Tony winner Sarah Jones is such a talent that no less a figure than Meryl Streep is an admirer.
Streep is an executive producer of Jones’ directorial debut, Sell/Buy/Date, a provocative film on the sex industry that is making its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin. Jones somehow manages to bring an array of characters to life — think of performers like Tracey Ullman and Lily Tomlin combined — in service of exploring a taboo subject. And it’s a documentary. Sort of.
“Sell/Buy/Date is a hybrid documentary-narrative. We’re calling it an ‘unorthodoc,’” Jones explained as she stopped by Deadline’s SXSW Studio. “I bring my characters in to have a conversation about women, sex and power, really all about the sex industry. And it’s my own exploration, but it’s an invitation to the audience to come with me.”
Jones says it’s a topic that doesn’t get enough serious attention.
“Sex work, the sex industry, whatever we call it, it’s got these deep roots that nobody ever thinks about,” she said. “We watch Pretty Woman when we’re little and we have no idea that there’s a lot more to it than Julia Roberts in thigh-high boots. And so I’ve always been curious. I’ve done shows where I tackle various topics. This one seemed like the one that you can’t touch without falling into a swamp.”
The film, written by Jones and David Goldblum, posed an enormous technical challenge because Jones’ characters frequently appear on screen at the same time, interacting with each other.
“We have an amazing DP, Josh Weinstein, who really figured out how we could, on our little budget, make something that we thought would really entertain people and hopefully help them forget they’re even watching one person,” Jones said. “I even had one friend say, ‘Who played the guy?’ I was like, ‘How good is our friendship if you don’t know that was me?’ And I think the whole goal is to have a good time. This film is definitely comedic in a lot of ways, but also we have to be able to talk to each other, we have to be able to have conversations across gender. Men can’t feel like, ‘Oh, that’s a chick movie.’ I want this to be a film that men walk out like, ‘Oh my god, you know, my girlfriend dragged me, but actually, I really enjoyed this.’”
Watch the full conversation, and see Jones do many of her characters, including “Lorraine,” “Bella,” and “Nereida,” in the video above.
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