Jane Charles, Film Producer | Seattle, WA
Describe a moment where you felt powerful.
Hmmm… powerful that’s interesting. I remember the first time I gave a speech in front of people. I think it was in the seventh grade and I went to a Catholic elementary school. I was this nervous kid and my parents were always saying Janie speak up, we can’t hear you. I was always nervous because I felt like my voice wasn’t loud enough. Then in seventh grade I took a speech class with a really great teacher. We got to do a monologue and I picked this comedy. And I remember while I was speaking, people were looking at me intently and everyone started laughing. I felt the energy of these people coming toward me and I just felt like wow...I am able to say something that makes people feel good and makes people understand something new or just enjoy and laugh. There were times at school where my friend and I were chosen to give the news of the day on the loudspeakers. That felt great! That was the first time that I think I really found my voice and knew that I had one. So from that point on I had no qualms about speaking. And that was the power of speaking.
That was the beginning of your journey. But go back even further to a story about your childhood.
I was always a really sensitive kid, and as a child I would see commercials with kids starving in Africa. I went to my parents and said I want to join the Peace Corps. They wouldn’t let me do it of course at age 10. So I packed my bag - I had you know one of those old suitcases with the flip box - and put I think my bunny and some pajamas or something in a blanket in my suitcase and walked out. I was sure that if my mom saw me with my suitcase, she would say, “Ok fine...don’t run away and I will let you join the Peace Corps”. I talked to her again and she said no. So I ran away from home because she wouldn’t let me go. I walked two blocks over and set up a tent in the backyard at my friends house...and that lasted until about dinner time when I got really hungry and my sister came to get me. She said you know you need to come home and have dinner. So it didn’t last long, but it was the beginning of something new for me. I’ve always loved storytelling. I’ve always believed that we need to tell more stories about unity because we are on this planet together. There should be no borders of city, borders in a state, no country borders, no religious borders. We are all one. I’ve always felt that way.
In terms of your journey, in your career, what was the leap you took into the production world? How did you become a producer?
I was actually going to be a broadcaster. I went to school for broadcasting communications and then starting working in a newsroom. I did a show called Metro Magazine which was like a behind the scenes, way before ET and all of those other shows. I always loved film, always had been interested in writing and storytelling, and I was able to go onto films sets and interview people at shows like MacGyver and 21 Jump Street. That was all I wanted to do. I wanted to be on set. My love of films actually started really early and my parents would actually even wake me up to see the 11 o’clock movie. They would wake me up at 11 and I got to watch the film with my dad and they would put me back to bed. I got to see a lot of great films early on. So when I was doing the interviews of a few people that were working on sets… I would ask how I get into working on set and being on film, and they said well you can be a production assistant. I would do a day here and there and I was so happy. I was inquisitive and I kept asking questions. As a production assistant I started helping the assistant directors in breaking down scripts and doing budgets and working on set and helping cue the extras and direct behind the scenes. So I became a member of the Directors Guild of Canada. This was in Vancouver BC where I worked on a feature film called ‘Bird on a Wire’, with Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn. I was able to do all the second unit on the film because we were doing car chases and explosives and we were on tops of buildings and all over the place. Being right at camera where the director was so great. So I did that film and I did ‘Pure Love’ with Danny Glover and Martin Short.
It was during this time while I was an assistant director that I had my daughter. I realized very quickly that it was difficult to be on set for 12, 15, 16 hours sometimes, and spend enough time with my daughter. I always say producing really was a gift from my daughter because I wanted to spend time with her, I needed to have more control over my destiny. So instead of working on other people’s films, I started working on my own films, and that gave me the ability to create my own schedule, be home more, take her with me when I travelled… so really, my daughter helped me start producing. I was freelance producing commercials and I did a couple of feature films at that time, and then I was asked to executive produce at a production company. I knew what executive producers did - bringing in the work and hiring the teams, but I never really saw myself in that position specifically. I got to play with a lot different equipment and learn so much about filmmaking because we were working really quickly on all these different projects. At times, we would have 4 or 5 teams, working on different projects and I was overseeing all of it. I ended up doing that for 6 years and then i started my own company in Vancouver.
