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Luxurious Magazine Interview With Award-Winning Filmmaker Jeannie Donohoe

18 Nov Luxurious Magazine Interview With Award-Winning Filmmaker Jeannie Donohoe

Jeannie Donohoe is an award-winning filmmaker based in Los Angeles. She has written and directed several short films, including GAME. Jeannie was selected from over 4,600 applicants to write and direct GAME for Lexus Short Films, produced by the Weinstein Company.

Luxurious Magazine caught up with Jeannie Donohoe at the 25th Raindance Film Festival to talk about her love of filmmaking, travel destinations, favourite cuisines, film festivals and why Lexus Short Films is so important to the next generation of filmmakers.

LM: When did you know you wanted to become a filmmaker and where did your journey begin?
JD: I’ve always been drawn to creative pursuits, but it took me a while to find my way toward filmmaking.  I studied art in college, where I did a lot of photography, printmaking, architecture, etc. After graduating, I became a middle school teacher through Teach For America, a program that trains and places recent college grads in under-resourced communities. I taught in the Bronx for several years and then worked for a school reform non-profit.  My experiences working with teenagers and navigating my own young adult life in New York City made me want to tell stories and return to creative, personal work.  Around this time, I was also starting to understand the incredible power of cinema better.  I was watching a lot of films (contemporary, classic, indie, foreign) and recognizing the combination of so many elements I love: photography, storytelling, performance, music, design, locations and sense of place. I decided to leave my career in education and I went to film school.

LM: Where did you study?
JD: I got my BA at Dartmouth College and my MFA in film directing at Columbia University. I spent a semester at La fémis, the French national film school, where I made a short film in French, shot on 16mm.  Between college and film school, I also earned a Master’s degree in education at Lehman College (City University of New York).

LM: What was your first film project?
JD: Technically, the first film I ever made was a handful of shots around Boston, filmed on 16mm and edited in-camera.  There wasn’t much story to it, but it was a start to thinking about place and time.  My short film Public (loosely inspired by my middle school teaching experience) was the first film I sent out into the world through festivals and then PBS.

LM: What is your personal definition of luxury?
JD: I think of luxury as the ability to do your own thing and follow your passions, whenever and wherever you want.  For me, that’s meant a lot of travel and unique experiences, like making a movie on a sheep farm in Ireland, dogsledding in Alaska, hiking in national parks, running marathons, working at a screenwriting lab in Mexico, and helping friends make their movies around the world.

LM: What luxurious item could you not live without?
JD: I’m not much of a materialist, but I do use my laptop constantly.  A couple of years ago, my computer was stolen, and I was devastated—so much work was lost.  A bunch of my amazing friends got together and bought me a very high-powered MacBook Pro.  So it’s my tool for writing and editing, but it’s also a reminder of that incredible gesture.

LM: You have written and directed several short films such as Lambing Season and Public. When you are not writing or directing, what are your favourite pastimes? What do you do to relax?
JD: My number one favourite pastime is travel.  I’m a bit of a nomad at heart.  I think it’s the most exciting way to learn about the world, and I love getting to know new environments, cultures, and people.  To relax, I like to exercise and do yoga, and I love to read, listen to music, and watch movies and good TV.

LM: Your career to date has allowed you to travel to some wonderful destinations around the world.  What was your first luxury travel experience and where did it take you?
JD: Yes, I’ve been really fortunate to get to travel a lot as a filmmaker, including going to many film festivals this year for GAME. I’ve also travelled for other film projects to France, Ireland, England, Mexico, India, Canada and Brazil.  In terms of my first luxury travel experience, I don’t know if this counts as a “luxury” in the traditional sense, but I think of it that way, and it was very formative and enriching: I’ve always loved studying foreign languages, and starting in high school and later in college, I did exchange programs in France, Germany and Spain.  As a teenager, those first immersive experiences really opened my mind to the wider world, and my wanderlust was irreversibly sparked.

LM: What’s next on your luxury travel bucket list?
JD: Japan. Istanbul. Cuba. Copenhagen. All of Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Australia. New Zealand. South Africa. Costa Rica. Greece. St. Petersburg. Portugal. Chile. Galapagos Islands.

LM: Congratulations on winning the Lexus Short Films with your exciting and powerful film titled GAME. Tell our Luxurious Magazine readers a little more about GAME and what was your inspiration behind writing and directing this story?

JD: Thank you — It’s been a wild ride!  GAME is a short film I wrote and directed last summer, and it’s currently playing in film festivals around the world.  The Weinstein Company produced it, and it was sponsored by Lexus.  GAME is the story of a new kid in town who tries out for the high school boys basketball team.  There are a few twists involved, so if you don’t want a spoiler, stop here!

The main character, AJ Green, is actually a girl who poses as a boy in order to try out for the boys’ varsity team.  My inspiration for telling this story is a lifetime of experiencing and observing very different opportunities and expectations for girls vs. boys.

