Jen Bagley: “You will never stop making mistakes and learning”

Representing diversity is one of many steps we need to take to address inequities in our society. We have a major problem with racism (specifically anti-Blackness), homophobia and transphobia. Because of its giant influence, the entertainment industry has a responsibility to do their part in representing all types of humans and helping our society evolve […]

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Representing diversity is one of many steps we need to take to address inequities in our society. We have a major problem with racism (specifically anti-Blackness), homophobia and transphobia. Because of its giant influence, the entertainment industry has a responsibility to do their part in representing all types of humans and helping our society evolve into what it clearly wants to be

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jen Bagley.

Jen has been making films since she got her first camcorder when she was ten years old. She graduated from Suffolk University with a degree in Media Production and has worked in Boston as an editor and cameraperson for over a decade. Before making her first film, Jack & Yaya, she worked as an editor for the films Aside From That and The Strange Name Movie.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born and grew up directly next to the airport in East Boston. I credit the jet fumes for my creativity. As an unknowingly (at the time) queer kid I never really found deep connections with anyone around me so I made friends through the films that I watched. It sounds a little lonely and sad, and it was, but now I think and dream in movie form.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

The first time I dabbled in nonfiction filmmaking was when I was around 11. I interviewed an eccentric woman from the neighborhood name Marie who used to feed feral cats in the marsh next to my house. She was, of course, unfairly dubbed the “crazy cat lady” in the neighborhood and most stayed away from her. My dad knew her personally and did favors for her so I was less afraid of her and one day I went outside with my camera and started talking to her about the threat of coyotes in the marsh. Other kids from the neighborhood also started to gather and ask her questions and pretty soon we all understood just a tiny bit more. I’m not sure everything clicked at that moment but it definitely made me believe that if you don’t understand someone, you should spend some time with them, ask questions and listen.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Jack & Yaya is honestly the most interesting thing I’ve ever done because I’ve never been so immersed in a subject before. When we (Mary Hewey, my co-director and partner) would go to shoot in New Jersey, we stayed in Jack’s childhood bedroom at his Dad’s house. We ate Wawa, drank Busch Light, partied, and cheered for the Eagles with them. They adopted us into their clan and we were instantly family. I wasn’t expecting to gain such good friends out of this movie, but we still text, Facetime, and hang all the time and it’s a beautiful thing.

Also this is me bragging and film nerding out, but I was able to work a day on Errol Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure and had the privilege of observing his famous Interrotron (the camera setup that allows him to get those intense straight to camera interviews) in action. I felt very important that day, even though I was just a PA.

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 was working at my first job at a production company I did a couple things that I was sure were going to cost me my career. Then, a client dropped off a hard drive with all the footage for a music documentary I was set to edit. Within the first few minutes of checking out the footage, I got up and tripped over the power cord and knocked the drive off that table. It was destroyed and all the footage was gone. Thankfully there was another copy of everything but ever since then, as soon as I get footage from a client, before I even look at it I make a copy or two. Then there was the time I updated the computer and which rendered the Avid software useless. Fixing it set us back an entire day. Those two incidents were pretty close together but thankfully my bosses realized I was pretty green so I still didn’t get fired. I credit my charm, skills and my bosses’ undying kindness, but now I am hypervigilant on set and I treat drives of footage like precious puppies that need to be cradled.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

My current project is about a queer septuagenarian, her house tortoise and the new cat she adopts. It is a salute to aging and a celebration of choosing to grow old without a partner. It is still in its early stages and has been put on hold because we want to be super protective of her health with the current COVID situation. During the lockdown I have been honing my stop motion skills and working on my script for a queer horror movie inspired by living with my dad, who was a city police officer.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

When I was a young queer I didn’t really see myself in many of the characters I was watching and neither did any of the other kids. I was teased and harassed for looking “like a boy” by children and parents alike. If there was a tall chubby androgenous child with glasses and bowl cut featured weekly on a television show instead of characters like SNL’s Pat, maybe I wouldn’t haven’t gotten picked on as hard.

I also think a lot of people (sometimes myself included) live in an echo chamber and don’t really ever get to see another way of living or get their point of views challenged. I think films, especially documentaries, are an amazing way to get to sit down and just listen to someone’s story and point of view. Once folks connect with someone’s humanity, minds start to change.