When my husband, a Boeing engineer, and I moved to Seattle, I decided to get back into feature films because we had optioned SOLD and I knew that this film was going to be important for me. So I got back into feature films and started developing more projects that were good for the earth. Once we made SOLD and once I started seeing the impact, I knew that I would never be the same. I could never actually produce the same way. That I would always have to do projects that have impact and so I have turned down a lot of different projects until now. I have started developing my own teams that also want to have impact. Instead of waiting until just before the film is made, we are starting to put together our impact campaign very early and think about who we want on the team and who we want this to impact. Going forward, all of the projects that I am doing will have impact.
How did you get involved with SOLD the movie?
The opportunity came up where Jeffrey Brown, an award-winning director, called me and said have you read this book, it’s a young adult novel by Patricia McCormick. I cried through the entire book because at that point I didn’t know anything about human trafficking. I’d heard about human trafficking, but I never really understood it through the eyes of a child that’s going through this. You really get to understand what it’s like to be trafficked through the eyes of Laxmi, the the young girl in the book. So I called Jeffrey and I said whatever it takes to make this film, I’m in. It was 10 years ago and we optioned the book. A week later it was nominated for national book award, and we felt this sense of urgency to tell the story because this is happening every day to these kids.
I cannot allow children to be bought and sold for sex. There are many things that happen in the world that we cannot allow. How many of us can say that it is okay for children to be bought and sold for sex? I go to bed at night thinking about the kids that are alone in a room somewhere and bad things are happening to them. We, especially as women and mothers, can’t allow this to happen anymore. Just even speaking about it. Even if we talk to a couple of people about it and let them know that this happening. This is a reality and they have that awareness in their lives and they wake up the next morning and go “wow I didn’t know anything about this, thank you for telling me.” We can save more lives. We have to keep our eyes open. We can’t just have blinders on and go through our day. We have to see what’s around us. Make sure we are aware of the suffering that is happening, as hard as it is to see. This isn’t something that people want to talk about everyday. It’s not a topic we bring up at cocktail parties often. This is a subject that seems very overwhelming for some people. But the reality is that if you do one thing by talking about it, if you do one thing by donating to your local non-profit that is working to help rescue and rehabilitate commercially sexually exploited youth, you are helping in your own way. There have been citizens who have changed things over time, just by noticing something, just by caring about something, and just by talking about it. I’m inspired about that. It doesn’t matter what you care about. It can be anything. There are going to be other people that care about what you care about. You are never alone in that and you can create change just by talking about what you are passionate about.
I feel like I always live the journey of the project that I’m on, and this was a really difficult journey to take because we just immersed ourselves in traveling to India and Nepal and meeting survivors, hearing their stories and then carrying that with us. There was an immense weight to carry the story because even though we had done other documentaries, we knew that we needed to be part of this and really push this wave of awareness. There needed to be real impact. There were a couple of films that had come out like Taken, but there was nothing that, that really had a campaign behind it.
As we were raising the funds for the film, we started building an impact campaign and our audience really early on, and that was new for me because I had made films and sold them, or had made films and the distributor just took them. But Jeffrey and I knew we had to be involved in this campaign because no one cared as much as we did about making sure this message got out there in the world. We spent every day for two years just raising funds for the impact campaign. We put together a great team of people that helped promote the film, and then traveled to different anti-traffic events to speak about the issue. Everywhere we went people would tell us it didn’t exist here in the U.S. or in our own cities, and that it only happens in other countries. We kept saying yes it does, and here’s a survivor who went through this and you can hear their story and they’ll talk about it.
So before we even made the film, we started an awareness campaign. We got involved with a CNN freedom project and Nobel laureates who deal with trafficking. We were involved with Kailash Satyarthi, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and we spoke at the Nobel peace prize ceremony for him. We were asked to put a panel together for artists against trafficking at the United Nations. So here we are filmmakers - and all of a sudden we are activists that are bringing artists together to help end trafficking and that was so empowering - just that whole process. The journey then made sense - you know everything we went through to get this film made, and the difficulties we went through to get the film made. The impact started to happen and there was awareness. We put a panel together at one of the Attorney General‘s conferences, and all the Attorney Generals went back to the states and started changing things. We would travel to the film festivals and meet people in other cities, and hear that their attorney general was at that conference and they came back and started changing laws and started having Town Hall meetings and bringing people together to talk about this.
It’s amazing when you realize what you started and how far you have come with the film and its impact globally.
