Sundance 2016 Women Directors: Meet Jessie Kahnweiler – ‘The Skinny’
Jessie Kahnweiler can’t afford therapy, so she makes films. Her work has been featured on CNN, TMZ, People, The Hollywood Reporter, New York Magazine, Mashable, Buzzfeed, Elle, The Daily Beast, Jezebel, Indiewire, LA Weekly, The Huffington Post and The Independent. Her short film “Meet My Rapist,” a dark comedy about running into her rapist at the farmers market, debuted at the 2014 Slamdance Film Festival and inspired her live show “The Rape Girl.” Recently, Kahnweiler confronted her own white privilege in her viral hit “Jessie Gets Arrested.” (Press materials)
“The Skinny” will premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival on January 26 and debut on Refinery29 on January 27.
W&H: Please give us your description of the series playing.
JK: “The Skinny” is a dark comedy series about a feminist comedian living in LA trying to live, love and get over her bulimia. It was inspired by this random Jewish chick named Jessie who was bulimic for over ten years and wanted to see an eating-disorder story as messy as hers depicted on screen. I’ve never met her before, but I’ve heard she’s lovely.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
JK: I was motivated to tell this story because I was fucking terrified of it. I didn’t feel ready, and some days I still don’t. But facing my demons head on and having the support of my incredible team has created the most authentic experience of my life.
It seemed impossible to make an appealing show about bulimia. I mean, it’s my story, and even I don’t wanna watch that. Plus, everybody told me not to — I like a challenge.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the series?
JK: Trying to tell an authentic, raw and honest story without making it therapy. Separating myself enough to have perspective while putting myself in the emotional hot seat so that I could make this thing real. Asking for help. Delegating responsibility. Standing up for myself. Fighting the impulse to be sweet and likeable 24/7. Being open to all ideas, but staying true to the spine of the story. Knowing when to let go and when to hold on and fight like hell. Getting out of my own way. Shall I go on?
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
JK: I want them to feel open and comfortable to share the messy, dirty, shameful parts of themselves. Those are the parts I wanna see. And that eating disorders aren’t just about “being thin.”
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
JK: Do not take the creative process personally. At every stage, you are going to feel like it’s all falling apart, like the golden egg of truth in your brain is not manifesting on the page or on set or in the edit. But that panic, that loss, that pain — that is the process of creation. Let it hurt, drink some coffee and keep going.
W&H: What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work?
JK: That I’m not okay. Because I make films about eating disorders and sexual assault, people always come up to me and are like, “Are you okay?” like I’m a broken-down shell of a woman.
But being honest in my work and life has kind of set me free. I’m so much more than my pain. Oh my god, I sound like my therapist! Call her, she can vouch that I’m doing great.
W&H: How did you get your series funded? Share some insights into how you got the series got made.
JK: As I mentioned, no one was initially interested in funding a dark comedy about bulimia. So I took to Kickstarter and shot a spec pilot. The Kickstarter experience was so great, because it gave me autonomy and confidence as a director — like people actually want to see my show, even if it was mostly my parents and their friends.
Running a Kickstarter is a full-time job and can be really draining, but I tried to embrace it as part of the filmmaking process. It was creative and social and it’s kind of where the rubber meets the road, like, “Why does this need to be made?” and “Why am I the person to make it?”
So I shot a spec pilot and sent it to Jill Soloway and Rebecca Odes of Wifey.TV, who sent it to Refinery29, and they funded an entire season. It’s been incredible working with Refinery29 because of the creative freedom they gave us. And Wifey.TV really served as this creative womb to help me feel safe enough to take chances.
The best piece of advice I can give is to keep making your movie. I remember one day ,after like year two of developing the pilot script with my manager, he called and said “Why don’t we give ‘The Skinny’ a break for a while?” And I pulled over on Sunset Blvd. and just started bawling. “The Skinny” was my baby and I didn’t want to put her down.
The next morning, I asked my photographer buddy, Patrick Gookin, to do a photoshoot for “The Skinny.” We woke up at 5am and shot photos of me eating donuts off the sidewalk in Echo Park. Those photos were for no one but me — I just had to keep making the movie.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
JK: “Harlan County, USA,” directed by Barbara Kopple. This movie changed everything for me. It was tough and rough and heartbreaking. You could feel the trust and love that these people had for the director. Even though she wasn’t in the movie, I could see her in every frame.
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