You can’t turn on the television or open a podcast these days without being assailed by true crime in its many forms and director Jimmy Goldblum, after working on one of those shows, made the decision to take a particular trope from the genre and flip it on its head. Jude, an extract from a novel and made as a proof of concept short, doesn’t follow the typical trajectory of a young girl gone missing narrative but instead dives into the crevices of what is left behind and in particular, that empty void where a child once sat, cherished and loved. Seeking a better reality, 14 year old Appalachian local Cindy Stoat cuckoos herself into that hole left by loss and the tragedy is suddenly seen from different eyes. The mysteries and unspoken truths in Jude ooze out of every scene, the dark and brooding house where our young protagonist tries to fill the silence only echoes more with the bizarre truth of the situation. Currently developing the feature version of Jude, Goldblum speaks to us about inserting himself into the heart of the Apalachia where the story was written to fill the short with the essence of the wilderness and the heart of the narrative, up-ending the typical girl gone missing story we have all seen before and choosing to use a dreamy and unexpected voiceover to tempt the audience into complicity with the young houseguest.

This isn’t your typical hunt for a missing girl story.

Jude is an excerpt from the novel, Marilou is Everywhere, written by my friend, Sarah Elaine Smith. I had just directed the pilot for Unsolved Mysteries for Netflix and 21 Laps, the Producers of Stranger Things, and was a bit disturbed by my experience in the true crime landscape. My episode centered around the disappearance of a young mother, and I got a bit obsessed with the true crime trope of the missing girl. So often with missing girl stories, the missing girl is the avatar for purity; if the good cop can find her, then all is pure and well in our society, in our community, in our family again. But when I read Marilou, it turned the missing girl trope on its head. In this story a girl goes missing and another girl takes her place. The cops aren’t searching. The story asks the questions, when someone disappears, who gets searched for? And who disappears?

I come from a long documentary background, and this was my first narrative short. So working in a world that feels real, that is real, is grounding for me. In my work I really want to transport people to worlds they’ve never seen before, to create a sense of verisimilitude and specificity of place. So this was all a dream for me!

What does it feel like for a young girl to disassociate from her dangerous choices and slowly crumble internally.

When adapting part of a book how do you decide what to include especially when translating that excerpt into a short film?

In making short films as proof of concepts, a lot of filmmakers will choose a simple compelling scene to draw viewers into the world of the film and the characters’ larger dilemmas and wants…and in retrospect, maybe that would’ve been a wiser choice. But I really wanted to focus in on the part of the story I felt most insecure about. What does it feel like for a young girl to disassociate from her dangerous choices and slowly crumble internally, and explore that? Ultimately, I wanted to play with tone and dial it in, and Jude is the natural expression of that explorative process.

How did you approach the move from documentary to narrative and where do you see the overlap?

Kubrick once talked about how it’s kinda insane we make films from books because books are all about what a character is thinking and feeling, and movies are all about what characters are saying and doing. And I feel like the documentary form exists somewhere in the middle of that, where you can have verité scenes of what characters are doing and interviews/VO that give you insight into their inner life. It’s like a halfway point, and part of the process of making the transition to narrative is how to make the inner life of characters come through, more and more, in their behavior and actions.

From a production perspective, part of why I chose to adapt Marilou is Everywhere is that it is all rooted in the real-life Appalachia hippie homesteading community of its author, Sarah Elaine Smith. I stayed with her high school Odyssey of the Mind teachers and shot the film on her school bus driver’s goat farm. But then I worked with incredible, experienced actors like Jamie Neumann and Maren Heary. So in that way, I was melding my documentary and narrative training.

What informed the setups in the house which make us feel like we’re colluding with Cindy in this big secret.

Logan and I really wanted to treat the house like a character in Cindy’s world. We would look for compositional lines that felt like they were cradling Cindy or boxing her in, depending on where she was in her psychological journey. There’s something really interesting about the houses in this part of Appalachia; you could have the brightest summer day outside, and the minute you step inside, it’s like all the light was swallowed up. We really worked with that quality of light, to get at a character who is locking away parts of herself in order to live the material life she thinks she wants and deserves.

You seem to avoid some of the more common palettes and visual styles we most often associate with crime or missing girl stories, what guided your approach to the film’s cinematography?

I worked with the wildly talented cinematographer Logan Triplett who runs his own goat and sheep farm in Portland, Oregon, and together we shot on super 16mm with Kodak VISION3 200T film stock, to center a look that felt cinematic and timeless. The camera would either be locked off with bold, unexpected frames or move with Steadicam, with an ethereal, near ghost-like point of view. Like Jude, the missing girl was watching.

