In this episode, we explore the creative mind of Jenny Waldo, a Houston-based film director, writer, and producer. She is also a film professor at Houston Community College.
Jenny shares all the juicy advice she would have wanted to hear when she started her career as a film director. She emphasizes how life experience really helps while creating new stories and how enriching it is for her to have produced other people’s work and nowadays be part of helping her students to find their voice and understand what goes into filmmaking.
In this episode, we explore the creative mind of Jenny Waldo, a Houston-based film director, writer, and producer. She is also a film professor at Houston Community College.
Jenny shares all the juicy advice she would have wanted to hear when she started her career as a film director. She emphasizes how life experience really helps while creating new stories and how enriching it is for her to have produced other people’s work and nowadays being part of helping her students to find their voice and understand what goes into filmmaking.
Jenny Waldo got her start in the documentary/educational industry of her hometown, Washington, DC. Over the years, Jenny produced various scripted and documentary short films as well as writing and directing her own award-winning scripted projects. Her short film, Acid Test, based on Jenny’s own tumble through self-discovery as a 1990’s Riot Grrrl, was screened at festivals all over the world in 2022, with great reviews and transformed later into her debut feature film.
Jenny also reminds the audience to have in mind that as a filmmaker and writer-director, the goal is to communicate something, a feeling, an idea or a character, and every decision we take has to be based on that. We also talked about the next challenge of distribution, projecting and making the necessary plans to enter the films into festivals and then the whole networking that comes with festivals.
Waldo´s producing credits include the indie feature The Preacher’s Daughter which sold to Lifetime, and the feature documentary The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing. Her next project in development is also based on a true story: Martha’s Mustang.
You can find out about future screenings of Acid Test or just the development of it and in which platforms it is being screened, at www.acidtestfilm.com
Also at her professional website www.jennywaldo.com you’ll find a tab for Martha’s Mustang with updated info. You can follow Jenny Waldo on social media as Jenny Waldo on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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Her work as an actress includes more than twelve telenovelas, several classical and contemporary Spanish plays, short and feature films, and the hosting of morning shows in Mexico and the United States, as well as image commercials, and advertising and corporate videos.
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Announcer 1: This is La Pizarra, a place where we explore creative minds in the entertainment industry, on both sides of the mic and the camera. Here is your host, Nicky Mondellini.
Nicky Mondellini: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of La Pizarra. I’m your host Nicky Mondellini and I’m very excited today to explore the creative mind of filmmaker Jenny Waldo, a Houston-based director, writer, and producer. She is also a film professor at Houston Community College. Jenny started her career writing and producing short films and documentaries, and she recently premiered her debut feature film, Acid Test with great reviews.
Before we jump into the interview, just a quick reminder that all of the episodes of La Pizarra are available on lapizarrapodcast.com and nickymondellini.com/lapizarra, where you can also read the transcripts of the last two seasons and you can sign up for the newsletter. If you’re enjoying the podcast, I would really appreciate your five-star review on Apple Podcasts so that others can find us and benefit from the great information and all of valuable advice that is shared here by our experts in the entertainment industry.
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Nicky: Jenny Waldo got her start in the documentary educational industry of her hometown, Washington, DC. Over the years, Jenny produced various scripted and documentary short films, as well as writing and directing her own award-winning scripted projects. Her producing credits include the indie feature, The Preacher’s Daughter, which shows to lifetime, and the feature documentary, The Cutting Edge, The Magic of Movie Editing. Jenny was program coordinator at the nonprofit Southwest Alternate Media Project, SWAMP, in Houston, and she now teaches filmmaking at Houston Community College. Her short film, Acid Test, screened at festivals all over the world with great reviews.
It’s based on Jenny’s own tumble through self-discovery as a 1990s Riot Grrrl. It was then developed into a feature film and premiered to the world in the fall of 2022. Jenny’s next project and development is also based on a true story, Martha’s Mustang, which follows a woman in the male-dominated auto body shop world who fights city hall to display a brightly painted purple Mustang as part of her shop sign. This project was recently selected as a Nicholl Fellowship Quarter Finalist. Well, welcome Jenny. Thank you so much for joining me today on La Pizarra, how are you doing?