Representing diversity is one of many steps we need to take to address inequities in our society. We have a major problem with racism (specifically anti-Blackness), homophobia and transphobia. Because of its giant influence, the entertainment industry has a responsibility to do their part in representing all types of humans and helping our society evolve into what it clearly wants to be.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1) Most people don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. I saw an interview in which Rob McEllheny (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) talks about a nun who told him this once. I wished someone had said that to me when I was young because I feel like my life and general confidence level would have been different. So I had a sit down with my 7 year old niece while we were at a family party and she went around to every adult saying, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” It was funny because it was true. Most people are bullshitting through life, making it up as they go along. And some of them are very wrong so don’t doubt yourself just because they are older or have “more experience” than you.

2) You are going to lose a lot of money if you only take jobs that actually inspire you. I hope I am wrong in a couple years but ever since I started pursuing projects I was passionate about instead of for a paycheck I have become more and more broke.

3) Don’t overthink it. I am a huge introvert and grew up as an only child and I can spend days or weeks ruminating on tiny details and decisions. In the end I usually talk myself into trusting my first instinct anyway even though I’m still working on it.

4) Corporate video will suck your soul out of your body. At one point in my life I thought my passion for camerawork and editing had completely left my body. It was because there was nothing really behind. Thank god for Jack & Yaya because as soon as I started working on it, I immediately fell back in love with filmmaking.

5) You will never stop making mistakes and learning. I screwed up so many times on Jack & Yaya, and missed some key moments and all of it was really heartbreaking, but I paused on it, learned my lesson and moved on. Smooth recovery is very important.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Go to therapy, take all the breaks from the internet you can, and go for walks in nature. Make films and videos just for fun and practice that have nothing to do with your work.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂

I would tell everyone to look inward and really spend some time with themselves, feelings and thoughts on things. Without any distractions or safe places to run to. Maybe a worldwide silent meditation retreat. No iowaska or anything like that but I do think a lot of us don’t really get to know or love ourselves because there is too much noise in the world. There is some fierce and unjust inequality happening and it has been for years. I think if everyone slowed down and really thought about why, and confronted themselves and others, we could start unraveling this really ugly knot.

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?

Oh most definitely. My mom, Nancy, is and always has been my biggest fan ever. She bought me my first camera and even though we were working class and it wasn’t the most secure line of work, she never ever questioned my decision to pursue filmmaking as a career. I think it just made sense to her. She would find documentaries and narrative films for me to watch and cut out the articles for me. When I was young if there was a woman filmmaker in a magazine or on tv she would say, “Look, it’s you!” She came to every film festival or screening in college and support and pride always poured out of her. She watched the Jack & Yaya trailer every single day when it first came out and I am pretty sure I owe more than half of all my video views to her. She has always believed in me 100% even when I don’t. She’s gonna freak out when she reads this. It will definitely end up printed out on her fridge. Love you Mom, THANKS!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Simplify, simplify. My dad loved Thoreau and Walden Pond and that quote was on his wall for as long as I can remember. It kind of goes along what I was saying earlier about slowing down. When I first started out I was saying yes to every job and project and found that I was very quickly exhausted. All of those projects suffered just a little bit at the expense of the others and vice versa. I was too busy to put anything out that I was really proud of. I had the time to do everything but there was no recovery time built in. We need leisure and sleep in order to do quality work. Plain and simple.

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 just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I have developed an extreme quarantine crush on Billy the Exterminator. His personal style is the stuff of hair metal legends and he always relocates the animals he removes from properties to some sort of wildlife preserve. He even saves the bees he “exterminates.” If he is down, we’d go to a Bayou diner for brunch and then we’d go rescue some foxes while wearing layers of leather and metal spikes.

How can our readers follow you online?

First of all, and our instagram @jackandyayafilm are great places to learn more about the film and it’s beautiful subjects. I post my short films, stop motions and thoughts on justice and cats on my instagram, @jennydoughnut, which I am also trying to make my permanent nickname. So if you don’t follow me can you at least refer to me as Jenny Doughnut? Thanks!

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