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Filmmaker Spotlight: Interview with Director Julia Tasker of Skinny Jo

This week's NewFilmmakersLA Spotlight is on Director Julia Tasker of the film, Skinny Jo. Get to know Tasker's work, learn about her latest project, inspirations and catch a few tips for filmmakers just starting out.

Tell us a little bit about your project and how long you've been working on it. 

Skinny Jo tells the story of a nineteen-year-old girl in depression-era Mississippi, scrapping together the means to buy pot from a Choctaw medicine man named Tombi, to treat her mother’s epilepsy. Along the way, Jo runs into Billy, a flirtatious local boy, who reveals that he has started running hooch for moonshiners in the area. With Tombi’s help, Jo is able to devise a plan that can help her family and possibly get Billy out of his current line of work.

We started Skinny Jo in the spring of 2011, as our thesis at the American Film Institute. The initial team consisted of producer Carlen Palau and myself, but later grew to include cinematographer King J. Greenspon and editor Lindsay Seyffert. Carlen and I knocked around a couple of ideas and started really fleshing some of them out. However, the night before our scripts were due, I went to Carlen with two short scripts in the works. She told me to go home and finish Skinny Jo, an idea that was born as a nod to William Faulkner while addressing the issue of medicinal marijuana. A year later in April of 2012, we shot for six days at the edges of LA. Then the film was put through a rigorous battery of screenings at AFI and one day of re-shoots. The team worked together through post-production, all the way through our final sound pass, ensuring we had completed our vision for “Skinny Jo” all on the same page.

Is there anyone you'd like to thank for helping out with this film?

A huge thanks goes out to the copious family and friends who donated to Skinny Jo. But even more giving than that were the immediate family members who stuck by our sides and continued encouraging us. My dad, John Tasker, offered me hours of counsel and guidance based on his experiences in the business world and the school of good old common sense. Carlen’s parents, Gail Polivy and Manual Palau flew out from Maryland and were right there with us in the trenches. Rounding out our incredible crew: Production Designer Mary Pingree and her art department team, Elisa Solomon (hair and make-up), script supervisor Christian Villarreal, as well as a dedicated camera department and grip and electric crew.

How does it feel to have your film part of the NewFilmmakers Screening at the AT&T Center?

In a word, ecstatic! The reception to this film has been wonderful and it feels great that people are truly entertained by our Skinny Jo. We are completely honored to be a part of New Filmmakers.

What inspires you?

Outspoken women, men with accents and undeniable amounts of sexy appeal, and the occasional rowdy southern drag queen. I’m really referring to my native south and the characters I spent my teen years gallivanting with. My friends, I’m inspired by them. My dad, family history.

Who are your influences and who do you admire?

In my life, I admire my grandfather, Jack Tasker, an artist, businessman and all around friendly person. The man had friends everywhere. I want to be like that.  Influences start with Charlie Chaplin and go all the way to the Notorious B.I.G., in between you’ll find Jim Henson, Edward Hopper, and directors Mary Lambert, Bernardo Bertolucci, Nick Roeg, and Martin Scorsese. I am taken with the work ethic of Karl Lagerfeld and from where he pulls his inspiration. He surrounds himself with it.

What lessons have you learned from the industry so far?

The number of people involved with a particular shot increases the amount of time it takes to pull the shot off. A locked-off camera and one actor, not a big deal; add an ensemble cast in a period-costume drama, a couple of cameras, a dolly, and a prosthetic or two and be prepared to let the artists who work behind the scenes do what they need to make it all work. I love that. It kills the assistant director of course, but it’s nice when the other departments get to show their mettle.

If you could collaborate with anybody, who would it be?

This may seem a bit from left of field, but I have always been a fan of Vincent D’Onofrio. His style and the characters he chooses to play are endlessly fascinating. It has just always been a hope of mine.

What is the toughest experience you've ever had to overcome?

I can’t point to one specific experience, however my mother and my cousin have suffered with a mental illness. My cousin lost his life because of it. It’s terrible for everyone involved, and it’s a journey that never stops. Some days, or weeks, are better than others, but you stay on your guard constantly. It has really instilled in me a strong sense of empathy and it definitely colors my work.

What is the best piece of advice someone has given to you?

Don’t take things personally, whether it’s good or bad. It’s just a reflection of a moment the other person is having.

What advice would you give to new filmmakers starting out in the industry?

Introduce to yourself to everyone. Especially when working on set. It breaks the ice, you never know who you will meet, and you make a lasting impression.

Where can we expect to see you next?

Skinny Jo is currently making the rounds at festivals across the country. We should be hearing back from some more festivals soon, so check our Facebook for updates!

Let our readers know where they can find more information about you and your projects. 

Please check out SkinnyJoFilm on Facebok and to keep up with where we are going. Also you can follow me on Twitter at TheJuliaTasker.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Just that I can’t wait to see the other films in the showcase!

For more information, visit:

About the Author

Formerly an editor at Demand Media, writer at Citysearch, The Examiner and proofreader at The Los Angeles Daily News, Christy Buena decided to start Disarray Magazine because she missed writing what she wanted. From hiring writers, to contacting publicists and making assignments, Christy is responsible for the editorial strategy of Disarray Magazine. Get to know the team of talented contributors.
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