Jenny Waldo: I’m good. Thank you for having me.
Nicky: Well, it’s amazing to talk to someone who has gone through all of this wonderful journey of being a filmmaker like you have and you have gone through all of the difficult parts of creating, writing, developing the story, and bringing your project out into the festivals and getting it known all over the place. Before we get into that, I would just like to go back to the beginning. How did your journey as a filmmaker begin?
Jenny: I really did not know what I wanted to do when I grew up. I didn’t know what I wanted to be. I was a very creative kid. My father taught me how to develop black-and-white photography. We had a dark room in our basement. I grew up in the Washington DC area. I’m not local to Houston where I am now. I grew up as a dancer. I was in a ballet company when I was little and I played piano and just had a lot of creative interest, but I was also very good at math. It was my best subject, which is funny.
As I was getting older and once I got to college, I didn’t know how to balance or synthesize these two very different sides of my brain and interests. I actually started out in college intending to be a dance and math double major.
Nicky: Oh my gosh, that is just an amazing combination. I got to say not many people can say that. Wow, please continue.
Jenny: It was very interesting but I didn’t actually get along very well with the dance department at my college. Not that I didn’t get along, they had a very specific idea of what kinds of dance they were doing, and it wasn’t what I was interested in doing. Post-calculus math starts getting really crazy and I didn’t do very well in it anymore. I had to figure out what to do next. I decided to be an English major just by default because they had enough classes that I thought I could take and be interested in. Then my sophomore year we studied some film theory which is a side of filmmaking that it’s not really part of the filmmaking, but it’s part of the academic side of film studies.
It’s not really about film reviews, it’s really about thinking about the audience and how we present films and the images and all of this different stuff. It really just was this light bulb moment where having been a photographer and still doing photography, having choreographed dances and staged them and I had always loved film. My dad was a huge film junkie, loved all the Star Trek and Star Wars and Sci-fi movies. My mother, who was from Eastern Europe, loved all the New Wave films out of Italy and the Czech Republic, where she’s from, and all of these. I had this also an interesting film education because I had these very artsy movies and then I would go eat popcorn with my dad and watch some crazy blockbuster.
I don’t know, like I said, it was just this light bulb moment where I thought, well, I’m interested in this, I want to learn more. I want to learn more about how people make films. Obviously, there’s an industry behind it where people have jobs, and so it just was one thing leading to the next. I had started writing a script after I took that class where I basically took an image in my mind and started thinking about, well, what’s the story behind this? As a photographer, I always had different ideas in my head or I would see something on the street and be like, “Oh, that would make a great photograph.” I was always thinking very visually.
Again, with dance, having choreographed and staged things I was familiar with moving people and placing people, and directing people around. All of a sudden, it just synthesized into this idea of this could be a film. What is this story? I started slowly pointing myself towards learning more about the industry. My senior year in college, I did an internship out on the Paramount lot. It was my first time in Los Angeles. I had never been to California, and I basically showed up and was like, “I love it here. I never want to leave. This is where I’m meant to be.” It was just this wide-eyed college student who was so excited to be immersed in people making films and just how exciting that is. I just wanted to learn as much as I could. The more that I learned about filmmaking, the more I wanted to learn.
It was pulling a thread on a sweater. It just was never-ending. I thought I could move out to Los Angeles right after graduation with my mini internship guiding the way, but it was a bit overwhelming for me at the time. I went back home to DC where there’s a large documentary and educational film industry, and I started working for some local producers there. Not in blockbuster films, but in PBS films or Discovery Channel shows, or things like that. It at least got me my feet wet and again just kept on the more I learned, the more I wanted to learn.
