Jen Lynch on India, self-realisation and her true love – filmmaking
Excerpt from Issue 1 of YOKE
“You know, it only takes one person to make pasta. And it’s nice to have other people around… But if everybody wants to stir it with the same spoon at the same time, it’s kind of a pasta cluster-fuck.”
Despite the Gods opens on filmmaker Jen Lynch perched in her director’s chair wryly surveying her Bollywood film set. It’s hot and dusty and there’s a background babble of car horns and scavenger birds fighting over scraps. A bored clapper loader strolls into shot and kicks at the dirt. Jen leans in towards us as if gossiping over a ciggie, “This is my pasta cluster-fuck.”
In the 1990s Jen Lynch made her mark penning The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, a spin-off from her father’s hit TV series Twin Peaks. At the ripe old age of 19, she directed her first screenplay, Boxing Helena. Shaken by the vicious critical reception to her “crazy fairytale” and spinal injuries sustained from a car accident, Jen did what she felt society wanted her to do – she became a mother.
Her desire to tell stories still burned.
In 2008, Jen made a splash with the successful indie psychological thriller Surveillance, and soon after formed a Bollywood/Hollywood alliance with producer Govind Menon to write and direct Hisss.
The plan was to modernise the ancient Indian legend of the Nagin, a powerful snake/woman, played by Bollywood star Mallika Sherawat. Jen uprooted her then 12-year-old daughter, Sydney, and relocated to India, where things didn’t quite go to plan.
Little did Jen know that she had signed up to explore her inner demons in a very public way. Australian director Penny Vozniak’s 2012 behind-the-scenes documentary Despite the Gods is the result. It’s a fascinating exploration of one woman’s struggle to do what she loves against all odds.
It’s early evening in LA when I Skype Jen at home. She finishes her cigarette, yanks the window closed as helicopters circle overhead, and apologises for rescheduling our chat after an unexpected 19-hour day shooting her new thriller, A Fall from Grace.
Jen has spoken about filmmaking doubling as a crash course in acceptance and self-realisation. In terms of Bollywood, I can see what she means about acceptance; union strikes, monsoons, artistic differences, scheduling delays, language barriers and heat waves appear par for the course. What I want to understand is why filmmaking for her is a course in self-realisation.
Jen pauses, her face framed by a melee of bleached dreadlocks. She furrows her brow then laughs. Jen Lynch laughs a lot.
“Wow. I love that you did this. Quoted me like that. I love it.”
Her large blue eyes search the ceiling for answers.
“In order to write a character and then help an actor fill the skin of that character, I sort of have to have been there myself. I have to learn about myself, where my soft spots and hard spots are. When I was writing Boxing Helena, Surveillance, Hisss, I asked myself, ‘What would it be like not being in the normal world, but to be you?’ I love to study people who are trapped somewhere or hobbled in some way, physically or emotionally.”
It seems apt that Jen found herself in a situation that was far from average – the unwitting hero of her own documentary/disaster movie.
“There were moments of joyous and hideous absurdity,” she smirks.
Many artists would have you believe the creative process is effortless. Those midnight doubts, external blocks and moments of deep despair are tucked safely behind the smoke and mirrors of the finished work. Yet on and off screen, Jen is willing to reveal all.
“My whole play on Hisss was Nagin, a strong woman who wasn’t going to take any crap. A woman who swallows men whole. I think they thought I was there to do one thing and I set out to do another. In the end it was a grand experiment in conquering my own inner demons – how do you express yourself when ultimately, that’s not what people are there to let you do?”
Pushing beyond exhaustion and frustration and making light of extremely trying circumstances, Jen exposes thoughts and emotions most of us would be terrified to share in real life, let alone on film.
I’m curious to know when Penny knew she had a documentary on her hands.
“After spending a week with Jen, I felt that she was a completely misunderstood filmmaker … complex, intelligent, often comedic … totally worth filming. She’s brave in her craft and these artists are ultimately crucified but they expand the genre, and we need them now more than ever. It was probably several months in that I really began to see the big picture …”
In the documentary, Jen is dogged in her conviction that she will survive the nightmarish shoot with a film – it just wasn’t the one she thought she was making.
Excerpt from Issue 1 of YOKE – Love /Loss
Despite the Gods is a feature documentary about Hollywood’s prodigal daughter. Jennifer Lynch is well known for making bold, if not ill-fated, choices in her filmmaking career. But nothing could prepare her for the unmapped territory of Bollywood-Hollywood movie making, where chaos is the process and filmmaking doubles as a crash course in acceptance and self-realization. Director: Penny Vozniak, Producer: Karina Astrup, Editor: Melanie Annan, Music: Jessica Chapnik Kahn & Nadav Kahn
Melita Rowston is a writer, director and sometime performer, and our fabulous regular contributor to YOKE.