“We took somebody’s bumper off.” Talking about The Immortal Jellyfish with the film’s creators

I spoke with producer and actress Holly Ellis and director and writer Dusty Bias about their new film The Immortal Jellyfish.

Holly worked on our Sticky series for years, as an actress, writer, and director, and I’m a big fan of everything she does, which is why when I heard that she and longtime collaborator Dusty Bias have a new film just waiting for some final funds, I wanted to hear all about it.

The team is running an indie gogo campaign to help fund post production until December 26, and I think we’ll all be rewarded when we get to see this film. Here’s a sneak peak.

Denny (Whitmer Thomas) sells his art roadside.

Libby

This is the second film you’ve worked on together, what’s your collaborative process like? Between script, and producing, and directing, performing, writing, how does it all start?

Dusty

It’s wrong to say I’ve only worked with Holly twice, because everything I’ve ever written she’s had a say in. She reads it, gives me notes, takes it very seriously. Sometimes I feel like at the end of the process maybe Holly wrote the script. So everything I’ve ever worked on Holly has read, and given me input, even though those movies haven’t been produced at this point, I feel like we’ve collaborated alot, this is only the second project that’s come to fruition.

It begins after there’s a draft of a screenplay I’ve written. And then Holly comes on board, and gives notes, and we work our way through the whole process. Getting the script written, finding out how to get that movie produced, and then the production part of it, and then now we’re working on post, and that’s the leader and I follow her lead.

Libby

So your first film was shot in the winter in North Dakota, and everyone got frostbite.

Holly

Yes.

Dusty

It was a pretty miserable shoot. It was the coldest winter in 96 years or something like that. But I think it made the movie better. All rules were thrown out in terms of how you make a movie. We couldn’t follow a schedule, whatever the weather dictated and what we could get done, we did. It was like, we won’t die today, so maybe we should shoot a scene outside.

Libby

Do you specifically write films for yourselves to produce?

Dusty

These two movies were written within the basis of a budget that we thought we could come up with.

Libby

I love that aspect of it. The form dictating to a certain extent how it’s going to look and what it’s going to be about in a production sense. That’s how we landed on Sticky, it was all about figuring out what we could do that would fit the space and resources that we had.

Libby

The Invisible Jellyfish was shot in Alabama, what was the difference in shooting conditions?

Holly

My first thought is, not that different, because The Immortal Jellyfish had its own constraints. We definitely had weather screw us over a couple of times, but we were able to get footage anyway. It also had the same challenges of not enough time and not enough money, but coming out of it I felt drastically different that I did on other features I’ve produced. I left the set on the last day and not felt like we compromised our film in any of the compromises that we had to make. There were a lot of times when we were like this isn’t going to work, we have to find some other way to get this scene shot in the time and budget that we have, like it sucks right now, but it will be fine.

And each time we made one of those decisions it was like, oh, that was the exact right decision, it’s gonna be great. What made it such a positive experience were the people, which is the most obvious answer, but each one of our crew members never complained, which they had every right to. They were working for no money, very long hours, and in most cases there was one person doing the job of 10. No one ever dragged, or slacked, or phoned it in on any day. I always say this about Dusty, too, which I that he’s such an incredible leader. There’s something about him as the director which makes everyone feel like they want to do their best. It’s not just that he’s smart and has a clear vision, and gets great performances out of the camera and the performers, but also that he has a way of making people laugh even when they’re miserable.

Dusty

I have luck on my side sometimes. The difficult thing about weather, there’s some stuff that takes place in the water. And I knew going in that it was a really bad decision to write anything that takes place in the water, especially on our budget. Because I tried to make a short film one time, called Life Boat, and before I knew about Hitchcock’s movie, and it was a disaster. I lost my confidence as a director and a filmmaker, and like, you can’t do anything on the water. Everything takes so much longer. And I tried to write stuff that was super simple in the water, like maybe we could do this, and it was still difficult. Like even, okay, there’s an actor in a boat 30 feet from shore. How’re we gonna get him onto the shore without getting wet?

