“What I’m most looking forward to is engaging with an audience. Like, who are the Janes out there, what are they going to ask me? That’s what I’m really curious about. I want to meet the people to whom this film speaks, if they are out there. Those are the questions that I’m really tingling with and excited to hear and answer.”Sarah Elizabeth Mintz
The name “Jane” has been used to reference a woman in the most generic sense: “Jane Doe”, “Citizen Jane”, the anonymous abortion support group from the 1960s, “The Janes”. Sarah Elizabeth Mintz uses a character with the name Jane as the vehicle to tell her story as a teenager who struggled with substance abuse and with mental illness in “Good Girl Jane”. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last week. Sarah hopes her film will connect with teens like herself, and with the families who have teens who deal with similar issues. The film stars new talent Rain Spencer and Patrick Gibson alongside veteran actor Andie MacDowell. Along with Sarah’s hopes for the film, we talked about how she captured the electric energy of being a teenager, the beautiful cinematography by Jake Saner, and how grooming is being represented onscreen today in a relevant way.
I don’t usually start with this question, but in this case, since the film is based on your real story, can you talk about what you hope people see in your film?
I think that’s a good question to dive into for a project like this one, because I made a movie that was inspired by something I went through, so hopefully people could glean something from it. The year that this film is inspired by is my freshman year in high school. It tackles a lot of issues like mental illness, my own struggles with substance abuse, and the isolation that those struggles can cause for someone that’s young. Those feelings of shame and loneliness are incredibly toxic and I hope that if I’m honest about the experience I had, either people who are dealing directly with those issues, or people indirectly dealing with them in their family, will feel a little less alone, and see themselves onscreen. I think that’s very important. I definitely craved that when I was 13, 14, and 15. It was during that time that I fell in love with movies, so that was where I was looking and hoping to see someone like me onscreen. I hope this film enters that conversation for those young people that are looking to find it.
When I was watching this film, I couldn’t help but think of Andrea Arnold’s “American Honey” with that flurry of energy that young people have. Can you talk about how you were trying to capture that energy onscreen of being a teenage girl and dealing with those issues?
That’s such a fun thing to talk about. First of all, thank you so much, Andrea Arnold is probably my favorite director. I saw “American Honey” when I was already trying to get this movie together, and it’s funny because that film is shot in a documentary style, and it’s all sort of just chopped together. The film is capturing what it feels like in those real moments, but the film that I made has no coverage, and very few shots. So even though they feel very similar, structurally they are very different. But I remember seeing that movie and having the same reaction. I was like, ‘Ok this energy feels like the energy I experienced. And how does one get that on the screen?’
But really, casting is definitely part of it. I did a lot of street casting for this movie. I watched hundreds of tapes to find the right Jane. You’re just sifting through all of this talent to find the perfect puzzle piece. And the energy of those young actors is real. The scenes are scripted, but the mix of the ingredients that they all bring is what makes it feel so enriching and exciting, and that chemistry is real between them. The casting is so massive when you’re trying to catch lightning in a bottle in that way. I really have to give it to them. Even though they did it very differently in “American Honey”, I feel these long takes really helped to feel the energy that these kids are providing. It’s immersive and instead of it reminding you that you’re watching a film, you feel present being on a rooftop with them, or in a car with them. And that was huge for me. Because it’s such a personal story for me, the last thing I wanted was to have what seemed like artifice on the screen. I really just wanted it to feel voyeuristic, in a way.
How did you bring Andie MacDowell into the film, and how did you choose Rain for the main character?
Andie was one of the last elements in place on this movie. I had no idea who was going to play Ruth, the mother, and I was really anxious about it. This movie wouldn’t have been made if I hadn’t figured out that piece, because it’s just such a big piece. I was working with Gersh, this talent agency, and they were pitching us actors for the film. My producer Lauren Pratt and I were scrolling through Netflix one day because we needed actors and we were making lists. And we saw Andie’s face pop up. I’m obviously a huge fan. She’s incredible and we’ve all grown up with her, but her name had not come up yet, and we called Gersh immediately. They were like, “Absolutely, she’s interested in doing stuff like this,” and it happened really quickly after that. She read the script, and she agreed to meet me. And she has two daughters, so there were a lot of interesting paths for her to enter into the material, and feel it in her heart. Once it clicked, it clicked, and it made so much sense to have her playing that role. She also kind of looked like the girls that I already had cast, and the chemistry between Rain and Eloise, who plays Izzy, after that was pretty wonderful.
