Jenness Rouse Talks About Becca on Call

Becca C. Johnson, aspiring writer, agrees to work as a Part-Time “Temp” Nurse Assistant (NA) for her Dad at his new medical clinic in exchange for an "allowance" so she can focus on her writing. But Becca soon discovers: there's nothing part-time or “temp” about nurse anything.

Becca on Call is a short film directed by Jenness Rouse and Matt Draper. It was our pleasure to speak to Jenness about her work as filmmaker and Becca on Call. Jenness Rouse is an actress, singer and director who has traversed the Entertainment Spectrum from Opera, to Broadway, to Print, Commercials, and finally Film, TV, and Public Speaking. Texas born, NYC bred, and LA based, Jenness continues to present stories about "life's realities" with a "Pollyanna Optimism" to inspire laughter and delight as we all face this world head on.

How did you start making films and what was the first film project you worked on?

I started making films within the first year of moving to LA. I had previously been in the Opera/Broadway Scene of NYC, but after landing a SuperBowl Commercial, my career took a rather sudden unintended turn from stage to the screen. As a result, I moved across the states to the center of the film industry, Hollywood, CA (or LA), and within a month of moving there, was working in a small production studio that created Audition Self-Tapes and Demo Reel Scenes. Consequently, I quickly learned the ins and outs of "small production," from operating cameras, editing, music scoring, to set design, writing, and casting, and after 3months, I decided to write myself a "Duo Scene" for my reel that had a medical comedy concept. The scene proved to be a "big hit" with more than just peers, but coaches, industry, sponsors, and investors. One particular investor offered to supply a small "trial" investment to see if I could make "more" of the story implied in the scene. After some research, I opted to create a "killer sizzle reel" for a potential series (which seemed the wisest use of the funds), and the result was a 2 min. Pitch Trailer for a Medical Comedy Series called, Becca on Call. I pitched the trailer to networks, producers, and directors, but ultimately, I ended up creating my own production company, Rising Monarch Prods, to produce the 22min PILOT, and thus, Becca on Call happens to be my very first film project that I independently produced (and is the topic of this interview).

What genre of filmmaking fascinates you as a filmmaker and why?

Oh, I don't know if I'm particularly "fascinated" by any genre as a "filmmaker." I know I lean more towards comedy because I see the world in a comedic light. For example, Becca on Call ("BoC") was the first project I ever made, but it was out of necessity: I needed a comedy scene for my "Demo Reel" and I happened to have a nurse costume (which I had had on hand when I did work as an extra in NYC). Later, during the 2020 pandemic lockdown, I created a Quarantine Web Series, "The Shannon O'Brian Chronicles," which is most definitely comedic in nature. However, I have created other types of work with my studio, Rising Monarch, which are not comedic, including filmed live stage performances that have a "Broadway-esque" feel with music/comedy/dramatic inspiration, and I've produced music videos as well, and these are because of my musical background that preceded my film industry pursuits. In short, I "film-make" out of necessity, not fascination, to "do something" and I happen to create films that I know I can do well. I love other genres as an actress and performer, but what I produce on my own, are things in my wheelhouse (comedy/music) because I know I can do those well from the producer's chair.

What is the most challenging aspect of being an independent filmmaker in the film industry?

