Women Who Work: Jess Costa

Photo Credit: Alexia Garza-Gomez

For Jess Costa, her career as a filmmaker started with music videos in her preteen days. Fast forward ten years later, Jess graduated from NYU, and is now working on her first feature film, Sleep Talking (it sounds so amazing so definitely check it out when it’s released).

I was introduced to Jess from my friend Danielle, and I am so grateful for the chance to interview her for my blog. I am not as familiar with the technical end of film making, so it was so interesting to get a chance to talk with her and learn about something that is outside of my expertise.

That said, here’s my Q and A with Jess:

1. What made you decide to become a filmmaker? 

I became a filmmaker because of the play of it; I started off having film days with my friend, Elana, when we were 11, making music videos to All American Rejects, and posting them to YouTube. From then on I was set, I was a filmmaker. It’s obviously taken different roles in my life. It’s still fun and now it’s really cathartic. I tend to use film to work out whatever I’m learning in life at that moment. 

2. What is your filmography? 

I have pieces I made in high school, but I start counting my filmography with my NYU senior thesis, Once Upon a November, because with that project I admit to myself I was a writer then and took full ownership of my work! I write and direct fantastical/magic realism pieces with a heart center. They tend to revolve around the moment we realize the world isn’t what we always thought it was (and sometimes how we move on from that, which has been in more of my recent work, like 99¢ Dreams). I’ve made many shorts (like Once Upon a NovemberDreamers (about the DACA program), 99¢ Dreams, and more) and now I’m creating my first feature (a full-length 90 minute movie!)! 

3. Do you have any directors that you look up to? 

Ava Duvernay for her strength and heartfelt characters, Pheobe Waller-Bridge for her vulnerability and her ability to say exactly what we’re feeling – and with humor, and Tim Burton for his magical realism and world-building.

4. Tell me about your latest film, Sleep Talking.

Sleep Talking is a fantastical thriller feature film about a 12-year-old girl Maya who needs to learn she can’t fix everything. When her mother’s need to resurrect their family’s past takes over their lives, Maya starts scheming to solve the mystery, but instead, discovers the terror infiltrating her family when her sister starts to sleep talk. There’s a “true” crime element, there’s a magical moth lore and lots of sisterly love. It focuses on the older sister who grows up too quickly to protect her younger sister from the cruelties of the world, which is what my sister did for me so this movie is dedicated to her. 

Since YA novels are my jam, I realized the flow of the script on the page reads very similarly to a YA novel (this girl can leave the YA target range, but the genre never leaves the girl haha). 

5. When will it be released? 
We will be finished with the film in December and then in 2022, we are going to taking it on the road with a Drive-In Tour of America and, if the state of the world warrants, a special seated cemetery screener with ghost stories and a breakdown of the moth mythos.

6. How has COVID-19 affected the film? 
For all of the bad COVID brought, my silver lining is that with the shut down in March, I was able to take an online class and finally finish the first draft of Sleep Talking within a month. Since then I’ve had the space to work remotely and refine the script to really make it what it is today. I finished the script at the beginning of the year and now I get to put on my director hat and my producer/business partner, Danielle Benedict, can breakdown the logistics of the script. We’re at this fun step where we’re getting everything together to film in July so it’s the work that demands we stay at home and buckle down.

7. Where can people view the film once it’s released? 

After the tour, we are going to partner with online distribution so everyone can watch from the comfort of their couch! 

8. How do you get ideas for a film?
Sometimes it’s a writing exercise; for 99¢ Dreams, I saw a neon sign reading exactly that, “99¢ Dreams” and I started to picture what that store would look like. For Sleep Talking, it started from a friend sleep talking and I made a passive joke saying, “what is he possessed.” Then this idea flooded of a nightmarish sheet being pulled out of someone’s mouth and wrapping another person in a cocoon – which became the jumping-off point for this script. From there, I started seeing the characters and remembered I used to sleep talk when I was younger so, since that’s what I connect sleep talking with, I made it from the point of view of children, and then it’s just lego blocks piling on top of each other to make the first draft!

9. Finally, what is some advice that you have for someone who wants to be in the film business?

Start off by making a project, whether you’re creating every bit, whether you’re working on someone else’s set – just jump in. I’ve seen folx who spend most of their time dreaming it up, but they don’t take action on it, waiting for “that break” or that perfect moment. By being on set and making a short from beginning to end you learn what parts you love, hate, that you do out of survival – and then find amazing people you admire that love doing the parts you hate and there’s a beautiful partnership to make a fun movie. Keep at it, it takes some time, but, for me, I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else so I don’t see the point in stopping. 

Interested in checking out Jess’ work? Be sure to check out her website, her Instagram, and her YouTube channel!

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