Make Believe

Jessica Sanders

How did you get into directing?
I studied film and English at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. My first short film was about a little girl born with a birthmark in the likeness of the great wall of China on her stomach. It won a number of festival awards. Both my parents are documentary filmmakers so I traveled the world with them on their films, and the artists, writers, fighter pilots, etc., who were in their films were very much apart of my up-bringing. After I directed my first feature documentary film After Innocence which won the Sundance Special Jury Prize in 2005, I decided I should check out commercial directing.

What is your most recent project?
I just completed a feature documentary called March of the Living about the last generation of Holocaust survivors returning to Poland to visit the sites of the Holocaust with teenagers from Brazil, Germany and the U.S. I am completing a documentary for the U.S. Army about their training soldiers in cultural awareness. I am adapting a book about intersecting love stories into a screenplay with the author. I am also directing some spots for Toyota this month.

What is the best part of being a director?
I love that directing is creative, technical, involves art, music, it’s very collaborative. I love working with smart, creative people. Having a background in documentaries has allowed me to meet incredibly inspiring people and experience places and situations I never would otherwise be allowed into — from death row to Aushwitz to George Takei’s bed. I’m excited about mixing my documentary sensibility with a more commercial narrative approach that is visual and artful.

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 most with you?

Both my parents are Academy Award winning directors and have made over 70-plus films so I am lucky to have mentors whose advice and experience I trust. I also have a number of strong female directors who are mentors like my mom, Penelope Spheeris, Jessica Yu. Along the way I have been fortunate to meet supportive filmmakers like Stacey Peralta. My film professor Jeanine Basinger advised that filmmakers should learn to play the drums because filmmaking is about rhythm (I have a drum kit).

Who is your favorite director and why?
My parents—because I have learned so much from them. Julian Schnabel—Diving Bell & The Butterfly…amazing. Frederico Fellini-Nights of Cabiria is one of my all time favorites. Alfonso Cuaron, Alejandro Gonzlez Inarritu—I love the Mexican filmmakers, Y tu Mama Tambien, Children of Men, Babel—all amazing Pedro Almodovar—His films are so unique, the colors, his female characters.

What is your favorite movie? Your favorite commercial?
I don’t know if I have a favorite movie but growing up I have seen Sound of Music like 100 times. I loved that movie! My favorite commercial is my Sony spot because it’s like a little valentine to my parents. It makes them happy.

Tell use about your background (i.e. Where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I grew up in Santa Monica, CA which is also where I live now. I am interested in art, music, people, their stories, love stories, stories about justice/injustice, politics without being too political or obvious, anything smart, good design. My first job I was a PA on the Ivan Reitman film Evolution and I had to guard parking lots and I hated it. I was nominated for an Oscar at 24 with my mom for the film SING! about the best children’s choir in the country. I wore over $300,000 worth of jewelry on loan which cost more than our film.