Jen Prince is an independent producer who hails from south Texas, where her love for music, theatre, movies and tableside guacamole began. Variety states, "Jen has a passion for small, character-driven films, and champions directors who are committed to crafting powerful performances.” Jen produced and co-edited the indie feature QUALITY PROBLEMS (Chris Mulkey, Mo Gaffney, Brooke Purdy), winner of Best Independent Spirit Feature at Sedona Film Festival, Best Feature at Women Texas Film Festival and Hell's Half Mile Festival, among other awards and critical acclaim.
Jen recently produced the feature AND THEN THERE WAS EVE, (Tania Nolan, Karan Soni, Mary Holland) together with Jhennifer Webberley (Metamorfic Productions), winner of a Jury Award at the 2017 Los Angeles Film Festival. She produced the micro budget indie- road feature, EVE OF UNDERSTANDING (Bellamy Young, Rebecca Lowman), which was distributed through Vanguard Cinema and screened at over twenty festivals worldwide, won Best Feature at AFI Dallas, Best Feature Beverly Hills HD Film Festival, Best Feature Female Eye Film Festival Toronto and Best Actress (Rebecca Lowman) at Boston Film Festival, Breckenridge Film Festival, among others.
Jen is currently in pre-production on her feature directorial debut, MILES UNDERWATER, which received a grant in the Hometown Heroes rally sponsored by the Duplass Brothers/ Seed & Spark, teaming up again with the filmmakers who created Quality Problems. She will continue her partnership with the San Antonio Young Filmmakers Association and shoot the project in her hometown of San Antonio, Texas. Jen previously mentored and Associate Produced the narrative feature, FIELDS AFIRE, with Soapboxx Media in San Antonio through this organization.
She is a graduate of the MFA Film Production Program at USC. She received her BFA in Acting and a BA in Liberal Arts in the Plan II Honors Program at the University of Texas at Austin. Jen’s theatre experience includes her award-winning one-woman show about the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, Voice of the Swan. Jen has also worked in post-production television. Credits include the Emmy Awards, The Contender (Mark Burnett Prods), and The Amazing Race (CBS). Jen is a mother of four boys and loves trying to keep up with them and, at times, watching the grass grow.
1. When did your dream of becoming a filmmaker begin and how did you get started as an editor?
I come from the theatre. I started as an actor and majored in acting in college. I have always been in love with film, but growing up I didn't have access to role models for professional women in film. I simply didn't know what the jobs were. There weren't DVD commentaries back then. So I found myself directing theatre in college and then acting in my friends' shorts in the film school. I started to learn that I could apply what I was learning about story and character and working with actors and a friend encouraged me to follow him to the USC graduate film program. I applied, and was very fortunate to be accepted.
When I walked into my first day I had never picked up a video camera. I knew nothing about the craft. I did, however, have a keen sense for drama and the wants and needs of characters and how that should lead the point of view of the film. I was excited to try to soak up everything I could about the craft and I tried every job, believing that knowledge and experience would help me be a better collaborator and filmmaker. I started editing my friends' projects and became fascinated with the role editing plays in crafting the final emotional experience of the audience.
I enjoy that part of the filmmaking process a good deal - taking the film you actually have and making the best product you can, which is not necessarily the film that you wrote. Editing also became a gig I could sustain as a job I could work from home. I picked up clients like the Emmy Awards and local Yoga Studio Teacher Training programs. I enjoyed it all as a way to hone my filmmaking storytelling skills and make some of my income creatively. In terms of what inspires me, the films You Can Count on Me and Lovely and Amazing were both impactful for me because of how well they balance comedy and drama. I love films that make me both laugh and cry. As a filmmaker it is a great challenge to get tone right so the film feels unified, like one tight complete movie instead of several different films. (I also was inspired by Nicole Holofcener’s entire career and body of work – it was hard to find women directors to look up to during film school and discovering her was a great inspiration to keep going.)
Growing up, the epic beauty of films like Gone with the Wind and Giant (both films I watched because of the value – my $2.17 got me two VHS tapes instead of one at the video store) – inspired me. Mike Nichols’ films always inspired me – how he manages to put the camera in the perfect place to say something about the theme of the film or scene – and again, humor and drama blended so effortlessly. Most recently, Wonder Woman certainly inspired me – both in its achievement and heart. Good storytelling, not snarky, despite the formula preceding it in super hero films. Films that show women from the female gaze, living complicated lives inspire me as a viewer and as a filmmaker to keep making films that we need more of.
2. Tell us a little about the film, Quality Problems that you co-edited. How was the process and experience?
Quality Problems is an indie comedy I co-edited with my producing partner, Jhennifer Webberley. She had edited for me before and I had edited for her before, but we had never co-edited a project before. We decided to attempt it as a budgetary and scheduling solution: neither of us had the time to devote to the project full time, but we thought if we could somehow collaborate we could afford to do it and still deliver the movie on time. We had also both been on set and were involved creatively in the development of the film as producers, so we knew the footage inside and out and had an excellent relationship with the directors.
The project was a passion project and personal for all of us involved, which made it a no-brainer, but it also made us very cautious about coming up with an amicable framework for collaboration that would make sure our filmmaking relationship was not compromised by our closeness to the material and each other. We laid out a joint spreadsheet with each scene and our notes about what we felt the point of each scene was in a 'tag line' as well as what we wanted to express tonally. We used this spreadsheet to play with structure together and color coded who was editing what and what stage it was in.
