Like many residents of Los Angeles, Jen Prince moved to the city from somewhere else. Hailing from Texas, she ventured to Los Angeles to attend film school and has been carving out a niche in the LA indie film scene ever since.
As an award-winning producer, director, and editor, Jen’s love of music, movies, and theatre shine throughout her various projects. Currently, she is in post-production on her feature film directorial debut, Miles Underwater, which was the recipient of the Duplass Brothers Seed & Spark Production Grant. In addition, Jen is a vocal advocate for women in film, and teaches a wide array of courses for NYFA’s Producing Department, is the mother of four, and brings her love of guacamole with her from South Texas.
New York Film Academy (NYFA): Hailing from Texas, you say that your love of music, theater, and film began there. Could you discuss some of your earliest influences?
Jen Prince (JP): There was always music in my home. My parents both play instruments and encouraged me to play from a young age. I played in the city’s youth orchestra and participated in my high school theatre program, which was top notch and a pretty singular experience. It was through that study that I became passionate about working with actors and directing, and decided to pursue it in college. With very few examples of female directors I could find in the video store, I definitely took notice and was inspired early on by Jodie Foster, particularly because of her attention to the actor’s process. As I started to explore older films, I was also taken with Mike Nichols and have continued to find inspiration from his films and approach to directing. Sandra Cisneros isn’t a filmmaker, but I learned a lot about creating a sense of place and point of view from her writing.
NYFA: Your experience in film is extensive, as a writer, producer, director, and post- production supervisor. How did you find yourself wearing so many different hats in the entertainment industry? If you could pick just one, which would it be?
JP: While I was in school I tried my hand at everything because I felt that to be the best director and producer I could be I needed facility with the language and needs of each department. After a few years of post-production gigs in reality television, I found myself itching to make films again and was inspired by my colleague’s scripts. That led to my first feature as a producer and we successfully pulled off a micro-budget road movie.
I have continued to follow a low-budget model to create work that I want to see made and I love working as a creative producer in the indie world. I have always felt most at home as a director and am currently in post on my directorial feature debut Miles Underwater. All my different jobs have allowed me to make more work in less time than if I had waited for someone’s permission (and financing) to grant me the job. My willingness to wear all the hats has helped me greenlight my projects.
NYFA: As a vocal advocate for women and mothers in film, could you discuss some of the challenges they face in this business and what can be done to overcome these obstacles?
JP: The statistics are real. Women, and particularly women of color, face well-established implicit and explicit bias when it comes to hiring women in film and, of course, in terms of equal pay.
The solution is to hire more women in EVERY position. Seek them out on your projects at every level. Look at your crew list and mandate diverse hires. If you are in the position to be a key in a department, request a new list of potential hires if what you are handed is all men or only has one person of color. The question is specifically about women in film, but of course we need better representation and intersectionality across all marginalized groups. Even on a student film—you are a gatekeeper to opportunity. I have produced four features and they have all had female DPs. Be the change you want to see.
I did not understand the challenge I faced when I graduated from film school. I was completely naive to the fact that just because I had passed the gatekeeper of acceptance to a top film school that in no way challenged the statistical almost certainty that I would not be given opportunities. We have to find our voice and press onward by demanding our successes be celebrated—by celebrating each other, by being patrons of each other’s work, by calling out bias, by HIRING OTHER WOMEN EVERY CHANCE WE GET. Stop waiting in line—this line is not for us.
NYFA: Any projects you would like to highlight?
JP: My two most recent completed indie features are available to stream online and rely almost entirely on word of mouth to be shared, so I’d love everyone to click on them. Quality Problems is a comedy I’m very proud to have made and it is the perfect antidote to cynicism. It’s a lovely film about a family (a real family) dealing with a health crisis while keeping their sense of humor and relationships intact. It was a joyful production and that shows up on screen. And Then There Was Eve is a drama featuring some incredible performances, cinematography, and music, a good example of what you can do with a little if you maximize resources in the right way.
NYFA: What are your favorite classes to teach at NYFA and why?
JP: One of my favorite classes is Directing for Producers. This subject teaches directing fundamentals through the lens of the producer—how do we support our directors, how do we ask the right questions to get their best work, how do we identify the biggest challenges and assets on each project? Most of these students have no experience working with actors and are fearful of that aspect of directing when we do our casting session, but by the end of the class they feel empowered to give direction and have a new respect for their process. I absolutely love the moment in class where they discover techniques for working with actors effectively and see it work in their films.
NYFA: What advice do you have for students looking to get into the entertainment industry?
JP: Figure out what is unique about your own worldview and find your confidence in your own voice, tastes, and personal mandates for your work. Take a look at the industry and look for the people doing work that aligns with you and these values. Try to keep getting closer to these circles. Network constantly. That means talk to people, but mostly LISTEN to people and ask thoughtful questions. Follow up on everything. Mean what you say. Support your peers work. Give more than you take. Show up as your authentic, kind self, every day everywhere (and work on being kind, we can all be kinder). Position yourself as close to the job you want to be doing as you can. Don’t stop writing, directing, producing, shooting, even if you have a day job. Don’t let anyone tell you what is impossible for you.
NYFA: Any advice on how to make killer guacamole?
JP: Yes. Diced tomatoes are key. Also, it always tastes better sharing with friends!