Interview with Jarrod Whaley, director of THE GLASS SLIPPER

And a third repeat Cinequest local! Jarrod Whaley moved to Palo Alto from Tennessee two years ago, just in time to premiere his first feature, HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE. This year he is back at Cinequest with THE GLASS SLIPPER, a film that also stars several Bay Area locals.

Jarrod Whaley

1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of THE GLASS SLIPPER, from concept to financing.

In college I read a Flaubert novella called Un Cœur Simple (A Simple Heart in English), and was quite taken with the austerity of both the central character and the narrative style. Flaubert’s Felicity is a kind of pious naïf who fails at every turn to take charge of the trajectory of her own life; she eventually slides into the deepest depths of penury–and then death–because she trusts that the “Holy Spirit” (whom she confuses with a stuffed parrot) will save her. It’s a rather fatalistic story, and it lacks the typical character arc of almost all Western literature. She doesn’t change; she doesn’t learn (which is not at all to say that the reader can’t learn from her mistakes). I think most of us end up living a similar kind of life in one way or another, and that the standard structure of our narratives might therefore have a certain willful falseness at its core.

I’ve wanted to adapt the novella into a film for about seven years, and The Glass Slipper is the end result of that. Mind you, my film is almost nothing like the novella- there’s a character called Felicity, and I’ve certainly taken some cues from Flaubert in creating her, but there’s much going on in my film that’s completely unrelated to the ostensible “source material.” A large part of the film deals with another character who fails also to improve his lot, and we watch his family crumble while he flounders around. This thread is entirely mine.

Though we’ve recently, through more traditional channels, secured additional funding with which to finish the film, the lion’s share of the actual production phase was funded via a Kickstarter campaign. I’ve found it to be not only a great source of funding, but also an incredible way to build a community around the film from day one.

2Q: You were at Cinequest last year with your first feature which you had filmed in Tennessee. What differences were there between filming in Tennessee vs. Palo Alto, CA? Pros and cons?

The biggest “pro” has doubtless been the much larger pool of willing, enthusiastic collaborators in the Bay Area. It was quite a challenge to get people off of their couches in Tennessee, even when shooting five minutes away from their homes. Now I’ve got people driving from over an hour away. It sounds like a pretty slight point to be made, but I think it speaks to the fact that the cast and crew were actually driven to work on the project (as opposed to my driving them, with a bullwhip). Enthusiasm makes the biggest difference in the world on a microbudget film. It’s what allowed me to complete this film in about six months; my first film took nearly four years.

I’ll add that I have access to an incredibly varied number of locations here. Tennessee is beautiful, but there isn’t much variation. In Northern California there are deserts, mountains, rolling grassy hills, beaches, fog, sun… Every setting imaginable is represented, and easily accessible. Drive an hour one way and you’re in “Maine,” drive another way and you’re in “Arizona.” This obviously has an enormous impact on the kinds of stories one can tell.

3Q: What was your best and/or worst experience while making THE GLASS SLIPPER?

This was actually a remarkably untroubled production, especially when compared to that of the first feature, Hell Is Other People. There was, however, a bit of a nail-biter when it came to securing permission to shoot a few scenes at a key location: The Glass Slipper Inn. It’s an old, quasi-crumbling motel in what passes for the “seedy” part of Palo Alto. It’s built with turrets, as if to secret away some past-her-prime princess. As such, it creates an important thematic overlay of broken-down-fairy-tale-ism, and provides–in a pretty low-key way, I hope– a certain context for the story’s characters and events. And of course it’s the inspiration for the film’s title.

It was not easy to talk the owners into signing off on our shooting there — they’re pretty traditional people in spite of the business they’re in, and probably assumed we’d be either shooting pornography or else putting up a front for some kind of debaucherous party. It took a couple of months of dropping in, calling, begging, pleading, etc. Finally we talked them into it just a week or so before we were scheduled to shoot there. And then we showed up and shot pornography. (Not really.)

4Q: Festival audiences often have to make hard decisions about what to see, and the catalog descriptions sometimes run together. In your own words, why should people see your film?

I think it’s going to have a particular draw for local audiences because it treats Silicon Valley (and its own particularly hollow take on the “American Dream”) in a way I don’t think many other films have done; there’s very little in it that focuses on the tech side of it all. It’s more about the reckless gambling that takes place behind the 1’s and 0’s. Speaking more generally, I’d say this film is worth watching because it’s just as big a gamble as anything Ermir (the male lead, played brilliantly by Vahe Katros) undertakes in the film. The traditional concept of protagonism is a tricky sacred cow with which to attempt making hamburger.

Speaking more generally still: it will make you laugh, then cringe, then wonder which is more appropriate.

5Q: The current market for independent films is fractured, to put it lightly, and existing distribution models grow more ineffective with each passing moment. What are your hopes or plans for distribution?

I think the only way to make a name in filmmaking these days is slowly to insinuate oneself onto a few screens here, then a few more there, and so on.  To do that, one has to keep making films as often as possible. One has to get as much press as possible, and to continue building relationships with critics.  Finally, and most importantly, one has to get very, very lucky. These things being the case, my plan is simple: to keep making films, to try to get people talking, to meet as many people as possible, and to keep my eyes peeled. I don’t know what else anyone can do.

You follow Jarrod Whaley on Twitter @jbwhaley

1 Comment so far

  1. Eric Carey (unregistered) on February 23rd, 2011 @ 1:04 pm

    Nice article! Very well-researches & informative!

Terms of use | Privacy Policy | Content: Creative Commons | Site and Design © 2009 | Metroblogging ® and Metblogs ® are registered trademarks of Bode Media, Inc.