Jessica Cameron is a success story. It was not that long ago that the beautiful up-and-coming filmmaker/scream queen was toiling away at a desk job she hated, wishing for something more.
Cameron chased that dream and is now an award-winning filmmaker. She recently sat down with Dread Central to talk about her newest projects.
So how, exactly, did she go from desk jockey to movie star? “Fluke,” Cameron said.
She explained, “I went to school for fashion design. I’ve always been drawn to creative careers. I got hired out of my university by a major company, and for the first three months I thought everything was going fine. Then comes my first review and they have a big problem. I was shocked to learn that their problem was with my speech. They thought I spoke too fast. So they required me to take classes, and when I couldn’t find any actual speech classes, my boss (my immediate boss thought the whole thing was a joke, but it came from my boss’ boss) said, ‘You know what, take an acting class and then just talk slow around the stupid people.’ And that’s exactly what I did and it worked.”
Cameron recalled, “I was really lucky because I was having an early 20’s panic attack moment where I was like, ‘Oh shit, what do I do? I’ve spent four years and all this money studying something I hate…with a passion. Something that’s not what it’s like in school when you get in the real world. It’s a boring office job. I’m a designer monkey. It’s not like I was doing anything creative. I can’t leave because I’m tied to a contract for years. What do I do?’ Luckily for me, I turned to acting. I found something that was creative and challenging that I liked to do.”
And from there Cameron was hooked. “I found it was only a month or two that I was just getting through my day job to get to my acting class. So after a couple years of taking acting classes, my coaches said, ‘There are no more classes to take in the state of Ohio. You’re going to have to just start working.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to work. This is fun! I don’t care if I make money. I do the other thing for money.’ So they said there was nothing more they could teach me, I just had to go out and do it. So I just went out and did it. I started booking left and right and one thing led to another and I started doing everything I could on evenings and weekends. Productions would shoot around me, and if I couldn’t make it, they would adjust my schedule so I could do everything on evenings and weekends. I left my job after a couple years on February 2, 2010, and I’ve been pursuing acting full-time ever since.”
Since that time Cameron has landed all kinds of roles. She also recently released her directorial debut, Truth or Dare, an extreme film that’s been getting extreme reactions. “People ask me all the time if I thought it was going to be an award-winning film and I thought absolutely not,” Cameron said. “When you make a graphic, vicious, violent torture film that’s very fucked up, you don’t know if you’re going to be booed off the stage or kicked out of the theater or if people are going to run up and hug you. Luckily for me it was the latter.”
Cameron continued on the film. “Truth or Dare was a lot of fun,” she said. “It was a lot of hard work. As an actor, I’m not accustomed to working that hard. It’s a lot harder to go behind the camera and direct everyone in front of the camera and deal with people behind the scenes. But it was definitely worth it. Getting to assemble a cast and crew I adore was definitely a great benefit.”
And when Truth or Dare hit the festival circuit, the response was overwhelmingly positive. “I was really lucky; we started doing our festival tour last year and Truth or Dare immediately got a huge fan following, which is really fantastic,” Cameron said. “We won some awards, which is kind of crazy. Five years ago, if you would have told me I was going to be the director of an award-winning film, I would have laughed and said you’re wrong. So it’s kind of funny to think now that’s true. What’s meant to be will always be. I never thought… when I was sitting in that room listening to my boss tell me how my speech was a problem, it never occurred to me that I was having a life-changing moment at that point, but I was.”
So what does Cameron feel is the biggest difference between acting in front of the camera and directing behind it? “I just found out that directing is a lot more work overall,” Cameron said. “There are a lot more pieces to the puzzle. I think not just as a director, but as a producer behind the camera, you’re juggling more balls in the air versus as an actor when people let you focus on acting because it’s something that requires your physical being as well as your mental being. It’s just different, juggling the behind-the-scenes stuff. It’s not one thing or another that makes it different, just everything as a whole. It meant that I was sleeping less than I normally do and the work is a lot harder than as an actor. But it’s definitely worthwhile. I’m not afraid of hard work; it was something I didn’t mind in any way, shape or form. Although I have to laugh when people say, ‘Are you going to do it again?’ I’m always like, ‘Why the hell would anyone want to? It’s way more fun to be an actor!'”
And as for acting, there is another hurdle Cameron faces. “The most challenging part for me is showing emotion to the world,” Cameron said. “I’m not a very emotional person in my real life. I’m literally the last person to cry, no matter how big the tragedy. I can literally count the people on two hands who have seen me cry. It’s not part of Jessica so letting go requires a lot of effort on my part.”
