In the set of the HBO series Boardwalk Empire seven years ago, Naomi McDougall Jones had a fateful meeting with a vampire.
Jones, an Aspen native, had a small part on the show, and when she met an extra who self-identified as a “vampire” she beckoned, “Tell. Me. Everything.” Fascinated by this subculture, Jones learned all she could about these creatures of the night—indeed, they do drink human blood—and the seed of her new film, Bite Me, was planted.
A romantic comedy set in the world of real-life vampires, the movie is the second narrative feature that Jones, who now lives in Brooklyn, has written, produced, and starred in. The first, 2014’s micro-budget psychological thriller Imagine I’m Beautiful, earned her critical notice and awards for both acting and writing.
The movie also reflects Jones’s increasingly woman-centric approach to filmmaking. After four years of writing and rewriting the script (plus crowd-funding), Jones shot Bite Me over 21 days in New York last summer, with director Meredith Edwards helming an all-female creative team and a primarily female crew. The film could be released on the festival circuit as early as this spring.
Jones plays Sarah, a heavily tattooed, blue-haired vampire who strikes up an unexpected relationship with the straight-laced IRS agent auditing her “church.”
“Everybody was saying, ‘Oh my god, we’re making a great film,’” Jones recalls of the production. “You could feel that from the cast and crew. I can’t wait to show people this movie.”
Jones, who was the 2005 Aspen High valedictorian, studied acting at Cornell University and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where, as she puts it, she set out to “become the next Meryl Streep.” Her grand ambitions soon confronted the reality of mainstream Hollywood, however, as she struggled to land the type of roles she’d dreamed of playing. That dearth of quality parts for women inspired her to work behind the camera, too, as a screenwriter, producer, and activist.
Last fall, as the revelations of sexual abuse by Harvey Weinstein and others roiled the movie industry, Jones’s 2016 TED Talk, “What It’s Like to Be a Woman in Hollywood,” went viral, even landing her a book deal. It’s a cri de coeur for what Jones has dubbed the “women in film revolution” as she outlines the industry’s large gender gap.
In the talk, she recalls being raised by a “raging feminist”—the novelist Claire McDougall: “It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to do the things I wanted to do because I was a woman,” she said. She recounted instances like being told she’d need at least one male producer on board when producing her own movies and being advised by an Oscar-winning female producer it wasn’t a good idea to “play the woman card.”
Jones’s next project launches this spring, when production commences in Canada on her new television series, The Dark Pieces, about an Aspen mom-turned-serial-killer; she calls it a “feminist crime thriller.” Her script for the pilot made advocacy group WeForShe’s 2016 WriteHer List, which spotlights the best unproduced TV scripts by female writers and with strong roles for women.
In another effort to topple the patriarchy, Jones has also co-founded the 51 Fund, a nonprofit that aims to provide financial backing for movies made by women. “There are not enough female voices as creators, and, as a result, there are not enough interesting female characters being written that represent the [broad] spectrum of women,” she says.
A spectrum of characters that is now, thanks to Jones, wide enough to include some real-life vampires.