Talking with Jennifer Gentner about The Adventures of Pammy Van Patton

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It is said that filmmaking is all about storytelling.  While story telling and the development of stories poses a whole set of challenges which the author must tackle to create a story that resonates with the reader,  to develop a story on film requires real genius.

Not only does a filmmaker create a narrative on paper,  but the filmmaker must take the concept, and from the page, from casting to editing, must imbue that story with life manipulating the elements, massaging them until they walk, talk and sometimes breathe fire with a believe-ability that the viewer can relate to.

As challenging as filmmaking is,  female filmmakers are met with and have to overcome challenges that men don’t have to face.  For every female film director,  there are an estimated 24 male directors.  According to the Center for the Study of Women in Film and TV,   In 2018, women comprised 20% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This represents an increase of 2 percentage points from 18% in 2017. Last year, only 1% of films employed 10 or more women in the above roles.

What’s more,  women make a fraction of the money their male counterparts make.  Why is this?

Women have stories to tell.  Historically, they were some of the very first filmmakers.  Alice Guy-Blaché Alice Guy-Blaché (July 1, 1873 – March 24, 1968) was a French pioneer filmmaker, active from the late 19th century, and one of the first to make a narrative fiction film. From 1896 to 1906 she was probably the only female filmmaker in the world.  But men took over the cameras.

Since then,  since the Academy Awards first aired in 1929, just four women have been nominated for Best Director: Lina Wertmuller (Seven Beauties), Jane Campion (The Piano), Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) and Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker). Of those women, only Bigelow has taken home an Oscar.

Hollywood is broken in many ways.  But Michigan’s film industry can take a page from this acknowledging the mistakes that Hollywood has made and can build a more perfect industry.  The time for women filmmakers is now.

Jennifer Gentner, a rising Michigan filmmaker is up for the challenge, and with a passion for story telling,  she is going to tell her tales.   Even when some of her stories make you giggle just a little bit.   Giggling doesn’t hurt.

It is said that filmmaking is all about storytelling. When did you discover that you could tell stories in making films?

As long as I can remember I have loved movies. My family and I went to the movies quite often. My dad always made sure we stayed until the end to read all of the credits. It was his way of appreciating how many people it takes to create stories on that scale. That rubbed off on me. I always dreamed of making movies, but never thought I could. I thought you had to live in Hollywood and to be honest-a man. All my filmmaking heroes as a kid were men-Steven Spielberg, Alfred Hitchcock, Wes Craven, James Cameron and later as a teenager Quentin Tarantino.  I remember being 8 and creating stories and drawing the pictures to go along with them. I always tried to get teachers that put on plays every year in school and when I was 10 I asked my 5th grade teacher if I could put on a production of “Alice In Wonderland.” It wasn’t until I saw “Pulp Fiction” when I was 15, that I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker. I studied photography right out of high school, with plans to head to California after I graduated. I discovered when I was 20 I was pregnant with my first child and plans changed. I worked in childcare for many years to either get free or discounted care for my daughter, but during breaks at work I would read about screenwriting and began writing my own scripts.

To prepare as a filmmaker, you attended two schools. Did you complete both schools?

I did attend two schools-Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, MI and Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida. I took a lot of video courses at WCC, but didn’t have much desire to take other classes such as English, Speech, and Math. So I did not technically graduate from WCC. I did complete and receive my degree from Full Sail.

And in what aspect of filmmaking did you focus?

At WCC I studied Digital Video Production and Full Sail I got my degree in Digital Cinematography.

Can you compare both schools?

I was so thankful I attended WCC before taking classes at Full Sail. I felt like I had such a head start when I started FS. At WCC I learned the technical aspects of filmmaking and had a hands on experience with industry professionals. At FS I really learned the business end of things. I learned a lot about marketing and branding myself, as well expanding on the technical side with industry professionals.

I went back to school at 30, so attending WCC was good for someone like me. I was a mom and older than most of my classmates. The classes are smaller for more one on one attention. I didn’t know much of anything when I went back. My first day at WCC I had to ask the 18-year-old next to me how to turn my computer on. I was so embarrassed.

Which did you like best?

It’s hard to say, because I learned different things from both schools that were incredibly beneficial to me.

What was the most important benefit you derived from attending film school?

I think the most important were the connections I made with fellow students and advisers. My Teaching Assistant and later manager when I started working at the school, Eddie Fritz, is the one that introduced me to the 48 Hour Film Project. Because of him I learned so much about producing and fell in love with the 48, which led me to becoming the producer of the 48 today. Having gone to WCC I had the opportunity to be nominated for a student Emmy for my work. I also have so many hilarious stories of good times with my school friends.

Would you recommend film school for every one interested in filmmaking?

I don’t think film school is for everyone and I can’t recommend it to everyone. It worked for me, because I needed the motivation it provides and the connections I made. For some, school isn’t for them and I get that. I suggest taking that money you’d spend on an education and buying some equipment, check out online tutorials, just go out and mess with your equipment. I learned a lot of things on my own just by playing with my camera and editing equipment, making mistakes and learning from them.

Tell us about your first attempts at filmmaking.

