I was fortunate enough to bump into Jess at the Indie Gathering International Film Festival. A nice intimate fest that forces you to really interact with one another. Upon speaking with her I quickly realized just how unique of a person Jess truly is. When you are around her she “locks on” to you. She pays attention to every word you say. I’ve always respected that about her. It’s not something you see much anymore. People tend to whip out cell phones or half listen. Not Jess. She’s right there with you. Listening, absorbing not just what you say but who you are as well. She does this because she truly cares about her fellow filmmakers. Now she likes to call herself a pipe dreamer but I believe that she is a doer. Just check out jesspaul.net and you will see how truly talented she is. Keep an eye on Jess because she is going places.
Mini-Bio: I often say I’m a “storyteller” to wrap up everything I do. I’m an actor hailing from Pittsburgh, PA, known for award-winning short “A Funny Man” & 2014 Official Sundance Film Festival Selection, “The Immaculate Reception” and upcoming feature film “Rehabilitation of the Hill”.
At 19, I self-produced the sketch show Wrecked Radio News, covering today’s alternative music. The series obtained Youtube Partnership, 3 million views & an international fanbase before ending in 2014.
Oh… and I’m a screenwriter!
In 2016, I produced my first self-written short, “Promenade” which toured over a dozen international festivals and was distributed by the first LGBTQ online streaming network, Revry.tv.
Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting? From the bio above, you can tell that I’m firstly an actor. That was the childhood pipedream. But, as I was pipe-dreaming about walking down the red carpet someday, I was also fantasizing about the potential characters I might perform one day. I was composing my own future. I was fabricating movie titles, trailers and roles that I could see myself in until I eventually penned my own feature at 18 years old. No one “pipe-dreams” harder than I do.
Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?
I was interested in writing since the lowest rungs of grade school. I remember my teacher having to Scotch-tape multiple loose-leaf sheets of my stories together as they hung in the hallway amongst the works of other 1st graders who scratched out a page. Not to say length is what makes a good story, but it speaks to my early passion for the craft. The connection between writing and film did not come until later when I actually considered pursuing the “pipe dream” following the success of Wrecked Radio.
But, in general, my biggest encouragers have to be my parents. They have been amazingly supportive to the kid who actually went to art school for college then came home to announce she wanted to try being an actor. So far, it’s worked out pretty good! But, I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit what a gamble it was for a parent to take, even though I know it was their faith and support that helped to fuel my climb. PARENTS: Encourage your kids. Sandwich your helpful criticism with compliments on what they are doing right. It helps more than you could imagine not just making them happy but making them succeed.
Q: What was the moment you knew you wanted to be a screenwriter? All through high school, I practiced short prose and even novel-writing (never did finish that book). When I started to consider a pursuit of filmmaking at the beginning of Wrecked Radio, I realized I could write my own material to act in. I even toyed with the idea of shooting the film myself while at college, but the story grew into one that would need an extensive budget. Sound familiar, writers?
You can tell by now that I don’t fall into the normal screenwriter box: I didn’t have a film school education, I’m not going to be applying for writer rooms, I won’t be trying to sell my spec to a studio or search for a producer to do something with my script. I always wrote to produce myself, so if there are any other weirdoes reading this, I hope my anecdotes will help.
Q: How do you define success for yourself? How do define success for your path you're on?
I’m in marketing. Ever since I was producing my own YouTube show, I had to self-learn the ropes of promotion and brand–building. So, I have to admit, when I rattle off my more obvious accomplishments (Sundance, 3 Best Actress awards for “A Funny Man”, distribution on a paid streaming service), my peers nod, recognizing those buzz words, and I know I’ve establish good footing in the crowd… even though I’m actually a self-deprecating, self-criticizing artist with Imposter Syndrome in reality.
A real moment of brightness I recently experienced was when “A Funny Man” went a little viral on the /r/Filmmaking sub-Reddit. Another filmmaker wrote in (not knowing he was writing to me as the uploader) admitting that the movie had stuck with him for a week and he felt compelled to compliment many aspects in detail, including my performance. It was the most honest and humbling experience I can remember. As a writer, I’d like to hopefully, one day, run into another anonymous, online review like that complimenting one of my stories.
Q: Give us a typical day in your life.
