Writer-director Mark Jackson is up for the “Someone to Watch” award at the Indie Spirits, to be held in Santa Monica on February 25, for his micro-budget film "Without." (Here's a trailer.)
The film is a quiet character study featuring a daring performance by newcomer Joslyn Jensen and the patient camera work of co-producer/ co-DP Jessica Dimmock (along with Diego Garcia). Words are sparse in the film, as is plot, and nearly every scene is built shrewdly around action, however small. One keeps expecting to see hands come out of walls, a la Roman Polanski, or someone to ring someone else’s neck. In other words, the film flirts with horror, but ultimately it gives us a horror suggested not shown. The every day is shock enough.
Jensen, who is as much the subject of the film as its star, plays a young woman tasked with house-sitting a seemingly infirm old man while a married couple is on vacation. The film meditates on how the young woman tolerates being without the things she, and most of us, have come to want and need. Alone in the house with the mute or muttering man, disconnected from today’s basic tools of communication, she’s forced to look inward. That’s where the drama begins.
Here are e-mail responses to some questions I posed to three of the films’ principal collaborators—Jenson, Dimmock and Jackson.
Joslyn Jensen (lead actress):
Charlie Lyons: Tell us a little bit about your training as an actress. What was most valuable?
JJ: I studied acting at CW Post, Long Island University, in a small program—only 10 in my graduating class. There I studied The Suzuki Method, a movement based training for the actor. I think the most helpful aspect of that training (especially for work in film) is the idea of maintaining inner movement in stillness.
CL: What attracted you to the role?
JJ: Mark and I had worked together on some short film projects of his. I was really excited to work with him again and I really loved the story he had created. I was interested in the challenge of working on a feature film—especially one without a lot of dialogue. From the beginning, I knew this would be a great showcase for me as an actor if I was able to pull it off!
CL: What was the most surprising thing you learned about yourself while doing the role?
JJ: Because this was my first feature film, everything was hard for me—not just emotionally, but just getting used to the technical aspects of working on film took time. Thankfully, I had Mark to help me—he became like the voice in my head throughout the whole process. I drew from the support of Mark, Jessica and the whole crew and I’m really proud of our collaboration.
I think the most surprising moments occurred for me when I finished a scene and felt really powerful and tough. I think Mark was able to draw from me some real intensity that I hadn’t accessed before … so that I could become the kind of girl who could scream and beat the shit out of an old man.
CL: What’s next for you?
JJ: Currently, I’m collaborating on a new film with Lee August Praley and Steve DiUbaldo, called Nothing Is Fun Anymore. It follows a man and woman in the months after their breakup. Because my character is a musician in the film, I am also working on the soundtrack with some original music performed on my ukulele.
Jessica Dimmock (co-producer & co-director of photography)
CL: What cameras did you use and why?
JD: I shot this film with DP Diego Garcia, and we used the Canon 5D Mark ii, which is also the camera I use for photography. It has pretty amazing quality but I think its most significant asset is its small size. We were able to shoot in tight spaces and were able to get very close to the subjects, which really adds to the feelings of intimacy, which we were trying to achieve.
CL: You’ve worked as a still photographer. What was the most surprising (and difficult) thing about shooting a movie?
For me personally, it was definitely movement. Photographers spend a lot of time thinking about composition, but understanding how movement affects your sense of place and comfort is very new territory for me.
CL: What’s next for you?
JD: I continue to work as a documentary photographer for magazines but am working towards developing a documentary again. Mark is one of the most talented people I have ever met so I think we could also make a great documentary together down the line.
Mark Johnson (writer/ director)
CL: How did you come up with the idea?
MJ: Primarily through my admiration for and desire to create a project with the brilliant Jessica Dimmock. The narrative was inspired by research on cases of cyber-bullied suicides and wondering about who these kids had left behind. A few lines from Bushwick Bill about contemplating his own mortality stuck with me.
CL: How did you write the script?
MJ: Start by sketching ‘large and startling figures’ with broad brush strokes. Comb over and refine. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Not having personal experience as a teenage girl, I relied on the input of my extremely gifted collaborators, Jessica Dimmock (DP/Producer) and Piper Weiss (actress).
CL: How did you finance the film?
MJ: Self-funded. Day job.
CL: How did you choose your actors?
MJ: I knew everyone and wrote the roles specifically for them, with the exception of the exceptional Ron Carrier (Frank). I feel very fortunate and grateful that one of our producers, the ever-resourceful Jaime Keeling, dug him up. As far as Joslyn goes, she was one of 10 aspiring actresses that I put through the ringer in an experimental project. Pain, Pleasure, Rage, Sorrow, Laughter, Neutral. Each actor went through the gamut of emotion in a series of close ups. Joslyn was my pick of the bunch and I tailored the role for her talents.
CL: What are your fantasies… versus what is the reality, in terms of reaching audiences?
MJ: Your intention versus what the audience takes away is always tricky. ‘It's not that Monet cared that much about stacks of hay’. I took tropes of the horror genre and tried to make a film about something I find truly terrifying: being a young woman in a place where the two loudest sides (a pornified pop culture and an abstinence only education) are yelling at you that your body is not yours, that your body is dangerous, that you are not to be trusted. Much is made of Joslyn's descent into madness. I disagree. I think she is brave and
strong and lucid as she challenges what a "good girl" should be.
CL: No distributor, as far as we know, is yet on board. What are your plans for the film?
MJ: Continue on with the festival circuit for now. The film is booked through 2012. [Lyons: the film has played at such film festivals as Locarno and Slamdance, among many others.]
CL: What’s your next project?
MJ: I am drawn to gender issues and the Arab Spring knocked my socks off. Combining the two and heading to Italy to shoot a film that grapples with access to reproductive health services in rural Sicily. A war photographer returns from being held captive in Libya to document the influx of immigration in Sicily and befriends a detained Tunisian woman. The Tunisians kicked it all off: Ash-shab yurid isqat an-nizam.
CL: Which filmmakers—present and past—most inspired you?
Alive - Claire Denis. Dead - Marco Ferreri. But my favorite movies are early R-rated Eddie Murphy and “Ghostbusters.”