Jaclyn Bethany is a writer, director, and actor from Jackson. She is a graduate of Fordham University, the London Film School and holds an M.F.A. in Directing from the American Film Institute. Her work has won an Emmy, played festivals, and been distributed worldwide.
Where did you grow up and go to school?
When did you develop an interest in working in film?
I grew up doing theater, mainly at school as well as community theater. I did stuff at New Stage in Jackson. Theater was more accessible to me than film was, I think.
I have very specific memories of seeing cinema, like seeing “The Aviator” at the Northpark theater when I was 15 and being really impacted by it. “The Wizard of Oz” was, I guess, the first movie I fell in love with when I was about 3. So, I was definitely impacted by filmmaking and cinema, but I didn’t necessarily think it could be a career or understood that it could be a career.
When I was in college, I got turned on to directing in the theater, directing scene showcases and that sort of thing at school. And then I had done various study abroad programs in London and went to Australia where I worked at a film festival and just sort of began to understand in my early 20s that it was possible to pursue a career in film.
So, I got into film through theater and wanting to expand my own creative output as a writer. I wanted to write a screenplay for a short film. And I had a friend who had directed a couple of shorts in L.A., and I asked her to direct the short that I wrote, and we ended up making that in 2014.
So that was my first foray into filmmaking. I was writing, producing and I acted in it, but I wasn’t directing. I spent a year with that film. But, it opened up more opportunities for me since there was a lot of stuff filming in the southeast, at that time in Mississippi and Louisiana. I got some experience with some small day player roles and working on set. And then I was in an indie movie in New York. At that point I knew I really wanted to pursue a career in film.
When did you realize you could do this from Mississippi?
I think maybe since the pandemic. Like I said, between about eight and 10 years ago, there was sort of an abundance of stuff filming around here which opened up the door to me figuring out that I wanted to pursue it on a larger scale. So I went to L.A., and I’ve been fortunate enough to write and direct my own projects.
When I came back home in 2020, a lot of my stuff was in post-production and hadn’t come out yet. Some of it came out post-pandemic and then ended up getting into festivals when they started back up in 2021.
I was able to do all that while being based here in Mississippi, and it’s been very strange and I’m still figuring it out. You know, there is a plethora of amazing artists and writers from Mississippi who always ended up coming back here, used it as a base or had a house or whatever because I think it fulfilled them in some way to be outside of the intensity of a larger city.
Mississippi is inspirational to me in many ways, as well. I obviously identify as a Southern and Mississippi filmmaker, but honestly, I’m surprised I’m back here making it work.
What type of training have you had and where?
I grew up thinking that I wanted to do musical theater. I think because that was a big part of what was accessible to me, with the community aspect here. I was passionate about it, and I loved Broadway and going to Broadway shows.
So, I went to college for theater, and being in New York and surrounded by teachers that were actively working in the industry was influential to me. But I took a couple of years off and worked in fashion and did things that were unrelated to film and theater. But I think that helped me figure out what I really wanted to do.
I wanted to live in a different country, so I went to the London Film School and got a Master’s in screenwriting. While I was there, I had seen a couple of really well-done shorts at different film festivals that were from the American Film Institute. So, I decided to make a short in my little apartment in London one night and applied to the American Film Institute, and I got into their two-year MFA directing program. I lived in L.A. up until 2020 after graduating in 2018.
What was your very first film job?
I was an extra in “Get on Up,” so it may technically be that, but I think we did the short film I wrote shortly thereafter. It’s called “Olivia Martha Ilse.” It was inspired by Chekhov’s “Three Sisters,” but we set it in Mississippi in the 1930s.
What are your current and recent projects?
I’ve had two things come out during the pandemic which are available to watch. One is my first feature, “Indigo Valley,” which was filmed shortly after graduating AFI, and then this web series called “The Rehearsal” that won an Emmy (for supporting actress Tina Benko). They’re both available on digital platforms.
And then my second feature, “Highway One,” is finishing up its festival run. It premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in 2021, and it’s played about ten festivals since. It’s a dramedy set at a New Year’s Eve party.
My next feature, “The Falling World,” just premiered at Cinequest, which is online but will also be in person in August. It’s an ensemble LGBTQ mystery thriller about a girl who disappeared, and it follows a group of law students as they try to figure out what happened.
And then I’m in post-production on two features, one called “Before the World Set on Fire,” which was shot partially on Zoom during the pandemic. It’s been quite an undertaking. And another movie called “The Invisible Girl,” which is an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s short story. They’re all low budget features.
