Jen West in the Bubble


Jen West in the Bubble

Photography by Beau Gustafson and George Smyly

A woman is stirred from slumber by sounds of the earth shifting.  She discovers a large bubble which she instinctively knows should never pop. Her curious interactions with the bubble leads to an unexpected journey full of beauty and terror.

That’s the vision behind Jen West’s latest short film, titled as you might suspect, Bubble.

“Film combines so many different creative mediums—from writing to art direction to photography to acting. It crosses almost everything you can imagine. To me it is like the ultimate challenge. If you can make a film, I think you can do anything you want on the creative side.”

That creative side has been calling out to Jen West for as long as she can remember. But it crystallized in film when she was about 22.

“I grew up not knowing what independent film was. I started working for an ad company that had an interest in film, and from that time on I knew that is what I wanted to do someday,” she says.

“My goal is always to outdo my last project. I really love the collaborative nature of film. Building a team is a big part of my reward. I do a lot of research and know who is the best and try very hard to have those people work on my project. A film is only as good as the people you are working with. Combining ideas from different sources and individuals is a very organic process that I really really enjoy. I always learn from the people around me, and I try to surround myself with people who are more experienced.

The People Behind Bubble

Jen West—Writer and Director

This is Jen’s third short film to write and direct. She made Piece of Cake in 2006 and co–wrote and co–directed Crush in 2011 which went on to be in 12 film festivals around the country. She plans to write and direct her first feature film in 2014 based on a novel she is currently working on. Jen’s passionate about telling stories revolving around interesting female characters.

James Martin—Producer

James is a creative force in both Atlanta and Birmingham, expressing his love for things by joining and creating unique initiatives in various roles. His prior experiences in film have lent themselves well to James taking on the role as producer in Bubble. James was also the mastermind behind the Four X Productions fundraiser which made this film production possible.

Chris Hilleke—Cinematographer

Chris has a vast array of filmmaking abilities ranging from live action to documentary, both behind the camera and as a director. He most recently shot the HBO documentary Gideon’s Army which premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

Jim Roberson—Art Director and Special Effects

Jim has the ability to visualize and execute almost any creative idea through production techniques or post special effects. He also works behind the camera and directs. Some of his major clients are Toyota, HBO and The University of Alabama.

Joe Walker—Editor

Joe is a VFX artist and editor by day, and is an avid independent filmmaker by night. Besides editing, Joe has a skilled eye for camera work and overall pacing, which is a major component of storytelling. He has lensed and edited several music videos, short films, and commercials.

Ted Speaker—Original Score

Ted is an immensely talented composer and overall film visionary. He is a multiple time Sundance Film Festival alum with credits as producer and musical score. He also serves as a juror at several film festivals across the country.

Jill Marlar—Actress

Jill has graced the Birmingham community with her talents both on camera and on the stage. Not many actors have the ability to be effective both in film and theatre since the techniques are so different, but Jill shows an impressive range and understanding of both mediums. She takes on any character with full spirit and passion.

Olivia Pope—Actress

Bubble is Olivia’s film debut. She studies drama under Jill Marlar, our other character, at her school. Olivia has an on-camera presence that is far beyond her years, as well as a deep love for acting.

Other Team Members: Lauren Howard, executive producer; Whitney Reed, executive producer; Kelly Steffey, set designer; Lindsay Garrett, makeup artist; Lily Li, costume designer; Lauren Sharp, hair styling; Michael Praytor, assistant camera; Dan Gavin, web developer. Others: Paul Mckee, Gregory Jenkins, George Smyly, Veronique Vanblaere, Justin Bing, Sean Kirby, Mongo, Jennifer Strickland, Nathan Saturday, Dan Ellis, Daniel Ellis, Mandy Shunnarah, Clay Shannon, Zackery Moore.

How to Fund a Film

During the month of March James Martin, Dan Gavin and Jen West launched an interactive fundraising website very unique in nature. The team felt that it was becoming harder and harder to stand out from the crowdsourcing messaging already in existence, so they brainstormed ideas to provide a new giving experience for potential contributors. They came up with a voting system based on donations to three different short stories, with one ultimately being produced into a film. As a call to action the team also came up with various incentitves that were attractive on a local and national level. Giveaways varied from food experiences, to pieces of art and theme park tickets. They were successful in reaching their financial goal during their 17 day campaign, with the story Bubble receiving a little over 50 percent of the total votes.

How to Make  a Film

Once Bubble was selected as the film winner, pre-production went into immediate full swing since the shoot was only weeks away. Jen and James worked closely with Chris Hilleke (cinematographer), Jim Roberson (Art Director) and Kelly Steffey (Set Decorator) to plan shot lists and artistic execution.  Production would be tight with only two days of filming, so a lot would need to be planned out before the first take would roll.

Production for Bubble took place on April 14th and 15th at a farm in Trussville, Alabama, since it was able to accommodate all of the scene locations: a lake, bedroom, woods and bathroom. A set was even constructed in a spare room of the house complete with fake walls and a mock window.  The night before production the crew went out to the farm to prelight and organize equipment in specific assigned places in order to save time the following day.

The first day of production was a long one, 18 hours from start to finish. The first half of the day was spent shooting with Jill Marlar in interior scenes, and the second half of the day was with Olivia Pope in various woods settings. The weather was dreary and cold for most of the day, but fortunately didn’t cause a scheduling problem for the outside scenes throughout the evening and night.

Since all best laid plans are meant to be broken, the official shooting schedule did have to be modified as the day progressed due to unforeseen circumstances. Because of this, the agenda for Monday was almost completely changed in the wee hours of Sunday morning. By making these adjustments more time was able to be given to pivotal shots in the movie that needed more care with lighting and set design.

The story is always the first priority in any film, which is very true with Bubble, but careful consideration had to be given to the technical and art aspects of the film. Many special effects are planned which have to be shot precisely in production in order to work correctly later. Art Director Jim Roberson had a carefully laid out plan on how to capture images so he could do his job better in post. Cinematographer Chris Hilleke choreographed camera movements and sequences to best capture the spirit of what was to come with these imaginary aspects. Actresses Jill and Olivia often had to interact with objects that would later exist through CGI.

Production is now a wrap with only a few pick-up shots on the horizon in early May. Post production will take around four months to edit, design and place special effects, and compose the original score. Bubble will be ready for viewer’s to enjoy in late summer. The hope is that it will premiere at the Sidewalk Film Festival pending acceptance in late August, then will tour nationally and internationally at film festivals through summer of 2014.

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