Jessica Scalise: Writer, Director & Producer

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Jessica Scalise grew up in Oakland, CA, where she was obsessed with storytelling from an early age. In 2004 she graduated from Stanford University, where she studied creative writing and math. (So have no fear that she can crunch those budget numbers!) From 2004-2007, Jessica worked as an independent filmmaker and screenwriter. She produced and directed a feature film with a Stanford filmmaking grant, recruiting fellow Bay Area filmmakers for the cast and crew. In 2007, she won the Jacob Javits Fellowship in the Arts, a full scholarship that let her attend film school at USC. In 2010, Jessica graduated from USC with her MFA in film production. In the interim, she wrote twelve feature screenplays and numerous short stories. Her writing has placed in contests including the Academy Awards' Nicholl Screenwriting Contest, Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Screenwriting Contest, the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards, and the Raymond Carver Short Story Contest. In 2009 she co-wrote a television pilot that won Best of Show at the New York Television Festival. In 2014, she published a children’s book, THE KID & THE MERWITCH.

In 2015 Jessica started her own filmmaking company in Portland, OR. Scalise Pictures crowdfunded its first feature film, ZILLA & ZOE, and shot it in Portland. They are now in the final stages of postproduction. Jessica is passionate about filmmaking and storytelling. Her goal is to create unique, thoughtful, entertaining films that step away from typical Hollywood plots, and to increase the representation of women in film.

What do I do best?

I write. It’s what I do best, what takes me out of myself, what entertains me, what I do at traffic lights, how I cope when I’m angry/happy/sad, what makes me rise above myself. It’s how I impress people and get funding for my film projects. I sound better in writing than I do in real life. That’s why I’m doing a written interview.

What makes me the best version of myself?

When I want to be the best version of myself, I think about my son. I try to figure out how I’d like him to see his mother, and what I’d want him to do in a given situation. Then I generally try to do that same thing myself.

My son is six months old. I actually did this before I had children, too. At that time, I thought about a hypothetical daughter. I think this is useful as a woman, because women constantly find themselves in situations where the answer isn’t black and white. (Maybe everyone does.) For example, I was brought up to be kind and polite and unselfish (or anyway, my mom did her resolute best without a great deal of success) but I often find myself in career situations where it’s necessary (I think) to be the opposite of those things. Otherwise people would take blatant advantage of me. It’s an interesting situation for someone who was brought up by religious parents, because the motto “What would Jesus do?” really does not work in those situations. (You can’t say “well first, Jesus would report that asshole for sexual harassment, and then Jesus would boss the shit out of everyone and push his agenda forward against all odds and beat his head against a brick wall until everyone gives in and he gets his way.”)

Thinking about what I’d want my (non-existent) daughter to do always made my path clear and straight, because I’d want her to be kind when it’s appropriate, and tough when it’s appropriate, and I’d also want her to value and respect herself.

What are my aspirations?

I want to tell great stories.

My Biggest Success?

My biggest writing/film success so far has been writing, directing and producing my indie comedy ZILLA AND ZOE.

My Most Challenging Moment?

On any film set, there is always a moment when you think you’ve hit rock bottom and can go no further. When I think of my most challenging moments, a handful of these rises to mind, and my stomach lurches unpleasantly because I think I tend to internalize stress in my abdominal area.

I remember one very late night, directing my first feature film after college, when everything on set was going horribly wrong, and I was also extremely sick. All of my memories from that night are horizontal, because I was literally lying on my side for the entire shoot. I was like a dying animal in the middle of the film set, and everyone’s stepping around it, trying to avoid its contagious germs, but it can’t go home because it doesn’t have sick leave. When you’re directing your own indie film, you have to show up, because if you’re not there everything grinds to a halt. Nothing gets shot, and you lose your funding, and your lead actress gets cast on some television show where she actually gets well paid, so then you have to re-shoot the entire film because she’s been in every single scene so far, and then you go home and lie in the middle of the rug and are too depressed to get up for a week, except that you have to, for the reasons outlined above.

There has been a moment like that on every film I’ve ever worked on, and they were all my most challenging. It sort of makes one question why anyone would want to make a movie, ever. But I recently went to hear Francis Ford Coppola speak, and he basically said the exact same thing, and that cheered me up a lot. If I have to be totally insane, I want to be totally insane like Francis Ford Coppola.

My Motto?

“Truly I tell you, many longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”  (This is a Biblical quote that I deliberately take completely out of context. It helps remind me to keep telling stories.)

My Favorite People/Role Models?

Favorite people: My family. Husband, Son, Mom, Dad, Sister (she goes on & off the list depending on recent behavior), Brother, 3 Sisters-in-law, Parents-in-law, Cat. Can I include dead people? Then all four of my grandparents too.

Role Model: my Great Grandmother. She was an Italian immigrant who came here from Castelsilano. She was strong and tough, but also kind and loving, and created a warm, creative, empowering environment around her for her family. When I was a little girl, she used to get up and wind up the cuckoo clock for me, because I loved to see the little bird pop out. She never had much money, but she gave away so much of what she did have to charity that she got audited by the IRS. (They didn’t believe anyone would actually give that much.)

My Favorite Place?

Most of my favorite places are imaginary worlds that do not actually exist. (Think Narnia.) I’m also very fond of Portland.

My Favorite Products/Objects?

I LOVE my three-hole punch. To really understand the value of a high-performing three-hole punch, I think you have to spend ten years as an impoverished screenwriter, churning out script after script (90-120 pages each) and hole punching every one of those pages by hand, using a ruler and a single punch. You drool over the high-tech three hole punches at film studios where you’re a humble intern, but you’re too ethical (poverty made me unnecessarily ethical) to use them for personal projects. Your hands are always covered with paper cuts, and you can never do anything on weekends, because you’re too busy hole punching all the time.

When I finally reached a time of life when I was glamorous enough to buy my own three-hole punch, I set it up right in the middle of my office, and every morning, I gloat over it.

My Current Passions?

My family and my writing/film projects. I just finished a short story that I love, and I’m in preproduction on a screenplay I’d like to shoot in the Italian Alps.