they can just

instantly reevaluate and come up with

something better yeah well you have to

especially if the budget is low and the

schedule is tight I mean like I said if

we could have waited till the next day

to shoot we probably would have but we

literally everyone was going home the

next day so that's an example of where

low-budget filmmaking sometimes forces

you to make choices that end up being

for the best also the rape scene I think

was originally scripted to happen in the

woods which is how it happens in the

book and our actress had a huge allergic

reaction to the grass and so we set it

in the car which ultimately again I

really felt was good because she was so

trapped but it wasn't written for that

so you know there's ways that you just

need to be flexible onset and and sort

of make the best of what's happening

because there's so many curveballs that

come at you in production and you don't

have time to really at least with

low-budget filmmaking to dig your heels

in and say well I'm gonna wait until the

rain stops you know that just wasn't an

option could we could we talk a little

bit about casting did you have a say in

casting or or something people way in so

you have producers you have the

executives you had the network and the

studio which I think in this case were

the same thing sometimes the studio in

the network are two different things so

you you're gonna have executives all of

whom have an opinion now what you have

is called casting executives so I'm

working on casting a show right now and

you've got casting executives that are

literally that's a full-time job at the

studio and they are looking at hundreds

of actors trying to help you find the

perfect person who's both available

right for it interesting you know has

some kind of potentially as some kind of

following

but ya know I was very involved in the

casting and it was a you know it was a

real process to find those kids how do

you seen panic room at this point

because I believe Kristen Stewart was

coming off of panic room right before

our shootings she actually had just

finished shooting a movie called catch

that kid which about yet she had just

wrapped that movie and she had done

panic room which I had seen she did that

when she was 9 so it had been a few

years since panic room so I definitely

seen her in that I thought she was

fantastic but the truth is what really

blew me away was meeting her and and

seeing what she did in an audition and

she was only 13 at the time but she

showed up to the first meeting with her

script completely dog-eared with notes

on every single page and she had the

book which had notes on every single

page like she had really and she didn't

even have the job yet she had really

thought about everything and I was so

amazed by that because you know none of

the other actors showed up like that

with that level of but she's very

serious person and she's a very deep

thinker she has that movie star quality

which I think very few people have which

is that you can read her thoughts on

screen which is a very very unique gift

and ability and I don't even think you

can teach it or direct it

I think people either have it or they

don't and it's some quality it's it's

hard it's a lot in the eyes but it's

some quality that certain actors have

and it's it's that's why they work all

the time because you really can connect

to them instantly and what they're

feeling she's wonderful I also really

love Steve Zahn in the film I thought

that that was a very interesting choice

for the art teacher because I'm I love

him in shattered glass he plays a very

serious role in that film Joyride he's

serious but he is just such a likable

presence in movies and he's kind of like

inherently goofy sometimes that I didn't

necessarily the first time I saw him I

was like oh that's interesting I'm what

and it kind of I was asking the film to

sell me on it kind of because I've just

not used to that but he really did well

I

when I was in school my favorite course

was always art art was always very easy

for me it was like that 45-minute period

where I was just completely relaxed had

no concerns anxieties and so I really

related to that aspect of this movie

that she goes to this one class and sort

of blossoms there and experiences all of

these you know new talents and there was

something about him that he strides that

line of being like that cliche art guy

who's just like free and spirited but it

never comes off that way like he's very

good in the movie can you talk a little

bit about work sure well it was funny

cuz he and I were at the same agency so

I had kind of a way to get to him now he

initially said no to the role and the

reason he said no is because he was

coming off of another movie had been

away from his family for several months

shooting a different movie and he really

wanted to go home which is completely

you know understandable all we needed

him for was I think four days maybe to

shoot all of his scenes it was like less

than a week and so I I asked the agent

can I just talk to him on the phone and

I knew I had one chance to try to talk

him into it and I was really dead set on

him I don't know why but I had it in my

head like he's the only guy who can play

the role and so I got him on the phone

he was super nice he's actually really

that nice guy that you see at the movie

in real life good it was super nice and

he was you know didn't but didn't wanna

like cave on it and I said to him you

know when you're in high school

you have that one teacher who makes all

the difference you know that one teacher

who changes everything for you for me it

was my English teacher who told me that

I was a good writer and that guy

literally changed my life whether he

knows it or not you move on and that

person may or may not know how they've

you know impacted your life and I said

to him and you're that guy in this movie

you're the guy who who literally gives

