At her eighth-grade graduation from Scotts Valley Middle School, Jess Wise was asked to speak to her peers. The now 22-year-old said in her speech back then that she wanted to be a filmmaker and become the first female director to win an Academy Award.
Though that honor was bestowed on Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 for The Hurt Locker, Wise is still well on her way to making a name for herself in the film industry.
The Scotts Valley native, who is now living in Los Angeles and is a graduate of the Los Angeles Film School, is living her dream. She is making the kinds of movies that she loves and recently launched her own production company, Spinning Owls Productions, with her mother, Scotts Valley resident Dorothy Wise, as her partner.
And now she is home to watch her second short film, To Beauty, as it is being featured in this year’s .
The film is based on six painting by German expressionist artist Otto Dix and essentially brings the dark paintings to life on screen.
“I made it with the intention of it being visual and audio candy. I want people to go in and just really enjoy the images they are seeing,” Wise said. “It’s not meant to necessarily have too much of a message except that I think we all deserve to be noticed. I think that’s a theme we all can relate to whether you are one of the most famous people in the world or someone that lives in a shack. We all kind of need to be notice for who we are and appreciated for who we are.”
Wise said it was a big project that required special effects, visual effects, building sets, making costumes and working with “crazy” make-up and prosthetics.
“I knew it was going to be really hard but I just knew I wanted to try because I had no idea if I could do it and I like the idea of a challenge,” she said.
Wise caught a big break when she was introduced to Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Dean Cundey, who had worked on films such as Halloween, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Back to the Future and Jurassic Park, through her mentor, and he agreed to work on the project.
“A door opened and at the moment I was quick thinking enough and I stepped through it,” Wise said. “It was a very humbling experience. He was just so wonderful to work with and because of that, the film just kind of launched.”
Wise says the film, which took about a year and three months from pre- to post-production to complete, is “very Santa Cruz” and she is excited to come home and show it. And though it has been in a number of film festivals worldwide, Wise says she is most excited about the Santa Cruz Film Festival.
“I discovered the artist because of a class that I took at my high school, Georgiana Bruce Kirby,” Wise said.
Wise said it was also in Santa Cruz that she was exposed to a culture of those less fortunate and even homeless. The paintings of Dix’s that are being recreated for the film depict the darker side of life through prostitution, homelessness and those on the fringe of society.
“[Dix’s] stuff is very dark but also very colorful and bright and he uses interesting characters, and so that is what I loved. I thought here are some interesting characters and I can tie them together into a narrative idea,” Wise said. “These are people that are shunned from ‘normal society’ and I wanted to bring them into the light I guess and kind of explore their world but in a very stylized way.”
Along with To Beauty, Wise has a second short film that has been making the film festival circuit, Through the Door. Additionally, she has two feature films in development, one that she hopes to film in Santa Cruz in summer 2013.
“It’s a zombie movie, sort of an ode to The Lost Boys,” Wise said. “I really want to do an epic zombie battle on the Beach Boardwalk and really show off all the cool parts of Santa Cruz that maybe people aren’t familiar with.”
With several projects behind her and many more to come, success is coming fast for Wise, but it is something that she says she will never take for granted.
“It’s kind of unreal. It’s a lot of work,” she said “I’m living the dream but I have to earn it, which is what I constantly remind myself of, that it’s never going to be handed to me. It feels really good though. I feel like I’m on a good path if I can just kept it going.”
To Beauty will show at the Santa Cruz Film Festival on Friday, May 11 at 9:15 p.m. and Tuesday, May 15 at 4 p.m. at the Nickelodeon, 210 Lincoln St., Santa Cruz. For more information on the festival or to purchase tickets, visit http://santacruz.festivalgenius.com/2012