Naomi McDougall Jones: An Actress Who Writes and Produces Her Own Movie Roles

March 12, 2018

In this TEDx event, actress Naomi McDougall Jones describes her disenchantment with Hollywood after graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York at the age of 21. Instead of being called in for auditions for layered and complex characters, she felt disheartened when she’d be called for limited, unworthwhile, unempowered female roles. Jones lists some of the casting notices for which she was actually offered auditions:

“[Female] No dialogue. The character only needs to stand on a balcony, look forlorn, and walk back inside the house. Only partial nudity.

[Sarah] Brian’s love interest. Attractive, cute, and flirty. She is the ideal girl and Brian’s prize throughout the entire film.

[Mom] A proper Southern belle who is making peace with the fact that her only purpose in life is to tend to her husband.

[Abby] Must be OK with tastefully shot gang rape, along with performing 19th-century dance.”

When Jones shared her disappointment with her agent, he responded, “Yeah. I don’t really know what to do with you. You’re too smart for the parts that are being written for women in their 20s, and you’re not quite pretty enough to be the hot one, so I think you’ll work when you’re 35.”

“Oh, that’s funny. I always thought that when you were 35, you were kind of, like, over the hill as an actress–that you were relegated to playing 20-year-olds’ mothers,” Jones said.

“Yeah, it’s just the way it is,” she recalls him saying.

It wasn’t long after this conversation that Jones decided to write a screenplay featuring mostly female characters that were complicated and interesting; she gathered up a group of mostly female aspiring actors and filmmakers. Together, they scraped up the money to produce an 88-minute haunting independent drama Imagine I’m Beautiful in 2014. Jones had a lead role and also served as one of the producers. Besides being a tremendous learning experience, the film went on to win twelve awards in the festival circuit.

However, Jones describes how she was taken aback when she received feedback along the way like, “Okay, girls, so you do understand that at some point, you are going to have to hire a male producer onboard, right? Just so that people will trust you with their money.” Also, an Oscar-winning producer warned Jones about her after-screenings interview answers, saying she didn’t think it was wise for Jones to “play the woman card.”

But this sentiment seems to have only fueled Jones’ resolve; she passionately urges women to create their own opportunities in film, arguing that what people see in movies is deeper than mere entertainment. “Studies show that the movies you watch don’t just affect your hobbies, they affect your career choices, your emotions, your sense of identity, your relationships, your mental health–even your marital status,” she says. With this in mind, she lists four examples of ways people can support women in film–one of which is to encourage women to write and create their own films. Living by example, her next movie, Bite Me, is currently in post-production.

Certainly more women in Hollywood have turned to producing their own films in recent years. After Reese Witherspoon won an Oscar for Walk the Line playing June Carter Cash, she was disappointed with the scripts that came her way. The lack of inspiring characters served as a motivator for her to transition into the role of producer. Other actresses who have transitioned into production include Alicia Vikander, Kerry Washington, Charlize Theron, Salma Hayek, Drew Barrymore, Eva Longoria, and Sandra Bullock. But these stars have plenty of clout, money, and resources to go after their filmmaking dreams. The hill is a much steeper climb for relative newbies like Naomi McDougall Jones. Jones and her colleagues have utilized crowdfunding resources for their projects; about 40-percent of Imagine I’m Beautiful was crowdfunded and the rest was funded by private investors, totaling $80,000. For Jones and her colleagues, the risk and hard work have paid off.

Do you find actors like yourself being underrepresented in film? Have you ventured out on your own to create your own opportunities? If so, was it worth the time, effort, money, experience? Please share.