SxSW 2019 Interview – JEZEBEL director Numa Perrier

“JEZEBEL is my true story of when I lived with my older sister, her boyfriend, her son and my brother in a studio apartment in Las Vegas. My sister worked from home as a phone sex operator so when it was time for her shift we’d either have to leave or put our Walkman on…it was the 90s. It was a bizarre environment and we were sticking together dealing with our Moms decline in health. When our Mom passed away my sister suggested I try “internet modeling” This was the early days of the web and cam girl was not a coined term yet. I went to the office – was hired on the spot and from there entered a whole new world – encouraged by my sister to explore and exploit my sexuality. The film deals with our relationship and how it shifted, it deals with the coming of womanhood; black womanhood and it’s a slice of life of a family surviving in the odd town of Las Vegas.” Director Numa Perrier on JEZEBEL which screens at the 2019 edition of SxSW Film!

Congratulations on your film playing in at SxSW this year! Is your first time here and are you planning to attend your screenings?

It’s my first time at SXSW and my first feature film; I’m very excited and yes I’ll be our screenings.

So how did you get into this movie-making business? Talk to me a bit about how you got your start and what you have worked on in the past.

I have been a writer since I was 7 years old and an actress growing up in school and small town plays.  I always knew that one day I would move to Los Angeles to be in films. I also discovered that I’m a photographer along the way. Writing acting and taking photos naturally lead me into making my first short film. I fell in love with the full process top to bottom and continued making more short films, writing scripts, and building community  around my work. I created many early digital series and can rarely remember a time where I haven’t been in some stage of production. Like many filmmakers I still had some unfinished scripts collecting dust out of fear or lack of resources to get made. My script JEZEBEL started calling on me, and I listened and finally got it done. I’m so glad I did.

How did this project come together for you? Give me a rundown from the preparation, to shooting, to post-production to now!

First was finding my lead actress Tiffany Tenille. I saw her in a short film and knew she was the one and we eventually met. I told her about the project and gave her the first 15 pages to read. I said I’d have the full script to her soon so I took my kid and flew to Miami where my mother lives and my sister was visiting. This was my makeshift writers retreat surrounded the strongest women i know.  I finished the script in the guest room with my 4 year old sleeping next to me at night. Then I flew back to LA and had a table read and we were filming the next month. Summer 2017. My sister gave the initial funding which was a full circle moment. Then other producers came on board and chipped in; I launched a gofundme and my cast and crew were patient with getting paid. Post production was grueling as I spent a year in post cobbling the film together while trying to maintain my confidence and sanity. I started submitting to festivals and the invitation to SX came as a surprise. I cherish that moment because it was full of raw emotions…a relief and thrill.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you? How much coffee are we talking about here?

What keeps me going while making a movie is a good coffee and some eggs in the morning; I need a nice hot shower and some theme music! For Jezebel I listened to a lot of Janet Jackson from the 90s. Having a sense of humor and a great producer by your side is essential. Sneakers that feel good. My clipboard with all of my notes and script. A great P.A. that will keep track of my clipboard notes and script. The reward of a cold beer when you’ve made your day and wrap.

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

Raising the money to finish was a challenge! Somewhere along the way I relaxed and decided it was all coming and that’s when it all came. Keeping the faith while everyone asked me how it was going was not always easy because I felt ashamed when I didn’t have any good news for them. So being invited by a major festival cured that.

I’m about to get technical, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie; what camera did you film with, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed.

I worked with cinematographer Brent Johnson on numerous web series so we had a short hand already and were used to a certain rhythm of working. He’s very talented; I love his eye and I love that he can adjust to any situation. When you’re shooting guerrilla style you’ve got to stay ready and still get gorgeous shots. He did that and I love the way Jezebel looks and feels. It was important to me to show two contrasting worlds; the studio apartment that’s shadowy and muted versus the chat rooms that are fluorescent vibrant with a garish tone that denotes exploited beauty. We shot on the Canon c300mk2.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Austin?

I can’t wait to be in that dark theatre feeling people respond to each moment.

After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?

After SX we continue our festival tour; east coast in the summer and at the same time line up with distribution. I want JEZEBEL to land at a great streaming platform like Netflix.

If you could show your movie in any theatre outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?

I would love to screen at Cannes with French subtitles.  I’ve romanticized this and it would make me happy and proud.

What would you say to someone who was being disruptive, like talking and texting through a movie?

I talk during movies…it’s cultural.  I respond to the screen. So I have understanding about this and expect it to happen. There’s a line of course where it can really not be ok so I would hush someone if it got out of hand. Texting is really intolerable however. If you want to leave then leave. I’ve walked out on movies before.

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?

The sooner you jump in and start making things the better. Don’t wait. Get in there.

And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?

I recently saw THE BURIAL OF KOJO at PAFF. It’s absolutely stunning. I love the story of two brothers in love with the same woman; the performances are extraordinary and the visuals are so masterful. It’s having a theatrical and Netflix run through ARRAY.

This is one of the many film titles playing at SxSW 2019. For more information on this and any other title playing in the festival, point your browser to!

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