Eventually, I thought I just need to go to film school, because I want to understand more about how to make this stuff instead of feeling like I’m constantly learning on the job. I applied to film school and went to USC for my MFA in film production. I got back to LA, which was wonderful. Learned a lot, did a lot. Then I graduated and ended up my life took me to Houston in this very roundabout way. I’ve been here for the last 17 years or so trying to find a way to continue with this passion of filmmaking while not being in a major film center like Los Angeles was.
Nicky: Yes. Do you think that that is exactly the setting that works for you? Because of course, it is overwhelming to be in the center where everything is made, in LA, and the level of competition with a lot of people wanting the same job, and it’s just craziness there. Do you think that being in Houston allows you to create more of your work at your pace and without a lot of distraction or just being overwhelmed?
Jenny: I think that has shown to be the case. I think there– I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about or wondering whether I should have stayed in Los Angeles. It was largely family reasons and having children that just took me away from there.
Nicky: I want to ask you, you mentioned that teaching for you has been very rewarding. In what sense has it been rewarding?
Jenny: I teach at Houston Community College, and we get a variety of students from all different kinds of backgrounds. I have students that are older than I am who have retired from whatever their career was and have always been interested in making films. I have students who are fresh out of high school. I have students who’ve already done a bachelor’s degree in some other subject, but again, always wanted to do film and wanted to switch gears. It’s really wonderful to be part of helping them find their voice and understand what goes into filmmaking.
It’s one of the things that I was doing anyways as a filmmaker because I ended up specializing as a producer as well as writing and directing my own projects. I also produced other people’s work. It was always something where as a producer, I got to shepherd somebody else’s vision through and help guide them and make it a success. As a teacher, I realized that that really calls on that. Those same interests. I’m not only interested in telling my own story or the stories that I’m particularly interested in. It’s one of the things that I love about being an audience member.
I get to see all different kinds of things that I would never be able to make or even be interested in making, but I can still watch them and enjoy them and learn something from them or experience something new. I really love that part of teaching. It also keeps me fresh, I guess, where I have to be thinking about what are people watching right now? How are people approaching things? The technology constantly changes. Being with those younger students who understand that technology in a way that’s different than I would because it’s native to them, whereas I’m learning it as I go, where my background is still in film. Everything comes from film first, and now I’m learning something new and adapting how I see things to that frame of reference. Whereas for them, digital is native. That’s how they learn things. It keeps me fresh.
It keeps me engaged in what’s going on in the film industry, which of course is important as a filmmaker myself. Now there’s that extra responsibility of handing that down and not just handing it down because somebody said it or it’s in a textbook, but because I’ve experienced it myself. There’s this urgency to continue to make work myself so that I continue to grow as a filmmaker and can pass things down as somebody who has experienced it. That was really important to me. It was one of the reasons why I didn’t really start teaching until I had had at least 10 years of experience in making various films and doing things because I wanted to have it come through a lived experience. Then when you teach something, it reinforces what you know about it. It forces you to really understand it.
Nicky: Yes, they say that one of the best ways for you to learn something and really hone in on that information is to teach it because that way is that you have processed it in your mind and translated it into a way where you explain it and then you are able to just share it with that passion and with that complete understanding of the subject, right?
Jenny: Yes, exactly. I think it also challenges me as a filmmaker, because really, especially as a writer-director, the goal is to communicate something, communicate a feeling or an idea or character, a story, all of that stuff. When you’re trying to teach something, to a certain extent, it doesn’t matter what subject is, but teaching something and understanding that your students are going to be learning it with a variety of advantages and disadvantages from some are going to be better verbal learners, and some are going to be better at writing and some are going to be better at test taking and some are going to be better at hands-on stuff.
You’re trying to communicate an idea in a variety of different ways. I think that actually helps remind me as a writer-director that I’m communicating something when I’m making my own films. I have to make sure that that’s clear for not just people that think like me or have similar experiences or similar backgrounds.
Nicky: Yes, of course. You have to make it for everyone. It has to appeal to a large group of people. How do you think your writing has been evolving since you first started writing your own work?
