Interview with Clarissa Jacobson (Writer of Lunch Ladies)

Hello, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Firstly, I’d like to ask what inspired you to make this film?

Thank you for the interview!   I had saved my money over the years and wanted to make a proof-of-concept short with it.   The hope of a proof-of-concept is that a producer sees the short, sees the potential and wants to make the feature from it.  This happened with the movie, Whiplash.

Originally I had thought to do a screenplay I wrote called Stella By Starlight.  But, when I would think about Stella, I couldn’t figure out how I could cut that film down to a short.  I kept wracking my brain about it, then one day, meditating, the inspiration came to me to make Lunch Ladies.

I remember it was a shock, I knew it was crazy because Lunch Ladies is not your typical short indie film fare.    Yet, it was so clear, how it popped in my head, that I knew I had to do it.

When making the film was it important to ensure that it stood out in terms of the type of comedy that is used, rather than following some of the tropes usually associated with comedy films?

That’s an interesting question.  I never thought about that, how the comedy would stand out.

I come from an acting background, and comedy is best when it is serious, that is you don’t TRY to be funny or different or stand out, it’s all about what the character wants.

You put your character in a situation that is ridiculous or absurd and have them attempt to overcome the situation just like real people do.  The Lunch Ladies don’t think anything they are doing is funny.  The situation is funny and it becomes funnier because they are serious about it.  I like to say Comedy is serious business.   I had a very specific idea of how their world is, how they see the world, and I put them in that world – all the comedy came from the creation of the character – if their life is over the top, it’s because they as people are over the top.    It’s all character.

The film is both deeply funny but also has a strong social message in it – would you say that it was difficult to balance these two elements?

I didn’t think about that either, everything came from the character.  These women live in a difficult world, one that doesn’t appreciate them, one where they are stuck, one where they want to excel but can’t.  So I threw obstacles at them – and that brought out the social message – bullying, how the education system in our country does not appreciate the workers, and how dreams get us through the day.  You are a goner if you write to theme, social message, comedy, drama or anything like that.  It can be in the back of your head, and you can bring it out more after you are done, but ultimately all of it comes from the creation of character.

What was the casting process for the film like?

I was in a play with Donna Pieroni many years ago when I thought I was an actress – it took me a long time to realize I was a writer.  I wrote lead for Donna, so there was no one else I had in mind to play it.  Mary came from the director, JM Logan.  He knew her from another movie he had done – The Garage Sale – and said she would be perfect.  We put them together and they were!   I never held auditions for anyone else.

Daisy Kershaw, who played the cheerleader was a suggestion from Shayna Weber who was a producer on the film and is in my writing class.  She knew Daisy since she was a little kid and thought she would be perfect.  Daisy read and she was.   I never auditioned anyone but Daisy.  Chris Fickley who plays the principal was in my writing class and all the faculty in the film came from my writing class.  They are the most talented people I know.  Lastly the students and dancers came from Back Stage.  It was very important that everyone cast were real actors.  So they sent their resumes in and I cast them.  The dancers – Joe Bratcher my mentor and the choreographer/producer on the short, helped me with – we had auditions and cast from that.

What was the writing process for the film like?

Hard!  But, every screenplay is hard.  It’s like birthing a baby.  Lots of rewrites and patience and pulling it apart and putting it back together.  I am in an incredible screenwriting class for 14 years now – Twin Bridges Writing Salon.  Joe Bratcher runs it with his wife Judy Farrell.   It was in that class that I wrote the Lunch Ladies feature first – it took 18 months.   The short took another 5.  You can’t rush it – it takes time.   I worked both those scripts in class until they squeaked.

What has the reception to the film been like?

It has been amazing!  It is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but has been the most joyful experience of my life.   The film has so many fans and wonderful people supporting it.  Every once in awhile we get a hater or someone who doesn’t get it, but you don’t listen to those voices.  Every piece of art has its naysayers.  You listen to the positive and enjoy the ride.

How do you feel about the success of the film, going on to be nominated for Oscar qualifying festivals?

It’s a magical dream and I don’t take one minute of this awesome ride for granted.  I’ve worked really, really hard for a long time and I am enjoying every minute of its success.

If the film gets nominated for an Oscar that would be even more incredible!   I never underestimate the Lunch Ladies.  If it gets nominated it will be one more amazing thing the crazy Lunch Ladies pulled off.

What other projects have you got in the pipeline for the future?

The feature Lunch Ladies was just optioned by Bev Nero Productions and Stella By Starlight which was optioned by Bev with Norman Stephens.  Stella is a sweet coming of age indie road trip film.

I further have a script about Elizabeth Bathory that Venezuelan Director Gisberg Bermudez, who did the film El Silbón: Orígenes has optioned.  I have a couple other scripts out there, Spook Stalkers! And Burnt Well Rest Stop which are being shopped as well.   Lastly I’m working on a funny chick script with Shayna Weber.

With thanks to Clarissa Jacobson. 

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