By Avery Zendejas
Actor, producer, musician, and martial artist, Michelle Jubilee Gonzalez, already a force to be reckoned with, has teamed up with writer, producer and director, Sarah Bitely, to create one of the most interesting films of the year, with one of the most interesting titles, “Pimpkillah.” That title alone makes you want to see it, doesn’t it?
Well, there’s more than the title that makes this a film worth seeing. Proof is the string of awards the film has amassed. It won “Best International Short Film” at the Belgium Move Me Film Festival, “Best Fight” at the Artemis Film Festival, and was a Finalist for “Best Short” at Artemis as well as at Los Angeles Cine Fest. It was also a Semi-Finalist for “Best Short” at California International Film Fest. It was an Official Selection to Cardiff International Film Festival. Further adding to its international accolades, the film secured a Finalist spot for “Best Actress” and “Best International Short” at the Vancouver Badass Film Festival.
So there’s no doubt Gonzalez and Bitely have made a fantastic movie, which bodes well for the next level for the film, which is being turned into a TV series, and for the women themselves.
We were able to speak with them to learn more about “PimpKillah” and how they plan to capitalize on its success.
HB: How did you two ladies come together?
MJG: We came together in a pretty serendipitous play of events. The original actress for the role had just been booked on a tremendous opportunity shooting “THOR,” and so Terrence Julien (the lead actor) told Sarah about me. She and I met up, and after chatting for a bit she knew I was a great fit for the role. From there the ability to work together grew from not only on-screen actress/stuntwoman, but I ended up coming on board very actively to help her complete post-production. It was great to connect her to amazingly talented people who also shared the same vision, enthusiasm, and recognition of potential that I knew, and know, this project has. I was able to bring in a colorist, composer, post-production sound house, and was also able to facilitate recording some necessary ADR lines at our professional home studio set up.
SB: I must say that being introduced to Michelle was one of the best things that happened! We immediately clicked and I knew she had such an understanding of the character and my vision for the story going forward.
HB: Michelle tell us about your background. In the film, you kick butt. So clearly martial arts is in your background, right?
MJG: Yes, I have a very extensive background in martial arts. My first art was American Kenpo Karate in which I currently hold a 1st-degree black belt. I’ve also trained in Capoeira, Krav Maga, Doce Pares, Balintawak (eskrima), as well as a little Jiu-jitsu and boxing, and most recently have started training in Ninjutsu. The learning never stops. By continuously pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, I discover new things about myself and better define who and how the best version of me truly lives.
HB: And Sarah, what about your background to be a director? What was your path?
SB: I studied film in college where I fell in love with directing and working with actors. I love being able to bridge that connection from an actor to their character and what really drives them. After college, I moved out to Los Angeles where I started working on short films here and there as I made the dive into making “Pimpkillah” into a comic book series.
HB: So tell us about “Pimpkillah.” How did that come about?
SB: I started writing “Pimpkillah” as a feature-length screenplay about eight years ago when I first moved to LA. The script was inspired by many human trafficking reports and stories of forced prostitution all over the world. This is total fantasy, but I thought to myself how amazing it would be if I could just end it all. Free all the women and men who are trapped in a life they did not want. I also kept thinking about the monsters holding people captive, and somehow I came up with the name “Pimpkillah.” I guess in a way, Sloane Stone is a character after my own heart, who does what I wish I could do in the world. Even though she doesn’t always handle things the right way.
HB: How do you think a film with powerful, badass women like this fits in with all the #MeToo movement things happening? Seems like a movie made by women, starring women mostly, is coming at a good time.
SB: I think “Pimpkillah” fits in with the #MeToo Movement since it’s really about taking control of your own life, holding onto that power and not letting others take advantage of you or your situation.
MJG: I personally think this film could not have come at a better time. With all that’s going on in the world as well as locally, seeing women kick ass and help other women break away from old mentalities of normalized inequality is an excellent thing. It takes a strong and self-assured woman to empower other women to succeed in all areas of life and to encourage them to recognize their own self-worth. In “Pimpkillah,” the role of Sloane Stone does just that – she destroys the first level of oppression for these women and later offers them an opportunity to have a better life by going with her so they can leave behind the abuse and exploitation, and embrace the potential for a much better future. This is what we need more of… strong women sending the proverbial elevator back down, and vouching for other like-minded strong and able women and giving them the opportunity to shine.
HB: We see the short film received lots of positive attention. So what’s next for the project?
SB: Getting more eyes on the film is definitely still a goal of mine but working on the next comic book is also in the works!
MJG: I’m very proud of all this short film has accomplished and am exceptionally proud of the entire cast and crew that really pulled through some serious challenges. Sarah and I have gone on to develop this into an episodic TV series, and have currently written up the series bible, pilot script, storylines for the entire 1st Season, and treatments for season 2 and 3. We just started to pitch the show to several studios, and aim to find the right production company/studio/network for this project that shares our passion for creating content that shows empowered women, instead of the incessantly seen victimized woman. We would love to take this concept to the next level and bring light to a subject matter that could use a much needed proactive perspective. One crime is the sale of forced prostitution and human trafficking, and the other massive problem is the buyers… If the world works on supply and demand, how is that we have more buyers now more than ever? We’ve designed the show to be the vehicle to explore and dismantle the ideas that have long infiltrated our societies into perceiving women as commodities to be traded, consumed, and discarded. Time for change.
HB: Do you two have other projects you plan on working on together? Are you the next power duo in town?
SB: I ’d certainly like to think so!
MJG: Do we have other projects? Yes, because creative people always come up with new creative things to create. (Laughs) However, for now, we’re focusing on really pushing this show to get it sold.