This past September #FromJennifer had its premiere at the Laemmle NoHo 7 in North Hollywood, California and is now available on digital platforms. You can read our review of the film by clicking here.
“Directed by Frank Merle entirely in a 1st Person Camera POV, #FromJennifer follows the titular Jennifer Peterson (Danielle Taddei) who is trying her damndest to make it as an actor in Hollywood with a positive attitude. But don’t call her Jenny, a Jenny is a female donkey. After being fired off a low-budget horror movie, her manager, Chad (Played by ‘Candyman’s Tony Todd) encourages her to try and establish a stronger social media presence in order to find more work, like her bright and shiny best friend Stephanie (Meghan Deanna Smith) who has a million subscribers and does daily sketch videos.”
Just in time for Halloween, iHorror was graciously granted an opportunity to speak with Writer & Director Frank Merle. Be sure to check on page two for red carpet video interviews with the cast along with a funny exclusive outtake with Tony Todd.
Interview With #FromJennifer Writer & Director – Frank Merle.
iHorror: Hi Frank, thanks for speaking with me today.
Frank Merle: No problem.
iH: How did #FromJennifer come about?
FM: It all started when my friend Hunter Johnson told me about his idea for what would be his first feature film as a writer/director which was a sequel to the James Cullen Bressack movie 2 Jennifer. So very early on in this process, he was telling me his idea that would essentially be a meta-sequel where his character would be obsessed was the original film and trying to do a remake. I loved that idea; I love movies that try and play a little bit with that meda-ness, as Scream does very well. I came on board that project as a producer and I was also the editor on Hunter’s movie. It turned out very well; we were all very happy with it. It was a really fun experience, and James had the idea to keep going and keep the franchise alive and sort of keep it in the family. Since I had worked on the second one I had pitched him an idea for a third film which would be a standalone movie that would be a sequel in name only, essentially we would have a main character Jennifer, and it would have the same scenes of obsession, it would also be shot found footage style. Those are the key elements that make the Jennifer franchise, right? There is someone going to be named Jennifer, it will be about obsession, and it will be found footage.
iH: And you have completed the fourth film? Or is the film currently in production?
FM: It is in pre-production. I can’t say too much about it, although we are also keeping it in the family. Jody Barton who was in the first and second film is writing and directing the fourth.
iH: How did casting come about for #FromJennifer?
FM: A lot of it was calling in favors to friends. Derek Mears, for example, is someone that I have known for a while and he and I have been trying to find the right project to work on. When I wrote the role of Butch, I wrote it with him in mind not knowing if he would say yes or not. He liked the idea, it was a very different character for him, and he wanted to be able to play with it. He also was really helpful with casting with some of the other roles in the movie because a lot of people got on board after he came on board because they wanted a chance to work with Derek. That was really rewarding for me because he does a lot of improv work, he does Comedy. There was a little bit of a comic edge to his character that we were able to play with which was a lot of fun. The main character Jennifer, Danielle Taddei, she and I go way back, we went to school together at the DePaul Theatre School in Chicago. I wrote the role of Jennifer with her in mind, I know that she has had her own struggles with internet presence, she was telling me about this, and that is sort of how the idea came to me in the first place. She had lost roles to people who maybe weren’t any better than her, but they may have had a lot more internet presence. She actually has a manager-agent encouraging her to get on Twitter more and sort of do that outreach thing, and the social media thing doesn’t come naturally to everyone, right?
iH: Yeah, exactly.
FM: And it is becoming much more of the toolbox for all of us that work in this industry, is the outreach through social media. The initial idea for the sell is, “what if that pressure just causes somebody to snap?”
iH: Wow, that is crazy for her, since this is happening in real life and that just makes it better on film. And Derek, his character, Butch was just great, as we went through the story, I kinda felt bad for the guy.
FM: Yes, and that is one of the fun things I did with the writing process I wanted to have the main character Jennifer, be someone who starts off as the protagonist and ends up as the antagonist, she loses people at different points of the movie. And it is the reverse with Butch, Derek’s character we start of thinking, “this is the guy that is going to start of causing all the problems,” and at some point along the way you find yourself rooting for him.
iH: The comedy aspect..I know it is a horror film, but I just found myself laughing throughout. It was a fun time; he was hilarious.
FM: Yeah, and the comedy comes out of the characters and the situation. There really are not any punch lines in the movie. There are a lot of good laughs, we’re treating this ridiculous situation very seriously, and I think that is where a lot of the humor comes from.
iH: Most definitely, like you said he didn’t do it deliberately, it was very well written, I think he really got what you had on paper. Thinking back to some of the parts throughout the movie, I am just laughing inside right now.
