The Long and the Short of It
It's an uphill battle securing a future for a short film
The life cycle of a short film is kind of like that of a cicada: They both spend most of their lives underground, in various stages of development, before emerging briefly to make some noise in the world. And then nobody ever really hears from them again.
That's a fate that Rafael Antonio Ruiz and Jennymarie Jemison, whose short film, "The Quiet Girl's Guide To Violence," had its world premiere last month at Fantastic Fest, hope to avoid. "Quiet Girl" is a passion project that the pair co-wrote, with Ruiz in the director's chair and Jemison in front of the camera as the titular quiet girl, and Ruiz and Jemison are optimistic about the possibilities for it to survive past the film's well-received Fantastic Fest debut.
Typically, the struggle of the short filmmaker is that of anyone producing art in a medium that doesn't really have a market: an outpouring of passion, followed by a lot of frustration. "Most people's festival life with their short is very difficult," Jemison acknowledges. "People are like, 'I made a short film!' And no one cares. And I was sort of prepared for that."
For "The Quiet Girl's Guide To Violence," though, the caring happened at least partly because of the film's pedigree. After its acceptance into Fantastic Fest, the film was solicited by genre festivals both foreign and domestic – including the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival in Belgium; Zinema Zombie Fest in Bogotá, Colombia; the Telluride Horror Show in Telluride, Colo.; and the Cucalorus Film Festival in Wilmington, N.C. "I really didn't expect us to get into Fantastic Fest. It's an international festival," Jemison says. "They're not really known for showing a lot of Austin productions. And it's my first movie. I didn't realize that us getting into Fantastic Fest meant that we would get into all of these festivals. I had no idea."
The movie was a good fit at Fantastic Fest. A black comedy, "Quiet Girl" tells the story of a bullied, maladroit teenager who grows into an equally awkward woman seeking revenge on those who've treated her poorly – both in the past and now – with the help of a baseball bat. "The violence got all the biggest laughs, which is great," Jemison says of the response at the festival. "That's exactly what I wanted, and I was worried that maybe it was just my weird sense of humor that found this so funny, and maybe no one else would. It was super scary to see it with an audience, but it was thrilling – they were all super into the exact same dark laugh."
"The Quiet Girl's Guide To Violence" screened twice at the festival, both times playing before a feature with similar themes called Besties, and the audiences were effusive in their response. Following both screenings, before Besties would play, hands shot up for a Q&A with Jemison and Ruiz. One of the hands that went up in the Q&A after the short's premiere screening belonged to someone who asked if they planned to expand the project to a web series, and Jemison and Ruiz began to realize that their short might enjoy a charmed life.
"I immediately wanted to pitch it as a series, rather than basking in it as an individual piece," explains Ruiz, whose previous Austin filmmaking credentials include Holy Hell. "So I was always thinking of getting people interested in seeing if we could continue it. That aspect has been really exciting, because the turnaround has been fast, in terms of people liking it. Getting people to connect the dots and say they want to see more has been great."
Right now, just weeks after their Fantastic Fest debut, Jemison and Ruiz are in the tenuous stages of developing "The Quiet Girl's Guide To Violence" in another incarnation, with the help of some producers out of Los Angeles, where Ruiz splits his time. Like most developments for film projects, it's risky to do too much chicken-counting until the deals are done. But at the very least, Ruiz and Jemison have already more than exceeded the depressingly typical short film life cycle of watching the project begin its journey into YouTube obscurity as soon as the first festival screening is over. And for Jemison, this experience includes both hoping for the film's future success and appreciating what it is right now.
"I don't take any of it for granted. From the get-go, this whole project just had some magic to it – not just the success that it's had so far, but the creation of it," she says. "It started with an episode of [local web series] Project: Rant! that Rafael and I did; I met my boyfriend on "Quiet Girl," who produced it; my little sister is in it; a lot of my friends have cameos; my friend Sarah has a cameo while she was nine-months pregnant, and that'll always be there; Henna Chou is playing the cello; all these things really endear it to me."
In a lot of ways, that's something that "The Quiet Girl's Guide To Violence" has in common with every short film, whether they play film festivals around the world or screen on the directors' laptops whenever they've got people over. It's possible that "Quiet Girl" will have a longer life than many, but the ultimate mark of its success is that it managed to come out from underground at all.