Jenny: I think it’s true for a lot of people that when you look back at your stuff when you were younger, you were like oh God, it’s so terrible. [laughs] You’re—
Nicky: You start somewhere. [laughs]
Jenny: Right, exactly. You have to start somewhere, or certainly, I see this as a teacher and I even saw it in film school too, where different people’s life experiences there are some people that are just amazing with their imagination and they’re able to express and empathize and communicate in these extraordinary ways, even if they’ve never experienced something personally like what they’re writing.
For the vast majority of people, we get better as we get more life experience because again, we can see things from a variety of perspectives and understand our characters and be able to write them better because we have a more nuanced understanding of those things. That life experience really helps because it gives you that objectivity instead of writing something that’s a little bit more feral almost. It’s just very instinctual and instinctual again, there are people that are really amazing at honing that, and I think they have people that help shape that as well.
Instinct and innate talent only takes you so far. At a certain point, if you want to do this again and again, you have to understand why something worked well, and that’s where I think that analytical side of the math brain in me helps where I can understand why something works better than others, and I can really push myself and push my students to really think about, well, don’t just do it because it seems cool, or you feel like it’s great or whatever, that’s a perfectly fine start, but you’re never going to learn, you’re never going to get better unless you understand why you’re doing it that way.
Nicky: Yes. The why is absolutely the main thing. Also that way you can create three-dimensional characters as opposed to just people that say one or two lines. It’s like how are you creating that story without them being really fully-fledged characters and people that have so many different layers to them and that way you can create those conflicts, right?
Jenny: Exactly. Certainly working with actors especially as you start being able to work with better and better actors, they’re going to come at you with all kinds of questions and, “I don’t understand this, and why is this happening?” They’re going to challenge your writing, they’re going to challenge your understanding of these characters. One, they’re challenging it because they’re not you. They’re coming at it from a different perspective and they’re going to challenge it because they need to find their inroads into how to create that performance and how to give that authenticity. They have their own process.
You have to find ways to be able to understand it and communicate it, and work with people, whether it’s your actors or your DP, or your production designer, all the various people you’re going to be working with, you have to be able to say, “This is what’s happening in this moment. This is why. This is what’s important about it.” That often just takes time.
Nicky: Yes, of course, it takes time to develop. Then the interesting part also about you, who have been a photographer as well, is that you know exactly where you want to place that camera and where it’s going to help you tell the story, and what things you want to enhance to really make those moments really crucial and important. I don’t think it’s that easy. You do have to have all that experience to put all of that together, right?
Jenny: Yes. Certainly, the more experience you have, the easier to a certain extent. Every film is its own experiment. You can’t ever make the same movie again, even if it’s with the same people. I certainly felt that with Acid Test because we had started it as a short film and we had a lot of the same actors, and a lot of the same crew members in the feature film, but it was just a completely different beast because we had many more days, we switched up some of the positions, we had new people. It was a different story to a certain extent. There was just a lot of things that were different.
I think that’s where you also have to rely and trust on your collaborators. This idea that a director has this perfect vision and knows exactly how they want things to be, and basically puppet masters everybody, I think that it’s a lie. It’s a farce. I don’t want to take credit for that either because the work that I’ve done has always been better when I’ve partnered with and collaborated with my actors and my DP, and all of my cast and crew because they always come up with something that I’m like, “Oh, yes, that would be great. That really works with what I’m trying to do and it makes whatever my idea was better.”
Certainly, there are times where you don’t want to take every idea. You want to make sure you have– It’s a delicate balance of what’s your vision? What are you trying to do? Also being able to incorporate these external suggestions to see where your idea is actually enhanced better because you’re taking somebody else’s take on it.
Nicky: Oh, absolutely. Yes, you do need that balance. It’s great to work as a team and get the fresh perspective, but you still hold the reins. Things still have to align with your vision. How was creating Acid Test and writing about it when it’s such a personal part of your life, how was that experience for you and you finally wanting to tell that story, and how you saw it develop?