My first attempt at making a film from beginning to end really wasn’t until my first class at WCC.  We were put into groups and we had to come up with a project idea. We chose something I had pitched about a man having coffee with his girlfriend and a foot chase is going on behind them the whole time, but his girlfriend is too busy talking to notice. It was black and white to make it more art house (haha). We called it Bare Brunch. It taught me a lot. I learned I wanted to be a producer, that no matter how much pre-production you do someone always tries to change something on set, and never be afraid to ask for what you want.

What is your biggest challenge as a female filmmaker? For me, is finding balance. I’m a single mother of 2 children, run a household, I have pets, I have a photography business, run the Detroit 48 Hour Film Project, and I write, direct, and produce. It can be tough to juggle sometimes. I have also experienced discrimination because I’m a woman. I had it happen while at WCC, I know I’ve been passed over for jobs because I’m a woman, and I even experienced last summer when my co-producer for the 48 was a man that a few people felt more comfortable talking with him because he was a man. I once was let go from a screenwriting position because the producer thought I would be unable to write while I was pregnant with my son.

What would you do to correct the disparity that exists between male and female filmmakers in Hollywood?

We need to start with equal pay. I know this is a problem in Hollywood and I’m hearing it’s an issue even here in Michigan as I’m sure it is in other states. I wish people would realize that woman bring so much to the table as filmmakers. We have thoughts, opinions, and life experiences that cultivate into amazing ideas for stories. We are intelligent, creative, multi-taskers who know how to work hard. Woman can be wives, mothers, work outside the home and do all of these things well.

Do you develop your own scripts?

I do. I love to create an idea and see it to the end. It would be very hard for me to create and write a script and let it go. I like being a part of my ideas from beginning to end.

From where do you get your influence?

I am a very big music lover and find a lot of my ideas stem from just listening to music. I love just driving in my car and listening to music. I get a lot of my ideas that way.

I’m also influenced by a whole new set of filmmakers and writers since childhood, including so many brilliant females-Ellen Kuras, Mindy Kaling, Nora Ephron, Sophia Coppola, J.K. Rowling, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Cameron Crowe and Christopher Guest.

More recently you created a short which you would like to develop as a series. That is “The Adventures of Pammy Van Patton Adult Child Pageant Star.” I laughed so hard. How did you come up with this concept? Tell us about the idea behind this.

I have actually had this idea for several years. I worked in the editing lab when I was a student at WCC. One day, a student and friend of mine came in to the lab and was talking about how she had watched “Toddlers and Tiaras” on TLC the night before. She began to demonstrate some of the moves and gestures the little pageant girls would make. It was hilarious watching this 30- year-old woman perform like a child in a pageant would. I thought, what a great idea for show. I put it off several years because I knew it could get costly because we would have to put on a full fledged pageant and would need a large cast. I’ve been a big fan of the mockumentary genre for many years. I love Christopher Guest films like “Waiting For Guffman,” and “Best In Show” as well as TV series like “The Office,” and “Parks and Rec.” I really saw this show as a mockumentary.

Pammy is a 30-year-old woman who has had a life long dream of competing in the local child beauty pageant and because she was born on a leap year it technically makes her 7 and ½, so they let her in. Over the years I had help developing Pammy, her story, and the rest of the characters with writer Robert Soule. We discovered there is more to Pammy then her perky exterior. Although the story is wrapped up in this silly package, there is a deeper meaning that I think everyone can relate to. I have since had help with writing from the amazingly talented David Weishaar, Dan Eichholtz, Melissa Rinaldo.

The series has been picked up as the first original series for the new streaming series Indie Stream. It is a huge honor.

How did you cast your star? She does such a tremendous job.

I really lucked out when we found Gabry Faraj. One of the original producers of the show, Alyse Paquin, told me about Gabry. She had seen her preform in several school plays and thought she was hilarious. Alyse reached out to her and I received an email from Gabry that said she had to play the role of Pammy because she is Pammy. I thought, well this I have to see. We did an audition over the computer and she just nailed it. We don’t even have to direct her very much, she has such an understanding of the character. Gabry has great delivery, she’s not afraid of physical comedy, and she’s up for anything.

Are you a fan of beauty pageants, child or adult?

I do think there are a lot of positives when it comes to certain pageants. I think the participant needs to be willing and have fun with it. It can teach girls confidence and some of the prizes can help with their education. However, I don’t agree with changing a child’s appearance to make them look older than they are or have them wear outfits that are too mature or inappropriate. Girls need to learn at an early age that they are beautiful just they way they are. Everyone is different and they bring something special to this world. We need to start at an early age nurturing young girl’s self esteems, encouraging them to do what they love to do, and promote positivity and kindness to others.

What other projects do you have in the works? I also produce a TV series called “Vamped” with Rocco Guirlanda and Mike Sneed. It is a comedy about a man (Guirlanda) who is accidentally bitten by a vampire and now has to figure out how to go about his life. We are currently in production on the pilot.

I am also in pre-production for a documentary about men who abuse and kill their significant others. I myself was in an abusive marriage for years and my step-sister was killed by her ex-boyfriend after leaving their abusive relationship, so this is a topic close to me. We focus a lot on why woman stay in these types of relationships, but I would like to find out more about why some men are driven to this.

As women are no longer going to take a back-seat in this business,  a new banner cry can be heard issued, “Nobody puts Pammy in the corner.”  (That isn’t too cute,  is it?)

To follow the  developing adventures of Pammy Van Patton,  follow her on Facebook.

For more on the cast and crew of this production,  check out her IMDB page.


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