We did not tell the directors which editor was editing which scene. We tried to edit our scenes separately and then review together before our director meeting to be sure we were unified when we presented. We also gave each other notes and fine-tuned each other’s scenes so each scene was touched by both of us. One of us started at the top of the film and one of us started at the end of the film and then we met in the middle. Once we got to fine tuning, we sat together. It was a grand experiment.
We were thrilled that in the end it really worked for us and we were able to maintain one voice. One of the trickiest things about this particular film is that it is a comedy about cancer and delicately goes from comedy to poignant drama and back again. We were constantly taking the temperature of each scene as well as the film sequence structure to suggest changes that would best keep the flow of the film tonally.
3. Tell us a little about the film, And Then There Was Eve. How was the process and experience of also producing this film as opposed to simply working on the editing side?
In independent film, it helps to wear a lot of hats and sometimes you have no choice. With And Then There Was Eve, I was producing with my partner Jhennifer Webberley, but we hired an editor to work with the director. It was a great experience as an editor myself to work with another editor in my producing role on this film. I was able to learn from the questions he would ask and watch his workflow to see how we approach things similarly and differently. My strengths are different than his and I loved being able to learn more about myself as an editor by experiencing his process. It's not always the right choice to edit something yourself just because you have the skillset. Each project is different and sometimes you need a different collaboration.
4. You come from San Antonio. Tell us about the San Antonio Young Filmmakers Association and you how first became involved.
Our team is currently in pre-production on the next Metamorfic feature, Miles Underwater, scheduled to shoot in San Antonio, Texas in 2018. I grew up in San Antonio and care deeply about South Texas and want to see it represented more in film. In general, I love promoting regional filmmaking and I'm excited about working with local talent and making San Antonio a character in the film. This will be my directorial debut feature, but I'll be teaming up again with the several of the filmmakers who created Quality Problems. The San Antonio Young Filmmakers Association is an organization that was started to pair up young filmmakers (recent high school graduates) with professionals and give them experience beginning to end of making a feature.
I believe every set is better when it has students on it. The professionals are inspired by their energy and the optimism they bring to the set. I previously partnered with this organization on their first feature project as part of the producing team and love the idea of continuing to empower students, particularly women and people of color.
5. You are also a theatre buff. Tell us a bit about your one-woman show about the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, Voice of the Swan.
I wrote, directed and acted in a one-woman show based on the life and poetry of Anna Akhmatova, one of the most important Russian poets of the twentieth-century. Akhmatova’s poem, Requiem, is a wrenching lament written to record and mourn for the victims of the Stalinist Great Terror of the late 1930s. It’s told in part from the point of view of mothers of victims seeking information about their children who disappeared. Akhmatova was one of those mothers, waiting in line at the police station when her son was among those arrested. I became drawn to Russian history after realizing that, as a child of the 1980s and the Cold War, my exposure to the subject was limited.
Russia had been left off the map in my education, yet it was responsible for so much of the modern artistic breakthroughs that were continuing to inspire me creatively: film editing, modern acting, dance, poetry - the Russian influence is remarkable, but I knew nothing about it until stumbling into it through a seminar class in college. That discovery led to a re-evaluation of other viewpoints I had on the world that I realized might not be purely objective - that my personal storytelling might have had an agenda or even a subconscious bias. I have carried that experience through to my filmmaking and how I approach characters and scripts.
6. Tell us a little about the work you have done in post-production television.
After graduation from film school most of us at that time found work in reality television. I landed in post-production on shows for Mark Burnett Productions and most memorably, The Amazing Race. The Amazing Race offered me a crash course in documentary storytelling. I was charged with logging all the footage from production, and in doing so essentially I was able to gain a sense for how to construct a good interview, what you need from a subject to get a good sound bite, and how to know on set when you have it. If you don't have it, what tools are available for getting it?
Similarly, how do you make sure you always have your camera capturing the right subject at the right moment and realizing on set when you need a cutaway or the opposing shot to build the drama visually? That job was incredible because it also revealed to me that EVERY job has some learning to offer you if you're willing to look for it and find it. By taking those early logging jobs seriously, I gained editing skills, marketing skills, producing skills - it was really a remarkable amount of learning I wasn't expecting.
7. What has been your greatest accomplishment so far in film?
I think my greatest accomplishment so far is that people come away from working with me glad for the collaboration. The positive feedback I get about my integrity as a filmmaker is deeply rewarding.
8. What has been the greatest lesson you've learned during this journey?
The business behind indie filmmaking is constantly changing. It helps to work backwards each time I make a film and define what success means to me on each project. So much is out of my control. What I can control is my integrity, my standards of excellence, and my sense of self. There is no project worth selling myself short on any of those things. I've learned that life is too short to undervalue my time and contributions. I define my own success and what's important to me. In terms of editing, the greatest lesson I've learned is performance is king. Edit the movie you have, not the movie you thought you had (or the director thinks is there...what's actually there).
9. Where do you hope to see yourself in five years’ time?
I would love to still be making films, ideally with just a bit more budget. I would love to be right where I am, actually, with just a bit more resource and a happy, healthy list of funded projects.
10. What words of advice would you like to pass along to someone just starting out in the film industry?
Take as many different opportunities as you can. Learn a bit about every crew position by trying them. Work on your friends' projects and have them work on yours. Someone told me recently nobody does anyone any favors. I disagree. I think we are kept afloat on a network of support in the independent film world. Give your knowledge freely when you can. Open a door for someone when you can. Give compliments. Be kind. Offer help. Team sport.