We’d move the camera exclusively on Steadicam to give the film a ghostly feel, like it could equally reflect Cindy’s indifference to what she’s experiencing, or perhaps embody the point of view of Jude watching.

What I love about this story is the way in which it up-ends the traditional true crime tropes. You think this is going to be a traditional missing girl story: Jude Vanderjohn disappears, and now the good cop is going to come in and search for her. Find the girl, and the purity of the community is restored. La di da. We’ve seen it a million times. But in this story, Jude disappears, and that becomes an opportunity for Cindy to slip into her life. It becomes something more gothic and psychological. Oftentimes, people see handheld as a short-hand for subjective point of view. But we were really inspired by Paweł Pawlikowski’s films, – Ida and Cold War – how these carefully framed and composed images can get you into the mind of alienated and lost characters. We’d move the camera exclusively on Steadicam to give the film a ghostly feel, like it could equally reflect Cindy’s indifference to what she’s experiencing, or perhaps embody the point of view of Jude watching. It’s a bit ineffable, and the quality by which you can’t completely grasp what’s happening is pretty fun for me as a director. It’s supposed to wash over you in this weird, uncomfortable way.

Our naive, lonely narrator’s voice is captivating, talk to us about the VO which is obviously something similar to documentary filmmaking.

I didn’t write the film originally with VO, but in the edit, I realized it was necessary. I wanted to inhabit Cindy’s mind as she justified her decisions. There’s a misty, nostalgic texture to her perspective, she’s a character who can’t quite see herself, and I wanted the VO to feel really lovely and dreamy, but also quite macabre and scary as you slowly realize what she’s doing. The danger of her choices mostly exists in the periphery of this mother-daughter love story. This girl just wants a mother, at all costs, and my hope is that voiceover is a way she can seduce the audience into wanting that for her, too. To make the audience complicit.

There’s a misty, nostalgic texture to her perspective, she’s a character who can’t quite see herself.

The film feels so incredibly lived in.

And it was written with a real ethnographer’s eye because every location in the book is real, and every character is a composite from Sarah Elaine Smith’s homesteading childhood in Appalachian Pennsylvania. When it came time for prep, I moved in with her high school Odyssey of the Mind teachers, Linda and Jim Winegar, and fully immersed myself in the community. We shot the film at Jeanne William’s goat farm; Jeanne is the local mail lady and was Sarah’s high school bus driver. The character of Bernadette was inspired by this local artist, Judith Finch, who recently passed; all of her clothes provided the costume for our incredible actress, Jamie Neumann, and her art and artifacts are all over the film.

Did you struggle at all shooting such a rural setting with some stunning vast shots and using the finite medium of film?

Greene County is ‘very’ rural. We’d lose cell phone service about 30 minutes away from set, and then you’d only get a bar for a minute as you’d come up on a mountain top, before descending into a valley. But my producers (Luigi Rossi, Maddy Askwith, Francesco Raffo, and their teams) did such a miraculous job of protecting me from all the insanity I’m sure they were enduring. I’d only know they were stressed by the number of cigarette’s Raffo was smoking. Same goes for the camera team, led by my miracle worker DP Logan Triplett. We were running a mag process so efficiently that the difference in shooting film and digital from a process perspective felt almost negligible. It was just really smooth.

But then comes my favorite part of the process, when you get the film developed, and you finally see the magic. You see the textures and the quality of light, the little nuances, the dancing grain, all these things that are ephemeral on-set, but printed onto the celluloid in some alchemical way.

We were running a mag process so efficiently that the difference in shooting film and digital from a process perspective felt almost negligible.

What has the move to narrative taught you as a filmmaker?

I learned so much. What’s the point of doing this if you’re not learning? I’ve been realizing that my cleverness can sometimes kill the emotion. That’s in the writing, in the performances, in the shot design. When something is really working emotionally, it is both simple and deep. It just hits. And that simple transcendent quality is what I’m gonna be chasing in all my future narrative projects.

How is the feature version of Jude coming?

I’m repped by two brilliant, wonderful, and wildly supportive women: Amelia Shugrue at 2AM and Hannah Davis at WME and the feature is coming. That’s probably all I should really say about this, at this stage. But let me be the millionth director to say: shoot shorts before your feature debut. Shorts are teachers. And I can’t really convey how much better the feature is going to be because I dragged a bunch of beautiful filmmakers to rural Appalachia to make this weird and wild short.

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