An Interview with Jennifer Prettyman – By Duane L. Martin

Jennifer Prettyman has been an actress for a long while now with a considerable number of films under her belt, and I’m happy to say that she’s also been a Sleepover Girl right here in Rogue Cinema.  In her latest career move however, she’s now made the jump to the other side of the camera and has recently completed her first film, Masquerade.

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DM: Even though you were a former Sleepover Girl, we haven’t interviewed you before, so let’s start off by having you introduce yourself.  Tell us a little about yourself and your background.

JP: I grew up in the Twin Cities, and wanted to be an actress for as long as I can remember.  I’m not quite sure why, since I don’t come from an artistic family background.  My parents were always very supportive of my acting aspirations, even though at times they may have wondered if they had taken the wrong baby home from the hospital.  They never told me to be realistic and get a "real" job, not that I would have listened to them anyways.  I’ve always been extremely independent and strong willed, which came in handy when I decided to pack everything I owned into my car and move to Hollywood.  I lived out there for 8 years, and it was a wonderful experience.  I worked in various films, TV shows, music videos, etc.  Some were large productions, others small, but all were tremendous learning experiences.  I worked with so many amazing, talented people.  Since I’ve been back in the Twin Cities, I’ve been keeping quite busy with different projects.

DM: Was there any specific point in your life where you actively made the decision that you wanted to become an actress, or was it something that just sort of took to early on and eventually worked your way into the industry?

JP: I loved watching movies as a little girl, and used to act out some of my favorite roles.  Two of my favorite characters were Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz" and Maria from "The Sound of Music." I memorized every line of dialogue and all the lyrics to the songs. I knew by the time I was 13 that I would pursue acting as a career, and started taking acting classes and going to auditions.  I was involved in Theatre in high school, and knew that once I graduated I would head out to Hollywood.  So I guess acting is something that I’ve always felt the need to do, and by need I mean that it is conducive to my happiness.   In fact, there’s no other occupation in the world that  I would rather do.

DM: You’ve done a variety of films.  Which genre(s) do you tend to gravitate toward the most, and what kinds of roles are your favorite to play?

JP: I love all genres, but my favorite is drama.  Dramatic films really make you think and feel more deeply than any others.  I love to play characters who are troubled and flawed in various ways.  I find them to be much more interesting than someone who has their shit together.  I’ve worked in horror films as the victim and the aggressor, and they’re fun to do but I wouldn’t want to make a habit out of it.  I had a part in a comedy recently, which was actually pretty fun to play.  I got to be silly and light hearted, which was nice for a change.  Dramatic roles take a lot out of you emotionally, but I prefer them.

DM: Your latest film, Masquerade, just finished shooting.  You both made this film, and starred in it.  How difficult is it to juggle that back and forth?

JP: A fellow actor friend told me I was crazy for acting in a film that I was also directing and producing.  Now that I’ve done it, I understand what he  meant.  I suppose it’s different if you’re Clint Eastwood and have assistants to do everything for you, but in a low budget production it’s a lot of juggling.  As an actor, it’s difficult  to concentrate on your character when there’s so much going on around you that you’re in charge of.  I was fortunate though to have an amazing crew who did their jobs to perfection, without me having to tell them much of anything.

DM: It sounds like it was a considerably different character than many of your previous ones.  Do you feel that the role has enhanced your abilities as an actress, and if so, in what ways.

JP: The character I play, Andrea, is very different from any other character I’ve played.  She blindly tries to find meaning to her lonely life through one night stands, drugs, and alcohol.  She is definitely a flawed human being, but hopefully not unsympathetic.  It was very important to write and play her in a way that doesn’t demonize her.  One dimentional characters are so boring.  There is good and evil in everyone, some people just have more of one than the other.  In trying to portray this in Andrea, this role has enhanced my abilities as an actress.  It’s difficult to show vulnerability while performing acts that make most people think you are a terrible person.  Other roles I’ve played were either good or bad, the victim or the villian.  It’s much less of a challenge and not nearly as interesting.

DM: You were actually supposed to co-produce and direct this film with someone else, but they pulled out at the last minute.  What hardships did that create for you and how did you overcome them?

JP: Yes, my so-called partner backed out of the project the day before the first day of shooting.  I should have seen it coming because he had been extremely undependable and had left me to do most of the work myself anyways.  Sometimes I give people too many chances, and it hurt because he was a friend of mine.  At that point I had three options.  I could have quit, postponed the production, or continued on without him.  I decided to continue on without him and take on all the responsibility myself.  This meant finding new locations, since the ones he was providing were no longer an option for me, and taking on all of the financial responsibilities.  I cried, vented to various people involved in the film, and then picked myself up and carried on.  This setback only made me more determined to make this film.

