Hi, again ghosts and ghouls! Today I’m back with an interview with the producer and writer of my favorite horror comedy of all time: Clarissa Jacobson of LUNCH LADIES. If you read my review of the short, which you can find HERE, it’s no secret that I absolutely adored it and everything about it. When I reviewed this film, I had no idea what I was in for, but when it was over, it was solidified as my favorite short film I’ve ever seen. LUNCH LADIES is the perfect mixture of campy horror and comedy, making it not only enjoyable to watch at the moment, but it makes it a story that sticks with you for a long time after it’s over. During my conversation with Clarissa, she gives us a little bit of insight into where LUNCH LADIES came from, as well as its inspiration.
Nightmarish Conjurings: What influenced you to start working in the film industry? You started out as an actor but I know you were interested in writing – where did you start and how did it progress?
Clarissa Jacobson: Well, it’s all interconnected and I was a theater person…I thought I was an actress, but what I loved doing, which I didn’t realize, I loved doing a lot of sketch characters. I was a serious actor, I went to drama school and I was in plays, but what I really loved was sketch characters, like creating these crazy characters, and from that, I realized what my passion was: it was writing. So, by a weird series of incidents, I had written this script. I had written it for me because I wanted to star in it, and it wasn’t bad, but I didn’t know what I was doing because I had never taken a writing class. Screenwriting is not like writing a book, it’s a very specific skill, so by a weird series of incidents I got a call from Film Independent in New York. That was many, many years ago and then I met Joe Bratcher, who was my writing teacher, and he said, “Let’s work that script for Film Independent”, but I had no intention of needing the acting industry.
When I started working in his class and writing, it was just like night and day. I felt my passion. I loved creating characters, I loved the class, I loved everything about it. So that’s how I started, and I’ve always been really interested in film, and I love theater too, but film…I don’t know. So, I took his class over the years and I just loved it. I wrote a lot of scripts there.
Then you get really close to selling your script but it’s really hard to get that first one done, and I was like “I just really need to see something of mine on the screen. I just need to see it come to fruition.” I had been saving, I had this really great job that allowed me to have the flexibility to do a short. It’s kind of strange how I decided on LUNCH LADIES because standard indie fairs don’t consider short films very important films, so I had been considering doing another film of mine, STELLA BY STARLIGHT, which is a coming of age story, but I couldn’t figure out how to cut it down.
One day I was meditating and it just came to me. “LUNCH LADIES… cut LUNCH LADIESdown into a short.” I was like “Okay, this is really weird…” the only intention I had was I wanted to see something I had written visualized on a screen. I had the money to do it, I had been saving and waiting a long time, and I wanted to prove to people that there was an audience for comedy-horror, because when I kept sending the script out I kept getting “Oh, there’s no market for this. Nobody likes comedy-horror, comedy-horror doesn’t sell.” I thought, “this is perfect, this will be a really good calling card to get the feature done,” and it was kind of a gradual thing. I never really thought I would make a film, but it was always kind of in the back of my head, but now the bug has totally bit and now I just want to make a feature and do even more projects.
Nightmarish Conjurings: For anyone that doesn’t already know about LUNCH LADIES, can you tell them a little bit about it because the concept is SO amazing!
CJ: Aw, thank you! Well, it’s a story about two burnt-out high school lunch ladies who do whatever it bloody takes on their quest to become Johnny Depp’s personal chef.
I remember when I came up with the idea. Donna Pieroni plays Seretta, we were friends, we were in a play a long time ago and I wrote LUNCH LADIES for her. I had a very specific idea. It was totally based on her. She’s not like the lead character, but she is in a lot of ways.
I pitched the idea to my teacher, and he was like, “Oh my god, this is the weirdest thing ever; it’s either going to be awesome or horrible.” It was really hard to write, but it was really fun. It took the longest of any of my scripts to finish; it took 18 months, and it kind of incorporates all of the stuff that I loved growing up; the surrealism of John Waters, Tim Burton, John Hughes…I’m a HUGE John Hughes fan, so I think of this as John Hughes on crack.
A big thing with all of my scripts, well not all of them, but a lot of them are about going for your dreams and really believing in yourself, which ended up being part of the story too. So that’s LUNCH LADIES – it’s this quirky, crazy ride that either you get, or don’t get.
Nightmarish Conjurings: LUNCH LADIES has gotten a lot of hype in the last few months, and with good reason has won a ton of awards at film festivals all over the world. I saw your post about the one in Germany and I believe in Japan as well?
