Exclusive: Interview with BITE ME star/writer Naomi McDougall Jones
The 2019 indie film BITE ME, now available to purchase digitally on Amazon and other sites, is currently rolling out across the United States in the form of The Joyful Vampire Tour of America and will be screening in Wichita on July 16 at the Mamafilm Microcinema.
Taking a break from promoting the film, writer and star Naomi McDougall Jones spoke with me on the phone about her inspirations and the artistic drive behind the quirky, subversive, love story.
Touching down in Mt. Saint Helen on the way to Seattle for her 34th stop on the tour, Jones said the experience was amazing.
“As a filmmaker, you want your work to be seen, and this tour has allowed me the chance to interpret my own work through this prism- touring the country and showing it off to the world,” Jones said.
To date, the Vampire Tour has screened across the United States with multiple sold-out showings in New York, Brooklyn, and San Francisco.
Jones said that her career, and by extension the film, stemmed from her wanting better parts to play. Not just for herself, but for women in the industry, which is a movement she is extremely passionate about.
Jones has hosted a TED talk with over a million views- “What it's like to be a woman in Hollywood”- and is the Chief Impact Officer of the 51 Fund which is a private equity fund “financing narrative feature films of any genre that are written, directed, and/or produced by women”.
In February 2020 her debut book “The Wrong Kind of Woman: Dismantling The God of Hollywood” will be published by Beacon Press.
In BITE ME, Jones plays Sarah, a real-life vampire with bright blue hair and a facial tattoo. Jones laughed, saying that the character is very different from not only anything else she's played before, but from herself entirely.
“Sarah consumes and occupies space in a way that I don't,” Jones said, “I remember they had dyed my hair months before production really began because they wanted her hair to be sort of faded and washed out to show she's a person who doesn't prioritize things like that much, and I began walking around New York City where we filmed and I was so surprised by the reactions people would give me.”
Eventually, Jones said she started to dress like her character- black boots, leather clothes, fishnet stockings- and said that while it was painful at first to be so openly judged she began to embrace it, letting it build into her character. “If I looked aggressive, people didn't have as much to comment on,” she remembered.
“It became a great test of peoples' character, seeing how they would react,” Jones continued, especially when they incorporated the character's iconic facial tattoo.
The idea for BITE ME came for Jones on the set of the HBO crime-drama “Boardwalk Empire” when she was getting to know an extra who told her that she was a vampire. Immediately, the creative gears began turning for Jones who said she went home and fell “down the internet rabbit hole” looking up the real-life culture around those who identify as "vampires". According to an article from The New York Daily News per the Atlanta Vampire Alliance, over 5 thousand people in the United States identify as vampires, drinking blood for energy and sustenance.
"A lot of the research I did, I found that real vampires obviously hate the 'Twilight' representation, and are more fond of the Anne Rice vampires, which lead to me looking at the trajectory of how vampires have been represented in popular culture," said Jones, "they started as monsters- Nosferatu, Dracula- and it wasn't until Anne Rice that she made them sexy and romantic, which is more commonly how we see them today."
Anne Rice, commonly seen as the defacto icon in vampire literature and culture, has had films made of her works such as QUEEN OF THE DAMNED and INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE.
Jones, a fan of "old school" romantic comedies and horror films, cited NOTTING HILL, WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, THE LOST BOYS, and THE HUNGER as some of her genre inspirations.
"I wanted to make a great rom-com," Jones said, "and I also wanted to present a really complex and interesting set of female characters."
BITE ME's director Meredith Edwards is known for winning the Canada International Film Festival and Cape Fear Independant Film Festival's Rising Star and Best Female Director awards for her 2014 drama IMAGINE I'M BEAUTIFUL where she previously worked with Jones.
"We were a few weeks from shooting with our original director, and she had received the call for her dream job which was great for her- really wonderful for her- and terrifying for us. [Meredith] and I had sort of agreed to work separately after 'Imagine I'm Beautiful' like old college sweet-hearts deciding to 'see what else was out there', and I had called her up and she was so happy to do the film with us. The years we had spent apart had really allowed us to mature as artists, and that was incredible to experience," Jones recalled.
Jones then discussed women who had inspired her within the industry, such as Ava DuVernay (SELMA), Dee Rees (MUDBOUND), and Chloé Zhao who Jones said had captivated her with the film SONGS MY BROTHERS TAUGHT ME.
Jones, previously mentioned as a major proponent for women in the industry, said that she feels now, more than ever, it is important for women's voices and artistic visions to be heard and seen.
"Despite what studios say in press releases about hiring female creators, the number of female directors was actually down to 4% in 2018 and it was up to 5% the year before. You don't get to equality- 50% of filmmakers being female- by just hiring one woman a year. It is an important conversation that needs to be continued, especially in an industry that has shut out female voices since almost the beginning," said Jones.
When asked what seemed to draw female artists to the horror genre with visionaries like Catherine Hardwicke, Kathryn Bigelow, Mary Harron, and others leaving such iconic stamps on features like TWILIGHT, NEAR DARK, and AMERICAN PSYCHO, Jones suggested that it was because horror had initially been seen as a "less prestigious genre", allowing creators to come in more freely and express their own bold takes with less hindrance.
Naomi McDougall Jones stressed that the film was the culmination of countless artists and creative minds, giving credit to the wonderful work from Eric Francis Olson as the film's composer and Jenai Chin as the makeup artist.
BITE ME is available now to watch digitally through See & Spark, Google Play, iTunes, and Amazon.
Please support the Blackwell Journal-Tribune by subscribing today!