DM: The shoot started off in a not-so-great way when you were injured on the first day.  Tell us about that incident and how it happened.

JP: Oh yeah, that was crazy! We were shooting at Rachel Christine’s apartment (she plays the part of Heather), where her boyfriend has a collection of knives hanging on the walls.  Nobody noticed the heavy throwing knife that was placed above the doorway where we were filming.  During an intense scene where Ryan Kiser pushes me up against the wall, the knife fell down onto the top of my head.  It hurt like hell and caused a large bump, but I was fortunate that it fell flat and didn’t split my head open.  I put some ice on my head for a few minutes, and then went back to filming.  The show must go on!  I can laugh about it now, but at the time was pretty painful and the bump didn’t go away for at least three days.

DM: Your cinematographer ended up leaving for other projects after the first day of shooting, and yet you perservered and found a new one.  How much of a crimp did this put into your shooting schedule and how did the new cinematographer work out for you?

JP: My original cinematographer informed me that he didn’t have the time to continue shooting my film because he had to finish his own projects.  I’m still not quite sure why he hadn’t realized that before he signed on, but I’m not going to dwell on it.  The first shoot was on December 27th, and he gave me the news on January 2nd.  It was another setback, but I just continued on and searched for a new cinematographer.  I met with Justin Schaack on January 6th and discussed the project with him.  I had a good feeling right away, the positive vibes were definitely there.  He got back to me a day later and said he had read the script, was excited about it, and was ready to add his cinematographer’s touch.  The next shoot day was on January 16th, and I was so happy to get back to the project.  Things flowed nicely from here on, so I guess it’s good that I got the difficult stuff out of the way at the beginning.   Justin and I worked really well together, because we were able to share our creative ideas and come up with decisions that we both felt worked best for the film.  I think it’s so important to be able to work with people who aren’t afraid to express their thoughts and ideas, while remaining respectful of the writer’s vision.    This film was a collaborative effort, among a very talented group of artists.

DM: Once you got past your initial difficulties, you got settled with a great crew.  Often, film crews don’t get the credit or recognition they deserve.  Tell us about some of these people who stuck by you and what it’s been like working with them.

JP: I could write a whole novel about how wonderful my crew is, but I’ll try to keep it short.  I couldn’t have asked for a more talented group to work with.  Justin had a vision of what I wanted the film to look like, and he followed through beautifully.  My gaffer, Josh Patrick, is an absolute lighting genious.  He could take any room and light it to look like we had a $100 million budget.  His partner Dave Palm was also a huge help.  My sound guy, Eric Bjornstad, is one of the best and was so much fun to have on set.  He and Josh were with me throughout the entire filming, never missed a day.  Scott Traczyk is one of the most talented photographers I’ve ever worked with, and I am so fortunate to have had him on set.  He dedicated so much of his time taking behind the scenes and publicity stills, and spent many hours editing & processing the photos.  He also played a small role in the film.  Rachel Christine helped with so many things that I don’t know how to credit her.  She was willing to help with whatever I needed, including emotional support.  She was my rock, and even came to the set when she was sick.  Michael Kampa was a great AC, and is going to edit the film as well. Brooke Lemke and Ginny Head really kept the show running as my terrific ADs.  I would have gone into serious overtime if they hadn’t kept things rolling smoothly.  Waiel Safwat helped me direct some of the scenes that I was acting in, which really helped because I was able to focus more intently on my performance.  My makeup artists were top notch.  Thank you Andrea Seidenkranz, Meghan Sitek, and Aaron Pikala for making the cast look fabulous!  Rachel Grubb was a big help with various production duties, and also acted in the film.  I always enjoy working with Rachel.  Bret Starnes and Jimmy Keebs helped  grip and shoot some behind the scenes footage, and were great to have on set.  Jerry Danielsen, who I met years ago in L.A. while doing ADR work on a film, is supplying the music.  He is such a talented musician, and I am honored to have him score this film.  I could go on and on about these amazing people.  We became like a second family to eachother.

DM: There were some interesting locations used in the shooting of the film.  Tell us about those and what it was like to shoot at them (benefits, difficulties, etc…).  Also, do you have any advice for other film makers out there on how to approach and deal with the owners of places for permission to shoot?  Like say, how to overcome someone’s trepidations at allowing it and suffering possible damages or other negative impacts?

