Showcase Filmmaker Spotlight: Jes Vasquez
By Travis Trew, Programming Associate
Writer and director Jessica Vasquez studied writing as a student at Ramapo College in New Jersey. Since moving to Philadelphia, Vasquez has been an active part of the city’s indie film scene, working on various productions while also writing and directing her own shorts. Her comedic short The Binge is a look at the very relatable situation of getting sucked into a watching a TV show and putting literally everything else on hold until it’s done.
PFS: How did you get started making films?
JV: I started out with prose writing, and then after taking a couple of film courses I just landed on script writing. I moved to Philadelphia about four years ago, and started working on student films and trying to find other filmmakers, which led to meeting a camera operator. Which thankfully meant I could finally start directing my own work. And it just kind of kicked off from there, meeting more and more people who want to create more content, which was perfect because I wanted to write more and more.
PFS: So what was the first project you got off the ground?
JV: It was a script that I had written at Ramapo called Ruby, I’m not even exactly sure what the assignment was, but it became a 10-12 page script. It’s a short comedy about a couple of roommates who are trying to ask out the same girl, and the third roommate is the jokester of the group, and decides this is a great time to get them to do something for him in order to sort of hold this tie-breaker to see who gets to ask out Ruby. I actually realized that we held auditions for that exactly two years ago today.
PFS: And you’ve been pretty prolific in those two years.
JV: Yeah, I’ve made six of my own shorts, and worked on a handful of other indie films with people that I’ve met through productions. I’ve done music videos, a couple of commercials, and a couple of feature films which were my favorites, because they’re just more relevant to what I’m trying to do.
PFS: What do you see as sort of your end goal? Do you want to write and direct your own features at some point?
JV: I’m really interested in television writing because my forte seems to be short films. I’ve leaned more towards comedy ever since college. When I was still taking classes, everything seemed to be a lot more heavy and dramatic, and then I kind of took a break from writing to make money. And then I went to Philly, and when I got back into writing for some reason it was all comedy. Which is awesome, because everything is very heavy these days as far as what’s going on in the world. I watch a lot of drama, but comedy just seems to be my go-to when I’m in a salty mood, or just need to be cheered up and comforted.
PFS: Where did the idea for The Binge come from? It’s definitely a relatable scenario.
JV: Yeah, it’s definitely relatable. TV has come so far since when I was growing up. You either had to watch it exactly when it was going to be on TV, or if you had a VHS you had to record it and watch it later and hope that nobody taped over it. And now, there’s almost no excuse to not be able to watch anything. When I was writing The Binge, I was binge-watching Game of Thrones. I just tore right through it. I don’t remember how long it took me. So The Binge was really just based off of my experiences not wanting to do anything other than that. And so many people go through the same thing.
PFS: What was shooting the film like?
JV: It was very hot that day. I think we shot it over Memorial Day Weekend. There just happened to be a heat wave, and we were inside shooting it in my house, and the air conditioners hadn’t been installed yet because it hadn’t been that hot yet that summer. So thankfully we managed to shoot it start-to-finish within five hours, tops. In between every take, we were trying to blow the fan and keep everybody comfortable. There were a couple of things we threw in there, like her mail piling up at the front door, which wasn’t in the original script. It kind of just came to us while we were filming, because the mail actually came through the door as we were filming.
PFS: That’s a really good touch.
JV: Yeah, it’s always good to throw something in there that wasn’t originally planned. It’s one of the fastest shorts we’ve ever done and this was the first script that wasn’t heavy on dialogue, so as far as my DP and I were pretty much on the same page for getting that sense of time constantly passing. Her appearance changes quite a bit, so you can tell she hasn’t really moved from that spot in front of the TV in quite a few days.
PFS: How have you found the experience of making films in Philadelphia?
JV: It’s been really rewarding. Thankfully, I’ve found a little film family in the past couple of years, because I don’t just work on my own scripts, I also help other people with their projects—whether their goal is writing, directing, filming, whatever. We’ve just kind of had this understanding that if we’re going to do it without any money and without a legit production house, then we’ve got to help each other to make something that we’re going to be proud of. It’s definitely been a bit of a struggle as far as how demanding it can get, but nowadays there are really no excuses. You have so much technology at your fingertips. I’m still learning a lot as far as editing, which I just started doing. We’ve all worn a lot of hats. There’s also been a huge change coming to Philadelphia. I’m kind of making it a point in most of my films to show that they’re being shot in Philadelphia, whether it’s the skyline or the dialogue or just the way that people dress and the way that they talk. I’m from New Jersey, but being in Philly, I’ve grown to love the city. Doing something indie is pretty important to me; to be like, “We did it in Philly, we did it on our own. So if you want to do it, just get out there and do it.”
The Binge will screen on Thursday, February 22 at the Prince Theater’s Black Box as part of Philly Film Showcase, an exhibition supporting new work by talented, up-and-coming local filmmakers.