In 2017, Good Girl Jane writer-director Sarah Elizabeth Mintz was living any moviemaker’s dream. Her script, then titled Junk Food Diary, had gotten into the Sundance Institute’s coveted Screenwriters Intensive, where she was mentored by feature film program leads Ilyse McKimmie and Shira Rockowitz.
But Mintz had a problem.
Based on her experiences as a high school freshman struggling with a drug problem, the Junk Food Diary script just wasn’t her.
“It was very poppy. It was very page turny. It had a top-to-bottom voiceover. It was a very digestible coming of age drama,” Mintz tells MovieMaker.
“At Sundance, the thing that people were most excited about was that it was a story from my life about my struggle with substance abuse and mental illness,” Mintz continued. “And so if that’s the reason that people care, I should put a crap ton more in it. Because that’s why I care. And all that page turny, blacklist script-type stuff, I was just like, ‘Get rid of it.'”
So Mintz threw out the poppy script and started over from scratch. The speed with which she vomited out a brand new draft made it clear it was the right decision.
The next year, Mintz shot a proof of concept short “Good Girl Jane.” That short helped solidify the immersive verité style, utilizing long handheld takes, that would eventually be employed in the feature version, Good Girl Jane. Good Girl Jane recently world premiered at Tribeca Festival, where it won best U.S. narrative feature and its lead Rain Spencer took home best performance.
Production on Good Girl Jane began back in March 2020 and was promptly shut down two weeks later due to the coronavirus. It would be a full year before production could resume.
This unplanned break did wonders for Mintz and her confidence as a decision maker on set.
“As a director, I grew up in a vast way over the course of a year. I feel like I entered that second phase of production with a feature under my belt,” Mintz says.
Another benefit was that “all the really loose stuff with the kids with a really wild energy was shot the second year,” Mintz says, adding a “thank goodness.”
In Good Girl Jane, Jane (Rain Spencer) is a lonely freshman at a new school in Los Angeles. She’s a good student with a rebellious streak (she has a propensity for sneaking out at night to smoke cigarettes). Her loneliness is temporarily quelled when she begins hanging out with a rowdy group of older kids, played by Odessa A’zion, Diego Chiat, Olan Prenatt and Patrick Gibson. This leads to heavy drug use and a relationship with the much older Jamie (Gibson).
The film’s heavy subject matter, including the central relationship between Jane (Spencer) and Jamie, is inspired directly by Mintz’s own experience growing up in Los Angeles. But outside of these direct influences, Good Girl Jane‘s narrative is often more about capturing a general feeling — something that Mintz felt then, which she hopes can help young people now.
“I wanted to capture this feeling of isolation and loneliness that is universal to the type of young person that I was trying to talk about,” Mintz says.
“It wasn’t like: What happened to you Sarah, specifically on this day? It was really a sensation that was what I was living in, that made me feel like I was alone. Once I knew that was like my north star, the movie built itself around that.”
Good Girl Jane is also an ode to films like, Y tu mamá también, Fish Tank and Ghost World, which were vital to Mintz as a teenager.
“There were movies that I saw when I was younger, that truly made me feel so much less alone. And that is all I want to offer,” Mintz says.
Cinematographer: Jake Saner
Camera: ARRI ALEXA Mini LF
Lenses: Cooke S7/i
Colorist: Tom Reiser at Company 3
Good Girl Jane, written and directed by Sarah Elizabeth Mintz, world premiered at the Tribeca Festival, where it won Best Feature and Best Actor for Rain Spencer.
Main image: Sarah Elizabeth Mintz (L) on the set of Good Girl Jane. Photo by James Berry