this girl you know a new lease on life

and he got really quiet

and then he said okay awesome

and then he came to Ohio and he actually

came out three days early to rehearse

with Kristin

that was his choice I did not ask him to

do that I was so happy he wanted to do

that but it was completely his idea he

was like you know I'm gonna come out

early I'm gonna work with her and the I

mean sometimes you get the most amazing

people who are genuinely good people in

addition to being as talented as they

are and he's really one of those people

that's so good to hear because um I've

always liked him and I don't think he

gets enough work I think he's really

really really good but there's anything

there's a scene towards the end of the

movie and just in case my viewers

haven't watched the film this is spoiler

warning for you she goes into this sort

of crawl space throughout the movie and

you see her drawing or sculpting and

there's this great scene where she

decides to show him her art and I don't

cry in movies

I really don't but I did I absolutely

cried during that scene because there

was something about the silence of it

there were no there was no dialogue

there was just like a couple lines where

he's like this is good but the entirety

of that is just the camera panning

across the art there's this great piano

music in the background and then there's

just this close-up shot of him and he's

crying oh my god yeah this is a lot for

me right now because I completely got it

I completely got it it was – it was like

two artists who are both broken in

various ways just connecting over their

art they didn't even have to say

anything

it was beautiful oh thank you I have a

funny story about that scene if you want

to hear it I mean it's just so Steve but

we shot there's close-up of him four

times and by the fourth time he said

guys I'm running out of grandparents

it's so fun I mean it's very Steve it's

like his his sense of humor it's like it

was just really funny so every time I

see that scene that's what I remember

that's great something about this movie

that I think is very underrated is its

cinematography there's sort of a

misconception I think

that direction is shot structure only

direction is what you do with the camera

and that's it people don't talk a lot

about how people are positioned in the

frame you know the the beats of a scene

the way people pause the way they move

in and out there's so much focus on the

shot itself and not as much about what's

happening within it there's a few

specific shots that for some reason

really floor me in this movie there's

one flashback shot while she's drawing

this bridge that sort of extends into

the distance where you see this bridge

and then her and her friends are sort of

running down it and there's these big

white balls of light from lights and it

looks very filmic to me I have a

question and this is entirely just from

my own brain sort of while I was

watching the movie is that the same

bridge that she is walking on after the

rape scene yeah that's yes okay good

point wait by the way because when

you're shooting a 21 day movie you you

don't have time to get to another bridge

so that was partly necessity but it's

also yeah it's the same bridge I don't

think that that is something you would

have to make an excuse for like oh I had

the same location because it works like

it fanatically works because she's

imagining this beautiful moment where

her and her friends were happy and then

later it becomes this horrific walk home

so um the guy who shot my film is this

guy undry Perec who I had been to film

school with and he had shot a bunch of

short films for me before that I think

three three short films before we did

the feature so we had a really great

working relationship and shorthand with

each other and the thing that I think is

so brilliant about him is he really

loves natural light and he loves for the

cinematography to be very invisible he

doesn't want to say I'm here I'm the

cinematographer look at me now like he

his style in general

is very naturalistic and that you know I

thought was really good for this movie

he shot like blue Ballantine and Half

Nelson and you can see in those movies

similar style similar aesthetic of just

naturalistic shooting style we shot on

16 millimeter let me think for a second

we shot on super 16 and it was funny

because my thesis film we had shot on 35

he and I and the thesis film like had

this incredible look to it but it was

partly because we shot 35 and it was

partly because we did this skip bleach

process we did a lot to the film in my

in my thesis and this one was much more

straightforward speak was much more

straightforward but it allowed for the

performances to be the thing you focus

on you're not focusing so much on what

the camera is doing and that was that

was partly a necessity of the budget we

couldn't shoot 35 we just couldn't

afford it but it also was we just made

it a stylistic choice and it was funny

because Elizabeth Perkins who plays the

mom she's married to a very famous

cinematographer this guy who glioma cot

and obviously she's made many movies

with many huge directors and he or she

comes to this movie and we're shooting

16 millimeter and we're not lighting

much it's all daylight and she came up

to me during one of the days she was

shooting and she said he's he gonna

light me you know because she was not

used to not having a big light in her

face you know cuz most movies the actor

feels where the lights are you know cuz

they're so intense and that is just not

how under he shoots could you talk a

little bit about Sundance because the

film had its premiere January 2004 at

Sundance right yeah it was literally a

dream being a filmmaker there I had sort

of vowed to myself I wasn't gonna go

until I had a film there it could have

been a short for a feature but I really

wanted to go as a filmmaker and and I

ended up going several times later as

just a just a viewer it's different