FM: And then having a lot of surprises on the way. I play with the expectation. You think you think you know where it is going, but I keep teasing what is referred to as the “third phase.” You keep expecting the movie to lead in a certain direction towards this big climax and then, I don’t think it is giving anything away to say, “Things don’t go according to plan.”
iH: Character Butch did a lot of things that were not pre-meditated by bad intentions, he just really wanted to help Jennifer out.
FM: Exactly, one of the inspirations for the character was Lennie from Mice of Men. That was the direction of inspiration of where we wanted to go with Butch.
iH: Is there anything else that you are currently working on?
FM: I have several projects that are really close to happening, and I have been waiting by the phone for a green light. It is really exciting for me, with the success that I have had so far with #FromJennifer it has been so well received and it has really been opening up some doors for me which has been really great because I have had some scripts that I’m really passionate about that I have wanted to make with a little bit bigger budget and that requires someone else to say yes. Doing a low budget movie like this and proving what I can do and getting my voice out there has already opened up some doors and it has been very nice for me. I had mentioned I have been wanting to do another project with Derek, he is attached to another project of mine that will be a very different role for him, and this one would be a much scarier film. He is a great actor and a great guy, someone I would want to work with again. I can’t say too much about it right now because we are such in the early stages with it right now. But I do have other producers that are very interested in this project. My plan is to definitely have another movie come out next year.
iH: Very good. How did this all start for you? What made you want to make movies?
FM: I actually started out doing theatre I was a theatrical producer in Chicago I had produced a couple of dozen theatrical productions. I was pretty good at it, I ran a theatre company in Chicago. I knew how to fill seats and put on plays well, and that was going along pretty well for me. I started getting the sense that I wasn’t doing what I really wanted to do, I really didn’t want was film until I started doing it. I would produce a play, and we would put so much work into it, and a lot of money and energy, even a successful play would run for a few months and then when the play closes it is gone forever. And you can’t really film a play, it just doesn’t translate right. A handful of people that ended up seeing that play that’s all that is ever going to experience that. This started having a profound effect on me, I started getting depressed when one of my shows would close because so much energy would go into that show.
When I started making short films is was so rewarding to me to put in, let’s stay the same amount of energy, time, and money.I could put one of my short films on youtube with the idea that it will be there forever and people can continue to discover it, and that is extremely rewarding to me. The process as well, putting on a theatrical show is a very different process than making film, both are a means of storytelling, and in both cases, you’re working with actors and behind the scenes people, wardrobe, sets, and lighting. The process of film is very different, you are going to a rehearsal, and you will rehearse the entire play. Your flexing these muscles trying to get your team to put on this entire thing night after night. When you’re making a film you’re looking at one tiny bit at a time, it may be just a line or two, and the whole team is focused on these on one shot, and when you got that shot you move onto the next shot. That is just the right format for me; I enjoy the post-production process where you start to move things around, you get to tell the story again a little bit different. And then when it is all done the idea that people can discover the film and I move on with my career and make another movie and hopefully people will enjoy it and discover my earlier work. When I picked up a camera and started doing it, I really enjoyed it, that depression that I had was cured. I then started writing screenplays, and that was a process that I enjoyed, and I won a few screenplay competitions, and this was when I was living in Chicago. Someone told me that If I wanted to do this for real that I should hop on a bus and go to Hollywood and I did that. Within six months of staying in LA my first feature film was being produced, The Employer. I had Malcolm McDowell and Billy Zane in the cast, so that process happened almost too easily and I quickly realized that it is normally not that easy.
FM: It has been like four years since that movie came out and since then I have been trying to get a bigger project going. I have had investors very close to saying yes, and then they would fall off for one reason or another, nothing to do with me. So when this opportunity presided itself for #FromJennifer because it was really so low budget James and Hunter said, “Yes, let’s do it.” Danielle said yes, Derek said yes, there was no one to stop us. So that’s how it came about.
iH: Sounds like everything just fell into place like it was meant to be. I am glad that you brought that up about making a play because once it is over it is over and like you said with a short film you have it in a capsule forever and I had never really thought of it that way.
FM: Yeah it is a great thing. One of the things I love about Los Angeles it is such a great film town. There is the Egyptian, The Beverly, they will place classic films, there are so many movies on my bucket list, and I can check them out there.
iH: More and more of these theatres are playing stuff, I am starting to see it constantly, and some films aren’t even that old. Do you have any advice to give anybody that would like to get into film young or old?
FM: Yeah for sure. The financial aspect should not be what stops you. If you are just waiting for a yes from Hollywood, you’re never going to get it; the studios have enough filmmakers. If you have a passion you just need to start doing it and believe in yourself because confidence is going to take you pretty far and nobody is going to give that to you, you will need to find that within yourself. And it is contagious because if you do believe in yourself and your project you can get other people to believe in it as well and to help you, it really is a team effort.
iH: Thank you again, Frank, for speaking with me today, I can definitely tell you’re passionate about what you do, and you offered some great advice for future filmmakers. Happy Halloween.