Jenny: Well, it scared me a lot at first, especially with the short film because that was the first approach was the short film. I was really terrified of telling the world that I had done drugs and that I have a dysfunctional family, and my parents, we didn’t always get along, and it was very personal in that sense. I really believed that it would make an interesting film. I really believed that there were other people that could relate to this crazy experience of dropping acid and going home to your parents, and telling them that I was tripping, and having them freak out on me while I was still in the middle of the drug experience.
That was really the kernel of the short film. I felt like that it would be something interesting and relatable, and challenging, and all of these things. It was also scary in that sense because it was so personal. By the time we were doing the feature film, I think there were a lot of people who saw the feature film and we’re like, “Oh, my God, that’s so personal.” I was like, “I’m over it by this point.” It stopped. Making films always reminds me to a certain extent of my experiences giving birth to my children because there’s all this stuff that you do and you plan, and you’re trying to make things all perfect, and you have these ideas of how you want it to go.
Then the birth happens and you’re like, “This is off the rails, crazy.” Nothing’s happening the way it’s supposed to. I’m out of my mind. All of these things that you were like, “No, I would never want to do it.” You’re like, “I don’t care at this point.” You just give up and not give up. It’s more like you let go. You let go and you let the process happen. Making films, I think, is always that, but especially going through the feature experience and taking the short into the feature was a very deep dive into learning how to let go of things.
Nicky: For sure, but that kind of a story is just so powerful because you’re so invested and because there’s so many elements that you’re so familiar with. Yes, they are hard to tell, but when you finally bring it out and you get over those hurdles, you make magic. It’s just beautiful.
Nicky: Yes, absolutely. How is the process of distribution as an independent filmmaker? Because people don’t realize it. It’s probably even the hardest part of making the film. You’re there, you got your actors. Yes, you got your story and everything, and it’s just, “Okay, it’s there.” Now comes the next part, right? How do you even start with projecting or making your plan of just entering it into festivals and the whole thing? How is your experience with that?
Jenny: It’s certainly been a learning curve. I’ve seen friends of mine distribute their feature films and I’ve attended a bunch of workshops, and talked to different people who have experience in distribution. I really thought that I was as prepared as I could be to distribute the film. Similar to what I was just talking about with the birthing experience, the actual experience was nothing like what I thought it would be. It’s definitely been challenging. I think there were a lot of things that I already knew about.
For example, we don’t have any well-known actors in our film and I’m a first-time feature filmmaker, so there’s no name attached to it. We don’t have any celebrity endorsement, so to speak. I knew that that was going to be challenging going into distribution because it is one of the selling points of any film. It’s hard even at the festival stage because a lot of the larger festivals are really there to promote the independent films that are being made by industry professionals, since the studios have really gone into the franchise territory of Marvel and comics, and Harry Potter, and all that stuff.
All of the great dramas and the great low-budget films that get Oscars, and have been a staple of the industry for many, many years have just disappeared. There’s no space for that. That’s now taking up a huge part of what we call independent cinema. It’s not really independent cinema when you’ve got these major names attached to it, whether it’s the director or the actors. That’s certainly challenging. The landscape is challenging. The economy is challenging. We were finishing this film in the middle of COVID. We had no idea what was happening with anything.
We didn’t know if festivals were going to run, because you usually are applying to a festival about six months before the festival actually happens. You have to apply very far in advance even more than six months sometimes. You don’t find out if you’ve gotten into a festival until about a month before the festival actually happens, and sometimes even later. There’s so much uncertainty and it’s a lot like gambling. You’ve got this thing that I felt we did such a great job of making this film on a very small budget. We were on a budget, we were on schedule. We made it for– I think we did a really great job with everything that we had, and we made that magic happen.
Then you’re taking this entity and you’re putting it out into the world and you have no idea what those programmers are going to be looking for. You don’t know what other films are going to be coming out and being programmed against. At the same time, you don’t know what’s happening in the world that’s going to change or affect how people take your film. There’s certainly a huge risk to that. I do think festivals are really important for true independent filmmakers like me who are working outside of the system and not having name talent and things like that because it is a way to build your network. The programmers that are at smaller festivals will eventually maybe become programmers at the larger festivals.