I played a lot of sports growing up and have had jobs and creative work in which gender equality has been a big issue. I really wanted to talk about this topic, but to do it within the action and plot of a sports film, which is a genre that I think has a lot of potential to address bigger concerns.  I love basketball, and I enjoyed the challenge of writing and directing my first sports movie on the court.

LM: You were able to call upon an outstanding cast for GAME which included strong performances from Rick Fox, Jamie McShane and relatively new talent, Nicole Williams.  How did you bring this refreshing collective together and what were some of the challenges you faced in doing so?
JD: We really had a dream cast on GAME.  I’m forever grateful to all of the actors and background performers, and to our casting directors and producers for helping assemble that team.  Early on, when writing the script, I was really hoping to get an NBA player for the Coach role, both to lend an authenticity to the part and also to draw attention to the message of the film.  Rick Fox was incredible to work with – so generous, insightful, and a real team player.

The players (and all of us!) all looked up to him so much too, so he was amazing to have as a Coach in the story and on set.  I was stunned when Jamie McShane came on board as the Assistant Coach.  Bloodline is one of my favourite shows and I love his character in it.  Same with Charles Parnell (Pariah), as AJ’s father.  Nicole was a real discovery by our casting director… It was such a tough casting call for that character: someone who’s excellent at basketball, a great actor, could pass as a boy, and looks high school age.  She was all of that and more, and this was her first acting role.  And Tye White (People Vs. OJ Simpson), Dominique Columbus (Ray Donovan), Michael Purdie (basketball fans might recognize from Dunk King), and all the boys on the team were full of energy and multiple talents.

It was a #1 priority for me to cast real basketball players in all the roles, which was another challenge, both for the lead roles and dozens of background performers who had to be able to play well.  We actually auditioned for a couple of days in a casting studio, and then did callbacks on a basketball court.  I didn’t want to cheat shots or use body doubles or limit what I could show.  So they’re all really good players, and the basketball, while pre-choreographed, is all real.

LM: GAME is a story well told and it has a number of great messages interwoven throughout the film too. Tell our Luxurious Magazine readers why they should watch this film?
JD: Thanks again!  I write the types of stories I want to see, and I think the world could use more positive and inspiring stories about social issues.  GAME is also an action-packed sports movie, so if you like basketball, you’ll enjoy the action.  If you don’t, hopefully, you’ll enjoy the story’s message and the characters.  And maybe you’ll like both!

LM: Food served on film sets can vary from project to project. What are some of your favourite luxury gastronomy experiences and cuisines enjoyed away from the set canteen?
JD: I have to admit, I’m a pretty simple eater – fresh, healthy ingredients.  I get more adventurous when I travel.  One of the most memorable bites I’ve had was some lamb from a farm in Ireland where the lambs grazed on wild rosemary.  I also love Mexican, Mediterranean, and Indian cuisines, probably partly as a result of my adventures.

LM: What advice, hints, tips or recommendations can you give aspiring filmmakers starting out on their career path?
JD: One realization I had after film school (where you’re constantly making films) is that there are often big gaps between directing opportunities, so you have to find ways to develop and strengthen the muscles, in addition to writing.

Watching, reading, taking classes, collaborating with peers, people-watching, daydreaming, learning new things… I spend a lot of my time cultivating my resources and forging the path toward the next story I’ll tell through film.  I also think it’s important to surround yourself with smart, creative artists, and to give at least as much as you receive from that community.

LM: The Lexus Short Films was launched in 2013 with the aim of supporting and nurturing the next generation of filmmakers. How important has this collaboration process been for you?
JD: Making GAME with The Weinstein Company through Lexus Short Films has been an amazing opportunity and a huge career leap for me.  Over 150 people were involved in making this movie, so it was an enormous team of artists, technicians, and people behind-the-scenes.

That was a LOT of communication and collaboration to make sure the vision was unified!  I loved the experience of working at this level — it was intense, rewarding, and I’m ready for more.  GAME is a better film for all the contributions the cast and crew made to the creative process.  I learned a lot at each step, and I feel fortunate and grateful to have forged these professional relationships.

LM: GAME is being well received at a number of film festivals around the world. Do you have any other thrilling developments and future projects that you are working on?
JD: Yes!  It’s been amazing to screen GAME in over 60 festivals so far, and I’ve been attending as many as I can.  I love seeing the film with audiences and talking with people afterwards.  Many people come up to me to share their stories about sports, gender struggles, bullying, being the underdog, coaching, taking risks… I repeatedly hear from audiences that they want to see more from GAME, which is great because I’m working on a feature-length script related to this story right now.

I want to make that as my first feature.  I also want to direct a script I wrote that’s a family drama set in Ireland, related to my previous short film, Lambing Season.

LM: Describe your storytelling in one word.
JD: Heart.


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