Are you an Early Bird or a Night Owl? Neither. I sleep a lot.
When do you get up?
~9am. I work from home for my day job, so I don’t have to rush for the train. I go to bed not long after midnight, but I cross-off a mean white-board list everyday in those truncated hours.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?
Bulletproof coffee. And, watch my fellow YouTubers narrate their take on world news to me.
Do you have a morning routine or ritual?
My biggest daily guideline is the white-board, and I tick it off in between Facebook and YouTube throughout the whole day into night. I think every self-motivated writer (or entrepreneur of any type) should have some form of a daily to-do list. I don’t have a normal life. With my contract design service (re: art school), an Etsy store, my acting and film-producing career, non-money-making projects, social media marketing, personal life and relationships, I have to re-structure and reprioritize my life every, new day. If I ever hear someone bitching about lazy millennials out-loud, they will be read the full list of career paths, self-started businesses and other entrepreneurial endeavors I’ve accomplished by age 27.
When do you eat lunch? Do you eat the same thing every day or mix it up?
Breakfast/lunch is at 11:30. I do not eat the same thing everyday, but I follow a ketogenic diet. Sorry, animals.
Do you have a pre-bed ritual?
My boyfriend and I have had midnight chats every night for the past 4 years. It seals my day with a bow of love, comfort and completeness. Then, I stare at Instagram from my pillow until I accidently drop my phone on my stupid, tired face.
How do you define a successful day?
I’m successful if I’ve crossed off at least 75% of my list. Admittedly, I throw some really fast and easy tasks on there to boost my confidence for the larger ones, but they still counts.
Q: What’s been your most important skill you've developed on your path to screenwriting?
My most important skill is the ability to be a DIY-ing, all-encompassing creator. From a young age, I began getting impatient waiting for others to give me permission or do things for me. I’ve written 3 features and multiple shorts that I keep in my figurative back pocket until I find the open doorways to spearhead their productions. I won’t mislead, though: my accomplishments are still on the indie scale. I can’t do much without things like lots of money or the help of a talented crew and cast (in which I want to pay with that money), but I’ve at least pin-pointed every necessity and hurdle on the way to a next-level green light.
I believe the best creators learn a little about everything. Some of the best directing I’ve ever experienced would come from another actor who knew how to communicate that part of the craft. And, writing within itself definitely made me a better actor. I learned not only to find the motivation in each scene but what those choices meant for the larger story. Once you start blending the crafts together, you become a force to be reckoned with.
Q: What’s been your greatest challenge in your writing so far?
I’ve learned so much by screenwriting. I don’t believe any human understands the utter destruction of character, confidence and lengthy, hard work until they’ve gotten notes back for the first 10 drafts. At draft 11, a writer can brace for any avalanche like it’s a light flurry.
But, my greatest challenge is finishing the first draft of any of my movies. And, writing a story that doesn’t include thousands of dollars of music and pop-culture references.
Q: What’s been your greatest reward in the choices you've made?
My greatest reward is watching my creative community empower itself around me. After a few years as an actor and producer, I started penning help articles on my site, JessPaul.net, to fast track young filmmakers, like I once was, to avoid easy mistakes and surpass a few lessons in making better films.
At meetings, conventions and film premiers, I’d meet so many people who would ask me how to jump-start their film careers like I had. I started copy/pasting the same email answers so often that I simply posted the info online in blog form. I’ve written on subjects from “How To Create a Reel With No Footage” to “4 Ways to Learn Screenwriting Without Expensive Classes”, all usually circling the theme of try-it-yourself.
When creatives reach above and beyond their initial positions, it’s powerful. It’s rewarding whenever I see one of my peers step out of their box and grow stronger from it.
Q: What do you want to learn from a community of your peers? I never stop learning. Every set I’ve ever been part of has taught me something new about indie filmmaking. It’s why I started writing the blogs. There is still so much I need to learn about the larger business of filmmaking. I can teach myself how to format a screenplay or light a room, but I find it harder to pitch to a financer who I know will never care about my project as much as I do.
This is a truly great question, but I feel it’s a tricky one: I don’t really know what I will learn next! I feel as I talk to or read about my writing and filmmaking peers, maybe even here on the Script Summit, I can take the advice and surpass my own hurdles I didn’t even know were there.