It is a community, a networking people business. You want to tap into that. Festivals are a huge part of that, both just attending and meeting other filmmakers who are screening their films as well as having your own films programmed. I think it’s a really important part. Then you’re still lonely being seen by a small selection of a potential audience, the people who are going to these festivals. Then there’s this whole world of how do you get it onto streaming platforms and how do you make it available? There are all these different levels of self-distribution basically, where you can put it up on YouTube and just let it have it available for anybody or you could charge, or then there are all these various services and then there’s Netflix at the top.
It’s been a huge learning curve and I’ve tapped into people. We had a distribution consultant, Liz Manashil, who came on board early to help us navigate through some of that. Then we had a sales rep come on board, Circus Road Films, and they helped get us a deal with Giant Pictures, who is our digital distributor. Now we are available on rental platforms and we are hopefully going to land a subscription deal with a Hulu or Showtime or a Stars or something where there are subscribers and then eventually go on to the advertising-based video on demand. It’s a lot like gambling. You’re putting your baby out there, you’re paying money for different things and trying to see, oh, is it going to get– is somebody going to pick it up?
Yes, no. I don’t know. It’s the least for me as a producer and as a writer-director, I have the least amount of control, which is probably the most uncomfortable part of it. Especially, at least with festivals, you can sit there with your audience and you have your Q&As and you get a sense of who’s coming and how they’re responding to it. With people watching things online, you just don’t know how it’s landing. I’m not one of those film purists like Christopher Nolan or Martin Scorsese who only want people to go to the theaters. I think the digital revolution is amazing. It is a community-based thing. Just trying to connect with people and see how they’re liking it. It is still such a big part of it.
Nicky: You have a dedicated website so people can go there and they can find out where they’re going to be screenings or just the development of it and which platforms they can subscribe or they can see it, right?
Jenny: Exactly. [crosstalk] It’s acidtestfilm.com. We have all the links to the platforms that it’s available on now. Certainly, as that changes, we’ll add an update to the website. Then if you go through the blog, you can read all about the development however much people are interested in how things changed over time. I’ve tried to be transparent about the process. Again, as a film teacher, I think it’s important to be transparent about the process because again, there are so many things, and I certainly felt this during distribution, where you don’t know what you don’t know.
Then there are people who have experience and who do know, and then they’ll forget to mention something that seems pretty obvious. Then you find out after the fact or [chuckles] you’re like, “Oh, if I had known this beforehand then maybe I would’ve–” For example, there were a few different groups that I was able to join. Once your film has a premiere, as a female filmmaker, you can join the Film Fatales, which is a wonderful group that was created by an independent filmmaker.
They offer discounts to submissions and sometimes there are waivers to different festivals and they’ll actually help recommend your project for some of these festivals or workshops or things like that. By the time I had submitted to join, I had already applied to all the festivals that I was interested in. I couldn’t take advantage of any of those discounts, and I just didn’t– you just don’t know what you don’t know. [laughs]
Nicky: Exactly. You learn as you go. Now you can apply all of that to Martha’s Mustang. Tells us a little bit about how that story came about and who brought it to you, because it’s a true story.
Jenny: It was in between the short film for Acid Test and the feature film. I got an email from a guy in Houston named Tom Eishen, who is a– he is now a retired insurance agent for cars. He had heard this story about a woman who owned an autobody shop in Baytown, Texas, which is outside of Houston. That she had to sue city hall for the right to keep this hot pink Mustang planted with wildflowers as part of her shop sign after the city said it was a violation of their junk car ordinance and were telling her to tow it off her property. It was a David and Goliath-type story about a woman not just fighting city hall, suing the city, but also she’s a woman in a very traditionally male field of auto body repair.
This also happened in the ’90s which is a similar timeframe for Acid Test. I feel like I’m making these based on true story ’90s films right now. [laughs] I thought that it was [crosstalk]– I thought it was intriguing. I thought it was very visual. Tom had taken some classes at the Southwest Alternate Media Project or SWAMP, which is an organization I’ve been involved with ever since I got to Houston.
