Article By: Maria ShamkalianPAFIA Vice-Chair
Jillian Bullock is the CEO of Jillian Bullock Enterprises, LLC, a film production company based in PA. As an award winning filmmaker, she wears the hats of actor, writer, director, producer, and fight choreographer. Her film “A Sense of Purpose: Fighting For Our Lives,” will be available on VOD in April 2020. Jillian recently completed a short film entitled “Touch With Your Eyes,” which is on the film festival circuit. In May 2020, she will go into production on a feature film called “A Cup Full of Crazy.” Since 2007, Jillian has been a screenwriting judge for the Set in Philadelphia Screenwriting Contest, sponsored by the Greater Philadelphia Film Office.
What is your most recent success and how did you accomplish it?
That would be completing a feature film, “A Sense of Purpose: Fighting For Our Lives,” which deals with veterans, PTSD and military sexual assault. It took me four years to complete the movie. I had to do a couple of years of extensive research, interviewing veterans who had been sexually assaulted or raped while serving in the military, in order to make sure the movie rang true. The movie is inspired by true events. I had an amazing journey with the film, and had a wonderful cast, especially with lead actors, Tamara Woods and John J. Quinlan, my producers, Delayne Powe and Lamont Fountain, and Executive Producer Joe Hunter, who all worked tirelessly along side of me to support my vision to bring to light this on-going problem in the Armed Forces. “A Sense of Purpose: Fighting For Our Lives,” won several awards at film festivals, including Validate Yourself Film Festival, where the movie won for best film and John Quinlan won for best actor, and Ockotber Film Festival. The grand prize for winning that festival was a five day theater run at Stuart Cinema and Café in Brooklyn, NY. The movie also earned great reviews from many veterans and veterans’ organizations.
How did you get started in the film industry?
When I was a student at La Salle University studying Communications, part of the curriculum was film and screenwriting courses. After I graduated, I got an internship on the set of Spike Lee’s movie, “Malcolm X.” From there I worked on other people’s projects to learn the craft. Eventually, I branched out and started working on my own projects.
Why do you choose to work in PA and what do you love the most about working in Pennsylvania?
When I was growing up my stepfather, who is white, was a member of the Philadelphia Italian Mafia during the 60’s and 70’s. He was also a movie geek and every Sunday he’d take me to see a movie. He was the one who instilled in me that one day I would become a filmmaker and that I should base all my movies in Philly. Now, I have decided to continue making movies here because of the rich culture the city has, the help that I get from other filmmakers and support from the Greater Philadelphia Film Office.
What are some of your favorite shooting locations in Pennsylvania?
Fairmount Park is my favorite spot. I’m always filming out there because it’s such a big space. I can find a spot near water, or another section I can be in the woods, another section climbing hills. The landscape looks totally different depending on where I go.
What do you love the most about your job?As a writer, director, producer, I get to craft a story and see those words come to life on the screen. I get to share my vision with cast and crew, trying to make something special; not only entertaining, but empowering. I like to get people talking, share their thoughts, emotions, etc. Nothing can do that better than movies and TV shows.
What are some of the challenges of being a female filmmaker?What is your most memorable, most awkward, or funniest on set story?
An awkward memory on the set of “A Sense of Purpose: Fighting For Our Lives,” the lead actress, Tamara Woods, was seven months pregnant when we had to shoot a rape scene she was in. Well, of course I couldn’t let Tamara do that scene, so I stepped into the role as her body double. It was weird because John Quinlan, who portrayed Captain Nixon, the rapist in the movie, had to act like he was assaulting me, along with three other actors, who portrayed Army Sergeants - Nick Mangino, Ben Yon and David Bazemore - who were in the room cheering Nixon on. It was a closed set because John was completely naked and I had to be partly naked to make the scene look realistic. Very strange for me directing that scene while being “violated.” But everybody was professional, not only to me as the director, but as the actress in a sensitive role.
I really haven’t had any challenges because I am firm in the direction of my movies, my vision, how I want to run things on the set, what I will and will not tolerate. I have no problem firing anyone who isn’t serious about doing his or her job. We can have fun on set, but we still have a job to do. Filmmaking is a business first, especially when I have other peoples’ money invested in the movie.
What is your advice for other women in film?
Stand with confidence in who you are and what you represent. Do not sacrifice your story, your vision for anything or anybody. Don’t believe the haters or naysayers. Know your craft as a creative and as a businesswoman and how the film industry works. Try to get a mentor, if you can. Surround yourself with others who are hungry and are willing to work hard to bring the project to completion. Give back and help other filmmakers, too. Keep learning, taking courses, reading books, and getting addition training. When the going gets tough, and it will, take time for self-care, quality sleep, eating healthy, and exercise.
Do you have any upcoming Pennsylvania-based projects?
