Jessica Pearson doesn’t shy away from wearing a lot of creative hats and taking on some pretty cool projects. She’s the founding Director of Shimnix Films, Creative Co-Director of The Maker Series, editor of Shextreme’s Money Shot series, and previous filmmaker and editor of our Shextreme Film Festival highlights films from 2016 and 2017… and to top it all off, Jessica is this month’s member in the spotlight!
For many of us, we begin exploring our creative side in our early and teenage years, for Jessica, it was no different. On her journey to be in theatre, at the age of 15, Jessica was diagnosed with an incurable immune illness called Myasthenia Gravis which left her unable to move her face, tongue and use her throat. Unable to communicate in any conventional manner, Jessica found a way to use film as her way to interact with others. “I would set up my little Panasonic, mini DV tape camcorder and act in front of it. One day I would be in the hospital, the next I would be in the local woods filming myself playing characters that often represented aspects of my personality. In my early 20’s I started to heal, and film developed into a way of telling other people’s stories through my business Shimnix Films.” What started out as a creatively therapeutic means of communication, led Jessica on a journey of filmmaking and editing, learning new skills to give insight and voice to the stories that people have to tell. Jessica explains that “editing is my comfort zone, where I sit alone and time stands still. I have always loved the challenge of a blank canvas and the potential of what might happen. An empty timeline creates a mix of fear, excitement and then if I am lucky a spine-tingly high when music and image mix together.”
“For me, film-making pushes me out of my comfort zone and leads me to create magical connections to the most amazing people.”
Over the years, Jessica has worked on many exciting projects, like The Maker Series which is a collection of short films each featuring a different artisan and their trade. When recalling her most significant achievements, Jessica shares two that come to mind: “I will never forget sitting in the Shextreme festival in 2016 and hearing the audience laughing and reacting to my film, The Space Outside. Before the viewing of my film, I had felt so scared about sharing it especially after seeing the other films chosen for the Shextreme film festival. My stomach felt sick, but as soon as I started hearing laughter and reactions, I felt calm and remembered the film had nothing to do with me, it was the stories of the women that mattered.
The second achievement that I am proud of happened while lying in bed after I had a major relapse of my health last year. At the beginning of 2018, I had set up lots of adventures with women around the UK. The idea was that I was going to follow them, film them and learn from them to create the 3rd episode in The Space Outside series. When I started to lose my voice and started choking on food I knew I was in a bit of trouble. I had more to learn and even though determination can be helpful, in this instance the fight was lengthening the struggle. So I am proud of the moment I surrendered. While lying in bed, being still and starting to fill my body with love not fight I decided I must adapt again and let go of The Space Outside journey as I knew it. As soon as I let this struggle go, I was filled with peace and my mind allowed for other ideas to flourish.”
Shextreme Alliance was formed in 2018 to provide a positive and nurturing environment for aspiring female creatives. Jessica has been one of its members from the beginning, and she believes that learning “from masters and to be able to ask them questions has taught me a lot about my own film-making and how I might progress. It has also helped me to be realistic with expectations of myself. Since listening to these epic film making women, I have realised that I probably will never be able to physically film the way they film; under the extreme conditions or with the kit they carry. However this hasn’t made me feel despondent, it has made me feel refreshed and has fuelled me further to carve out my own way of capturing and sharing stories. The encouragement, knowledge and generosity of spirit, paths the way for women to share stories within the medium of film. I have listened to every master class live except for one, which I listened to as a recording. At the start I listened to find my connection back into the adventure filmmaking world, what I found was through listening to I connected to a deeper understanding of why I film and how I might move forward while still being physically less able.”
So, what does Jessica have in store for this year? “Since my relapse I have focused on projects closer to home, my home being North Devon. For several years I had been slowly filming artists and makers in North Devon. Once I surrendered The Maker Series felt like a natural place to continue my filmmaking. I am incredibly passionate about this project, and I get to visit local people and promote amazing North Devon talent.
I also developed The Space Outside into a blog called The Space Outside Creative Network. The blog is made up of responses from artists, adventurers, creative’s, musicians, writers etc. to the question “what does the space outside mean to you?” This seemed like a simple way to still be connected to this project while my body is unable to film for the project.”
If you’re a filmmaker and looking for some words of wisdom, then you’re in luck because Jessica offers some priceless advice: “If you have questions ask them and if at first they are not answered, keep seeking out the people to answer them. When I wanted to learn how to travel, I surrounded my self with women who were adventurous and started a series to document my curiosity into the world of adventure.
Get to know your kit, push its limits, get good insurance and use it. You'll not always have all the equipment you need to get every shot, so think outside the box; a hair band and a leaf work as well as a lens hood, a shoe on the ground can angle the camera up to take a long exposure night photo, a 99p jar opener can smoothly film a follow focus shot.
I have learnt to use my equipment to suit my body. For example, my hands shake, and up until now I haven’t had the cash for a Gimble, so I use a C-shaped camera holder and either use the weight of the camera to steady the movement shot, or I have found balancing it in the curve of my nose makes for a pretty stable moving shot. Also, I look like a crazy fool, so this often helps to bring out the light-hearted personality of the person I am filming. I usually use a hybrid mono/tripod, (a monopod with feet). This is super at getting steady shots while also being able to move around freely. For a smooth pan I hold the monopod with both hands and pan with my boobs, sounds mad but I naturally found myself panning this way during events and it also gives my arms a rest.
In the end, do it your way, while seeking out knowledge and progressing in areas that excite you. What’s the point in doing something that bores you, protect that passion, adapt and know when the surrender.”