Jaja Meloche’s directorial debut Grown plunges us headlong into the heady waters of consent and youthful abandon as we follow a teenage girl, eager to show off and parade her burgeoning sexuality and independence, step into unknown depths. Under a sweltering summer sun 14 year old Isa sets out to prove her maturity as she bombs around with her older brother’s friend. Meloche has shrewdly tapped into those all too recognisable feelings of empowerment but then brings us crashing down to the reality of the situation and the pain of suddenly realising that consent doesn’t look black or white and that grey area is a vast and terrifying landscape. As Grown premieres on the pages of DN we speak to Meloche about her desire to spark a conversation through her short, how they overcame having to re-imagine their crucial pool scene and purposely crafting a bold and empowered young character who is ultimately the driving force behind the narrative.

What inspired this film?

I wanted to make a film that explores consent and the confusion around it. We can often be unaware that something is nonconsensual while it is occurring. Young people are especially vulnerable to this. Though society has started to form a deeper understanding and clearer language for consent, it can remain gray and difficult in practice. I wanted to blur the line as much as possible. I was interested in exploring verbal versus nonverbal consent, power dynamics of age and gender, and coercion. I think different people will react to, and interpret the events in the film differently.

Something that was important to me was creating a female character that was bold from the start. Too often in coming of age stories we get these reserved female characters whose arcs involve coming out of their shells. I really wanted a girl who was immediately fierce and who was driving the majority of the narrative rather than reacting to it. I also wanted to break from the traditional male archetype. Stories that explore similar themes often write male characters that are quite aggressive and are usually the ones pursuing the girl. I knew I needed someone with a more gentle energy who appeared non-threatening.

I was interested in exploring verbal versus nonverbal consent, power dynamics of age and gender, and coercion.

Can I just say YES to bold female characters, especially in this setting. However, not everyone would agree with me. How have you handled some of the classic arguments that I’m sure have been made about a character like that?

I purposefully wrote Isa’s character in a way that would embody all the classic accusations of a girl who was ‘asking for it’. Ultimately if anyone interprets the film that way it’s really a reflection of how they view women and consent.

How did you tap into that incredibly difficult stage where you are a child but you are developing, hormones raging and you don’t want to be thought of as young?

Coming of age stories have always been my favorite genre. There is so much inherent internal conflict happening during adolescent years which lends itself really well to story structure. I reflected on my own experiences and those of my family and friends in order to tap into something very personal that felt universal.

Tell us about filming in water.

Filming in water was stressful! An unexpected thunderstorm flipped our entire shooting schedule the day before we were set to start, so the pool scene became the first thing we shot. The biggest challenge for me was reimagining the scene which was originally scripted as a night shoot. We shot this in late September so the evenings were getting cold and it was difficult to keep actors Isabel Palma and Josh Melnick warm. We put the camera in a fish tank in order to film from inside the pool which was complicated and hard on Julia Kupiec, my DP. She’s a rockstar and did an incredible job despite the circumstances.

I purposefully wrote Isa’s character in a way that would embody all the classic accusations of a girl who was ‘asking for it’.

What approach did you take to filming the intimate scenes?

In regards to filming the intimate scene, I allowed the actors to take the lead. I started by asking them how they imagined the scene playing out and went from there. I also spoke to them individually regarding their comfort levels/boundaries and made sure they knew those could change at any time. The most important part was open communication. We crafted the scene together based on those conversations. It was choreographed so that everyone knew exactly what to expect. It was a closed set for filming.

The chemistry is brilliant between Isabel and Joshuah and what they are exploring is so hard. What did the conversation around consent, power dynamics and coercion look like with them?

Isabel and Josh both already had a very deep and nuanced understanding of the themes we were exploring which is a big part of why they were cast. We made sure to distinguish between how we interpreted the script as readers versus how their characters experienced the events. The chemistry between Isabel and Josh was incredibly important. Apart from rehearsing quite a bit, I also made sure they had plenty of time to just hang out and form an organic bond. Josh’s character is supposed to be a long time family friend so it was important that there be a certain ease between them that comes from knowing someone your entire life. In order to have things flow as naturally as possible I encouraged them to improvise as much as they liked. I wanted them to have as much creative freedom as possible. They are both so talented and really brought the characters to life.

There is a murky filter to everything even in the perfect throws of summer which is exactly how you could think of the gray area theme explored in the film.

I was deeply inspired by Andrea Arnold’s work. Fish Tank was a big visual reference. I make a lot of decisions based on feelings and instincts. Ultimately I think the mood and tone are a reflection of my relationship to the material.

This is an accomplished directorial debut, were there any elements you would approach differently with the beauty of hindsight and what was the most formative part for you?

The biggest struggle was that we had so little time to film a really ambitious project. We lost several hours every day to travel and various setbacks. It didn’t help that we had an incredibly long shot list – we were constantly having to cut and combine shots. I wish we had been less rushed on set and had more time for everything, but that of course would have required more money.

The most formative part was definitely the relationships I formed in the process. I met many exceptionally talented individuals who I continue to collaborate with and feel so supported by. They are a huge blessing and I am incredibly grateful for their presence in my life.

I’m ready…what’s next?

Currently I am in production on my next short. It’s a documentary about my little sister who is a stripper in Florida but that’s all I can share for now!

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