Jessica Cameron is part of an up-and-coming group of female powerhouses who are taking the horror world by storm. Cameron, Jen and Sylvia Soska, Tristan Risk, Devanny Pinn. All these gorgeous and talented women are making a name for themselves in the genre and all have something in common. “It’s exciting for me, the person who’s involved with it,” Cameron said, “but when I step beck and objectively look at the state of horror today and where it’s going, it’s exciting because we’re getting the unique concepts from people who just love the genre. Tristan Risk, myself, the Soska Sisters, Devanny Pinn…what we are first and foremost are fans. It’s great that we’re working, it’s great that we’re in these movies, but we started as fans. We fucking love horror films. I think that’s what’s going to make the difference. We worship the genre. Especially for those of us who are also involved in producing and directing and behind the scenes, it’s not like we’re just hired on for these films. We’re actually taking content by the balls and forcing it in a certain direction, usually because we feel like it’s something that’s not being said or seen or done, which I think is exciting. I think we’re going to get a lot of fresh, original concepts, which is crucial.”
Cameron discussed how the quality of the film is much more important to her than any deadline or bottom line. “We’re not trying to make the movie with the least amount of time, least amount of effort, least amount of money,” Cameron said. “We’re just trying to make the best film we can. Anything else doesn’t matter. Love it, hate it…Truth or Dare does get a very strong reaction from audiences. If you hate it, that’s fine. If you vomit, that’s fine. As long as I made you feel something, that’s all I want. I think the worst thing a filmmaker can do is make a movie that people leave and forget about in five minutes. I’d rather you hate it than forget it.”
Switching gears and emoting as the fan she is, Cameron briefly spoke on one of her largest qualms with some horror actors. “I’ve met so many people that I was excited to meet and was upset by meeting them,” Cameron said. “Because it’s a job for them, it’s a means to an end. It’s a paycheck. It’s ‘I do this because I have to, not because I love it. ‘ And it’s always very disheartening as a fan to meet someone whose work you’ve enjoyed and they just don’t give a fuck. It’s heartbreaking. It’s like, if you don’t like it, don’t do it. No one is forcing you to act in a horror movie. And there are a ton of people for whom it would be life-changing for them to have that opportunity. So give it to them and go do whatever it is that you want to do.”
Moving forward, Cameron’s latest acting project, Save Yourself, was just completed. “Save Yourself, we just wrapped up in Canada,” Cameron said. “I star in it and I produced it as well. We shot it in the Toronto area. It’s with a wonderful Canadian director named Ryan M. Andrews whose other films are doing quite well. Tristan Risk from American Mary stars in it, too, which is great. It’s the first time I’ve actually worked with Risky, even though we’ve known each other and been friends forever. So we’re together onscreen, which is really cool. She’s crazy in the best of ways.”
Cameron continued, “It’s a really fun script,” Cameron said. “It’s about a group of female filmmakers who are traveling down to LA for a film festival and on the way there they meet a mad scientist. Again, being able to get behind the camera a little bit and make these movies happen…When I first heard about this film from Ryan, I said, ‘We have to make this movie. I haven’t seen a good mad scientist film in I don’t know how long. We need to be the ones to make it.’ It’s a great script. It has some great characters. It’s a lot of fun. And really, bring the fun back to horror. It’s not serious; we kill people. It’s fun!
And now that Save Yourself is wrapped, Cameron is embarking on a large project for the next film she’s helming.“The next movie I’m directing is Mania,” Cameron said. “John Higgins, who co-wrote Truth or Dare, wrote this amazing script about this wonderful lesbian couple where everything goes horribly awry when the one gal, her mania and her bi-polar act up to a severe degree and it causes her to accidentally kill a man and in a dark move, trying to maintain sanity, they go on the run a little bit to bring her back from the brink of mental instability only to realize that it’s too late and there’s nothing that can be done. It’s a fun little script, kind of like Thelma and Louise meet Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. It’s gonna be really sexy and really fun.”
And as if filming one movie isn’t enough, Cameron spoke about the filming plan for Mania. “We’re going to be filming cross-country,” Cameron said. “We’re going to be shooting two movies back-to-back. We’re going to shoot The Exiled by Brandon Slagle on the top loop and my film on the bottom loop. And we’re going to film the whole adventure as Kill the PA, a documentary. So many people with Truth or Dare, anyone in the filmmaking industry, one of the first questions they ask me when they find out that I did this movie and the reception it’s getting and what I had to work with, is, ‘How’d you do it? How is this physically possible?’ I’m much more of a ‘show me’ kinda gal so we’re going to show you how we make a really strong low-budget film with minimal cast, minimal crew and a lot of passion. I’m really excited. And we’re going to do it while we travel cross-country in an RV.”
Cameron closed with one more comment on Mania. “I love the story,” Cameron said. “The story is fantastic, but I’m not the right person to be in it so I’m producing and directing. But it’s so great for Devanny (Pinn) and Heather (Dorff). They’re going to be so great, they’re really going to get to shine and it’s such a fun, fucked up story. It’s everything I love…sexy women, blood, gore, guts, unnecessary violence.”
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