I think he had taken some screenwriting classes and so knew enough to be dangerous when it comes to filmmaking and had seen that Acid Test had done well in the festival circuit for the short film and he was just looking for a filmmaker partner because he doesn’t know really anything about making films just enough to get connected. I met with Martha and she seemed interested in taking this on board and I started doing documentary interviews with some of the main people involved.
Again, I got my start in documentary and have continued to do documentary over the years in one way or another. I think that especially when it comes to, based on true stories, you have to get the true story before you can start figuring out how to manipulate it or change it or make it fit for a narrative film. I was working on that, and then Acid Test, the feature film, started taking shape so I knew I was going to be busy for a while on that. I asked a couple of people to come and shoot a short teaser for Martha’s Mustang before we went into production on Acid Test. We did that with Sara Gaston, who’s a local actress, and my friend Rob Neilson, who’s a local DP, shot it. We had just a great time shooting this little teaser scene. Then the project basically went dormant for the next couple of years as I was doing Acid Test. During COVID once Acid Test was in post-production to the point where I was not involved, I was just waiting to make notes on things.
I was like, we’re getting ready to premiere Acid Test, I want to make sure that I have whatever’s next because that’s always the question. This was great. What’s next? I’ve seen so many filmmakers get stumped by that question, where they spent so much time making the thing that they’re now premiering, which might be wonderful, but if you don’t have something next, you’re basically dead in the water. There’s no forward momentum. Producers, managers, people, you get stuck. I started drafting out what I thought might work for Martha’s Mustang, and I submitted it to the Nicholl Fellowship, which is run by the Academy, and it’s one of the top screenwriting competitions.
We got placed as a quarter-finalist, which was huge. I had never done that. It was amazing. They give you feedback from, I think, six different readers. I was like, wow, this is really great, and gave me a lot of things to think about for the next draft. I just kept on plugging away at it. I have a writers group that I was workshopping it with and it got to the point where I was like, I feel like it’s in good condition in the sense that I’m not horribly embarrassed by any parts of it, but I just feel like I need to take it to the next level, which is having actors read it out loud and workshop it that way. We had done a table read for Acid Test when it was going from the short to the feature.
It was really helpful for us to get to the feature, the final shooting draft of Acid Test. I went to my producer, Anna Tran, from Acid Test, and I said, let’s do it again, only let’s try and get the city to pay for it. Because the city of Houston, through the Houston Arts Alliance, has these grants that support artists. We applied for it and got it. I had had a friend who had gotten it a couple of years before, and he had workshopped just a couple of scenes from his feature that he was working on, but we read the entire script in front of an audience. We partnered with the Cinema Arts Festival here in Houston because they’re looking to do more process-oriented programming, not just screening films, but how you make them.
They’re also really trying to connect more with and support the local film festival or the film community. We had screened Acid Test with them last year and we sold out. We had to do an encore screening. This year they were saying, the local Houston documentary, Friday I’m in Love based on Numbers, the club, that also sold out for their Houston Cinema Arts Festival screening. They’re doing an encore screening. It seems like the Houston crowd is really responding to Houston films. It was wonderful. That gave us a day and a time and a framework to put on this workshop.
We had the funds to do the table read to hire local actors and again, just really put a spotlight on what we can do here in Houston because there is such a wealth of talent here, both as cast and crew. It’s really wonderful to work with everybody and I really want to help highlight it and support it and have it all grow. Then we also, right on the heels of that, got into a producer’s lab through Stowe Story Labs, which is based in Vermont. That was really one of the first industry things that I’ve been connected with since my time in the industry a million years ago. This project really seems to be capturing people’s attention.
The producing lab was four days meeting with different mentors and different people, trying to figure out what are the best ways to approach name talent or find investors. The project is certainly bigger in scale than Acid Test was, so it will require more resources. I do think that it is possible to do it as an indie with, again, local cast and crew because we have amazing people here, but the distribution side of Acid Test has really shown me how difficult it is to promote a film when you don’t have that name talent.
