Jethica Stars and Director Talk About Their Creative Process and Favorite Moments
Now in some cinemas, jethica is a great mix of different genres over its tight 70-minute runtime. The film is set in New Mexico, where Elena (Callie Hernandez) hides after a freak accident. She bumps into Jessica (Ashley DeniseRobinson), an old friend from high school, who has a stalker. And when the stalker suddenly shows up on their doorstep, the two must seek help from beyond the grave to get rid of him for good.
We recently caught up with the two stars and director of the film, which premiered at SXSW last year and also screened later Brooklyn Horror Film Festival. jethica was conceived and produced during the COVID-19 pandemic and thus reflects themes of isolation, disconnection, death and the unknown. After all, the pandemic itself becomes a hot topic in the cinema.
Co-stars Ashley Denise Robison and Callie Hernandez on co-writing
MW: In addition to starring in this movie, it sounds like the two of you are have writing credits on this movie.
Ashley DeniseRobinson: Yeah, the whole cast and Pete [Ohs the director]we all wrote it together.
MW: How did you get the idea? How did it all start?
Robinson: So this is the second of those kinds of things that Pete has done. Pete had previously directed a feature film called Youngstown, where he asked two actor friends to go to a city outside of Los Angeles and write a script together and shoot it. And the first one they did in Youngstown, Ohio, and [Jethica co-star] Andy [Faulkner] was also in it. And then the next, Andy was living in New Mexico, and he was like, “Hey Pete, New Mexico is really beautiful. Why don’t you look for something there?” So Pete went to Airbnb and found a place and was like, “OK, this is where it’s going to be.” So the story really started with him, you know, finding the location. And then by the time it got to me at least, he had like half a glimpse of what he thought the movie was going to be. And then it was up to us and the rest of the time we had in New Mexico to write it down, to find it all out.
Callie Hernandez: Yeah, in terms of the writing, Pete is the director of the story, you know? So everything else is sort of sculpted around it. And we all kind of had our little, you know, treats here and there.
MW: Will Madden, who plays Kevin, seemed like a perfect fit for the character. Did you know that Will would play the role of stalker from the start?
Hernandez: Yeah, Pete knew us all. So really, Pete just got all the collaborators together. It’s really Pete’s movie, and yeah, it felt pretty natural, to be honest with you. It wasn’t like something we said, “Well, who’s responsible for what?”
MW: Would you like to do another project like this later, with all of you doing the movie together?
Robinson: Yeah, I’m still interested in collaborating. I’m very, like, strong-willed, but I also like the assistance with the shape and format. So it’s like, I’m very visionary, I have an idea for something and then, you know, having other people flush it out is helpful… And just in terms of what we all brought to the character, a lot like Will [Madden’s] the preparation was basically what you saw on the screen. So all these letters [his character wrote to Jessica], he wrote them just as character prep for this character. And then Pete saw them and said, “Yeah, we’re gonna put that in the movie.” And even the videos we see [Kevin] do is also character preparations to get into this guy’s mind [Kevin]… So we all sort of contributed to the idea in that way, which I think is a really fun way to work. It’s a different way.
MW: Regarding the title of the film, which is spelled differently from the name of the main character, “Jessica”. Do you know the backstory behind this?
Hernandez: I mean, [Pete] I just thought the tone of the movie ended up being so weird. You know, he just wanted to have fun with it.
Robinson: We were at a Q&A somewhere… I can’t remember who, but one of us insisted, like, “That’s how I hear my name from [Kevin] saying it, whether it’s a lisp or not. That’s all I hear all the time.” Which is kind of a really interesting psychological twist. And that feeling of someone you don’t like or someone you hate, just like the way what they say your name is like, “Oh, my God.” You know? And I think that fits the tone of our movie, which is a dark comedy, horror, thriller, and ghost story .
Director Pete Ohs talks about wearing many hats
MW: Going back to square one, how did this all start in terms of setting up the story?
Pete Ohs: I think the thing about jethica it’s kind of funny how low-stakes the directing was. Me, being a filmmaker who also likes to hear about and read stories about filmmakers who found a way to make a cool movie, that didn’t require some really rich person or studio giving them millions of dollars to realize it. And jethica was made in the spirit of “We think it would be fun to make a movie”. Like, that’s the theory. And so it all sort of happened in a way that’s really quite natural, not forced. And there’s just kind of always following the intuition of thinking, “That sounds interesting. Let’s keep it going.”
And the very first thing was finding this trailer on Airbnb. And not looking at all the Airbnb locations around the world, but starting with New Mexico because Andy, who is one of the other cast members there, had lived there. And he said, “We should make a movie in New Mexico.” And then I change the settings on Airbnb to only have really cheap places so just narrow down the options and see inside of that is there anything that would be amusing ? Because if it were to cost too much, I wouldn’t have the money to do it. But coming across this trailer which was clearly a nice place just to take pictures, and then I started asking myself questions, like the narrative questions like, “What story would be fun to tell there?” And having those actor friends in mind and kind of letting them fit into the different characters. And also going through a pandemic, having all the experiences we’ve all had of being isolated, feeling lonely, wanting to connect with people and all these themes, you know, spreading in this place…and then wanting to have something fun with that. And what I mean by that is not just making a movie about real life, but making a movie about something that you can only do in a movie. Like robots, like aliens… or like ghosts. And so those are the pieces of the puzzle that started the whole journey.
MW: What was your favorite moment on set, or what was your favorite scene to shoot?
Oh : I have a favorite moment that wasn’t during filming, but it was just one night when Will [Madden] and I went for a walk. And it was this winter desert, clear sky, and I had never seen so many stars. And I’ve never seen the shape of the stars in the sky look like a dome. It was truly breathtaking. It was beautiful. And favorite moment [while] filming. It really has to be the scene where we first experience [Kevin] in all its splendor, with the spotlights in the night, and he declaims. It was a few days after shooting. We didn’t really know what he was going to do in this scene until we turned on the flashlight. There was no rehearsal for that…it was just conversations with Will and a lot of his acting preparation. And I pressed record, and it was dark, and I said, “When the flashlight comes on, it’s time to go.” And that’s exactly what he did. And it was just such a funny surprise that I really cherished it… These Kevin rants are completely off the cuff, completely right in the moment. All of Will’s work as an actor preparing for the role, it’s kind of let go. And it’s wonderful. That might be the best thing.
MW: You wrote, produced and directed, and I also saw you edit jethica. do you like normally wear multiple hats when making a movie?
Oh : Yes, I was not a child who dreamed of being a filmmaker. I did not idolize Spielberg. I loved Jaws and IndianaJones. I love these films, but I hadn’t thought of making films. I just thought it was really fun to make videos with my friends. And even now, as I make these movies, I still think of them as longer videos, with friends. And the way I always did things was, I just do all these different parts. And the benefit now is mostly financial, there’s just more work I can do and fewer people I have to pay. And I really enjoy all the different steps and facets of the process that I can’t see any reason not to do it this way yet.
And what’s amazing about the world that we live in now with technology and everything, is not that anyone can make a movie that’s going to make money – because making money off of those movies is a whole other thing – but you can make a movie that feels like the movies you love, and you can have that experience, and then you can share it with the people you love. And it can just be a really enjoyable hobby that isn’t prohibitively expensive, which is cool.
jethica is available now.