experience when you go as a filmmaker

I'm you may really celebrate filmmakers

and I'm not just talking about the

parties and the swag of which there's a

lot but it's really it's a so

operation of filmmaking and you're there

as a filmmaker and you're talking to

other filmmakers and there's a lot of

networking it didn't actually lead to

anything for me career-wise in terms of

like next projects or anything like that

which you know I was a little surprised

by but but it it did it was just really

enriching to like be there and and need

all these filmmakers I'm still friends

with a lot of the people that I met

there was the plan to always have it go

straight to the Showtime network or were

they gonna aim for a theatrical

distribution at all we were hoping to

get a theatrical window which there was

like some talk about it and then the

deal didn't come together and ultimately

the truth is I think more people saw it

on Showtime in lifetime and would have

seen it in a theater I think if it had

had a theatrical life it would have been

one of those movies that plays in five

cities for a few weeks and some people

see it and a lot of people don't but I

think the upside and and this is

something we're seeing a lot now

especially is when you premiere

something on television and it gets that

muscle behind it of the advertising and

the groundswell around a TV premiere for

a movie like this families could watch

it together they could talk about it

after especially if people had big

reactions to it there was a rape hotline

that we advertised a number for after

the movie they got thousands of calls

and for me that's so meaningful because

honestly I did I didn't really make the

movie for that purpose it wasn't meant

to be some big PSA but if it could have

that result that people who might not

have reached out reached for the phone

even if one person reached for the phone

that's a win you know that's a win that

is outside of the sort of normal

expectations of making a movie

so I'm actually really happy that it

that it had that life and that you know

and then of course when Twilight

happened it had a whole nother life

because suddenly everyone knew who she

was well you know I was thrilled that

the author of the book which by the way

I think the book is a masterpiece it's a

very hard book to adapt partly because

she just doesn't talk you know it's all

in her head

but the author came to the set she sat

on the set she came and she and I did q

and A's together we did the commentary

on the DVD together and she's really

happy with the movie so to me that's

great that was an amazing just an

amazing COO to have her feel good about

it because it's so hard when you've

written a book to see it adapted it's

never gonna be adapted the way that you

have it in your head you know yeah I had

planned to read the book before doing

this interview I'm definitely going to

read it before I film my review if you

guys are watching this after the review

I haven't filmed it yet so but I ordered

it on Amazon like three weeks ago

oh yeah welcome to the new Amazon

schedule right it hasn't come to my

house yet but I I will definitely read

it I can't wait to read it

she's an amazing writer I mean

everything she writes becomes

bestsellers she's a very very successful

ye author and the nicest person another

one like that just turned out to be just

a really nice person I'm really happy to

hear that the people who made this movie

had a good time doing it and were you

know they had fun time making it and and

the joy that came from making the film

and because as I watch it that's how I

feel and so I'm glad that that was

genuine it was so much fun it was really

we called it like summer camp because we

were all relatively young and we were

living in dorms at Ohio State University

and we were all on top of each other and

we were all far from home so we really

spent all of our time together and we

just had a blast it was really fun

that's wonderful well look I really

truly appreciate you doing this I've

only done a few interviews on my channel

I'd like to do more of these types of

things and it's really nicely we're able

to talk about it do you have anything

that you're working on right now that

you're learning about

I mean after many many years I'm trying

to get back to directing actually one of

my questions I was gonna ask I was gonna

yeah it's been a long time I mean I

never thought it would be this long but

I actually wrote a movie that I killer

films is going to produce and set in New

York it's an erotic thriller ironically

I just sent the script to Kristen to see

if after all these many years she might

want to work together again

so we'll see what happens but it's based

on a Japanese novel that I optioned from

the 1960s but it's set modern day in New

York I'm super excited about it

I don't know how the current state of

the world and production is going to

impact us I have a feeling it will delay

us by quite a lot I'm working on writing

a TV show right now that was supposed to

start filming I think two weeks ago and

obviously that's been delayed but I'd

hopefully will start shooting in the

next six months somewhere maybe not in

the States and then I actually have a

movie project at Universal that I wrote

for Channing Tatum which I'm really

really excited about I've done two

projects with him and his company and

it's a romantic comedy so I'm I think

the world is going to need more romantic

comedies coming out of this and I

certainly am gonna need them can you

believe it laughs yeah and I'm actually

adapting a Hitchcock movie for Paramount

and gal gadot to star in so yeah so it's

a pretty exciting time there's there's a

lot of good stuff going on well that's

great thank you again so much for

talking to me about this movie and I

can't wait to see what else you do thank

you so much it's really nice to meet you

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