Gillian Jacobs might be known best for embodying complicated, polarizing characters, from the overall-wearing Mickey in Netflix's Love to the self-righteous Britta in Community. But truly, it might be the Jacobs behind her Shatterbox film Curated that truly freaks us out.
The premise: Nancy, the protagonist, and her husband take a trip to pick up a few items at her late grandmother's estate, where they meet a curator who gives them a rather long — and unsettling — tour of the house.
The tour gradually gets stranger and stranger (human fingernails are involved), until it hits a grotesque peak. No spoilers, but basically, per Jacobs, "The film is about inheritance and a grandmother passing along her house and an identity, where the two people who entered aren’t going to leave."
The story is inspired by Jacobs' homebody maternal grandmother, who loved her family but felt a special, powerful loyalty to her house.
“People would stay at my grandmother’s house from around the world and leave objects, clothes, and musical instruments," Jacobs said. "You would think she was a world traveler, but she never left the house.”
Jacobs spun her “kitchen sink family drama into a thriller piece," she said, but the early stages of the film centered solely on the character of the grandmother. With a shared love for creepy and odd stories, she collaborated with writer Amelia Gray to create this horror piece.
“Amelia was able to fictionalize my grandmother and the world and make it different enough and far enough way to make a more interesting short film rather than just a biography," Jacobs said.
Directing a short horror film might seem like a far jump from Jacobs' past comedic work in Love and Community, but Jacobs absorbed her knowledge from thousands of hours on set. "I’ve seen things go well and things go poorly. If you’re paying attention and you’re really trying to take in the set as a whole, you can learn a lot. It’s a pretty great way to learn about filmmaking as a whole," Jacobs said.
It also helped to have women by her side. Jacobs’s manager Jill Kaplan, who is also a producer of the film, was one of the first people to push her to pursue this project. “Having other women in your life who really believe in you and see your potential and push you past your fear and discomfort has been incredibly meaningful and helpful to me,” Jacobs said.
On her Shatterbox set, Jacobs collaborated with women in all areas, including colorist Laura Jans-Fazio (Mr. Robot, A Series of Unfortunate Events) from EFilm. “Gillian’s great to work with. She’s smart, fun, and has a communicative approach to the collaborative film making process," Jans-Fazio said.
“You see certain jobs that women do a lot: script supervisors, [or work in the] hair/makeup department. It’s much more rare to see a female grip, but women are capable of all of these positions. There was a female director [named] Dorothy Arzner who helped invent the boom mic. I relish the opportunity to work with women, and it was really fun to look around and see roles that women don’t really play," Jacobs said.
Jacobs studied female filmmakers from the early 20th century, and she recognizes that women contributing new ideas and learning diverse roles in the production world isn't a new thing. Women have been on set since the beginning of cinema, and Shatterbox gave her an opportunity to see it in action.
Watch Gillian Jacobs' Shatterbox film, Curated, above.