Libby

I saw that! You guys carried him, right?

Dusty

It was just ridiculous.

Holly

Our grip is a mixed martial artist.

Libby

You guys have now shot in both of your home states. Was that intentional or did it just work out that way?

Holly

Well, Dusty you wrote them to take place in those two places. (to Dusty) Yeah, why did you want to make a movie that takes place in North Dakota?

Dusty

I felt like we could really take advantage of our resources there. And the snowy plains would create a very unique environment.

Libby

And in Immortal Jellyfish you even shot some of it in your house.

Dusty

Well we lost our location the night before, and so Holly and I had to spend the first half of the day in a U-Haul, in the rain, I mean pouring rain, not a drizzle.

Holly

Oh my God.

Dusty

We went to every thrift store and we bought all the stuff it took to decorate a living room, a bedroom, a dining room. Armoire. I did wreck the U-Haul in the first parking lot. She was longer than I thought she’d be.

Holly

We took somebody’s bumper off.

Dusty

We took the big boy.

Libby

This is a question from my son: where do you come up with the names for your characters, and where do you draw inspiration for them?

Dusty

A lot of the names for the characters come from another producing partner of ours, his name’s Ted Speaker, and he really seems to enjoy naming characters. In general I don’t really give a crap.

Holly

No one in Prairie Love had a name. That’s so funny, I didn’t know Ted named them.

Dusty

Ted enjoys, y’know, coming up with names. The lead character’s name is Denny, played by Whitmer Thomas, and Denny is a name that Ted came up with. So I like to spread the wealth a little bit if I don’t care that much about it.

Libby

Give people some creative part of it.

Dusty

Yeah. I like characters that are—I say it too many times, but flawed. There’s never a true antagonist or protagonist in anything that I probably write. It’s just that fine line between right and wrong. I think it is a fine line. I’m inspired by those type of characters, that walk to the beat of their own drum. And you don’t really know if they’re really that good or bad, but if they’re interesting and you root for them, then I think we’re on the right path.

Libby

There’s so many characters these days when I watch movies and I don’t really root for any of them. It’s frustrating to watch a film when there’s nobody you’re interested in. But I find that’s a common theme, that the characters are always doing the worst possible thing without any humor about it.

Dusty

That’s basically the kind of things I write.

Libby

I didn’t find that, either in Prairie Love or the trailer for The Immortal Jellyfish. I was interested in the characters.

Dusty

Well if they’re interesting then it’s okay.

Holly

And their intentions, whether we think they’re doing the right thing or not, they believe they’re doing the right thing.

Dusty

The Immortal Jellyfish is really about two lonely people that find something in common to care about. And then they get way in over their head. But I think we all can relate to that. We all know what’s it like to be lonely.

Libby

Yeah that’s always true. Or maybe it’s increasingly true. I didn’t know that was possible.

Dusty

Increasingly true to just start getting lonelier and lonelier?

Libby

Yeah. Maybe that’s just me.

Dusty

This can be therapy.

Libby

Last question. With so many different ways to put out content, what keeps drawing you to full length film as an expressive medium?

Dusty

For me, first I fell in love with movies at a really young age. It was just a way to escape what was happening in my life. I really enjoy the moment where you’re like literally sucked into a story and you believe every bit of it. So like even when I’m directing something and something happens in a scene that even for a slight moment takes me out of the falsehood of the story, I want to do it over. Like a character’s hat flies off when it’s not supposed to. Some people call that a happy accident, for me I don’t want anything to take me away from the falsehood of reality. If you can watch a movie and believe everything you just saw, and were emotional, and you laughed, then it’s doing everything that I’m trying to do.

Libby

That’s the sweet spot.

Check out the indie gogo here, and you can watch Holly and Dusty’s first film, Prairie Love, on Amazon Prime.

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