Jen McGowan was first inspired to get into filmmaking by an arts teacher who encouraged her to apply to Tisch at NYU to study acting. Upon graduating, Jen supported herself with a receptionist job at a production company while pursuing her acting career in roles that didn’t speak to her. That’s when she decided to make her very own first film. After that, she says, “I was hooked. Directing was my perfect fit, and I never acted again.”
Since then, McGowan directed such short films as TOUCH starring Lily Knight, and her first feature KELLY & CAL that debuted in 2014, starring Juliette Lewis, Cybill Shepherd and Jonny Weston. It premiered at SXSW where it won the Gamechanger Director Award and was theatrically released by IFC Films to rave reviews.
“With the sort of relaxed charm that marked the early work of Nicole Holofcener, this disarming pic navigates tricky emotional territory to emerge as an impressive feature debut for helmer Jen McGowan.” – VARIETY
McGowan is the first to admit “it was a long road.” It’s hard to pinpoint the exact obstacles she’s had to overcome as a woman in this business, and “knowing the reason behind them is even trickier to define.” She knows there’s gender discrimination in this town, but with all her experience in the industry, McGowan feels, “I’d rather focus on what I can do, otherwise there’s hardly anything I can say that won’t sound just sour grapes.”
In a society predominantly run by men, McGowan believes “the only way to correctly repair the systemic discrimination in the film industry would be quotas.” However, since she’s aware they’re illegal in the United States, her next best option is to focus on the little things in hopes that when combined, they will create a larger, systemic and more long term change. In order for this to happen though, McGowan admits, “everyone needs to do something. Every single person. And any individual person and company that is not actively working to resolve this issue is one hundred percent contributing to upholding the status quo. And every person, no matter how new or how experienced has some ability to make a difference. Specifically, those that hire, should hire women.” And once a woman is hired, McGowan hopes that she will be supported and encouraged by everyone she works with so that she succeeds. “Everyone can champion, elevate and mentor a woman. Everyone. And to be clear, when I say women, I include anyone who identifies as a woman, and of course, all women of color.”
“In her feature debut, director Jen McGowan displays the unhurried, naturalistic instincts of Nicole Holofcener or Alexander Payne.” – ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY
Determined to do something rather than sit on the sidelines enabling the status quo, McGowan created Film Powered, a community of professional women in the film industry that’s designed for networking, skill sharing and hiring. This site helps women connect with and find the support they need to succeed by reaching out to their allies. Still, it’s not just about who you know or what you know. McGowan claims,“in order to thrive, you have to sustain yourself physically, mentally, creatively and financially.” Yet, that kind of balance is hard to come by, as McGowan explains, “Of course it’s likely that gender discrimination has affected my career.” But she won’t let that stop her from looking to the future.
“In my experience this industry is not a sprint, it’s an ultra marathon.” Finishing a film right now tentatively titled RUST CREEK that she hopes will come out in 2018 and more projects in the pipeline, she’s definitely in this industry for the long haul. “I’m always working on setting up my other films and pitching new ones, so it’s hard to say what will be next. Something exciting I’m sure!”