Jeanne Veillette Bowerman profiles writer-director-actor Jocelyn Towne — daughter to Roger and niece to Robert — who relied on a community of artists and a crowdfunding campaign to complete her first feature, I Am I.
I’m convinced multi-hyphenates will take over the universe. They’re like aliens working in overdrive. Whatever they’re drinking, I want some.
A few months back, I introduced Script readers to Allegra Huston, daughter of the legendary John Huston. Like Allegra, Jocelyn was born into a family of talented multi-hyphenates, but still had to carve her own path.
Jocelyn’s impressive gene pool consists of her father, Roger Towne, screenwriter of The Natural and The Recruit, and her uncle, Robert Towne, who wrote such films as Chinatown and Mission Impossible. The talent continued into the following generation with her brother, Nick Towne, as a writer and aspiring director, as well as her cousin, accomplished actor Katherine Towne. Perhaps growing up with great talent is part of what attracted her to her husband, actor Simon Helberg (Howard on CBS’s hit, The Big Bang Theory).
You’d think with all these connections, Jocelyn could waltz into any studio and get funding. The reality is, this is a fickle business. Despite a screenwriting-rich bloodline, she took an unexpected side road. Little did Jocelyn know, she was about to become a Kickstarter goddess.
I Am I is Jocelyn’s first feature script, taking six years to write and polish. Of course, being an actor, a role for herself was part of her goal. She tried to raise the funds the traditional way, but since she was a first-time director, investors resisted. That’s when her producers, Jennifer Dubin and Cora Olson, mentioned crowdfunding.
Being inquisitive and thorough, Jocelyn didn’t jump on the Kickstarter site and take off, she researched the process, watching almost every campaign posted, and attended a seminar on crowdfunding before launching her campaign.
Knowledge is power.
Once confident in the possibilities, she dived in with one of the very best campaigns I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen many. The video was phenomenal, and had I found it prior to the campaign’s successful end, I would have opened my wallet as well.
She had me at hello.
The Kickstarter goal for I Am I was $100,000 – 10 times the average campaign. That alone took guts, but she surrounded herself with the talent she needed to get the job done. That was evident in the campaign video.
To put a project you’re so intimately connected to up for public viewing and support would be horrifying for some artists, but Jocelyn soon got over her fears.
“At first I was nervous to put myself out there in such a big way. But the huge rally of support I got from people has lifted my spirits a lot.”
When I asked if people were surprised that, with all of her industry connections, it took crowdfunding to get the money she needed, she humbly responded, “No one ever questioned why I was doing it. Every artist is an individual and we all have to travel our own road to get to where we need to go. We have to do what we feel is the right thing to do.”
She not only did the right thing, she also did it the right way.
Being the writer, lead actress, and director, Jocelyn had her hands full, but she was smart and surrounded herself with amazing talent, both behind and in front of the camera.
To be sure, she was directing her own acting with objectivity, she researched her part with an acting coach and videotaped herself to get a sense of what she was doing.
“It was challenging while we were shooting. I had to trust people on the ground who were watching. As lead actor, (my husband) Simon was on set almost every day. Before each shot, I’d tell him what I was looking for in the scene. He was my eyes.”
That’s a power couple.
Jocelyn was open to feedback from her crew as well. “I wanted to hear people’s ideas. I wasn’t going to pretend to know I had the best solution to each question. When you’re working with a crew that small on such a low budget, every single person is so vital.”
I asked what she learned about her writing during the process of looking at the script from a director’s eyes.
“My original screenplay was purposely light on exposition, not explaining the past of a lot of characters. The reader notes I got during the writing process wanted more exposition, but I didn’t want to tell it that way. What was shocking was that the exposition I did put in the script wasn’t even needed when we shot it. Surprisingly, there’s been even more trimming in editing.”
This experience has changed her writing goals.
“Trying to tell the story visually without dialogue is fascinating, and putting discovery into visual moments, powerful. We need very little dialogue because the audience is smarter than you think. When they see one visual, they will remember. You might need to write that extra dialogue into the script when you’re trying to sell it because it helps the reader, but there’s a good chance you’re not going to need it when you’re filming it.”
Most screenwriters don’t set out to go the indie route, but every once in a while one writer jumps the fence into the unrestrained world. Jocelyn offers this advice for those brave souls:
“Be strategic on the scope of the story you’re writing. I know we all want to follow our passions, but find the passion in your heart to write something that doesn’t require a $20-million budget. Get to know actors. Join the theatre community and workshop your script, then do it again with different actors. Hearing several actors reading the same part is fascinating. Then when you go to make it, you’ll have a pool of great talent who you love and who care about your work. It’s about building a community, not only with actors but also with other writers. The key is to have a great group of artists surrounding you.”
By the time this piece hits your computer screens, I Am I will have been viewed by its first focus group in Los Angeles. I can imagine the joy on Jocelyn’s face as Simon clutches her hand. This dynamic duo will take over the big screen; of that, I am confident.
I Am I. Jocelyn Towne is all that and more.
Look for I Am I to hit film festivals in the coming months.