As for Rain, I was looking for this girl for so long. I saw so many tapes, and so many talented actresses. It was never that there wasn’t enough talent coming in, it was that I was mostly looking for a feeling. To be completely honest, I got a self tape of her’s a year or so prior, and it hadn’t registered. It’s very embarrassing because I don’t know what happened, it was in a pile of self-tapes. Apparently she had come to audition and she was so taken by the material personally. It really spoke to her, and she was like, “how did I not get that? This is my destiny.”
A year later, she got a call to come in, and we were still casting. She walks into the room and I clocked her and I thought, “It’s going to be her, it’s going to be her.” Before she even walked out of the room, I gave her a hug. I couldn’t say, “You got it” in that moment, but I knew immediately when I met her. Anyone who sees this film, it’s so very clear that it is her, she is the right person to play Jane. I can’t even believe that this is her first movie.
I loved the use of color, specifically that pool scene with the pinks and blues. Can you talk about your collaboration with the cinematographer, Jake Saner?
We used minimal lights for most of the movie, but there were moments where I let Jake Saner and his team have a little fun. An inspiration for that moment was the scene in Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” which also takes place in a pool. It’s iconic for me. I’d say that scene was definitely in the back of my mind. I wanted to elevate just slightly the “in love” moment, with all the feelings and hormones, and those colors I feel helped achieve that. Also, it’s the first time that Jane is on drugs, and so the world has to feel a little bit extra-heightened. There’s got to be a little bit more magic there.
Something I am starting to see in films now is the reality of grooming, and it’s portrayed in ways that are creative and unexpected. For instance, the film “Palm Trees and Power Lines” that premiered at Sundance this year blew me away. I felt your film was similar in that aspect.
There’s a spotlight on grooming that hasn’t really been shown in films since “Lolita”. It’s in the media a little bit more now. I think that’s incredible and we need that. My goal is to always put people in Jane’s shoes. She’s this young girl and she’s falling in love with someone that seems to be very charming, and that person in many ways was me. I just put my honest experience and the sensations that I had in the script and really tried to have honest conversations with Patrick and Rain. It came naturally from there. I didn’t feel like I had to craft too much of a fiction from those feelings. It’s a multi-layered process, and it’s interesting to watch onscreen for sure, because in some of the scenes you feel this guy really loves her, and then in others, it’s not blatant manipulation so much as it is penetrating. It’s subtle, but it’s really there.
How challenging was it to make a film during a pandemic? Was there a struggle that you felt brought you to a creative solution?
We started production on March 3rd, 2020. We had a 20-day shoot scheduled. We shot until March 13th, Friday the 13th, and then decided to shut down on that Saturday morning. And we had shot half of the movie. It was a small movie, but we have an army of young actors who are teenagers. Some fly from across the world, some who were quite busy in their schedules, acting and doing what not. So it was a tremendous shock. The whole world was shutting down, so I didn’t feel alone in that moment. But I was like, “Is this not going to happen? Is this movie that I had spent a decade putting together to shoot not going to happen?”
That was really terrifying. But I have to say it was a blessing in terms of the creative process. I got to watch all the footage and really start the assembly of this film. I did a rewrite on the ending as well. I re-shot listed most of the second set of production shots with my cinematographer Jake. All of the young cast members really bonded off screen. They became very close over that year. When we went back in to shoot, you see that in all that stuff that’s in the car. All that wild energy is in the love story as well as the drug dealing montage in the center of the film. All of that was shot in the second year. Those kids had really fallen in love with each other, and had become best friends. I don’t know if that’s an active creative solution, but it was a blessing in disguise.
It’s so funny because we were all locked in our houses, right? Nobody was seeing anybody, and it was a very isolating time. Deaths by overdose were sky rocketing, and because of this, the film became even more pressing for me. All of these young people hadn’t socialized together in a long time, but when we got back on set, it was a breath of fresh air. We were all ready to get back to telling this story together, and be together.
What experience, or question, do you wish you’ve had with this film?
What I’m most looking forward to is engaging with an audience. Like, who are the Janes out there, what are they going to ask me? That’s what I’m really curious about. I want to meet the people to whom this film speaks, if they are out there. Those are the questions that I’m really tingling with and excited to hear and answer.