We recently had the chance to interview up and coming filmmaker Kelley Kali for her new horror film for Hulu called ‘Jagged Mind’ we talk about how she got involved, the casting process. How it was working with Shannon Woodward and Maisie Richardson-Sellers. Her shared vision with Allyson Morgan for the script. Also we support the WGA during their strike.
1. How did you get involved with ‘Jagged Mind’
Hey, I just wanted to say thanks again for being patient and doing the interview this way and taking voice memos. I really appreciate you. So for the first question, how did I get involved with Jagged Mind? Well, my first feature, I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking), won at South by Southwest Film Festival and that got the attention of the executives, particularly Jenna Cavell over at 20th Digital. And so they brought me in to pitch for the script on what was first called First Date. It wasn’t called Jagged Mind originally. And so I didn’t think I was going to get the job at first because I went in changing everything, not everything, but a lot of major points because originally the movie took place in New York, in Manhattan, in an art gallery there. And so I had said, look, I think … And it read as though it was like two white women at first.
And so I come from a interracial background and I just thought that it would be great to have the lead be African-American or Afro-Caribbean or something of the sort, because I knew what it felt like to have my parents go outside. It wasn’t like people were aggressive towards us or anything, but you definitely got those side eyes. And I just liked that extra unspoken societal pressure of creating an interracial couple in addition to all the drama that they already had within their relationship. So I did that and not knowing, because I didn’t watch the short from the Hulu bite-sized horrors, and I didn’t know that Allison had already had an interracial couple in the short. So Allison and I were already on the same page in regards to what we’d like to see on the screen from the jump.
And then I had said that since there’s magic in the story, that we should put it somewhere where magic is believed to ground it, to make it feel like this is something that could happen. And so I had suggested New Orleans, the team was with it, I got the job, but then Miami got brought up as another option for logistical reasons. And then I had said, “Well, if we do that, we should do it in Little Haiti,” because I’ve spent a lot of time in real Haiti. And so I felt comfortable enough depicting the culture, but we had a long conversation about making sure that if we utilized Vodou, that we used it only for good instead of villainizing it like it often is.
And so we created a new character, which is Jimmy Jean-Louise character, to help warn our protagonists and help her. And then Stone Magic is its own evil magic on the side. So that’s how that all came to be.
2. What was the vision shared between you and Allyson for the film?
The shared vision between me and Allison, I think first and foremost, at least for me, what I loved about Allison is that she really cared about putting marginalized communities on the screen, telling stories of marginalized communities and normalizing it, not making it... The one thing that I really loved about Allison's script was that oftentimes with like LGBTQ+ films there, it's like a coming out story, or there's some major trauma in their background due to their sexuality, all that stuff, and this wasn't that.
I loved it because it just drops you straight into the world of these two women who are just dating, who are just trying to find love, and that's normal. You can substitute these characters with a hetero couple, you could substitute them with anything because we all are seeking love. And that's what I really love about Allison's script is that she normalizes people in all of their drama. So she makes sure that she's an equal opportunity dramaist. So, that's what I really loved about that, and working with her; we were on the same page in that
3. How did the casting process go for getting Maisie and Shannon together?
As for casting, our casting director, Brittany Ward, she’s phenomenal and she brought us a lot of really, really talented actors. But when I met with Maisie and Shannon, I just knew that these were the two characters that I had envisioned in my mind when I first read the script. My concern was the chemistry read, because at that time we had a lot of … Well, I mean, usually chemistry reads, you put two people physically together to see the chemistry. However, we couldn’t at that time because we were still just coming out of COVID, and plus the distance in which they were. And so we did a Zoom chemistry read, which was my first time doing, and I was very concerned if you could still see the chemistry and feel it over Zoom.
But to my surprise, you can, and I’ve done them several times since then, and they work. You can really read the chemistry even at a distance between two people. And Maisie and Shannon are just such phenomenal actors. And this is a hard script. I mean, time loop thrillers are really … Time loop anything really, it’s really hard to do because there’s always going to be some logic issue that you have to work through. And they were not only just acting and bringing these characters alive, but they were also helping to make sure that the logic made sense. And we were all a team in bringing forth the best version of the film that we could. So yeah, they were great.
