A former literary agent, Caytha Jentis began making movies while driving carpools in suburban New Jersey. Her contemporary stories are typically heightened-reality, existential comedies about an under-served population.
Jentis earned an MFA from UCLA in screenwriting and a BS in TV/film from Syracuse University. Recently profiled by the Writers Guild as well as Screenwriter Magazine, she is a member of the Writers Guild, Film Fatales, NYWIFT, and the Producers Guild.
Jentis has written, produced, and directed several award-winning features including Bad Parents starring Janeane Garofalo, Cheri Oteri, Christopher Titus, and Kristen Johnston (Cinedigm), And Then Came Love starring Vanessa Williams and Eartha Kitt, and The One starring Jon Prescott. Her other major credits include The Other F Word, a short-form series about four women coming of age in midlife. The series was recognized as a top episodic performer on Amazon during its first four months of release.
And premiering next month is Pooling To Paradise, which Jentis wrote and produced. The heartfelt rideshare comedy turns into an unexpected road trip to Paradise, Nevada as four strangers, each at crossroads in their lives, find surprising connections that change their view of life.
Pooling To Paradise stars Jenny (Lynn Chen), a Los Angeles mom, who leaves her family for a blogger convention in Vegas. She accidentally chooses “pool” on her rideshare app, placing her in a car full of strangers. Personalities clash, vulnerabilities unwind, and bonds form as they each find their personal Paradise. Laced with humor, heart, pathos, and a psilocybin drug trip in Death Valley, Jentis’ script is a relatable millennial road-trip rom-com. The film has opened the Female Eye Film Festival and Fort Myers Film Festival where it won best feature film.
In this one-on-one interview, Jentis reveals her passion for filmmaking and the challenges she faced in bringing Pooling to Paradise to life.
What was the inspiration for this script? Was any of it based on your own experience carpooling?
Caytha Jentis: The film was inspired by a night out with a rideshare driver. I live in New York but when I go to Los Angeles for business, I take a lot of Ubers and Lyfts. I always chat it up with the drivers because I’m curious about their real passion. I was with a friend and we were talking to this Lyft driver and I asked if he wanted to join us for dinner because one of our friends had dropped out. We’d been taking philosophy and movies and during dinner, we had this great conversation about the driver’s friend, who had found love in Paradise, Nevada. His story was similar to my film but it had a different outcome—the friend had fallen in love and they were getting married. So I thought, his story might be something we could develop into a film. The characters in Pooling are composites of my friends and the challenges they were dealing with in life.
How did you go about assembling such a great cast?
Jentis: It’s not easy with indie films, which are always hard to put together. We worked with Russell Boast, a skilled casting director. Jordan Carlos, who plays Marc, was someone I’d met in New York through a writer’s club event. He had an NPR show called Adulting. And I thought, hey, I have a movie that deals with a lot of themes he deals with in his podcast. Jonathan Lipnicki was perfect for Sean because I wanted some sweetness to his character. Our director knew Lynn Chen, who was terrific. And Dreama Walker came to us traditionally via her agent.
I love the contrasting characters, the hyper-organized Jenny, and the liberated spiritualist/philosopher driver.
Jentis: Many people refer to the film as The Breakfast Club in a car. I wanted to present the contrast between the character actor and mom. Women in their thirties, who took different paths: one, a mother, the other, unmarried—how did feminism impact them? Challenges for women are still as complicated as ever. There’s a lot of me in Jenny and the driver who inspired the story, as well as the artist. I was inspired by their differences.
Okay, the biggest challenge you faced in filming Pooling?
Jentis: Getting everyone together at the same time. We shot it in December right before the world changed. When you work with actors in indie films, you use them a couple of times here and there. In Pooling, we needed everyone to be available the entire time. And, of course, shooting a movie in a car has its challenges. Indie filmmakers often have to use their storytelling ingenuity to solve problems creatively. And that’s what we had to do.
Why did you choose to segue into animation when Sean describes his girlfriend, Dawn?
Jentis: I wanted to visually show how we get over people. When you break up, you have these romantic images of what the relationship was. And I really didn’t want to do it in a flashback. For Sean’s plight, which drives the story, I wanted to show how our minds see life. So I thought animation would show Sean’s feelings, something that rises above reality.
I enjoyed the homage to the wolfblood moon, which made Jenny abandon her conference.
Jentis: One of my friends was caught up in that. I did a bit of research on Death Valley and how nature changes your mind. All the characters were starting to open up and connect. I wanted Jenny to have this moment, where she’s looking for something but she’s not sure what it is. She’s at crossroads as to where she wants to be—a good mother or a career that gives her worth.
The charming little gift shop brought out some interesting internalizing in each of the characters. Can you talk about that a bit?
Jentis: The director (Roxy Shih) and the DP lucked out and used that. The shop was wonderful and the actors enjoyed it. It produced some amazing moments that tied in with their different characters.
Jenny’s heart-warming speech at the Sharing Stories meeting was particularly powerful. What were you going for there?
Jentis: I wrote that scene because I wanted Jenny to feel that telling stories about motherhood wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. But she needed to find her voice. It wasn’t like she was unhappy with her marriage but she just needed to see her life differently. She added more than what I’d put into the script and personalized it to reflect her own experience. I also wanted to show how second-generation immigrants experience life in this country.
Can you go into that transitional moment that drew you from agent to writer/producer?
Jentis: I always wanted to be a writer/storyteller, especially when I graduated from film school. I’ve always been an extrovert, which is how I became a producer. When I was in college, I was told that if you want to be a writer, you need to learn everything about how stories are sold. So I was lucky, got into agenting early, and helped writers get their stories sold. I worked with a lot of journalists turning true stories into movie ideas. I learned the business side of this industry and how to negotiate deals. And how to get someone to want to read a script, which is storytelling in itself.
Any advice for aspiring writers/producers?
Jentis: I always say, you gotta wake up every morning and say you’re gonna move a mountain. But you also have to realize that you’re the one who cares the most about whatever you’re writing or making. And to accept that truth. You have to follow your passion and realize that you’re an artist with this creative beast inside of you that needs to be fed, otherwise, it can kind of destroy you. It’s important to listen to experienced people. Many new filmmakers tend to be very idealistic. You need to recognize how hard it is and know your audience. Like who besides you will care about your story? I’ve written essays and memoirs and dabbled in theater but once you get used to storytelling for film, it’s different.
What were you like in high school? The girl most likely to…?
Jentis: I was an athlete in high school so I was kind of sporty. And I was a writer and a people person. I’ve always said, do it for the story. I feel like that’s the excitement in life—to go out and attack it. And basically, life is a story.
Pooling To Paradise will debut on VOD and DVD on August 3, 2021.