For me, getting people in the seats. It's easy for me to "do something." If I'm sitting around with little going on, I create/submit/pitch/network; I am constantly "moving" and "making" and have not allowed any "down turns" in my career's momentum. The ONE thing that has always been a challenge for me was getting people "in the seats," whether for a screening, or a stage performance (before pandemic days), or getting people to log on and watch the online screening (in today's online world), very few people show up. All the efforts, busting my tail promoting, even spending ridiculous amounts of money on social media ads (which unless you are funded by a huge fortune 500 company are not worth it; #moneypit), had little impact. I'd call up radio/podcast shows and get on for interviews, post ads myself, send out personal invitations, call people to invite, and even PLEAD with any and all of my people in my staff/crew/cast to do the same - and despite all our attempts - VERY few people would turn out. Some of the issue is being in a city like Los Angeles or New York, where you are a new face; other issues come from the fact that there are a lot of small/indie events going on and the a lot of them "not worth" coming out to. So, it's an uphill battle when you've got something that is "worth seeing" and getting people to "believe" in what you have. The consistent feedback from the "Daredevils" who WOULD show up was, "had I known it was going to be like THAT, I would have invited more of my people!" I got that a lot, which is a nice consolation prize; a confirmation that I have something of value to show. The thing is, you CANNOT stop just because no one is in the audience. You promot because you KNOW you have something great, and you perform AS IF you have a FILLED stadium/theater of fans (and to honor and celebrate those amazing few who DID come). You have to "see" (in faith) that you "made that goal" that's in your heart; even if you're not there "physically" at the moment, it will happen if you "see" it. This industry is a marathon, not a sprint, and it's an industry built on relationships. Relationships take time, even when it comes to creating a fan base. So take the time, continue the effort, and continue to perform/promote with that goal in mind.

How difficult is it to fund indie films?

In today's world, it's not. You have so many options at your disposal. From Crowdfunding, to pitching to investors, to saving up money yourself, to even taking out a loan, you can do it if you really wanted to. Just be creative. Cut costs in your daily life - stop buying points on your phone games/aps, take a break from coffee runs, maybe use a few coupons here and there, and you've got an extra $200 already saved up. Crowdfunding seems to be the best bet for most people. Use your community network base! If you know someone, who has any legal ties or connections (attorney friends are ALWAYS a plus to get things officiated), or friends that work in banking, talk to them. But it is NOT hard to get funding in today's world. Just be creative and be thrifty. I used my familial/hometown network base to gather funds for my projects. I have never been without funding for what/when I needed to do something ... except when I got sucked into those social media ads. That was the only time I ever lost unnecessary funds ... I'm not a fan of those.

Please name three of your most favorite directors. How have they been influential in your work?

Oh, this is going to sound cliche, but my favorite directors are the big ones: Spielberg, Soderbergh, and probably J.J. Abrams. Have they been influential in my personal work? Absolutely not. I just like watching their shows. I know I'm going to get a lot of depth, historicity, and "Academy Award-quality Excellence" with Spielberg, delightful interweaving mastery and intricate witty dialogue from Soderbergh, and your classic action packed-fun entertainment with J.J. Abrams. I like their films (and TV shows), it's stuff I'd love to do or be in or be directed by; but in no way is stuff that I myself would remotely create. I'm a different "voice" than these directors, and that's ok!

As far as who has had the most influence on my style would be someone, who's "voice" and personal experiences carry similarities to mine, having lived in the worlds of West Texas to NYC to LA, and that's James Duff, the writer/creator of the TNT Hit Series and Spinoff The Closer/Major Crimes. I love his style, where the comedy is "natural" even though the series is a drama - he sees the world in a comedic light so comedy just "happens" in the dialogue and in the inter-relationships of the characters; subtle and NEVER forced. The series was character driven, even though a procedural drama, with an eccelectic "fish out of water" lead, and that type of dialogue and story build up is reflected in how I wrote BoC. The comedy is "natural" - not forced, the focus is in the relationships of the characters, not in the procedural of the medical field, and the viewpoint is "light" - polly-anna esque humor with an air of innocence that relates to my West Texas upbringing. I see some of that "West Texas" humor in Duff's work as well, especially with some of the "CLOSER" characters. So, I'd say he is my biggest influence as a writer/filmmaker.

What inspired you to work on "Becca on Call" and how did the film go into production?

