When it was time to shoot and direct her production company’s first film, Jacqueline Xerri said it was a no-brainer to come to her native Oceanside.
The town she grew up in is part of every scene of Xerri’s 18-minute short, “Monkey Bars,” which is set to debut at an independent showcase this month. She filmed it last February at School No. 9E, School No. 8 and in the parking lots of Oceanside shopping plazas.
“It was actually a main part of the movie,” she said of her hometown. “I knew that I had this personal connection to School No. 8 because we used to hang out there, but it was also a necessary part of the movie to really have a genuine portrayal of the story.”
“Monkey Bars” follows a young girl and her two best friends as they embark on what Xerri described as a “questionable” night out with some older boys whom they meet on Facebook. The story explores the stark contrast between the main character’s naive infatuation with a troubled boy and the heartbreaking reality of the night, she said.
Xerri, who now lives in Brooklyn, filmed some of the scenes in her parents’ Oceanside home, and wrote, directed and co-edited the film with her partner, Stephen Musumeci. It stars Sofia Popol and Chris Inman, and features Milly Shapiro, who is best known for her starring role in the 2018 horror film "Hereditary." The film is executive produced by Ethan Lazar (The Witch)
Xerri’s film is to debut at the Cinema Femme Shorts Fest February Showcase, where it will stream online throughout February. It will also stream on NoBudge, a website that features independent films, on March 12.
Xerri said she has been interested in filmmaking since she was 10, and she began making short films with her friends when she was a student at Oceanside High School. After graduating from OHS in 2015, she graduated from Florida State University’s College of Motion Picture Arts in 2019 and then joined the production company, Big Blue Pictures.
After she and the crew finished filming in February — just before coronavirus cases started to steadily climb in New York — they saw the quarantine as a chance to edit their film until they perfected it. Though it only took two weeks to shoot the project, the arduous editing process required nearly a year. Xerri said FSU permitted her to use equipment at the school in Tallahassee to finalize the film, and she was grateful to the Oceanside School District for allowing her to shoot scenes at the schools, to her cast and crew, and FSU.
With the short to be released to the public for the first time this month, Xerri said, she felt a whirlwind of emotions. “It’s definitely scary,” she said. “To share it with everybody is exciting, but it’s a little nerve-racking. It’s really just a matter of being able to be confident, put yourself out there and believe in the project and the story that you’re telling.”
In addition to Musumeci, Xerri said fellow FSU alumni were also instrumental in bringing the project to life, including Director of Photography Robert Bevis and Producer Raymond Knudsen, and she said she was thankful to Jon Violette for scoring the film. Musumeci said he hoped the movie’s emotional tone and thematic messages would spark conversations among viewers, and he was excited to see how the public reacts to it, though he added that the long process of producing and finishing the film was tiresome.
“I heard someone once reference about this process that it kind of gets to the point that when you put it out, it’s like when you don’t want to look at your ATM balance and you take the receipt and leave,” he said about the continual editing. “. . . But now having been almost six months, seven months since kind of wrapping that process and moving onto other things, I can sort of look back and fully appreciate what we did.”
While Shapiro brings name recognition to the film, the other actors are less well known. Oceanside resident John Rider, who graduated from OHS in 2015 with Xerri, said he wanted to get into acting for many years, and when Xerri offered him his first chance to audition for a role in a film, he couldn’t pass it up.
“I grew up in Oceanside, so filming at the places where I used to hang out and do this kind of stuff was kind of like a time machine,” he said. “I think my experience of actually being in the town and the timeframe that I grew up in for the film was just perfect.”
Rider, who landed the role of Scott in the film, described Xerri as an “amazing” director, and though he joked there were some unexpected nuisances — like wearing a microphone on his waist at all times — he said he had a blast shooting the short, and hopes to work with Xerri again some day.
Xerri is now working on developing her first feature film, and will begin shooting a horror short in February, in addition to her role as a freelance video editor. Her goal, she said, is to grow Big Blue Pictures and collaborate with other artists. She said she thought the performances by the “Monkey Bars” actors were “really honest,” and she hoped her message resonated with audiences.
“When you’re young, you take a lot from the movies you see and the shows you watch, and that can often create an idea of what romance is,” she said. “There sometimes is a disconnect when it comes to applying that idea to your own life, and I guess it’s easy to get ahead of yourself, so I guess for people watching this movie, whether you’re young or whether you’re old, just take a step back and try to look at things a bit more objectively.”
To learn more or purchase a ticket to the Cinema Femme Shorts Fest February Showcase, visit cinemafemme.com/short-festival.