Then I’m in pre-production for a movie shooting in July, which is an ensemble dramedy called “Good Grief”, which I didn’t write. It’s shooting in L.A. And then another film that I co-wrote with my friend and collaborator Greta Bellamacina that’s shooting in the UK.
I also have another short film in the works that we want to do in New York that I wrote and will direct, and then another feature called “In Transit” scheduled to shoot in Maine in the next year or so. So, a lot of stuff in the pipeline.
And then I did “Deployed,” which is screening with “Highway One” at the Ecoshed on May 7. It’s a short film that I did with another Mississippi filmmaker and artist Sarah Beth Solop. It’s the first time Ecoshed is doing sort of a local filmmakers spotlight night, which is super exciting because it’s a really cool space.
What has been the most surprising thing about working in the film industry?
I don’t know if I had any kind of perception going in because I didn’t know so much and I’m constantly learning. I think there is somewhat of a perception, for people that are not artists or are not familiar with the film industry or any kind of creative field, that it’s glamorous. It is not.
Oftentimes I’m traveling a lot, and I’m going to events to promote my work. There’s a side of it that contains some sort of public persona or a public profile. But, you know, it’s mostly a lot of hard work and being on set for long hours.
It’s interesting, coming back to Mississippi and removed from being in L.A. or New York where everyone is constantly trying to pursue this. Here, people associate Hollywood or filmmaking with the Oscars or some sort of glamour. But that’s really the outcome for only the super successful one percent in this industry.
Who has been an influence on your career and why?
I’ve never met her, but I love Jane Campion. She is my favorite director. She’s from New Zealand. Her storytelling is very poetic and often seems personal to her, and she makes films that reflect where she’s from.
Has being from Mississippi helped you stand out in the industry?
I think it makes me unique. I don’t meet many people from here. Especially when I’m doing international co-productions and stuff like that, so I do think it has in a way.
If you were to make a film built around a specific location in Mississippi, where would that be and why?
I think the Delta is super fascinating. I think the socioeconomic clash in that area and the sort of physical desolation and beauty lends itself to storytelling. I don’t know if I have a specific location in mind, but I do think it has historical significance. That would be an interesting area of the state to explore, storytelling wise, for sure.
Do you have a favorite moment on set or with the project?
The short film “Deployed,” which we shot in April of 2021, was a three-day shoot. And we picked a very specific weekend to shoot and had brought several people in. We were about an hour outside of Jackson. There were a couple of things that went wrong.
That stands out to me, I think, having to problem-solve one of those kind of crazy, unexpected scenarios when you think everything’s going to go smoothly and it doesn’t. I don’t want to go into specific details.
I had thought that that shoot was going to be very easy because we had been successful in fundraising, and we had a great team, and everyone was there. And it ended up being one of the hardest things I’ve done in terms of a physical production. And I mean, something always goes wrong on a production. But I think it was interesting because being in a rural location, we didn’t have the immediate resources you’re used to having.
What might you say to someone to get them to bring a project to film in Mississippi?
Mississippi has so much beautiful landscape that can be so many different things. And I think that the people here are so kind and warm and excited to support telling stories. And also, just the cultural legacy of the state is very rich. And I think there’s a lot of local talent.
What do you do when you’re not working on film?
Everything I do is pretty creatively-fueled. I like to read and am always writing.
I think now though, I just am trying to catch up with friends on Zoom because having lived all over, keeping in touch during this time has been really important. And I’ve learned to cook during the pandemic! So that’s been sort of an interesting new experience for me that I’ve enjoyed.
What would your hopes for the film industry in this state to be?
What I was kind of running into with producing recently here is there seems to be a lot more opportunity than there is local crew. I think that maybe that is because, like me growing up here, I didn’t feel that working on a film set was attainable. But I think that people who are just starting out or have any interest in it should pursue these opportunities. And I also think that there is room for more film programs or film training at local universities to instill those skills at the college level. That would be my hope, to get the next generation involved in filmmaking and provide more resources and training to people who are interested.
What advice would you give to somebody looking to start in the business?
I would just say don’t be afraid because everybody has to start somewhere. If you want to be a director, or a writer, just start writing your own stuff and try to find like-minded people that want to make stuff with you. Or, if you want to become a gaffer or a DP or work in the sound department, try to get experience on set just as a P.A. or even as an actor, just as an extra to see how things work. Because I think that was really eye opening to me when I was beginning.
How can people contact you?
You can connect with me on my Instagram: @jaclyn_bethany. And if you want to get tickets to the screening at Ecoshed, you can get them here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/echoshed-film-night-tickets-301037720927.