I am in pre-production on a feature film entitled “A Cup Full of Crazy,” a thriller. Filming begins in May 2020. I have an amazing cast featuring actors such as Christopher Mann, Brian A. Wilson, Karen Waller-Martin, Nakia Dillard, Celeste Allen, Tomike Ogugua, Manny Metris, John Torres, Jacnith Headlam, Adam Ratcliffe, and many others. Later, in 2020 I will shoot a pilot for a TV series called “Not On My Watch.” It’s been my goal for a long time to write and direct a series and base it in PA. The short film I recently directed, “Touch With Your Eyes,” which starred John Antorino, Misty Godfrey, John Quinlan and myself, I’m currently writing the feature length script to produce and direct that film in 2021. This will be the first movie I’ll do that will take place not only in PA, but in other states as well.
PAFIA has been working hard on increasing the film tax credit in Pennsylvania and bringing more film work to our local crew and talent, but we must all unite to really make a difference. What can you tell our elected officials about the importance of PA film industry and the difference it has made in your life?
I’d say with the hundreds of TV and film projects, independent and Hollywood, that are produced each year in PA, it is imperative to continue to increase the film tax credit in order to support more projects being filmed in this great state. My next movie will be my first union production and that film tax credit will be very important for me to secure funding for the project.
What is your advice for the aspiring actors and filmmakers? Some steps to take? Some mistakes to avoid?
For actors, I’d say study your craft. Watch all kinds of movies to study. Especially study an actor you want to be like, e.g. Al Pacino, Denzel Washington, Viola Davis. The same with filmmakers. There is no reason why a novice actor or filmmaker can’t learn the ropes without going to film school. Take workshops, classes, look at videos on YouTube, read scripts. Do everything you can to master your craft. Also, don’t wait for another person (agent, manager, director) to come to you with a gig. Get together with a small group of filmmakers and create something so you can have a reel. Don’t get discourage. Don’t quit. This is a tough business, so you have to want success badly even on days you feel like crap from all the rejections. Too many people are impatient. It takes time to reach the top. But when you make it, you’ll look back and say it was all worth it.
What are some good strategies to find more gigs?
As an independent filmmaker, you can direct and produce your own projects. You can work on other people’s films. You can also be a work-for-hire filmmaker. Get a good website done, business cards, network, go to film festivals, workshops, events, and let people know you’re available. Put you information on social media. Same goes for actors. You have to be grinding every single day. Also, have a great website and an acting reel. Join IMDB pro. Please have a photo connected to your page if you want to be taken seriously. Many directors, producers and casting agents use IMDB to search for actors.
What are some of the most valuable lessons that you have learned about this industry and wish you knew earlier?
You can’t wait for people to hand you gigs. Sometimes, you have to create your own projects, especially if you’re a filmmaker. Also, be kind to people, fair and respectful. Work hard, show up on time, actors know your lines, crew know your position and do it well. Above all else, I’ve learned as a director and want to share this wisdom with actors and crew - don’t have an attitude, be a diva, have an ego, gossip, be hard to get along with, show up late. Whether you are working on deferment or getting paid, be professional. We are all trying to achieve the same thing – having a great project to be proud of.
What is your favorite film shot in Pennsylvania?
There are many, but I’d have to say the Rocky and Creed movies. I got to interview Sly Stallone years ago when I was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. To see the pride people in Philadelphia have when it comes to the legacy of the character Rocky and now seeing it being carried on in the Creed movies, it touches me deeply, very emotional. Those movies show what it’s like to have a dream, overcoming obstacles, fighting back after being knocked down, believing in self, pushing the naysayers back, the sacrifices one makes, the blood, sweat and tears one endures, and training hard to be the best in one’s craft in order to get the WIN. Think about it, these are the same things, the same issues, and the same desires that go into being a successful filmmaker or an actor.
What is your favorite project that you worked on?
Years ago, I wrote, directed and produced a film called “Spirit.” It involved professional wrestling. My lead actors, and I, got to train with professional wrestlers at the WXW wrestling school. Many of the students were preparing to enter the WWE, like Dave Bautista, who trained at this camp. Now, retired from wrestling, he’s a big time action star. The WXW training school was run by Afa Anoa’i and his family. The males are the uncles and cousins of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and they all were in the WWE through the years. Staying at Afa’s house in Allentown, PA on weekends and training at the camp, I learned so much about the Samoan culture and I got to meet many of the WWE superstars. I also learned that while the WWE matches are predetermined, they are not fake. I saw many of the wrestlers get cut, broken bones, other injuries. In fact, I endured broken ribs as a result of landing wrong on the mat one time. Still, it was so much fun training and filming.
What is your biggest aspiration in this industry?
To be the first African-American woman of color to own an in-house film production studio in Philadelphia. In-house meaning all books, TV shows, webseries, and movies will be produced by my team. No outside projects. And to do this without having investors so I can own the studio 100 percent. My second biggest aspiration is to create a screenwriting contest called First Rate Vision that will cater to female writers only. In this industry, women, especially women of color, just don’t get enough writing opportunities. I plan to change that.
What would be the best way for our local PA cast and crew to submit to your upcoming projects?
They can email Delayne Powe, Producer, at – firstname.lastname@example.org
Interested in sharing your story? Email email@example.com to join ourFeatured PA Filmmaker series!
Pennsylvania Film Industry Association (PAFIA)461 Cochran Road, Box 246Pittsburgh, PA 15228(717) 833-4561 firstname.lastname@example.org