There is one filmmaker I know of who consistently releases feature films on a micro budget and has shown me that over lighting, over names, over fancy locations, the most important aspect of making a movie is script and story.
Now in all honesty I had started to watch her films in the past and stopped because of the production value. I’m a tech. Not just a tech but a lighting tech, I strive for the frilly production value, and artistic lighting so I will admit it was difficult for me to find motivation to watch her older work. However, when I did sit down and watch everything in its entirety I was incredibly delighted.
I now think of and talk about one of her films almost daily and hopefully I can spread the word to people who don’t know the work of Michelle Ehlen
I will start with her short film.
This project is, so far, the only drama in her repertoire.
The story of a woman who comes home for her grandfather’s funeral and walks into a place where her mother doesn’t accept who she is.
The title is incredibly appropriate. Her mother keeps following her around wanting her to wear a wig to the funeral, which looks totally ridiculous. And it plays out in such a sad way where the daughter accepts her mother’s un-acceptance and her mother can’t find it in herself to change.
It is really a beautiful piece which touches on family drama in such a different way from anything else I’ve seen out there.
The subtle humor and heartbreaking truth creates such a melodic ebb and flow of emotions.
Here is where you can watch the trailer and rent the film directly from Michelle.
2-POP-U-LARITY (2012) STARRING MICHELLE EHLEN, ASHLEY CULLEUR, CHADWICK, BETTY OUYANG
This film surrounds a small country town and an annual singing contest.
It follows several different characters preparing for the big event in the spirit of films like Best in Show with a mockumentary type landscape.
The acting is good. The humor is funny. I thought it was enjoyable but the genre isn’t my favorite.
Watch it and let me know what you think.
3-BUTCH JAMIE (2007) STARRING MICHELLE EHLEN, TIFFANY ANNE CARRIN
This is the first installment of a three part series following Jamie, Jill, and other characters.
Jamie is an actor in Los Angeles and we start this film watching her get ready for an audition: putting on a wig, fake nails, sitting in a waiting room next to uber Hollywood, stereotypical looking 20-something girls.
After, shockingly, not getting the part from that audition, Jamie’s friend convinces her she needs to go to auditions as herself and when she does, what do ya know, she gets the part.
Catch is it is the lead role of a man.
The producer makes her sign a contract which says she can’t tell anyone she’s a woman, she can’t have the role on her resume, she can’t, as female Jamie, speak of being in the film, and on top of that she has to work for free.
Actually, I found it pretty realistic when she accepted.
So Jamie starts to shoot this movie and she meets Jill who is working on set. They hit it off and start dating except Jamie still can’t confess she’s a woman.
Jill drops a bombshell that she is an ex gay and we have to maneuver through Jamie trying to explain why a man is not voraciously trying to get in her pants. It doesn’t end too well with these characters but Jamie ultimately finds excitement right under her nose with the help of a cat actor and its mom, Lola, who is a re-occurring character in the next films.
This movie touches on gender stereotypes, various sexual orientations, the satirical side of what it’s like to be an actor in Los Angeles.
Out of all in her collection, this has the lowest production value. It was released back in 2007 when the technology wasn’t incredibly geared for micro budget indie films. But Michelle did what is almost impossible for many: make, release, and distribute an award winning feature. Story story story, script script script.
The script and acting in this film is really what makes it so special and this film is the perfect first installment.
for some reason I had problems renting it from Michelle’s Vimeo, if you have problems you can also watch it from Wolfe.
2-HETEROSEXUAL JILL (2013) STARRING MICHELLE EHLEN, JEN MCPHERSON
I’m willing to bet you know this title. It is on most streaming platforms right now and is the second installment in Michelle’s series.
This film follows the same characters from Butch Jamie, though different actors.
It kind of starts where Butch Jamie has left off where Jill is having internal drama with her sexual identity. She is a part of ex-gay culture trying to guide her way onto a path to heterosexuality just to ultimately realize she can’t de-gay.
The thing I love about this story is its close look at sexual stereotypes and the idea that no matter who you are there is no black and white when it comes to sex and love.
While Jill is battling her personal truths in this story Jamie finds herself battling some interesting issues of her own after she walks in on a man jerking off.
To see the parallels between Jill trying to be less gay and Jamie trying to be more gay is hilarious.
I’m told people have been offended by the subject matter in this film but it really portrays very personal journeys.
No one wakes up absolutely 100% comfortable with themselves and their thoughts.
This is a story about understanding and accepting one’s truth despite any stereotypical categories you might fall in.
If you know someone who stands up and claims every thought and decision they make comes from absolute black and white terms, they are lying.
Heterosexual Jill can also be seen on Netflix
3-S&M SALLY (2015) STARRING MICHELLE EHLEN, JEN MCPHERSON
Okay okay. This is the film I just saw at the Long Beach Q Fest and it is still in festival run so it’s not available quite yet to see at home but I am waiting in anticipation because I think and talk about this film almost daily to anyone who will listen.
This is the third installment following Jamie and Jill. They have both come to terms with their sexuality, ha, and now we get to take a closer look at relationship, sex, and growth.
What is so great about this film is the conflict Michelle chose to write about which is different than most movies but more indicative of what we deal with as humans in real life.
This story is two people, together, in love, guiding their way through their relationship and growing together.
It starts with the two characters questioning the vulnerabilities of how their relationship is progressing.
Jill has moved in but hasn’t staked a claim. Then Jamie finds out Jill has gone to BDSM clubs in the past and wants to try it, after she finds out what it is. So they start going to the clubs and being a part of the culture.
This story is such a close look at gender stereotypes and the ongoing theme that Jamie wants to dominate Jill. Jamie is the butch and Jill is the femme. As the story progresses it is apparent that Jill is the dominant and we get to watch Jamie having to become more comfortable with herself being the opposite of who she is perceived to be.
It is such a funny look at how we view people in contrast to who they really are.
My favorite on-going shtick is when Jamie and Jill wake up in the morning and Jamie starts becoming the little spoon. She wakes up every day not cool with it at all and it progresses until the day she wakes up and it’s not a big deal. It is such a clever way to show the break down of their relationship and them getting comfortable with one another, and themselves, on new levels.
Michelle really handled the characterization of the BDSM culture with such grace. I’ve never been uncomfortable with the culture so maybe my view is different than others but if handled incorrectly the film would have taken on a totally different tone.
As a whole this is such a sweet story about the growth of a relationship.
Jamie is a lucky girl to lick the sanitary foot of a woman who knows what she wants. Jill is a lucky girl to be with someone with such an open mind for evolution.
These films have such heart. All small picture looks on very personal problems and they really analyze, in satirical ways, issues many of us face in broad terms.
Maybe our significant others aren’t into whips and chains but I’m willing to bet they have experiences and interests which are outside the realm of our comfort zone and a good relationship will open themselves to it all.
Here’s the trailer:
Follow S&M Sally on social media to find out if it’s coming to a festival near you.
Michelle has more work as per her IMDB, I hope to see it at some point!