Interview with Filmmaker Jessica Rae (RAISE YOUR HAND)

RAISE YOUR HAND played to rave reviews at the February 2022 FEMALE Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

The motivation to make this film came after attending a class lecture where the instructor carelessly, with excitement, exploited the concept of rape for a superficial discussion topic. As a survivor myself, I made the decision to take a personal risk and share my story, because I didn’t want those precious and painful biographical memories to be told without the honesty and truth they deserve. Being able to make a film about perseverance over police brutality, rape, underserved communities and their lack of opportunities, and friendship is a privilege in itself, but to be able to tell the stories of young people conquering their challenges through the arts is what makes this film so special to me, because that was me and my friends in high school.

It’s because of my real-life champions, some who are represented in this film, that I am now able to share this story, and all the stories represented in this movie. Not only are the character’s lives based in truth, but as the cast and crew joined together to make the film, they began sharing their own personal connections with the material, their stories of assault, of family struggles, of confrontations with the police. Our co-lead playing Lila, Hanani Taylor (The Orville, Criminal Minds), shared with us that her mother had an experience with sexual assault by a police officer when in school, and her mother talked her through the difficulties of the role to create the performance you see today.

We’ve put everything we have into this film, and it’s been a long five years of blood, sweat, and tears to make sure we did everything we possibly could to do justice for every frame seen on screen. From losing four days of production sound and having to ADR without a guide track, to endless sleepless nights from working sometimes three jobs a day to pay for the film costs almost all out of pocket, to setback after setback after setback. From the tragic loss of our incredibly talented composer’s husband to the birth of new babies, we have seen it all and then some, but the perseverance of this film speaks for itself. No one ever gave up on it because every single person involved believed in these stories and believed in our team. I’ll always be forever grateful to them. In the words of our lead character Gia, “No one will hear our stories unless we tell them”.

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

I started writing the script for this film January of 2017, we shot the film in June of 2017, and then it took about four more years to complete.

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

Intense and Real

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

The biggest obstacle I faced in completing the film was money or the lack of it. As many indie filmmakers know, this is not a cheap passion. I would say it probably took us about four extra years to make enough money to finish the film. In regards to a specific item that happened, at one point all three of our hard drives corrupted, and although we were able to recover almost all the footage, we lost four days of sound. This led to a spiral effect of problem solving, but I will say it pushed us into creating a tighter edit and a stronger storyline.

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

My initial reaction when watching the audience talk about our film was first, thank goodness they all had a positive response! Honestly, I was just so grateful to know we were successful with what we set out to do in making this film and reaching an audience. Thank you to everyone who watched and took the time to record their thoughts for us.

Watch the Audience Feedback Video:

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

I realized I wanted to make films at a very young age. I remember watching The Never Ending Story when I was probably four or five and being so amazed at this idea of a story inside a story. I started directing theater when I was sixteen, and I have a great love for the theater, but I soon realized the only way to reach an audience in the way I wanted to was through film. That combined with the need and the drive to tell the stories of those who don’t always have a voice is what continues to push me through all obstacles and hard times.

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

That’s a tough question. My favorite film is Pan’s Labyrinth, but the one I’ve seen the most would have to be A League of Their Own. I can recite the entire movie from start to finish. I work for the Dodgervision Production Team with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and occasionally someone will reference a line over the headset, and I just keep it going.

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

Everything has been so wonderful so far, and thank you to all involved with FFFF. One element that would really help all us filmmakers more is a stronger connection to distribution. Maybe some festivals can work together and create an event for distributors for top films? Another element I see some festivals starting to implement is conversations, sometimes one on ones, with industry professionals that give more advice than panels. We hear so many panels, and I really appreciate the ability to meet and talk with industry professionals who may be interested in me as a director or my film.

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

FilmFreeway is such an easy platform to use. I’ve been able to submit to multiple festivals in one sitting, and dates and information about each festival is so easy to find. The one time I had an issue, support responded to me right away in an email, with friendly helpful advice. I highly recommend festivals use this platform for submissions.

10. What is your favorite meal?

My favorite meal would have to be Bistec con Papas from my favorite restaurant in Los Angeles named Lares, but for casual eating at home nothing replaces a grilled cheese sandwich and a side of tomato soup for dipping.

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

I’m always working on a film idea or a webisode or TV pilot, whatever I can come with. I have applied and continue to apply to various film and television writer and director industry programs and fellowships, and I’m always writing new scripts at home. I also work in live tv, producing and managing various sporting events. I always keep options open. One never knows where the next break might come from.


By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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