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Interview with Jerusha Hess - Writer and Director of Austenland

Interviews
by Melissa Silverstein
August 16, 2013 2:00 PM
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Jerusha Hess

Women and Hollywood: Can you talk a little bit about what drew you to this project?

Jerusha Hess: I got the book from the author. I had no idea about the book. I was interested in another project of hers and I just loved it. It was so easy and fresh and fun and cinematic. It is a novel that is written like a screenplay. It was the right fit for me like a real girly movie.

Women and Hollywood: And were you looking for that kind of thing?

Jerusha Hess: I was. I didn't know I was. I wanted to do one of her fairy tales. She's written these beautiful fairy tales for a younger audiences. I wanted to do those. But, when I got this I went, "Oh, it's a fairytale for an adult! Even better."

Women and Hollywood: Is that how you see the movie--a fairytale for adults?

Jerusha Hess: Yeah, absolutely. It's all about wish fulfillment.

Women and Hollywood: Did you know when you were working on your other stuff that you wanted to direct?

Jerusha Hess: No. I looked fondly on it, like he's (her husband, Jared Hess, who directed Napoleon Dynamite) having so much fun and there's that script I wrote and he's got all the power. He did such a great job, and its fun and I'm glad he did it. But I think, after awhile, I just started thinking "You know, I think I'd like to try that."

Women and Hollywood: And, being on the set and seeing your script come to life was one of the inspirations? 

Jerusha Hess: Absolutely.

Women and Hollywood: Talk a little bit about what you took from that experience, that helped you in your directing debut.

Jerusha Hess: My husband directs really differently than me, but the things I took away from him are that he handles the whole set pretty generously and with a lot of love. When you are nice to people, they bring their A-game. I saw how collaborative it was for him. He was not sitting on his throne making demands. He had people help and contribute and felt apart of it and they really love it. 

So, that's how I directed as well. Differently is that he kind of line reads for his actors. He is a funny guy and does great voices and he knows exactly how everything should sound and he tells them. I think its a little disconcerting. I was just like "Let's see what you've got and just bring it." And they improvised and the actors made this an amazing project because they just brought so much into it.

Women and Hollywood: The Stephanie Myers piece of this--how did she come into this project?

Jerusha Hess: She was friends with the author from being two author girls. They knew each other and she knew the work and she really liked it. When I came onboard she said, "Wow, this could really happen." And, sure enough it did.

Women and Hollywood: Did she finance the film?

Jerusha Hess: Her company did.   Her company down-financed it.

Women and Hollywood: That must have been a huge relief.

Jerusha Hess: Yes. We didn't have a studio over us, so it was just exhausting to make a PG movie with that much freedom.

Women and Hollywood: Did you get any tips from her, having had all her movies made from Twilight?

Jerusha Hess: She was great on set. She just let me do my thing. I think on her previous movies, she had a role and she seemed ready to stay back. So, she was a great asset on set.

Women and Hollywood: Are you guys thinking about having her millions of fans engaged in this film?

Jerusha Hess: I don't know what they are doing marketing-wise. I know there has been some discussion about how to tap into the Twilight market. I think they follow everything she does, so I think they already know.

Women and Hollywood: Are you a huge Jane Austen fan or freak--not freak in a bad way.  Were you before? Are you more now?

Jerusha Hess: I was before, less now. I lived out the fantasy and I'm over it. But, I definitely loved the books, loved the adaptations.  I didn't have a secret room, but I find fandom really amusing. And it's a movie for the fans and people who think the fans are funny. 

Women and Hollywood: One of the things I write about on my site is marketing, especially to women.  There are a lot of projects that are by and for women, but don't really talk about that because they feel that that is a drawback.  Your film is being proactive about being by and for women.  Do you feel that this has the potential for backlash against the film because you are so blatantly pro-women?

Jerusha Hess: I think there has already been a bit of a backlash. It's gotten a lot of attention and a lot of press. It was the intention of Sony to market it this way. I have no shame in saying it is for women though. I'm not embarrassed about that at all. I want it to be a movie for women and I'm a woman, so it's covered in pink feathers, and giggling and a silly, fun, romantic romp in England. Filming it was that same romp. I think women will like it and I think men will be forced to go and they'll think "Wow, this is actually really bawdy. I'm enjoying it."

Women and Hollywood: One of the points is that women buy tickets for all kinds of movies, whether its about women or for women or about guys. Do you think its dangerous to say there is any movie that is just for women? 

Jerusha Hess: Maybe the backlash will change, but at this point, no.

Women and Hollywood: What was the biggest challenge for you in making this film? 

Jerusha Hess: Editing was hard for me. It was hard to be in a room by yourself and not have that collaborative spirit. Comedies are really tight and timing is everything and so just getting the film to where it is today took a while.

Women and Hollywood: Talk about any advice you might have for other women who are trying to set out on this journey of become a director that you might want to impart to others.

Jerusha Hess: I never think of myself as different from anyone else. I never think that being a woman is so hard. Maybe don't think about your gender and be confident as you go forward rather than try to single yourself out as some underserved part of filmmaking. Write projects that you know and that you care about that have point of view. There are a lot of male directors who are directing female-driven pieces. I think that its good to get the girl's point of view and they should write stuff that they know.

Women and Hollywood: What did you learn about yourself through this process?

Jerusha Hess: I can do anything. Wow, I can do anything now.

Women and Hollywood: That's a good feeling.

Jerusha Hess: It was a good feeling. I adopted two babies right after I finished. 

Women and Hollywood: I feel the kid issue is something we just need to plow through regarding women directors because people have kids. How do you feel about that for your future as a director? 

Jerusha Hess: My husband and I are really obsessed with our family life. We hold it very dear and private and we are just going to take turns, which is awesome. You get kind of worn out anyway after you make a film, so he's going to make one next, then I'll see if I can make one and we'll just take turns and be with the babes when we need to be with them. I think our kids are still the lucky ones because when we are with them, we really are with them.

Women and Hollywood: It's nice to be part of a creative partnership.

Jerusha Hess: Absolutely. It depends if I can get a job.

Austenland is currently in theatres.

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