We were in Chicago and the Super Bowl was happening there that year. The Attorney General there started a campaign and found a way to put the trafficking hotline on the labels of the bars of soap in hotels, because often boys and girls are trafficked to hotels. What a great way to reach those people because they’re in the bathroom and they can call the hotline. So what I found is when you’re passionate about something, when you really care about something and you talk about it, you don’t have to tell people exactly what to do they will find their own way in that issue if they care enough. The education is enough for them to say I’m angry about this, I’m gonna do something about this right now. They’ll find a way whether it’s helping an organization that’s already started, or starting their own organization - or even having a film screening to create more awareness.There are screenings of SOLD happening all over the world right now and that’s exciting.
As a filmmaker, what responsibility do you feel to not only entertain but to educate?
You know we have seen our culture change based on what is shown on TV and feature films. Kids start mimicking the actors in the film and I think we have a great responsibility as storytellers to tell the stories that are going to create positive change, that are going to create education, that are going to give people something to think about so that we can make the world a better place. There is enough violence out there right now. There is enough divisive energy. There is enough hate going out there and my goal with films is to always have love as a base of a story. Our humanity comes from our heart. We all have brains, we are all able to decide what we want to do and decide, I want to create change..I’m going to do this. But it you don’t feel it in our heart, then the passion would not be there to move that forward. Storytelling gets into your heart. Storytelling gives people something to feel passionate about, and then create change or even just talk about it. I do think that as storytellers, we have a great responsibility especially now, when it is so needed, to bring stories that are going to heal the planet and that are going to heal humanity, and the Earth and bring us closer together and not divide us.
So dig deep for me...What inspires you everyday that is impactful?
What inspires me is real human connection. What inspires me is hearing other people’s stories, connection with them, and feeling like I am not alone in the world. Everytime I am out of my comfort zone, I allow myself to look that person in the eye to say hello and to connect on a deeper level. I feel so much more alive and I feel like we can do anything at that point. When we isolate, when we are alone, when we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable and connected to people. We can’t impact anything. For me, as far as communicating and connecting with people, it is really about staying in my heart, and making sure that when I speak, I am talking about what I care about.
Traditionally, women would get into their own things and not support each other as much as we need to. I am seeing more women coming together again which is really nice. We created a platform with SOLD called ‘Circles of Change’. How can you create change in your own community? There’s a non-profit that I am co-founder of called Stolen Youth in Seattle. It shows how 12 women that had a passion for something came together and really did create change and continuing change. We want to teach other communities how to do that.
The Fem Word is storytelling about badass women like Jane Charles. What inspires badass Jane?
Well, badass Jane is inspired by so many great women who are doing great work in this world. I am seeing, everyday, women having a voice, you know finally, really having a voice. I think that even with the difficulties with the last year, the last number of years, and what is happening on the planet, you can look at the negativity. But I think all of that - and showing the dark side of things, showing the oppressive nature and showing what can happen when masculinity is out of control really has helped women find their voice because we need anger. We need to see that if we don’t say something, this could happen.
Handmaid’s Tale is a great example. Here we are in the world and the Handmaid’s Tale, the book came out many years ago… but how relevant is it to now? Even when it came out, it wasn’t as relevant as it is right now. Women are watching it thinking that something like that could actually happen; if we are not strong enough to stand up for ourselves. If we don’t allow ourselves to be oppressed. I think often in the West, we get complacent and comfortable and happy in our lives. As long as we have our home and we have an income and a relationship, we can get very lazy about what is happening in the world. I wish that every person, especially every woman would travel the world and see other countries and would get to know and see how similar we all are as women. Many of us are women, many of us are wives, all of us are children. We have mothers. All of us have sisters or brothers and we’re much more similar in the world then we are different. I hope that people will continue to get better.
I think about what happened with ‘me too’, and I thought we were free. I thought that we as women had reached a certain point and we were independent and we had all the rights we needed. I didn’t think those rights could ever be taken away. But ‘me too’ is a huge rude awakening when you are living in the a world you thought you were living in. That there were forces that could oppress us again… that there are forces that could keep us from what we want to do. So we can’t fall asleep. We can never fall asleep. We have to keep going and we have to keep looking for those things that will keep moving us forward because we are here for a blip. Look at the history of the earth. We are on this earth for this long… what are we going to do with our time and how can we create the most positive change in the world? I think it is about sticking together. Women need to stick together. We need to support each other. We need to be badasses together.