Ft. Worth filmmaker Jennifer Brown Thomas is among the rare authors directing and writing her own novel’s film adaptation. The result, Blissful Lies, focuses on a group of five female best friends relationships with men and each other.
Texas isn’t really the center of the filmmaking universe, although Austin is kind of now catching up. When you grew up in Ft. Worth, what made you like movies? Beyond, of course, the typical teen girl running around with a crush on her favorite movie star, what made you see them as something with deeper meaning? Because still, in our century, women in cinema are a rarity?
You’re so right about women being a rarity in this industry. It’s incredible when you look at the numbers. Of all the members in the Directors Guild of America, only about 7% of them are women. It blows my mind. I’ve always enjoyed and admired Nancy Meyers’ style of film Directing. She’s phenomenal. I loved “It’s Complicated.” I was always the girl who could do anything I set my mind to, and it’s always served me well. I’m an only child and my parents always encouraged me to be well rounded, but they let me make my own choices and made sure to tell me daily that I could do anything I wanted in this life… Looking back, I’m so thankful for that. I have never been one to do something half-hearted—I’m definitely an all-in kind of girl. I’ve always been a writer, always thought it would be fun to make a movie and write a book… and it turns out, I was right.
When I decided to make Blissful Lies, I had no script, no experience, no friends in the industry… nothing. But, as a result of several world changing family tragedies, including two miscarriages—I decided I needed a project. A creative outlet that might get my mind off all the sadness around me and help me to focus on moving forward. I wrote the screenplay for Blissful Lies in about 3 weeks, raised the funding, booked a cast and hired Leann Hunley from Los Angeles, to play the lead. It was March when I took the project to my mom, who is now my Texas manager, and said—This is what I want to do. She said, “Okay. Let’s go.” Together, with a huge supportive team and my incredible friends and family, we created a film that has been picked up for worldwide distribution. And while Texas isn’t exactly the headquarters for filmmaking—I think it was kind of brilliant to film here. Because it’s not something people see a lot of, everyone was THRILLED to be a part of the production. They donated their houses for locations, food for craft services, gas cards for talent driving back and forth—you name it, they wanted to participate in any way possible. It made our lives easier and we had a phenomenal time doing it.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Paul Brandt: “Don’t tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon.” I love that. And as it’s turned out, Blissful Lies was just the first project of many. Last summer, I formed a company called LBT (Limberis Brown Thomas) with the lead wardrobe stylist from the film. We’re in pre-production for our first fragrance and early next year, we’ll launch our first clothing line, Kinsley Kouture. We’re very excited about 2013.
Adapting a novel to film is usually a task given to someone else. Did you feel like a control freak while doing this yourself, either positively or negatively…or both?
Great question. Adapting a novel to a screenplay is incredibly difficult as writer. It’s your baby. You don’t want to cut anything—but for the sake of time, you don’t have a choice. With Blissful Lies I did the movie first. It wasn’t ever my plan to release a novel. But, after months of my manager pushing me to release Bliss as a novel—I agreed. So. Movie first, then book. However, with Vindictive Grounds (my upcoming novel) I wrote the manuscript first and then the screenplay. The mediums of writing are so different, it has forced me to grow and change as a writer—which I think has been beneficial in the long run. To answer your question, yes, I feel like a giant control freak. But I’m working on it… Haha. Maybe someday I won’t be responsible for the screenplay’s too, but until then—it’s all me.
Your book description begins, “Things are often not what they seem in the decadent lifestyles of the rich and famous.” Why do you think people like reading about well to do people? Why do you think people suspect being upper class, or maybe new rich tacky marrying into money, is really much better than the lives they live? Or is it all part of a soap opera/dramatic fantasy to begin with?
I think, and this is just my opinion based on years of experience, but I think the average person loves to read about the privileged because they want to see them struggle. They want to know their faults and shortcomings in other aspects of their lives, other than financially. Becoming part of the small margin of powerful elites for an average person is a relatively unattainable goal. So readers might enjoy watching one well off character completely betray another, and vice versa.
I think the grass is ALWAYS greener on the other side. People who don’t have a lot of money tend to acquaint it with happiness. While the truth is that while people with money aren’t struggling to pay their bills, they have different sets of issues that make demands on their time and sanity just like the rest of the world. The truth is, these types of fantasy stories just tend to make good television/books. So yes, I would say it’s a part of a soap opera/dramatic fantasy world that people enjoy reading about.
As for the film, it says, “The film also explores a typical double standard women are often faced with in society; the idea is it is acceptable for a man to do things women cannot.” How did you accurately portray this idea in the movie?
This particular statement refers to the relationship between Dr. Addison Hamilton and her much younger lover, Jackson Kensington. The idea being, that it’s more acceptable in society for a man to date a much younger woman, but when the roles are reversed—it tends to be frowned upon. Leann Hunley and Zach Rose did phenomenal jobs in accurately representing the characters on screen.
What made you like writing? Are you someone who was also very into reading English class materials, writing, digging into the text and breathing every page? Or are you a writer who actually hates the act of writing but loves the finished product?
I started writing when I was in the fifth grade and a show called Dawson’s Creek aired its pilot episode. I really enjoyed the characters and the director’s point of view. From there, I created my first ever screenplay. It was handwritten and it was over 500 pages long, bound in a turquoise binder. I kept it for a lot of years before it disappeared. Would love to read it now. English was my favorite subject. I actually fully fell in love with it in the sixth grade when my English teacher, Carolyn Hedgecock, was brought into my life. She has such a passion for her students and for life in general, that it really got me excited about the material and learning how to use them. She’s never missed a single milestone event in my life—I’m proud to say we’re still friends. In fact I’m seeing her for lunch later this week. She recognized a God given talent in me from day one and she encouraged (and still does) for me to change the world…
Transferring your work into a different medium now, how have your feelings and general work habits changed?
My work habits are scattered. Every day is a little different than the one before, but one thing that has remained constant is the hours that I’m most productive for writing. Which is usually around 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. That’s when the magic happens, so to speak.
When you filmed in Ft. Worth, how did it take you back to where you began your interest in cinema?
I loved filming here. I loved going around to places I see all the time, and getting the chance to see them through a different perspective. It was amazing. So, all in all, I think it took me back to a place where writing was my passion, but one where I never thought I’d actually make a movie. It’s been an incredible journey so far and I can’t wait to see what else the year will bring.