Searching to find a place where they feel accepted for who they truly are is a powerful rite of passage for many teenagers as they struggle to navigate high school. That’s certainly the case for the titular protagonist of the new coming-of age drama, Good Girl Jane, as she seeks acceptance among her family and peers. The gritty, authentic story delivers a cautionary tale about the exhilaration of belonging and the perils of falling into the wrong crowd.
The movie marks the feature film writing, directorial and producing debuts of Sarah Elizabeth Mintz, who based the story on her own adolescent experiences. The feature is based on the 2017 short film of the same name she also scribed, helmed and produced.
Good Girl Jane is a drug-fueled love story that follows the eponymous Jane (Rain Spencer), a lonely Los Angeles high school student who’s struggling to find intimacy in her broken home. She sinks deeper into feelings of isolation until she’s accepted into a raucous group of misfits.
The electric crew introduces Jane to a life of pain-free acceptance and camaraderie, and offers her a much needed sense of relief. As she’s further pulled into their explosive world, she encounters a charming drug dealer, Jamie (Patrick Gibson), and develops romantic feelings for him.
As Jamie’s influence grows, Jane becomes entangled in his amateur meth ring. Their intoxicating relationship consumes her, causing her health and home life to erode rapidly, until it finally culminates in catastrophe. Jane’s family, including her mother [Andie MacDowell], is helpless to pull her out of the world she’s reluctant to leave, until she’s ultimately forced to choose between Jamie and her own survival.
Mintz generously took the time recently to talk over Zoom about writing and directing the drama. Good Girl Jane had its World Premiere at this month’s Tribeca Festival in New York City, where it won the Founders’ Award for Best U.S. Narrative Feature, and Spencer won the award for Best Performance.
Q: You wrote the script for the new drama, Good Girl Jane. What was your inspiration in penning the screenplay?
SEM: The film is inspired by my freshman year in high school, so in a big picture way, I’ve been developing it upwards of 15 years. But the first draft was written in about 2015, so it took me seven years to get the film made.to the screen.
Q: In addition to scribing the script, you also made your feature film directorial debut on the project. How did writing the screenplay influence the way you approached helming the movie? What was your overall directorial approach on the set?
SEM: Yes, this is my first feature, but I also directed short films before, but not too many. This is absolutely the biggest endeavor that I’ve taken on. I directed a thesis film at NYU, and then a proof of concept for this feature. So I tried out the one-take shooting format in that short, and I got to play around with the characters. So it was trial by fire. It was good to have the experience of working on the short going into the feature, but they turned out to be quite different.
To be honest, I had the feature script first, and I was sending it out to different labs and development programs. It got [accepted] into the Sundance Writers Intensive in 2017, and I got a little bit of grant money in that program. I was still workshopping the feature script at the time, so I took the grant money and made the short to inspire some confidence in me as a director. So it was always meant to be a long-form story, but I didn’t [initially] have the resources or experience to tackle what I wanted to do.
Q: Good Girl Jane stars Rain Spencer in the titular role. What was the casting process like for the eponymous role, as well as the supporting characters?
SEM: I loved casting this movie. It took so long, as I looked at hundreds of tapes [to cast the character of] Jane. For several years, I had many people send me tapes of actresses they knew. I also had casting directors help me out really early on in the process. I looked at so many actresses, but when Rain came in the room, I absolutely knew it was her. A huge weight was taken off my shoulders when we cast her. I feel like the truly luckiest woman in the world that I got to work with her on her first feature; she’s wonderful.
Once we hired the main cast, Lauren Pratt, my producing partner, and I did some street casting, as well, to fill out the young cast. We asked high school students if they had friends who would want to be in the movie, which is how we found Diego Chiat, who plays Benji in the film, for instance.
Q: Once the actors were cast, how did you approach working with them to build their characters’ emotions and relationships?
SEM: We didn’t rehearse too much, but I did some rehearsing with Eloisa Huggins, Rain Spencer and Andie MacDowell for the dinner scenes. It was mostly camera blocking on set because of the oners. We did very few performance rehearsals because I thought the cast was so talented. I also didn’t want to wear them out because I wanted to capture organic moment.
The young cast also has a magical energy to them. I spent a lot of time with them off set, and we became truly very close, and that’s really infused into the performances, as well.
Q: Speaking about the camera blocking, the drama features stylish cinematography, notably in its handheld camerawork, which helped create the story’s strong visual language. How did you and Good Girl Jane‘s cinematographer, Jake Saner, decide how you wanted to shoot the overall project?
SEM: Working with Jake is very special. We’ve been working together for over a decade; we also worked on the shorts that I mentioned earlier, as we met at film school. The film shot in March 2020 and also March 2021; there was a year pause [in the shoot] because of COVID.
Prior to shooting, Jake and I spent over a year preparing and shotlisting every scene because almost every scene is a single shot. We would then get people to stand in, and we would block them to make sure the shots would work. Then when we shut down, we spent that whole year looking at footage and rethinking the shotlist, and did it all over again.
Jake’s a really collaborative, brave artist; he wasn’t afraid of the challenge of shooting this movie in oners. He also thought on his feet, so when things weren’t working, he was always very generous, and we were able to reshoot them very quickly.
Q: The movie’s sound designer, Kent Sparling, created its score, which is sparse, but equally moody and effect. What was the process like of working with him to create the score?
SEM: It was a specific process, in that there’s literally almost no score in the film, other than the diegetic music – like if Jane’s speakers are playing on her laptop, or if there are car speakers, or speakers at a house party, playing. The music that’s playing in the film is almost always coming from a source in a scene, and that was really fun.
I was able to use the music of the period, which was 2005. There’s so much music in the movie, but it’s meant to come from the world, to help build an immersive experience. So the sound designer, Kent Sparling created a little bit of atmospheric tone that goes under the scenes. But for the most part, there isn’t any score. I knew from day one that I wanted to do that, but it was something that people were a little concerned and anxious about when I pitched the movie early on.
I said, “I’m not doing score on this movie.” [Mintz laughed.] They said, “You’re going to decide you want to!” I said, “I don’t think so.” But I’m glad it worked out.
Q: Good Girl Jane is having its World Premiere at this month’s Tribeca Festival. What does it mean to you that the movie is premiering at the festival?
SEM: It’s a dream come true. I’m still pinching myself that I’m talking to people like you about the movie. This premiere in New York is really special to me because my whole family, as well as the entire cast, are here.
New York is my favorite city in the world, and is where I live; I just moved back here from L.A. I really believe that Tribeca is the perfect home for this movie, and have felt that audiences are really going to respond well to it here.