Interview with Producer/Writer/Actor Jessica Sharples (Jen, 28)

“Jen, 28” was the winner of BEST SHORT FILM at the April 2021 FEMALE Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

“Jen, 28” is actually based on my personal survivor story. It took me awhile to come to grips with what happened to me – I didn’t want to admit that I had been sexually assaulted. So I initially wrote the script to work through my experience. Then when I decided I wanted to produce it, I ran a crowdfunding campaign and told everyone my story. I received countless emails and messages from women in my life saying that a similar situation happened to them. After that, I knew I had to make the film so that other women (and men) didn’t feel alone and to inspire change on the front of date rape and sexual assault.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

I wrote my first draft of “Jen, 28” back in October of 2018 and did several workshops of the script. I ran the crowdfunding campaign in May of 2019 and then we filmed it a month after raising all the funds. Post-production took longer than we expected though because we used all of our crowdfunding money on the production itself – classic indie filmmaking! But a good friend of mine donated his time to coloring and sound mixing the project and we finished it in September of 2020. So from conception to finished product, it took us 2 years to make the film.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Powerful and necessary.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Our biggest obstacle was definitely writing that last scene where Jen and Adam are standing on the street fighting about the assault. We wanted both of the characters to come across 100% real and honest with their reactions but we also didn’t want to make Adam seem like a bad guy. The “gray” area of sexual assault that I expereinced, wasn’t done with malintent. He was just unaware and, like most men, has bad societal programming. We wanted to show that Adam was unaware of what he did. With Jen, we wanted to show that at first she wasn’t sure if she would classify it as date rape or as a simple miscommunication. So in the beginning of the scene she’s in a confused, traumatized daze and then when a bystander walks by, that’s when she realizes what happened and has a panic attack. The last part is that we wanted to have our characters start the conversation of consent for our audiences to finish afterwards. We wanted to accurately show the difference in thinking between men and women but then give an answer as to why rape happens in the first place. This is revealed in Adam’s last line of the film when he exclaims that he kept going, even when she asked him to stop, because he wanted to “finish.”

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

They were so sweet! I noticed that a lot of people used the words “powerful” and “nuanced.” This was so great to hear because, right from the start, we didn’t want this film to come across as a PSA. We wanted to show two real people in a real life situation and after hearing the feedback, I definitely think we accomplished that. I also really appreciated what the last viewer said – “This is a film that everyone should see.” A main goal of ours is to have as many people as possible see the film so they can reflect on their own experiences and make more educated decisions when going into sexual situations with another person. Sexual assault reform can only happen on the indiviudal level so I really hope people are inspired to make change in their own life, with their own relationships, after seeing “Jen, 28.”

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. When did you first realize that you wanted to make films?

I’ve wanted to be an actor since I was 5 when I performed in my first theatre production. Although I’ve been pursuing acting my whole life, I started writing plays during my college years at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. I kept writing screenplays for fun but never thought about producing my own work until “Jen, 28.” I think that’s because I felt like this was such an important story to tell and knew that no one would be able to tell my story better than me!

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Oh man… I have to say that I don’t re-watch films very much. The only one that I can’t get enough of is “She’s the Man” with Amanda Bynes. I love acting in dramas but comedies are definitely my feel-good go to!

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are your feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

Honestly, I think FilmFreeway is great. It makes it so easy to find festivals and keep track of your submissions. And I can add everything about the film to my profile like awards, screenings, press releases, etc. I definitely submitted to way more festivals than I originally anticipated because it was so easy to find them.

9. What is your favorite meal?

Definitely my grandmother’s lasagna. The family recipe was brought over all the way from Italy when my great grandparents immigrated to the US. Back in the old days, my great grandmother would “roast” fresh tomatoes on their roof for days before blending them into the sauce. We still have it for Christmas or Thanksgiving every year!

10. What is next for you? A new film?

I definitely have a few scripts in mind that I’d like to birth into existence. I’m also really excited to showcase my acting work in this film and act in more meaningful films with strong female voices. For now though, it’s been great to meet new friends through these festivals that I can hopefully collaborate with. “Jen, 28” was a pure act of co-creation and I’ve found that’s the key to great filmmaking. It truly takes a village. I definitely want to eventually get “Jen, 28” into classrooms though. I think that if we show the film to young people and open that conversation of consent, we can really accelerate our move towards a world free from sexual assault.

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