From her home in Australia, Los Angeles seemed to be the land of opportunity for actress, Camilla Jackson. For many, that remains a dream. Camilla made it her reality. She is now a producer, writer, actress and journalist. She is the co-creator and star of the Jash/Amazon talk-show series, The Milli Show, and can be seen in the feature film, The Last Heist, with Henry Rollins as well as in the role of Rosie in Los Angeles Overnight, where she served double duty as one of the producers.
She also heads up the coolest art house cinema in Hollywood, Arena Cinelounge, and as the cinema’s creative director and head of all programming, Jackson is revolutionising the way that independent filmmakers find a pathway to success.
Jackson spoke to The Stable about making it as a filmmaker, making it in L.A. and making the indie film scene thrive.
The Stable: What does it take to become a writer/producer? What did you need to draw on?
Camilla Jackson: Without sounding too clichéd, you have to be willing to take risks. There is nothing safe about this industry. No guarantees and it is by no stretch of the imagination easy. Everyone has their own path and way of achieving things and comparing yourself to others is never helpful.
You really have to develop a thick skin. Despite people thinking that connections will help, they can only get you so far. You need to always be working on your art and improving and be able to have a subjective eye when it comes to your own stuff. And watch movies – LOTS of them. Seek out the new, the old and under the radar. It gets you thinking and keeps you motivated. When I first moved to L.A., I would invite legendary actors and directors to my tiny West Hollywood apartment to do on-camera interviews about some of the classic films they had worked on. Surprisingly, cold emails worked. Amazing talent that I love, such as Rosanna Arquette, Peter Bogdanovich, Dean Cundy (to name a few) would agree to come to my very modest apartment and talk about film for hours. They love movies so much that getting to speak about some of their back catalogues was a treat for them. I like to think that it’s through my previous on-set experience as an actress and speaking to these people that gave me incredible knowledge, connections, and confidence to start producing.
TS: What were the challenges you faced moving from Australia to L.A.? What opportunities did it open?
CJ: The hardest part of moving to another country, aside from the obvious logistical factors, is the feeling of having to start again. Not having connections, crew members, locations, access to gear, etc. can feel a little overwhelming at first. Fortunately, L.A. is such a mecca for artists that it really doesn’t take long to meet people that you can start collaborating with. L.A. is surprisingly small, and if you’re not crazy or clueless, you do start to run in circles filled with great talent and opportunities. If you are an artist who isn’t afraid to do things without a studio or higher power giving you a green light, you will soon enough find a rhythm and a team to get things moving.
Being the creative director of a cool indie cinema certainly has its advantages in terms of creatives you rub shoulders with. For instance, just today I took a meeting with a fellow antipodean who just moved to L.A. and has been making some incredible content. We are collaborating on making fun pre-show content for the cinema. If your eyes are open, the opportunities are endless. There is so much talent out there, and at Arena Cinelounge I am at the centre of a lot of the filmmakers who are on the verge of breaking through.
TS: How and why did you take on Arena Cinelounge? What do you think is making it thrive?
CJ: For a start, I was personally a fan and had already done a theatrical run of a film I produced there and had a great experience. To be able to do a week’s run of an ultra-indie is a pretty cool experience, and frankly, Arena Cinelounge is one of the few places in L.A. where that can be a reality. When I met Christian Meoli, the cinema’s owner, I realised pretty quickly that he has a great entrepreneurial quality mixed with an out-of-the-box way of thinking, which works wonderfully for me. We quickly started riffing on different ideas for programming and events, and when something feels like fun instead of work, you know you’re onto a good thing.
For me, the reason that Cinelounge is thriving in a time when there is every reason that it shouldn’t, is that we treat filmmakers like family, and it has an atmosphere that makes you feel like you are a part of something special. It is not uncommon on some nights to get the likes of Robert DeNiro rubbing shoulders with an indie filmmaker from Echo Park in our micro-lobby. It’s a community that is obsessed with film, and we are open to fun ideas. We are not hamstrung by investors and being completely independent means that we can show and do things that may not necessarily be deemed as commercially great ideas. We are in a position to take risks. How wonderful is that.
TS: What are the greatest challenges for filmmakers today?
CJ: For a start, just getting a feature made independently is a feat in itself. For every “success” you hear about, there are thousands of films you don’t hear about. Then, after having made the film (and likely having mortgaged your house in the process!), you have to find ways to get people to watch it. It is no longer enough to just make a film. You can’t just be a director, you need to be great with marketing, accounting, and all other aspects when it comes to distribution.
So many times, I see great films come through the cinema that should be getting attention, but when you do a search online about the film, there is missing metadata, the IMDb page is out of date, old key art, etc. There are so many factors that come into play that should be thought about before production even begins when it comes to placement, distribution and building audience. Perception is a huge part of getting people to watch your film. If they think other people think it’s worth a watch, they will be far more likely to watch it. There are endless ways you can help your film’s release; you just need to be willing to do the research and the work and avoid thinking that once it’s in the hands of a distributor that your job is over.
TS: Tell me about gender equality/inequality and ageism in filmmaking.
CJ: Thankfully things have been changing in that department for the most part, but I do feel that there is still a lot of lip service that goes on when it comes to this subject.
It’s fine for decision-makers to talk the talk, but when it comes down to it, action is the only proof. It will be interesting to see if the great momentum that has been going with equality will still be going strong in 5 years’ time. It is a great time to be a woman in the industry, and I sincerely hope that this “trend” continues. I do know that, recently, we have been getting some incredibly talented diverse filmmakers to come through Cinelounge, and it seems to be more common. Perhaps the positive press and inclusion is starting to reflect just now in the content.
I love it when we get humble but very talented female filmmakers at the cinema. We recently showed an IFC film called Greener Grass, made by two of the sweetest women. It was a treat to work with them and have them on our in-house podcast. I think female filmmakers’ stories inspire other women. And these girls were so open and transparent about how they achieved what they have. I think that, for a long time, some men liked shrouding the process in some kind of mystery and it’s great when people can tell their story earnestly.
TS: Advice for Australian filmmakers? What are the keys for success?
CJ: I can’t tell you the number of Australian creative friends that I have back home who tell me that they want to wait until they have a “hit” in Australia before they make the jump to the States. I think there is a big misconception based on that philosophy. No matter what stage you’re at in Australia, you are pretty much going to have to start again once you move here.
I’ve even met Americans who lived in New York and were doing quite well there, that still felt like they had to start over when relocating to L.A. If it’s something you want to do, you should just do it. But despite all of that, the most important thing is to make the art the most important factor of all. If you focus on that, the rest will fall into place. You will find the right people to work with and maintain some kind of sanity without stressing about all of the outside factors that a lot of the time you don’t have any control over.
This & cover image: Camilla Jackson (above right) & Christian Meoli