For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed Actor-Writer-Producer and Zip Creative client Naomi McDougall Jones. Her latest project is the feature film Bite Me. Naomi grew up in Aspen Colorado and is currently living in Brooklyn, New York.
Q: What you are currently working on? Tell us about it.
At the moment I’m working on attaching a director for my second feature film, Bite Me, which is being produced by Jack Lechner (Blue Valentine, Good Will Hunting, Four Weddings and a Funeral, among much else). It’s a subversive romantic comedy about the real-life subculture of people who identify as vampires (they believe they need to feed on blood and/or energy to stay healthy). It’s a tricky film tonally – it’s sort of Little Miss Sunshine meets Notting Hill, except that its weirder than both because of the subject matter – so finding the right director is critical.
Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?
My absolute favorite films are the great romantic comedies from the ’80s and ’90s. I do realize that greater films have been made, but when I just want to feel good, I always go back to those films: Notting Hill, When Harry Met Sally, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Annie Hall, all the greats.
When I go back and watch those films now there’s no question that they feel dated – there’s a pervasive goofiness and optimism to them that doesn’t quite play anymore in our post-9/11 age of obsession with the cold-hard truth, of science, of “reality” writ large.
But when I met my husband, I realized that falling in love is as heightened and goofy and soaring and terrifying and painful an experience as those movies told us.
In trying to update romantic comedies into the “ultra-cool,” sarcastic, dispassionate age in which we live, I think we have, in fact, lost the larger point of them – to give the audience, for an air-conditioned 90 minutes, the vicarious experience of falling in love – in all its attendant joy, pain, and absurdity.
I became interested in how I might make a romantic comedy that rings true and feels relevant today, but brings back some of that freewheeling optimism. My answer: vampires.
Then as I began to research and investigate the incredible lives and community of people who self-identify as vampires, I became, not only obsessively fascinated by the intricacies of their belief system, but also deeply impressed with people who can believe so strongly in something so easily mocked by those around them. It seemed like an amazing backdrop against which to explore this idea of how my generation is or isn’t able to take the greatest leap of faith: loving someone and trusting them to continue loving you back.
Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?
I feel like I need to develop a better stand-by answer to this question. I have a really hard time pointing to one or two people or works and saying, “That’s where I come from as an artist.” I’m inspired by bits and bobs everywhere in art as well as everyday life and the people I encounter (the main character in Bite Me is based on a young woman I walked past on the Prospect Park subway platform one afternoon).
When I think about the art that has most strongly resonated and stayed with me throughout my life I would begin the list with Jane Eyre, The Wizard of Oz, Silence of the Lambs, Mr Bean, Julie Andrews, The Crucible, Anna Karenina, Daniel Day-Lewis, Bill Bryson, Hedda Gabler, Fawlty Towers … I could go on, but I feel like it only gets less impressive the more I do.
Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?
As the answer to my previous question probably indicates, pretty much everything, every place, and every one. The world is an endlessly interesting place to me, which, happily, leaves me abundant on inspiration.
I suppose I am motivated to keep doing the work by the fact that every time I reach into the darkest, strangest corner of which I am the most ashamed and put it on the page, or on film, or on the stage, at least one other person (and often many more than one person) says, “Oh yeah. Me too.” And that makes me feel much less alone and much more okay. And I think it makes them feel less alone and more okay too. Which is a rather addictive feeling and keeps me creating almost compulsively.
Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?
I’d like to tell you about my first feature film, which I wrote, starred in and produced, Imagine I’m Beautiful. It’s a psychological drama about a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder who moves to New York and invents a whole new fake life for herself and then … well, it’s a twisty little house of cards of a film. I’m incredibly proud of that film and I’d love for everyone to see it – it won 12 awards on the festival circuit before getting 11-city theatrical release by Candy Factory Films and is now available online at iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and VimeoOnDemand. More info and the trailer at www.imagineimbeautiful.com.
Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?
Sometimes I think about the fact that I make my living from the arts. Every day I wake up and my whole “job” – my designated role in our society – is to make the world a more beautiful, more illuminated, more empathetic place for people to live in. If that’s not a sublime way to get to live your life then I don’t know what is.
Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?
This is may sound totally obnoxious, but I actually feel like I am doing everything I want to be doing at this moment. I can’t really wish to have more than I do, because what I have and what I am doing is beyond what I could have dreamed a year ago. Everything beyond this is gravy.
Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?
Well, needing money to live is always problematic, isn’t it? There’s the inevitable compromise that has to happen between the way I’d like to spend my time and the necessary parts of time I have to spend making sure I can pay for things like rent and food. I think and hope that I am close to a place where my own creative work will fully pay for my day-to-day life, but I’m not there yet and that can be frustrating.
Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?
I return to the work. If too much time passes since I’ve actually created something, I can get swizzled up in all the other noise, but then I come back to the work and remember that that’s the only thing any of this is actually about.
Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?
I don’t know that it’s held me back, but something that has plagued me in my darker moments is the perniciously bandied-about concept of the “vanity project.”
I’ve spent far too many hours wrestling with this concept in my mind. Am I being “vain” by acting in my own projects? Is it wrong to want to act in things I’ve written? Am I less worthy because I am writing my own stuff? Does everyone think I’m a mad egotistical maniac?
I still don’t know the answers to those questions and they still wake me up sometimes in the middle of the night. But …
In really thinking through what that term literally denotes, I’ve decided that it’s actually a meaningless term. It’s never used except as a pejorative term for a project that hasn’t succeeded artistically (and in most cases, it’s only brought up if the creator was female). If the project succeeds, you never hear this term used, no matter what the circumstances; if it fails then it’s an easy dig.
I’m doing my best to banish the whole concept from my psyche because it isn’t helpful in any event.
Q: What is your favorite piece of art?
Possibly “The Storm” by Pierre August Cot. I don’t know why that specifically, but I have a whole story that forms in my head when I look at that painting and I find it comforting, intriguing, and beautiful.
Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?
This is another question that I lack a solid stand-by answer for. Ava DuVernay at the moment. She gives me courage to stand for something in this industry and hope that we can really ignite a change towards a broader scope of stories being told (you know, like people other than white men).
Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?
To be a person with a strong, original voice who was brave enough to speak out loudly in their life and art.
Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?
Q: What is your guilty pleasure?
I’m embarrassed to say that I fell fully down the rabbit hole of a reality TV show called Married at First Sight this year. I try to tell myself that I’m interested in it from a sociological standpoint … which is probably partially true …
Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?
Fifteen years ago I was in 8th grade and I would have said to myself, “Don’t worry so much, kid. Everything about you that is making your life difficult now is going to make your life beyond high school fabulous.”
Q: Where would you most like to live?
A beautiful cabin in the woods by a little pond.
Q: What is your idea of success?
I want to answer this in tandem with the next question.
Q: What is your idea of happiness?
I was recently asked to write some advice for artists on the subject of “success” and “happiness and I was a bit happy with what I came up with, so I think I’ll put that a shortened version of that in:
“I used to think about “happiness” and “success” as being, if not synonymous, than certainly correlative. But the more success I have had, the more it has dawned on me, that, not only does one not bring the other, but that you, in actuality, have to fight extra valiantly for happiness once success has entered your life.
Success in the way that most people think about it is, in reality, a fantastically dangerous sensation. You get a role, you win an award, you get picked up, you develop “buzz” and suddenly you’re “someone” when you go to a party. These highs, in the moment, are outrageously intoxicating, but, like, say, heroin, they’re fleeting, ultimately meaningless, and only leave you starving, scrounging desperately for the next high to match your last – for more validation – confirmation – adulation.
I truly believe that the most important thing you can do for yourself as an artist is to chase happiness – let’s say joy – over success. The question must become, not – How do I get ahead? How do I get them to pick me? How do I win at whatever whimsical and vaguely deranged game we’re all playing? But, rather, WHY am I doing this? Why did I decide to become an artist – rather than the hundreds of thousands of other jobs that would almost certainly bring greater financial and mental stability to my life?
I am not saying that this is an easy mental leap to take. It’s even harder to adhere to – I, like everyone, am profoundly susceptible to the great expectations of my parents, my high school drama teacher, every single citizen of my home town, my colleagues, my friends, my manager, that random woman I met a party last Saturday, all asking “what I’ve done” – but I very deeply believe that it is the only way to make it through this business with yourself and your sanity intact.
Chase the sheer joy of creation. Chase impossibly great collaborators. Chase the meaningfulness of reaching out and touching an audience member’s soul. Then try your absolute damnedest to remember that the rest of this business is nothing but glitter-filled set dressing.
Q: Final Thoughts?
No. If you’re still reading, bless you.