Stars and Director of Jethica Open Up About Their Creative Process and Favorite Moments


Now in select theaters, Jethica is a terrific blend of different genres across its tight 70-minute length. The film takes place in New Mexico, where Elena (Callie Hernandez) is hiding out after a freak accident. She runs into Jessica (Ashley Denise Robinson), an old friend from high school, who has a stalker. And when the stalker suddenly shows up at their door, the two must seek help from beyond the grave to get rid of him for good.

We recently caught up with the two stars and director of the film, which premiered at SXSW last year and also screened at the latest Brooklyn Horror Film Festival. Jethica was conceived and produced during the COVID-19 pandemic and thus reflects themes of isolation, disconnection, death, and the unknown. After all, the pandemic itself is becoming a hot subject in film.


Co-stars Ashley Denise Robison and Callie Hernandez on Co-Writing

MW: In addition to starring in this movie, it looks like you both have writing credits on this movie.

Ashley Denise Robinson: Yeah, the whole cast and Pete [Ohs the director], we all wrote it together.

MW: How did you guys come up with the idea? How did it all start?

Robinson: So this is the second of these kinds of things that Pete has done. Pete had previously done a feature film called Youngstown, where he got two actor friends to go to a city outside of Los Angeles and write a script together and shoot it. And the first one they did in Youngstown, Ohio, and [Jethica co-star] Andy [Faulkner] was also in that. And then this next one, Andy used to live in New Mexico, and he was like, “Hey Pete, New Mexico is really beautiful. Why don’t we look for something out there?” So Pete went on Airbnb and found a place and was like, “OK, this is where it’s going to be.” So the story really started with him, you know, finding the location. And then by the time it got around at least to me, he had like half of an outline of what he thought the movie was going to be. And then it was up to the rest of us and the rest of the time that we had in New Mexico to write it out, to flush it all out.

Callie Hernandez: Yeah, in terms of writing, Pete is the director of the narrative, you know? So everything else kind of gets sculpted around it. And we all kind of had our little, you know, tidbits here and there.

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MW: Will Madden, who plays Kevin, seemed like a perfect fit for the character. Did you guys know Will would be playing the stalker-type role all along?

Hernandez: Yeah, Pete knew all of us. So really, Pete just brought together all the collaborators. It really is Pete’s movie, and yeah, it was pretty natural, to be honest with you. It wasn’t like something we’re like, “Well, who’s in charge of what?”

MW: Would you like to do another project like this down the road, with you guys all kind of making the movie together?

Robinson: Yeah, I’m always interested in collaborating. I’m very, like, strong-willed, but I also like assistance with form and format. So it’s like, I’m very much visionary, I have an idea of something and then, you know, having other people actually flush it out is helpful… And just in terms of what we all brought to the character, a lot of like Will [Madden’s] preparation was basically what you saw on screen. So all of those letters [his character wrote to Jessica], he wrote them just as character prep for this character. And then Pete saw them and was like, “Yeah, we’re gonna put this in the film.” And even the videos that we see [Kevin] do, those are also character prep of just getting into the mind of this guy [Kevin]… So we all just kind of contributed to the whole idea in that way, which I think is a really fun way to work. It’s a different way.

MW: Regarding the film’s title, which is spelled differently than the main character’s name, “Jessica.” Do you happen to know the backstory behind that?

Hernandez: I mean, [Pete] just thought, the tone of the movie ended up being so weird. You know, he was just wanting to have fun with it.

Robinson: We were at a Q&A somewhere… I can’t remember who, but one of us emphasized, like, “That’s how I hear my name right from [Kevin] saying it, whether it’s that much of a lisp or not. That’s all that I hear all the time.” Which is a really interesting, kind of psychological twist. And that feeling of like, somebody that you don’t like or somebody that you hate, just like the way that they say your name, it’s like, “Oh, God.” You know? And I think it’s fitting with the tone of our film, which is dark comedy, horror, thriller, and ghost story.

Director Pete Ohs on Wearing Many Hats

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MW: Going back to square one, how did it all start in terms of you putting the storyline together?

Pete Ohs: I do think the thing about Jethica that’s kind of fun is how low-stakes the making of it was. Me being a filmmaker who also likes hearing about and reading stories about filmmakers who figured out a way to make a movie that is cool, that didn’t require a really rich person or studio giving them millions of dollars to make it happen. And Jethica was very much made in the spirit of, “We think it would be fun to make a movie.” Like, that’s the theory. And so it all kind of happened in a way that really is pretty natural, isn’t forced. And there’s just kind of always following intuition of thinking, “This seems interesting. Let’s keep going down this path.”

And the very first thing was just finding that trailer on Airbnb. And not looking across all the Airbnb locations in the world, but starting in New Mexico because Andy, who’s one of the other actors in it, had lived there. And he said, “We should make a movie in New Mexico.” And then I’m changing the settings on Airbnb to be only really cheap places, so just narrowing down the options and then seeing within that, is there anything that would be fun? Because if it was going to cost too much, I wasn’t going to have the money to do it. But coming across this trailer that was clearly a beautiful location just to take pictures of, and then I just started kind of asking questions of myself, like the narrative questions of like, “What story would be fun to tell there?” And having these actor friends in mind and letting them sort of slot into the different characters. And also living through a pandemic, having all the experiences we were all having of being isolated, feeling alone, wanting to connect with people and all those themes, you know, trickling down into this location… and then wanting to have something fun with it. And what I mean by that is, not just make a movie about real life, but make a movie about something that you can only do in a movie. Like robots, like aliens… or like ghosts. And so those are the puzzle pieces that started the whole journey.

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MW: What was your favorite moment on set, or favorite scene to shoot?

Ohs: I have a favorite moment that wasn’t during shooting, but it was just one night when Will [Madden] and I went for a walk. And it was this winter desert, clear sky, and I’d never seen so many stars. And I’ve never seen the shape of the stars in the sky feel like a dome. It was really breathtaking. It was beautiful. And favorite moment [while] shooting. It really does have to be the scene where we first experience [Kevin] in all his glory, with the spotlight in the night, and he is ranting. That was a few days into the shoot. We didn’t really know what he was going to do in that scene until we turned the flashlight on. There wasn’t a rehearsal for it… It was just conversations with Will and a lot of his actor preparation. And I pressed record, and it was dark, and I said, “When the flashlight comes on, it’s go time.” And that’s just what he did. And it was just such a fun surprise that I really treasure it… Those rants from Kevin are completely improvised, completely just in the moment. All of Will’s work as an actor preparing for the role, kind of just let loose. And it’s wonderful. It’s maybe the best stuff.

MW: You wrote, produced, and directed, and I saw you also edited Jethica. Do you normally like to wear multiple hats when making a movie?

Ohs: Yeah, I wasn’t a kid who dreamed of being a filmmaker. I didn’t idolize Spielberg. I loved Jaws and Indiana Jones. I love these movies, but I didn’t think about making movies. I just thought it was really fun making videos with my friends. And even now, as I make these films, I still sort of think of them as just longer videos, with friends. And the way I’ve just kind of always made things was, I’m just kind of doing all these different parts. And the benefit of it now, very much been financial, there’s just more work I can do and fewer people I have to pay. And I really enjoy all the different steps and facets of the process that I don’t yet see a reason to not do it that way.

And what’s amazing about the world that we now live in with technology and whatnot, is not that anyone can make a movie that’s going to make money — because making money off these movies is a whole other thing — but you can make a movie that feels like the movies you love, and you can have that experience, and then you can get to share it with the people that you love. And it can just be a really enjoyable hobby that is not cost-prohibitive, which is cool.

Jethica is available now.

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