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deadCenter 2020: OKG talks with director / screenwriter / actress Cate Jones

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Cate Jones's film She's the Eldest is available to stream 5 p.m. June 13 to 11:45 p.m. June 21 at deadcenterfilm.org. - PHILLIP DANNER
  • Phillip Danner
  • Cate Jones's film She's the Eldest is available to stream 5 p.m. June 13 to 11:45 p.m. June 21 at deadcenterfilm.org.

Brittany Pickering: I'm Brittany Pickering, the editor-in-chief of Oklahoma Gazette, and I'm here with Cate Jones, a filmmaker, who has a film called She's the Eldest in deadCenter this year. Can you tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into filmmaking and acting and all of that?

Cate Jones: I went to school in Lawton, Oklahoma, and then I went to college for a little bit. Then I joined the military and did that for six years, and then I did civilian work for the government, doing IT. And then one day, I just Googled acting in Oklahoma because I really hated my job and found some classes and started doing that I think in 2014 or 2015. And from that, I, you know, did commercials and some bit parts in movies and then started doing the indie scene here and then did that for awhile. And then, I don't know, last year — I guess it was last year — I just decided to write one because I didn’t like the roles I was getting and the material a lot of times is pretty awful. So I wrote a script for me and my friends to do, and we shot it in September over 8 days. And, yeah, that’s kind of it.

Pickering: Can you tell me kind of what the movie is about, what the story is?

Jones: So it's about three siblings who are very eccentric, I guess you could say. And one, the oldest sister raised her two siblings, basically, because their parents disappeared while she was in high school. And so the brother, his wife leaves him and he begs them to come see him at their childhood home, and then, you know, arguments ensue. And at one point, it gets kind of weird and they start finding out about their parents’ disappearances.

Pickering: That sounds really interesting. Did you … where did the inspiration for it come from?

Jones: So my sister did a lot of the raising of me and my siblings, and so it was kind of just like an homage to her and having to basically give up being a high school student. I mean, it's not completely based off of her; there's a lot of, you know, liberties and a lot of drama added in for, you know, cinematic purposes. But, you know, it's kind of just me processing her sacrifice, I guess.

Pickering: Did you — because I know that this is a big topic in film and, you know, it's a lot of here's the quirky siblings and they have this strange relationship and everyone's got their little things and past against each other and, you know, but they're still close and all of that. Did you think about other films that have been made kind of like that, or did you try to step away from that?

Jones: I … so the kind of inspiration for it, like just for the, well, the initial look of it, which ended up changing but it was a lot of Margot at the Wedding by Noah Baumbach.

Pickering: Yeah.

Jones: And then a little bit of Practical Magic, but then later on in the script, that kind of takes a very strange, surreal turn, so it starts out as like a, you know, a sibling movie about, like you know, family dramedy or whatever, and then it gets very strange and surreal. So just letting you know ahead of time, it goes, it's a little different in that it doesn't follow the usual formula.

from left Cate Jones and Brittany Pickering - PHILLIP DANNER
  • Phillip Danner
  • from left Cate Jones and Brittany Pickering

Pickering:
Well that sounds super interesting and different than ... did you, when you wrote the script, did you have specific actors in mind?

Jones: Yes. So Mary Buss is my very best friend, and she also happens to be an amazing actress, who's, you know, highly theater-trained in New York and just fabulous. So I knew I wanted her to play the main character, and then I wanted to play, like, her younger sibling, because we've played all kinds, we’ve played the same person, I was just the younger version; we've played she was my mother; we've played like I was the mistress of her husband. And so this was just a new dynamic for us as siblings, which is, you know, probably a lot more similar to real life a little bit. And then Mickey Reece, I wrote the role kind of thinking of like Jack Black's role in Margot at the Wedding, and I just imagined him the whole time I was writing it. I didn't expect him to be playing it. I thought we're going to get another guy, but then it just, he was just the perfect fit for it and he did a fantastic job. So, yeah, not a lot of ... the rest of them I just like cast based on, you know, thinking about it later.

Pickering: And where, where did you, how did you decide where to shoot the film?

Jones: I knew we wanted to shoot in Oklahoma because that's just all the crew that I know is here and I love them and, you know, why would I want to pay to fly people out of town? And at first, we were going to shoot at Mary's house, Mary Buss’s house, but then it started going on the market and was being shown. So then we had to splurge for an Airbnb out of my pocket last second, so that's just kind of what we ended up with then, and it turns out that you know been used before to film in and then a lot of the locations really became like very last-minute.

Pickering: It's interesting hearing filmmakers talk about working in Oklahoma because we have all these different locations and different kind of landscapes all over the state, and I find it fascinating how you would never think, “Oh yeah, film, Oklahoma,” but we have such, we seem to have a riches of, you know, like, “Oh, this is out here and the owner of this field said we can use it for free,” and you know, like it just kind of happens.

Jones: Yeah, totally. And, I mean, the great thing about it is Oklahomans are so good people that they, you know, usually will just give you their home or whatever for free and they're just like super-positive about like, “Yeah, come on down! Let's do this thing! I'll show up,” or whatever, but you know, I kind of like that it's a hidden gem because our market doesn't get inundated with too many people hogging everything.

Pickering: Right. You don't have to wait.

Jones: Yeah. I mean, there are some productions that come through, but I've I noticed a lot of them being just, like, jerks and that's the reason why they're using us, you know?

Pickering: Yeah, for cheap.

Jones: Yeah, yeah. But you know, sometimes we get some really great people and I mean we're always gonna do really hard work, so.

Pickering: Yeah.

Jones: We have the best workers.

Pickering: Yeah, I’ve seen that, evidence of that too, that everyone’s really hardworking and just wants to do the best job that they can.

Jones: Yeah, it's really funny when people are like, “You do what? You make movies in Oklahoma? I mean, that's a thing?” It's crazy how many people don't know but yeah, I don't know, I guess.

Pickering: Are you … how do you feel about the format of deadCenter this year? And what do you hope comes out of this, this online thing?

Jones: To be honest, initially, I was sad that it wasn't gonna be a four-wall experience, but now, I don't know; I've kind of changed my outlook, even after reading some articles from IndieWire or whatever, like warning against it maybe being a bad idea. I think they're dumb. I think they're just not evolving to the climate and the year. Like what, are we gonna hold on to this movie for years and not let anybody see it? But I think it, it honestly could turn out to be a really great thing because, you know, more eyes and less scheduling in dealing with hours of the day. You know, people can just watch the movie at their leisure, and all I care about is people watching it. I mean, I’d love for my cast and crew to sit in a theater, but you know, we'll figure out a way to do that eventually.

Pickering: Right!

Jones: Yeah!

Pickering: So are you thinking about the next film you’re gonna make or the next project you’re gonna work on?

Jones: Yeah, I’m midway through finishing a script called The Devil Is a Busy Man.

Pickering: Yeah?

Jones: And it's about an older actress whose critical director ex-husband dies and his ghost keeps coming to her with … just to argue about the same old things that they argued about in their relationship, and it drives her nuts, so she goes to see this really strange doctor.

Pickering: Yeah? That sounds really cool!

Jones: Thanks!

Pickering: Well, great. I’m so glad that your film is in deadCenter this year, and I am excited to see how it goes and the reception and all of that.

Jones: Thanks!

Pickering: Thank you for talking to me today.

Jones: Of course!

Visit deadcenterfilm.org.

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