Jenny Waldo combines her experience as a documentarian and a scripted narrative filmmaker to produce content that speaks to the human experience. A producer, writer, director, film educator, and accomplished crowdfunder, credits include her recent feature film directorial debut Acid Test, which premiered at the Austin Film Festival and was a 2023 nominee for Best Texas Independent Film by the Houston Film Critics Association. She associate produced the indie feature The Preacher’s Daughter which sold to Lifetime, and the Starz feature documentary The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing among various shorts, educational series, and music videos. Jenny's next feature, Martha’s Mustang, was selected as a Nicholl Fellowship Quarterfinalist, garnered a development grant from the City of Houston, and was selected for several development labs including the Stowe Story Narrative Lab and is slated for a 2025 production. In the meantime, Jenny is excited to explore the suspense genre with her latest short film Twofer. An advocate for upcoming filmmakers, Jenny was Program Coordinator at the non-profit Southwest Alternate Media Project (SWAMP) and now teaches filmmaking at Houston Community College where she always integrates her projects as educational opportunities for her students. While not thinking about, teaching, or making films, she wrangles four teenagers in her Brady-Bunch-style home.
How did we get here?
My journey to filmmaking started in photography when I was 6 years old. You can read about it more in my Visual Storytelling post.
My sophomore year at Oberlin College, I took an English course that incorporated film theory in the syllabus. I was, I admit, a default English major because it was the only department with a selection of courses that I could imagine taking for the required 40 hours in a major, and I loved reading books, analyzing them, and writing papers on that analysis. In my introduction to film theory, my world blew wide open. I never thought about “reading” a movie the way I would read a book for themes, motifs, structure, characterization…etc. My family avidly watched movies and my parents had introduced me to classics and movies that had made an impact on them in the 60s, but we never discussed them afterwards other than “I liked it” or “That was awful.” And this was coming from a family with an interest and knowledge of classical art. But movies weren’t art, they were entertainment.
I was fascinated by this new perspective on a favorite pastime. As a lifelong photographer and writer, it was the first time I ever considered merging my “artistic” interests. Instead of writing down a photograph I wanted to captured, I thought about the story behind the image: the character I was seeing – where they were coming from and where they were going, who they would encounter along the way and why.
I knew right then and there I wanted to make movies.
Oberlin has a great program called “Winter Term” where you take the month of January to do a project that is approved of by a faculty mentor. You have to complete 3 Winter Term projects in order to graduate. I had one friend who spent his Winter Term not speaking and communicating only through a dry-erase board to see how people would interact with him. My first Winter Term I did a photo essay, my second Winter Term I tracked wolves for the Audobon Society in Minnesota, and my third Winter Term, I spent interning at Mandalay Pictures on the Paramount Lot.
Arriving in Los Angeles was like finding my home. I loved every minute being there, being on the lot. It was so exciting. I read scripts, I talked to producers, I saw celebrities. I decided to move there right after graduation. But being in LA on my own without knowing anyone, without any real knowledge of the industry, and with a desperate need to pay the bills was too much for a recent grad like me. So I moved back to DC and began working for production companies that did educational series and documentaries, and eventually a company working on features. I also decided that I wanted to learn everything about filmmaking and hone my own skills and talents as a writer and (hopefully) director. So I applied to graduate film school.
Every school that I applied to rejected me except for USC and a film school in London. As much as living in London and making films sounded like the coolest thing ever, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go to USC and learn how to be a filmmaker. It was the “permission” I was looking for that I could be a real filmmaker, and in the process of going to USC I realized that I should never, ever, look for permission again. There are too many filmmakers, artists, actors, what-have-you, and NO ONE is going to give you permission, or money, or validation in advance of your work. You’ve got to do the work, trust yourself, believe in your vision, and know that only by doing will you learn and grow.
It’s been a slow process, filled with ups and downs because “life” keeps getting in the way. But I keep moving forward and making work. My project SISTERS was shot in May of 2010 and took 3 years to finish. Why? Well there were some technical difficulties with AVID, then some more technical difficulties, and then my personal life blew up and I had to focus on getting divorced and keeping my kids happy and stable while keeping myself sane. In that process of getting divorced, I thought I would move back to Los Angeles. I was so sure of it. It was my chance! But I have different circumstances now than I did when I was a single, child-less, grad-student at USC. I have different financial obligations. And as much as I love Los Angeles and missed it all these years that I’ve been away, I realized that I had made my home somewhere else. And I needed to stay for so many reasons.
So how am I going to “make it” and what does that actually mean to me now? In many ways I would be happy to return to being an intern on the Lot. Being part of the machine of Hollywood is exciting but it is also bureaucratic and depressing. So many great projects are overlooked because of the business models. The people actually “making it” are people outside of the system. It’s risky and scary, and I’m trying to balance that reality with the stability and sanity that I still need in my personal life.
It's been 10 years since my divorce and in that process, I've managed to pursue my craft and support myself teaching film at Houston Community College and finally directing a feature film! In the midst of a pandemic, I'm in post-production and recalibrating, once again, what it means to be successful.
Change is violent. Discovery is scary. Failure is not an option.