JP: Oh I had the absolute best locations!  We filmed at my house , which was really convenient.  The down side was having to clean it afterwards.  Josh and Rachel were both kind enough to allow some scenes to be filmed at their apartments.  I don’t hold the knife incident against you Rachel.  We filmed several scenes at this gorgeous mansion on Summit Ave. in St. Paul, and Mark (the owner) was so accomodating and generous.  I can’t thank him enough.  His maid, Deann, helped with set design and prepared delicious food and homemade cookies for us.  We were treated like royalty.  We filmed at Loring Park on a cold day in February, and it was a lot of fun even though I lost the feeling in my fingers and toes. We all thawed out eventually.  We filmed inside three different Minneapolis bars, and they all worked perfectly with each particular scene.  We used the NE Palace for the scenes with me and Ryan Kiser, and the edgy, dark mood of the bar was perfect.  We used Gabby’s for the scene with Rachel, Harrison, & me, and I was so grateful to find this location available on a Saturday night.  Rachel Christine and I spent an entire day location scouting for bars that would let us shoot there on a Saturday evening.  I think we had gone into every bar in the city of Minneapolis, and we lucked out with Gabby’s because the club didn’t open until later.  You really need to use a place that is closed or has only a few quiet, cooperative customers, or sound becomes a serious issue.  Weekend evenings aren’t reccommended, but you have to shoot whenever you can get your whole crew together.  We filmed at the Gay 90s on the final shoot day, and this was a fabulous location.  The managers and owners are very supportive of local artists and independent film, and welcomed me and my film crew with open arms.    The last location we shot at was Market Bar-B-Que’s parking lot.  It was an evening shoot, and was lit and filmed from the roof of the building.  I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect spot to film the last scene of "Masquerade."   My advice for filmmakers regarding finding locations is pretty basic.  You have to be ambitious about your search, and just keep asking until someone says yes.  I found that most people I talked to were pretty nice and were willing to work with me if it were possible.  You have to let them know the details of the shoot, and assure them that they will be held free from any liability.  Make sure a location release form is signed.

DM: Since this was your first film as an actual film maker, what have been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from the experience, and if you could share one bit of advice with other soon-to-be first time film makers out there, what would it be?

JP: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that making a film is an absolute group effort.  I thought I knew this from all my years as an actress, but you don’t truly understand the importance of it until you are responsible for everything. You have to rely on so many people to make it work, and those people can make or break your project.  Make sure you are surrounded by those who are trustworthy, hardworking, and reliable.  I consider myself very lucky!

DM: What are your plans for the film once it’s out of post and ready to go?  (Film festivals, distribution, promotion, showings, etc…)

JP: I plan to get "Masquerade" into as many festivals as possible.  I will definitely have it screened locally, and will promote it through interviews, podcasts, etc.  I’m going to work on distribution as well.

DM: Now that you have your first film under your belt, are you already coming up with ideas for your next one, or are you going to just focus on promoting this one for a while before you start thinking about the next?

JP: It’s too soon to think about my next film.  Right now I just want to focus on "Masquerade."  I have a lot to do yet.  I constantly have ideas going through my head though, and I often hear myself say "That would make a great story for a film."  I’m going to try to keep those ideas in my head for now.

DM: Do you think that now that you’ve actually made a film, you’d find it a little difficult to go back to being strictly an actress in someone else’s film and not having that level of control that you had as a film maker?

JP: I have acted in a few different films while I was still in production with my film, and I can say for a fact that it is strange not having the control.  Man, February was a busy month for me!  Anyways, I’ve always had an opinion about the characters I’ve played and the dialogue that goes with it, and I’m not afraid to change things up a bit and make it my own. I’ve found that most directors don’t mind.  I gave the actors in my film that freedom, and find that it makes for a better performance.

DM: So what’s next for you?  What are your immediate plans for the near future?

JP: I’m going to work hard to get "Masquerade" shown to as many people as possible.  It has an important message that I truly hope will come across in the film.  I want people to come away from it feeling like they have to live their lives honestly by being true to themselves, and not behaving in a manner which only makes others satisfied.  "A life lived dishonestly is a life wasted." (quoted by Andrea)

Aside from "Masquerade," I will continue to seek out interesting film roles.  I adore acting, and tend to go a bit crazy if I have too much time off in between projects.

DM: Is there anything else you’d like to mention before we wrap this up?

JP: I would like to mention everyone in the cast of "Masquerade" and thank them for lending their beautiful talents to this film.  Landyn Banx (Adam),  HT Altman (Carl),  Ryan Kiser (Al),  Rachel Christine (Heather),  Sarah Officer (Connie),  Stephan Roberts (Bryce),  Savannah Knudson (Tiffany),   Kyle Kauss (Tom),  Rachel Grubb (Tom’s wife),  Janet Fogg (Helen),  Jim Westcott (John),  Harrison Matthews (Crazy Man), Dan Quaile (Luis),  & Brian Schaefer (Bartender/Joe)    

Thank you so much Duane for allowing me to share my film making experience.