CJ: Yeah, that was South Korea actually! That was so exciting. That’s another thing, I get so sick of people saying “Comedies don’t play well internationally.” You hear that all the time as a screenwriter. “Don’t write a comedy because comedy doesn’t translate.” That’s not true, comedy DOES translate, you know? I had wanted to get into an Asian festival so badly, and Bucheon Fantastic is one of the best in the world. When we got in I couldn’t believe that Korea was going to see LUNCH LADIES, it was so awesome! I just love that this film is going to all of these exotic places even with the premise being American lunch ladies. Mexico loves the film and they don’t even have lunch ladies. It’s been awesome and I’ve been really working my ass off trying to promote it. No place is too small for it to be seen – I’ll go to a bar and show the film.
Nightmarish Conjurings: You know what this means? The further around the world it gets, the closer we are to having Johnny Depp actually see it!
CJ: RIGHT?! Totally! I keep wondering, does he know? What are his thoughts? I know some people who know him and have offered to get the short to him, but no, I just want to chill out and let him find out about it. I hope that he would like it because, you know, it’s a love letter to him, but I would hope he would like it. I’m just kind of laying low waiting for him to find out about it.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Many of the awards you’ve received are for Best Comedy Short and Best Horror Short. When you wrote it, did you intend for it to be more horror or more comedy? Was the intention always for it to be a horror comedy?
CJ: Here’s what’s crazy about this: I just wrote it because I love horror comedies. I knew about horror comedy, but I’ve always seen [this short] as more of a comedy as I had never been in the horror community at all. When I finished it, I thought, “Yeah, this is more of a comedy, but I should probably enter it into some horror festivals.” Going and seeing this film at a festival with the horror community present. is a whole other experience. They get it on such a great level. They love it, they’re not offended by the blood or anything and everyone in the horror community is so freaking positive! You would think everyone in the horror community would be negative because they like horror movies but it’s the complete opposite. It’s like they have exorcised their demons and ended up being super awesome.
With that said, LUNCH LADIES is horror, but it opened this whole new world up to me. I wrote a dark, gothic horror tale about Elizabeth Bathory, which was the first script I wrote, and once I started writing dark I just never got out of it because it’s just really fun. What I think is funny is that horror and comedy are both just so close, genre-wise, because, I think, they’re both so over-the-top. I find a lot of horror funny, actually. Obviously, a lot of it is scary, but there’s something funny and over-the-top about it.
Nightmarish Conjurings: What was your favorite part of creating LUNCH LADIES? Writing it? Making the prop cast of your leg?
CJ: There’s so much! Well, I love writing, it’s really hard but it’s exciting when it’s right and you finish the script and have your finished product. That’s really exciting, but the whole process of making the short was really incredible for me because I learned so much, not just about filmmaking but about myself. Its kind of like my life is two parts: before LUNCH LADIES and after LUNCH LADIES. I changed as a person for the better and I learned a lot so I can’t even really say what my favorite thing was. I mean, there was a lot of stress and fear, but at the same time, everything was magical and it worked out the way it was supposed to, and the right people came into my life. I had the best cast and crew, so it was really joyful filming it and then seeing it come to fruition. It was really like a dream come true. You have all these people coming together to help make it happen. I couldn’t put my finger on one specific thing because as a whole, it was just awesome.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Most importantly, what’s your favorite Johnny Depp movie and why?
CJ: It has to be EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. I’ve loved EDWARD SCISSORHANDS since the day it came out. It’s just magical and beautiful and the character has such heart. I think that’s why all these people respond to LUNCH LADIES, even if you have a murderous character or a crazy, weird character, they still have a human characteristic that you can relate to. I feel like EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, that character is so three-dimensional and has so much heart, and he’s put in this weird, upside-down world, but I can just relate to his feelings so much. He created such an amazing character, and I love the surreal touches of it. The colors, all the houses look the same. I grew up in Minnesota, I love Minnesota, but I can totally relate. You walk down a block and everybody’s lawn looks the same. Every house looks the same.
Then there’s Vincent Price! Vincent Price is in it! How can anyone not love a movie with Vincent Price in it?! And [Edward] is an underdog. I love movies about underdogs, movies about persevering. I just think it’s a beautiful movie, I love it.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Is there anything you’re currently working on that you can tell us about? I can’t wait to see more from you!
CJ: Well, I got the feature option for LUNCH LADIES which is exciting so I’m hoping that happens and then I have my coming-of-age road-trip script that we’re trying to get done which will be amazing. I have my gothic horror about Bathory that Gisburg Bermudez, a really fantastic director that I met at a film fest in Mexico City, who optioned to direct BATHORY which is going to be amazing.
I also have a bunch of other scripts down the pipeline. I’m working on a really funny chick flick – like a Judd Apatow-type chick flick because I wanted to have something really mainstream. I’m working on that with my BFF Shayna Webber who was in the writing class with me.
I’m always just trying to work, work, work, work, and I’m just working my ass off on LUNCH LADIES because I want it to breathe and live so I’ve been promoting it and writing blogs.