I first met Julie Simpson, the creator/director/writer for the upcoming series A.S.K What Could Be The Harm, at the cast script read, in preparation for their first two episodes. I had read the scrip beforehand and loved it. Reading her words on paper however, paled in comparison to listening to her cast come to life as these vibrant characters, 22 of them I might add. I laughed, and laughed some more because this dark comedy is nothing short of hilarious. The writing is spectacular thanks to Julie and her co-writer, Adrien Pereira. A few weeks later, I spent another day with Julie and the cast and crew as their first day of filming began, watching her direct this time. Between building sets, creating a multiple series show, writing, and directing, not to mention figuring out how to make 22+ schedules work for film days, I begin to wonder how this woman does it all. So there really is no doubt, Julie is a perfect example of what women in film can and do represent.
As I continue to interview women in the film and television industry, I’m beginning to find some common grounds, such as paving their own way; when there is not a representation of them in a particular area of passion, they then take it on themselves, despite the odds. Julie is a perfect example of a woman in the industry creating some great material and looking at things through a different perspective.
Tell me, who were your influences growing up and why? What about now, who are your influences and why?
I have always been influenced by people who did things their way and not the way everyone else did. I like people who carve out there own niche and don’t care what anyone thinks of them. My Grandfather was one of these people and he always told me I could do and be anything I wanted to be. He told me to not be a carbon copy of anyone but to be an original and to seek out other people who where that way, or the people everyone else thought where weird and that if I did that I would have a richer fuller life. I took his advice and have found it to be true. My Mother is also
one of my influences she nurtured my artistic side and let me try everything from Dance to signing to writing plays and performing them. We always played and had fun and in doing so my artistic mind flourished.
As I got older I found Maya Angelou and loved that she was a strong feminine women who celebrated who she was and was not trying to be something she was not. She did not apologies for being a women she celebrated it. She made me see being a women as as an asset. I love her quote “still I Rise” “you may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air I’ll Rise…” She made me want to be a poet and I write poetry to this day because of her. I am by no means in her league but she inspired me to do it.
I also found Penny Marshall she was an actress, a director and a producer. I of course loved “ A League of Their Own” but I feel in love with her directing of “Awakening” she took Robin Williams and Robert De Niro and changed how I saw those actors entirely. Not to mention she herself is a great comedian and actress. She showed me how multifaceted one could be.
I know some people will roll their eyes at this but Oprah yes she influenced me. She did what everyone told her she could not do. She puts it out there and does not sugar coat it. She also helps others. Then Tina Fey and Amy Poller where on Saturday Night Live two beautiful and funny women. I love both these women they where doing exactly what I want to do. It is possible and there it was.
Can you share with me your beginning, and how you ventured into this business?
I started out as a set designer and thought that would satisfy my artistic needs, and for a while it did. I also was a stage manager for years and I learned a lot. Then I decided why am I being middle management when I like to be in charge. So I moved to directing and love doing it, then I realized that I could take my love of writing and write down my stories and film them so I started with one of my stand up routines and made it into a pilot then I started writing the other stories on my head. I love creating characters and scenarios for them to play in . I love comedy and making people laugh and through writing I can directing I can take the funny in my head and share it with others.
Any mentors along the way, or have you felt it’s more you’ve learned as you go? Or Both?
I feel I have learned from everyone I have worked with I have learned what to do and what not to do. I am an observer and love seeing how people handle situations which will tell you a lot about their character, and who they are. There is truth in people will show you who they are. I feel every time you take what you are shown and use it to grow it is never a bad thing.
Where do you get your story and character inspirations from?
Where indeed. I have always thought up stories thanks to my Mom we would sit and make up stories about the people we saw and what they where doing and where they might be going. I have always thought in dialogue and made up what these people where saying to each other. I get my characters by basically watching people and
how they do what they do. I take a small idiosyncracy someone has and magnify it and turn it into a base for a character then build the person from there. Like in writing Damian, I take a guy who wants to improve himself and gave him an interesting way to do it. I like to take the mundane and twist and turn it and take it in a way no one else would have thought to take it.
Can you share some of the current projects you are writing and/or working on?
A story of a man who joins a self help group to improve his life only to find out they are not your ordinary support group. I am also working on a show about a brother and sister and another one about a group of women who own a business all of them are comedies.
I love comedy because it disarms people and makes them relaxed and feel good and once you get them there you can show them things they might not have thought about and without beating them over the head or making a tragic movie of the week you can still show them parts of humanity they never thought about before. In essence you might be able to change their thought process on something and if not change it at least open their eyes to how someone else sees something.
What do you think are some of the most important characteristics to have in this industry?
One never give up, never. There are to many people out there who will put you down, don’t help them. If you want it get it. Go after what you want and make no apologies for it. Also say what you mean and mean what you say. To many people try to change to suit who they are with and it drives me nuts. Be who you are and the right people will be on board with you. Lastly treat people the way you want to be treated. Being rude is not acceptable life is to short to put up with those who do not treat you well.
Aside from your writing/directing/ and work in the business, what do you enjoy doing for fun?
I go to see movies and plays I love to go to the movies even if its a bad one, and I have seen some bad ones over the years and some good and some great. I also like to make small collages out of materials I find.
I’ll have more shortly from behind-the-scenes of A.S.K What Could Be The Harm, along with cast and crew interviews so stay tuned! And, a big thank you to Julie and Adrian, it’s such an honor.