By Jim Shilander
While attending San Clemente High School as a student, L Jean Schwartz got to see the filmmaking process up close, as the movie Brick was being filmed at director Rian Johnson’s alma mater. It was then, she said, that she fell in love with film. Now, years after making a documentary about the filming of that movie at SCHS, Schwartz is making her own passion project.
Schwartz’s film, The Average Girls Guide to Suicide, is a dark comedy she began writing in 2009, after graduating from film school at USC.
“When I was in film school, a friend of mine was telling the story of a man from his hometown who’d attempted suicide and been unsuccessful but had horribly scarred his face,” she said. “My friends and I were taken aback by this, but my friend, when he was telling the story said, ‘What? Every town has one.’ Growing up in San Clemente, it’s a very sleepy small town, but I realized I could think of a number of stories related to that. I thought, ‘If my hometown has these stories and his hometown had these stories, then why don’t we talk about those and how difficult it would be if you had attempted to end your own life and even that doesn’t go how you planned.’ The only people who would understand that are people who go through the same thing.”
Schwartz said her script was also inspired by her experiences in film school and the artistic communities created there.
“You have all of these people who are ‘weird’ in other groups but then get put together and they’re all weird in the same way,” she said.
Schwartz was in a video production class at SCHS as Brick was being filmed and made a “behind the scenes” documentary for a project.
“It was the first time, for me, that I thought, ‘People do this for a living,’” she said. “It helped shift it from a fun, extracurricular thing to a possible career option. And there was such a family feeling on the set. You spend long days together and go through often very stressful things on a production, but people were having fun and enjoyed spending time together. It was really inspiring.”
While taking a gap year backpacking trip through Europe, Schwartz ran into Johnson again on the set of his second feature, The Brothers Bloom, and spent two weeks on set in Serbia. While there, she also connected with Brick star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who was filming a cameo. Schwartz more recently served as Gordon-Levitt’s assistant on his directorial debut, Don Jon.
Schwartz said Johnson has helped her tremendously as a mentor and as a guide for what a director should be.
“Rian is one of the kindest, most generous people in the entire world,” she said. “Sometimes I struggle with the cultural idea of what a director is supposed to be like, sometimes standoffish and terse. When I feel pulled toward that I can remind myself of why so many people like working with him. If he hadn’t been so encouraging on set, I never would have been a director.”
Schwartz said she hopes to set an example for other aspiring female directors. She hopes to complete the film in about a year.
Schwartz is currently raising funds for the project on Seed & Spark, a fundraising website created by filmmakers to allow those contributing to help with a “wish list” a concept similar to a wedding registry that allows donors to purchase specific items, rather than having it go into a single pot. Currently, the project is in pre-production. Schwartz said she was considering shooting the film in San Clemente, but was also weighing the possibility of going elsewhere based on film incentives in other states.
“The neat part is that it’s about community,” Schwartz said of the campaign. “It’s neat for people who aren’t in the film industry to see all the different parts it takes to make a film.”
For information on the fundraising campaign, visit www.seedandspark.com/studio/average-girls-guide-suicide.