4. To me, while watching Jagged Mind. It felt like Billie was trapped in her own purgatory of what she thought she was going to get out life. She also seemed to just relive the most toxic moments from the relationship like she was used to it. While dealing with toxic relationships do you think a lot of people tend to put up walls and think “Well this is what’s out there for me how else am I supposed to break away from these habits?”
So this is an interesting question because to me, when I'm looking at a character in any script, I don't ever see anyone as a villain or a bad guy. They might be doing things that we perceive as bad, but what is the driving force half the time? So basically to me, Billy isn't consciously reliving a toxic relationship intentionally. She's just living a relationship and trying to have a loving time with her girlfriend, and everyone fights. So she's not seeing it like that.
And I don't even feel like Alex's character is feeling like this is toxic. And I know that sounds crazy, but if you really look at her, she's just trying to do better for the both of them. And yeah, it might not be in the healthiest of ways to go get a magic stone to time loop your girlfriend to try to get things right. That's a bit excessive. However, when you're in it and you're not on the outside looking in, where we're looking at the two of them, we can easily see this is toxic. But for many people, I would darn near say almost all of society who have dated or been in relationships like this,
when you're in it, you don't see it as toxic. You see it as you being a good girlfriend or boyfriend or lover or whatever it may be because you're just trying, you're not throwing the person away because of the first fight or the second fight, or the third fight, and you're just trying to make it work. And so Alex, to me, is just trying to create a perfect environment in which the two of them can thrive. Now her intentions are well, but the way she goes about it is extremely unhealthy, resulting in the constant murder of her girlfriend. But all in all, these two are just trying to do what we’re all trying to do and find love.
5. Maisie Richardson-Sellers gave an Emmy award worthy performance, how was it like watching her capture every moment while you were behind the camera?
Maisie was absolutely phenomenal and I love that you said that she has an Emmy award-winning performance. I think that she is going to... She's on a rocket ship to the stars, that one. I didn't even have to really do much. We would talk about the character and discuss what the character's going through, get on the same page, have our usual discussions. But man, once I just let her go, she just went. And it was so interesting because I could see, you could easily overact being time looped or flashes coming into your mind. You can move your body, you could do... It can easily be over-acted.
But the thing is, with Maisie, she did this little shift in her eyes that I knew every time I was at Monitor I could see it. I could see, oh, she’s looping now. I can see when she chose to make that switch and that subtlety, that ability to still visually express a change, but so subtle that it feels natural, that she’s just that good. And having talented actors like her and Shannon working together, it gave me the freedom to work with my DP, Rossa Parton and do more fun shots and things for the looping because I wasn’t having to spend so much time with the actor. They were just phenomenal. They made a great team. We all worked together very well and Maisie just is an absolute star.
6. What’s next for you after’Jagged Mind’. Knowing we’re in the midst of a Writers Strike we also want Allyson and everyone to know we support them at Infamous Horror.
I have another feature coming out with BET called Kemba, it’s a biopic. It’s based on the true story of a woman named Kemba, K-E-M-B-A, Smith, who was wrongfully incarcerated back in the ’90s. It’s a period piece, can you believe the ’90s are a period piece now? That’s just crazy to me, but it was a period piece. We shot it in Atlanta and we just finished it, so it should be going to festival soon. Then I think BET will probably release it towards the end of the year or at the top of next year.
I have other projects that are lined up, but you’re right, the writer strike is holding it up. I’m praying that there’s an agreement that is met soon. I also stand with the writers. I don’t feel like they’re asking for too much, I feel like it’s absolutely reasonable request. I’m hoping that the deal with the DGA helps with some of the negotiations with the writers and also with the actors. I’m just praying that it moves forward, because we all are just waiting to see at this point. But I do have another film coming out later on, but waiting to move into production on some other ones.