Tell us about yourself.
My name is Melanie Jones. I am an artist and filmmaker and my “day job” is Assistant Professor of Sculpture & Extended Media at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford. I grew up making art and pursued a BFA and MFA. After all that I decided to throw it all aside and go to film school! I’ve been making films for about 10 years now. I went to Langara College for my film education. Since then I’ve made 13 short films and just completed my first feature film called “FSM” which played at Vancity Theatre Apr 16 and 18 during Canadian Film Week and was featured on the cover of the Georgia Straight last week.
What drew you to becoming an artist?
I have wanted to be an artist since I was a kid. So I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t creative or trying to be. It’s in my DNA I think. My parents were both musicians (jazz and opera) so I grew up in a house where creativity was highly valued. My parents also both became teachers and I’m certain that influenced my decision to pursue a teaching career as a parallel path to my creative work. It gives me just enough free time to pursue my own projects, while still feeling grounded and able to pay my rent.
Is there anything that particularly influences or inspires your work?
I have a deep desire for honesty. I think that some of the best art in the world is about truth-seeking. That’s what always draws me in. I personally find it very hard to lie, which has sometimes gotten me into trouble. So I think it’s just part of who I am. I like truth and a certain kind of raw vulnerability that comes from art-making and storytelling in the mediums I’ve chosen. My goal in filmmaking is always to find the honesty of the scene or the moment. To get there with the actors. My biggest criticism of other films is when the acting feels like “acting.” It’s gotta be genuine to make that deep imprint on us. Now that I’ve started writing, I’m searching for that kind of honesty on the page in the subjects and dialogue in my films.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start making films?
Start. When I decided to apply to film school I looked up the nearest film club and jumped on set as a crew member. I’ve always been a bit of a keener in school and I was worried about going to film school and knowing nothing about being on set! Haha. But it really was an amazing way to learn and begin to network. I still know and work with people from that very first film. In Canada, and especially Vancouver, there are so many opportunities to make films—Crazy 8’s, Hot Shot Shorts, Whistler 72 Hour Showdown, Raincity, Storyhive—and you don’t need a lot of money to make a short film. You need realiable friends and some gear. Even then, you can shoot on your phone nowadays. It might not be the most beautiful film you ever make, but you learn every time you make a film and that experience is invaluable. It’s important to recognize that film is a collaborative medium. If you have ideas but no interest in compromise or working with others, then film isn’t for you—better to choose another art form where you can be in total control. Me, I love that part of making films—it’s the “two heads are better than one” idea except you literally have hundreds of “heads” working on solutions to the challenges that arise. It transcends what any one person would be able to do alone. I feel energized by working with others and encouraging everyone to bring ideas to the table and shine.
What are the biggest challenges for filmmakers? How do you think we can overcome those challenges?
Almost always it’s money and time. People who want to be filmmakers often end up working in the industry in other positions and the hours can be long—leaving you with little time or energy for your own projects. I decided to go a different route with my “job” so I would have more time and energy for my dreams. But you have to live, and living in Vancouver is expensive. And films can be expensive to make. How else do you raise money to make one? There’s stiff competition for real funding, and not everyone can crowdfund successfully. It’s a tough balance to strike. For female filmmakers, it’s unfortunate but true that there is an uphill battle. The stats are abysmal. But there’s hope. I think we just have to rally around each other and keep busting down that door, as many times as it takes until the funders and studios realize they are actually missing out on something by not supporting literally half the human population’s stories. I believe it will get better, and I just hope to be part of it.
Where’s your favourite spot in Vancouver to set up a laptop and get shit done?
I wrote my first feature film, “FSM,” almost entirely while sitting at the Granville Island Tea Company. But they’ve gotten rid of their seating area now so lately I write more at home. I do have a new-ish favorite spot because it has no wifi, so I don’t get distracted when I go there to work. It’s busy a lot so sometimes can be hard to get a seat. That’s why I’m not sharing the location…haha.
Can you share any resources you’ve found most helpful in your career?
The indie film community in Vancouver is actually pretty rad. There are TONS of groups for support and networking. I find it exhausting actually so it’s best to probably pick a couple that you like and not try to do them all. There’s Celluloid Social Club, Cold Reading Series, Women in Film and Television, Raindance, Cineworks, and plenty more on Facebook that you can join for jobs and networking. I have my own group called FADE IN where I host script reads sometimes—just with a few friends. But I’ve attended or been a member of all of the above at various times in the past decade. I also really love this online newsletter called Mentorless.
What’s in the works for you right now?
I’m editing a music video for a Vancouver artist named “ROYAL,” hope to release that in May. And writing my next feature called “Switchback”—it’s a wilderness thriller set on the West Coast Trail here in British Columbia. I’m building the funding application for that right now—looking for funds and investors so I can shoot it next spring. FSM is off to Nice, France next.