With Martha’s Mustang, I feel like it’s in the project’s best interest, especially since it has been getting these external accolades to see what we can package together as we move forward. Because I always have it in my back pocket that I know we can do an amazing job with local cast and crew, but there is that business side of things which pains me sometimes because I hate that it might take away from somebody locally, taking that position.
Nicky: I know it’s hard, but it is what it is.
Jenny: Yes. I’m trying to see what happens. It’s been a lot of fun so far and we got a lot of great feedback. It was really wonderful that you and all these other actors came out to play. That, to me, is just the most fun thing about all of this stuff. It’s exciting.
Nicky: It was [unintelligible 00:47:22] experience, for sure. Also, where can people find out, in the development of this, how it progresses and the whole thing? Do people just follow you on social media for that? I’m going to put all of that information and your social media handle, but yes, it’s interesting to see how it all develops.
Jenny: Yes, I do have a page for Martha’s Mustang on my own personal website, so jennywaldo.com. There’s a tab for Martha’s Mustang. I’ve been putting the main things there and then certainly following me on social media. I’m at Jenny Waldo on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Those are the places where, in addition to everything else, I’ll also be posting about it. It’s definitely a really interesting and exciting time. I really I’m looking forward to jumping into rewrites. That was one thing that I realized coming out of the producing lab was that I do have to in this letting go theme that this interview has taken on, I think I am going to have to let go some of the producing reins and really focus more on the writing, directing side of things because it’s so hard to juggle all of those things.
I certainly felt that during the producing lab where I was like, I just got all these writing notes and now I’m trying to pitch it to these mentors and my brain was locking up, but they had so many great suggestions. I think in the independent world, you do have to be a producer and a director, even maybe you don’t write everything or a producer and a writer, but you don’t direct it. I think being a producer and having produced other people’s stuff, I do know how to get things done, I know how to get things done in a way that works.
Again, I’m always open to suggestions and collaboration, all that stuff. There are so many things that I don’t know still and that I don’t know what I don’t know. Distribution has certainly shown me a lot of that. I feel like going into this second project, I do need to find a producer who has just more experience and more of that network if we really want to try and make it more of an industry project, because that’s just kind of a whole side of the world that I don’t have as much experience with. It was really great to come to that realization, although somewhat horrifying at the same time. I was like, “Oh God, I need somebody else who knows more and is more experienced and can help shepherd this project.”
Nicky: Maybe opening it up to that, the right person will come along to be your producer and to make it in what it is and how you envision it, and to bring it up to everything that it deserves to be done for this story in this film, which is, I think it has great potential. It’s a fabulous story and, I really like the way you wrote it and, I’m sure with all the rewrites that you have in mind, it’s just going to be enhanced even more. I’m really interesting to see what turn it’s going to take. A lot of good important things are happening in that sense. Best of luck with everything and congratulations.
Jenny: Thank you.
Nicky: Thank you. I love that you shared all of that. This podcast is also for people who are in the industry and who are contemplating being producers or being actors or writers. Everything that comes together into creating a project. Thank you for sharing all of that. This has been a wonderful, wonderful, moment for people to learn about all those things from you, how you’ve experienced that and how you’ve grown as a writer, as a producer, as a filmmaker. I’m going to put all of the links in the show notes so that people can follow you and I’ll be, sharing updates as well in my newsletter. I do hope more people will sign up for that newsletter and we’ll help get the word out for Acid Test and for Martha’s Mustang, so, thanks.
Jenny: Thank you so much. It’s just wonderful. I really appreciate the opportunity to try to reach more people and to connect with you and again, just supporting what people are doing here in the Houston area. Obviously, we have ties to things beyond Houston, but I just think it’s really important to work with each other.
Nicky: Yes, for sure. Like you said, there’s so much talent in Houston, on both sides of the camera, crew and actors and everyone, and we’re just, waiting and just avid to put all of that into work because there’s a lot to be done here. Let’s get that ball rolling. Wonderful. Thank you, Jenny.
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