Honestly? Initially me. As mentioned previously, it began out of necessity: I needed a comedy/medical scene for my reel. And I wrote one and asked my boss in the Demo Reel Studio to film it for me. I only used a clip from it for the actual reel, but I showed the full scene to a few people and that's when things changed. LOTS of "surprised" and "impressed" people gave very positive feedback. Two specific individuals, however, created the movement. One family member, who carries a lot of influence in my life, my Dad, as well as an up and coming film industry investor, who I had met along the way, were both very impressed with the writing. "You have a gift here," Dad said. "I've seen a lot of stuff, and this is something special," said the investor with somber sincerity. And BOTH suggested I consider writing more of the story. I then received a small "trial" sponsorship to see what I could do with a little, which was when I created that sizzle reel out of the LA Demo Reel Studio, casting it with my coworker and some of my acting friends from my class in town. I asked around for different editors and color correction people, and found two talented individuals, who helped me finesse the final product. I then pitched that thing with an"ok" first draft of the pilot's screenplay, and surprisingly LOTS of doors opened, some major networks even expressed interest, but when no one moved on it for 8+ months, I could feel it stalling. It was then that I had the idea, "Well. I guess I can make it myself." Considering costs, I decided to move the film location to my West Texas hometown, flew back to Texas, founded my company, Rising Monarch Prods., and hit the ground running.

How did you find the cast and the crew of the film? Tell us more about the production of the film and working on the set of the film to create this feature.

Once Rising Monarch Prods. was founded, everything just flowed. I began recruiting crew from people I knew in the local West Texas community - we have some prolific filmmakers out in West Texas, and many of them family friends. Location scouting was also easy - the locations we used happened to be the beautiful family home of the Assistant DP we hired on, my old gradeschool I went to, my Dad's lawfirm, and the primary location - my family eye doctor's perfectly lit/renovated Eye Clinic. Materials are easy to come by in our West Texas Community, but a good chunk of what we used was left over from the sizzle reel/trailer production, (costumes and many of the medical products were already purchased from an Office Supply store the year before). I just had those shipped from LA. I also used the same LA actors from my Sizzle Reel, with the exception that the two leads were replaced due to scheduling conflicts (the actors playing the father figure and the "antagonist/love interest" were going to be in other projects, so I offered the roles to two additional friends from my acting class, and both accepted despite the short notice, much to my delight and relief). I also brought my boss from my LA Demo Reel Studio in to co-direct. Hotel accomodations were easy and cheap, and I stayed with family. Finally, the craft services was happily coordinated by my Mom, who recruited several local restaurants to provide food for us at crazy low prices. Bottom line, it is a LOT easier when you know people, and I have a fabulously wonderful support system in my West Texas hometown community.

What do you recommend to other filmmakers regarding the distribution of independent feature films?

First, make SURE you have a good solid Copyright Contract secured before trying to distribute. You gotta protect yourself and your work. Second, do your research! There are ways to self-distribute on Amazon and even YouTube and get paid for each download. The other option is to send your projects to Film Festivals that are known to have distribution reps walking around looking for new material. I have a couple of friends who's films were picked up based on what they saw in the theater, one even received a contract with HBO. What is your next film project and what are you currently working on?

My "next" film project is my current one. I'm having a BLAST with my little Quarantine Web Series, The Shannon O'Brian Chronicles, which has won Best Web Series, Best Parody, Best Comedy, Best Microfilm, and even Best Actress in Film Festivals worldwide. Not sure what doors it will open, but this little fun "Mobile" Film is really a hit during the pandemic. And with that character, I have flexibility on what I can do with "her." So we will see. Why do you make films?

It is something to do. I don't consider myself a "filmmaker," though I do create films. I'm an entertainer/actress/singer/performer. But I create work as something to "do" to keep my career moving, to continue to harness my "voice" as an entertainer, to develop my craft, and to keep from being bored (lol). So far, as a result my projects, I have landed roles, an agency contract, and my industry network base has exploded worldwide far beyond what I would have EVER been able to do on my own had I just waited for the industry to cast me in a role based on my actress auditions alone. I have more control over my career when I create - and with the confidence that builds as a consequence of the success that I've received from my projects, I now have a lot more favor with the new industry relationships and contacts I meet. They LIKE me because I like myself. And I know more of who I am because I am creating projects as an extension of who that is, and people actually like what they see. And that is pretty special.

© Toronto Film Mag I 2021