Jess Dunn

Gray Ground

Jess Dunn

Clouds at Night Pictures (CaN)

1) What was your first professionally directed work and when was it? 

My first paid directing gig was June 2017 on a webseries for GO Magazine called @datingZoe. The cast and production team happened to be all women identifying, most of whom were in the LGBTQ+ community. It was the most fun I’ve had on set to date.

2) How did you get into directing? 

I always skated around an interest in both visual imagery and storytelling as early back as I can remember, beginning at eight years old. My sister and cousins became my first muses, I’d direct them in short films and live performances. Sometimes I’d even live score the performances from behind the piano. Fast forward to college when a professor placed a camera in my hand and told me to go make something. That’s the moment it clicked. I decided to become a filmmaker and never looked back.

It wasn’t a straight path, of course. Shooting and editing became my trade for many years. I pursued directing, but never had a paid opportunity. Then a producer who I would DP for, introduced me to the writer of my first directing project, @datingZoe.

3) What is your most recent project? 

I wrote and will be directing a feature film called Cultish. It’s a neo-western meets a slow burn thriller about a wellness retreat gone awry. I directed the teaser outside of Los Angeles at the “Kill Bill church” this August.

I’m looking for a dedicated producer to collaborate with and move the project into pre-production.

4) What is the best part of being a director? 

Directing is the only way I can exercise every muscle of my brain and spirit. It takes me to a state of heightened awareness to where I can be fully challenged in the moment. The process fulfills me like nothing else. If we’re not pursuing that with work, then why do it?

5) What is the worst part of being a director? 

Not having an opportunity to be on set directing.

6) What is your current career focus: commercials and branded content, television, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre–comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.? 

My focus as a filmmaker is movies and television. I can categorize my work as fiction and specifically styled, but wouldn’t set any perimeters beyond that because I am constantly evolving as an artist and as a person, and so is the industry.

My current mission as a filmmaker is to bring many LGBTQ+ voices and stories to life in a way that doesn’t place them in that category–just experiences about people. It’s part of the work I’m doing with my production company, Clouds at Night, as well as championing opportunities for underrepresented communities to work and create.

7) Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you? 

Having a mentor sort of feels like luck or privilege. I haven’t got a mentor, but I have many friends and coworkers who I’ve learned from along the way. I welcome the opportunity to learn. The best lesson to me is, always be kind.

8) Who is your favorite director and why? 

Hm. Just as my style is ever evolving, so is who I admire. I lean towards filmmakers who set out to achieve advancements in technical craft, most likely because I came up in the camera department and I understand that feat. Growing up that director was Darren Aronofsky for me, specifically the way he paired Matty Libatique’s camera with Clint Mansell’s score, and the edit sequence from Requiem for a Dream that has since become so derived.

More recently, I admire anyone who is doing something different. Like all the filmmakers who have achieved films in one shot. That feels different.

9) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content? 

I’m going to make this one more specific and say favorites in the last two years. Movie is Portrait of a Lady on Fire by Céline Sciamma, TV is I May Destroy You by Michaela Coel, and branded is Cynthia Nixon for Girls. Girls. Girls. Magazine, “Be a Lady They Said.”

10) Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?)

My background is nomadic. My dad was an NFL coach. We moved depending on which team he was coaching for so I was born an “.L.A. Raider,” but grew up all over the U.S. This taught me the ability to adapt to the present situation at an early age. In many ways, that was my film school, because adaptation has proved invaluable in my career as a director. Growing up, creativity was my only constant.

Both sides of my family come from agriculture. My mom is an immigrant from Venezuela whose parents grew up on farms in Italy. My dad grew up on a farm in upstate New York. The farm has been in our family for over 100 years, started by his grandparents who came over from Ireland. My sister and I grew up bailing hay–it demystified hard work in a way that made anything feel achievable.

11) How has the pandemic impacted your career, art, craft, shaped your attitudes and reflections on life which in turn may influence your work, approach, spirit, mindset?

My day-to-day did not change that much during the pandemic, and my heart goes out to people who were affected by this tragedy and who worked to get us through. Thank you.

Quarantine did provide me with the gift of time. I’ve honored that gift by contemplating my inner space, which in one discovery shed light on my purpose. The way I see myself best serving humanity is by living my truth. I don’t call the truth of my work storytelling as much as feeling-curating.


Contact Jess Dunn via email