Sarah Elizabeth Mintz moved back to New York this month after a seven-year stint in Los Angeles while she was working out Good Girl Jane, her debut feature that just landed with a splash, winning Best Narrative Film at the Tribeca Festival as well as Best Performance for star Rain Spencer.
In a conversation with Deadline, Mintz describes the long path and motivation behind the drama of teenage alienation and addiction inspired by her real-life freshman year in high school. “Substance abuse carries a lot of shame a lot of misconception,” she said. “What mattered was to shed some light on the isolation I felt. I know that had I seen that type of isolation on the screen, it would truly have affected me, made me feel less alone.”
The film follows lonely L.A. teenager Jane (Spencer), struggling to fit in at a new school after being bullied in the old one and reeling from the fallout of her parents’ recent divorce. She falls in with a druggy crowd and is smitten with their charming supplier, Jamie (Patrick Gibson). Jane’s thrilling, new, drug-fueled popularity soon spirals downward and, eventually, her family helps pull her out of a world she’s reluctant to leave. Andie MacDowell plays Jane’s beleaguered mom, Ruth.
(Responses have been lightly edited for context and clarity.)
DEADLINE: You said Good Girl Jane started out as a very different film. How so?
MINTZ: I had a first draft of the feature script in 2014. It was called Junk Food Diaries. I sent it to a bunch of screenwriting programs, and it got into Sundance Writers Intensive in 2017. But I threw out the script I had brought to Sundance. The feature I went in with is the same story but the draft I went in with looked very different. It was primarily the style of the narrative, the style of the film, the way it was written. It was top-to-bottom voice-over. The voice-over was in a blog form, a live journal. It was very punchy and had a lot of quick cuts and one-liners, a super-stylized version of what ended up being a film with very few punchy one-liners… There’s a scene in a closet, in Jane’s closet, where she’s using drugs alone for the first time after she has a conflict with her mom. That scene plays without any interruption for a few minutes, and we are just watching this girl in the most private moments. You are forced to watch. We have edits where we cut out very soon, but I couldn’t stomach that — it was about watching her sit there and experience that roller coaster of emotion and relief as well. But the context is still the same, Jane and Jamie, and the trajectory inspired by one that I had with my own addiction and my own mental illness struggles. I think that exposing my darkest aspect and being vulnerable about that can hopefully be a support to someone going through similar experiences, or someone facing that, or having a child going through it.
DEADLINE: You mentioned you’d just moved to Brooklyn. From where?
MINTZ: I had been living in New York until 2015, when I moved to L.A. to put this movie together, for seven years. I am from L.A., born in Santa Monica, grew up in Pacific Palisades. I went to University of Wisconsin, Madison, then I sort of woke up sophomore year and realized I was only taking cinema studies and film studies. I transferred to NYU/Tish sophomore year. I didn’t know for sure if I was going to direct. I knew that I wanted to immerse myself in film. I started thinking about what types of stories I wanted to tell. I’m interested in coming-of-age stories, probably started think about this film senior year in my thesis short film Transit with Dakota Johnson.
DEADLINE: After school, you worked as an assistant to Alejandro González Iñárritu on The Revenant, Joachim Trier on Louder Than Bombs, and Cary Joji Fukunaga on HBO’s True Detective. That’s an amazing group. How key were these relationships?
MINTZ: I would say that all three of them influenced me. They are all three auteurs, all three uncompromising in their vision, and making work I truly admire. My first year out of college, I worked on Season 1 of True Detectives. That gave me the confidence and the reputation to assist on more challenging projects, and I heard that Joachim (Worst Person in the World) was looking for an assistant on a film he was doing upstate. And assisting that really did change my life. It was the first time I had a true mentor. The film, Louder Than Bombs, went to Cannes. I got a very different experience on that project. It was quite small and intimate. When I won, I checked in with my family and then with Joachim. He is a close friend and mentor. I also started working on Good Girl Jane the exact year I started working with him.
DEADLINE: How did you find Rain Spencer?
MINTZ: Rain came in through audition. I was very straightforward with everyone that I was looking for lightning in a bottle, trying to capture something. That I didn’t know when that person was going to come into the room. I didn’t know how we were going to find her. I saw every girl, every working actor when we had these open calls, and Rain just walked in one day. It was really immediate for me. I knew it was going to be her. I worked with her for a while after that, brought her for callbacks, and the chemistry with Patrick was great and sealed the deal for the creative team. This is her first feature, first major work. It’s such a gift to introduce her, to be hand in hand taking a big leap.
DEADLINE: How did the win feel?
MINTZ: When the film won, I was so surprised. I’d never expected this to happen. I had just left a screening. We had one scheduled that day and I went back for a Q&A. I am over the moon. I did a lot of really ugly crying in front of a bunch of people. I want to see that, if someone has video. Or maybe not.
DEADLINE: What are you working on now?
MINTZ: I wrote another film after Jane was shut down in March of 2020, ten days into production for Covid. Luckily, we had wrapped Andie MacDowell. From March of 2020 to when it picked up in March of 2021, I wrote another feature film and am working with a production company on it, but can’t say more. Hopefully soon.
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