Support. This industry can be so competitive and many times we feel that in order to succeed, others must fail. This is a very lonely way of working, and also not very efficient because one of the biggest determining factors of success is who you know! Within the past couple of years I have come across a couple communities that have really brought that to light for me: the growing community of female directors, most of whom are now dedicated to building each other up and helping each other succeed rather than competing, the web series community which displays a level of support and inclusiveness that I have yet to experience in any other aspect of this industry, and the small collection of artists that I have partnered with time and again because we respect each other and support each other in all of our endeavors- together and individual, business and personal. I think that this also applies to the world in general… if everyone was looking to support and help each other rather than finding ways to block or tear each other down, I believe everyone would be better for it.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Alexandra Green. Jessica is an award-winning actor/director/editor who currently has 5 films and a web pilot on the film festival circuit. Originally from Chicago, Jessica has a BA in Theatre from Florida State, and has spent time working in both Los Angeles and New York. Jessica is passionate about storytelling through film, and strives to make every piece she works on something that will not only touch people’s hearts but also open avenues for discussion.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was in preschool my class put on a play. I played a dogcatcher and was supposed to say one line and then leave the stage -but apparently I had other plans. My line came up, I said it, but then I just kept on talking! I stayed on stage ad-libbing until the teacher came out to get me. I’ve been addicted to performing ever since.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
I spent many years as an actor supporting myself by bartending on the side. It offered money and flexibility, but was draining my soul. Eventually I came to a breaking point when I knew I had to leave bartending. After some scary months working random jobs and trying to figure out what to do, I decided to open a business cutting demo reels for actors. I launched my company and three weeks later, a person who was my friend and coach came to me asking if I would be interested in editing three short films that he had directed. I laughed- I knew nothing of how to edit a film! To which he laughingly (but seriously) replied that he had no budget. He then said something incredibly freeing… that I couldn’t mess it up. If I edited it, and it worked out- great; if the cut was terrible- well then I would have learned something, and he could always take the raw footage to someone else to start over. That permission to play without the possibility of failure was a great gift, and probably no accident as he is a terrific coach and intimately aware of an actor’s fear of failure.
The editing process went very well, and felt almost second nature. Working closely with my friend, we ended up with great cuts of all three films. Somehow word got out, and I was very fortunate to have several people approach me to cut their shorts. I progressed quickly, and every time I came across a new editing challenge, I would stop and teach myself what to do, accruing editing knowledge on a need-to-know basis.
Less than a year later, I was editing narrative work full time… because I was able to take that giant leap, knowing that I couldn’t fall.
From there it was a natural progression into directing- combining the sensibilities of an editor with those of an actor makes for a well-rounded approach to directing.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I moved to Los Angeles, I went to get my first professional headshots. I ran all over the city interviewing photographers and looking at their portfolios (this was before everything was online.) Despite having very little money, I finally settled on a very expensive photographer that had beautiful headshots in his portfolio. Wow, I thought, I want to look like that! So I went to his studio on my assigned day to find that my session was not my own, but I was sharing with 7 different actors and we were on a type of assembly line rotating through makeup, hair, and wardrobe, shooting a few photos, and then back again for another look. I was a little overwhelmed, and not knowing any better, thought this must be the way it was done in L.A.
When I got the headshots back, I had gotten my wish, my shots did look like the other photos… actually exactly like the other photos, and really nothing like me. I had let them curl my hair (I have never worn my hair curly) and the lighting and airbrushing the photographer used gave me a generic, beautiful, look. The roles that I was called in for based on those headshots were never right for me, because they were calling in a person that didn’t really exist. In the end, I had to do another shoot with a completely different style photographer.
I learned from that to not be easily wooed by a slick look, to try to see through it and look for something real at the core. This was also the beginning of a very hard and long lesson that I had to learn- I had to be my own advocate, and if something felt wrong, it probably was.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am the co-creator and co-lead for a new web series. It is a female-driven comedy that is heavy on physicality and action, called “Scratch This.” We shot the pilot this past spring and have taken it to film and web festivals, garnering several awards, and we will be shooting the rest of the first season in the new year!
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
The most interesting person I have ever met is my teacher Wynn Handman. He was able to see me in a way that no one else ever had, and in some ways I think he knows me better than I know myself. Despite my being intimidated at first by performing for such a revered teacher, he created an environment where I felt free to explore, and helped me to access parts of myself that I had never before felt supported enough to face. He also has a million stories about acting, performing, and life, each one more interesting than the last- and always teaching a valuable lesson.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Remember that art comes from humanity and experience. In this industry we are often encouraged to never leave town or always be available, because we may miss an opportunity. But this is a terrible model for an artist… if you don’t go out and live life, spend time with family, travel, and continue to be a well-rounded human, not only will you burn out quickly, but you will not be interesting as an artist. So what if you miss an audition? There will be others- and when they come up, you will have a much better chance of booking if you are less stressed and have a full life of experiences to pull from. Continue to live your life, and don’t put things on hold. This industry is a marathon, and you must find a way to exist in it for the long haul.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Support. This industry can be so competitive and many times we feel that in order to succeed, others must fail. This is a very lonely way of working, and also not very efficient because one of the biggest determining factors of success is who you know! Within the past couple of years I have come across a couple communities that have really brought that to light for me: the growing community of female directors, most of whom are now dedicated to building each other up and helping each other succeed rather than competing, the web series community which displays a level of support and inclusiveness that I have yet to experience in any other aspect of this industry, and the small collection of artists that I have partnered with time and again because we respect each other and support each other in all of our endeavors- together and individual, business and personal.
I think that this also applies to the world in general… if everyone was looking to support and help each other rather than finding ways to block or tear each other down, I believe everyone would be better for it.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The truth is you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. Life is a crazy ride, and nothing is guaranteed.” -Eminem
This is a great reminder to enjoy the journey. Don’t wait until you “make it” to enjoy life… this moment right now is your life.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My husband Stu. He is my biggest support and biggest fan.
I was once away on location, playing a role that was not only very emotionally demanding but also had a lot of screen time, which was giving me very little downtime to decompress. A couple days into the shoot, I called my husband crying. I was emotionally exhausted and felt that I had nothing left to give- I was fearful that I wouldn’t be able to continue playing the part.
Often, people who do not work in the performing arts, such as my husband, will not understand these concerns, or will see them as silly and brush them aside. But he listened to everything I had to say, and encouraged me repeatedly, reminding me of difficulties that I had overcome before and assuring me that I would get through this as well. His support got me through that day, and many days before and since. I know I wouldn’t have lasted in this business without him.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Charlize Theron- she has played so many roles that I would love to play- from Monster to Young Adult to The Devil’s Advocate and so many more. I’m in awe of her talent, and her ability to choose and create characters.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!