We've been excited for Daily Dead readers to watch Jon Knautz's The Cleaning Lady since Heather Wixson gave it a four-star review at the Arrow Video FrightFest 2018, and with the film now on DVD, Digital HD, and On Demand, we caught up with executive producer Jim Nelson to discuss how he read the script in one sitting, collaborating with Knautz and co-writer/star Alexis Kendra, and how viewers may have to sleep with their lights on after watching The Cleaning Lady.
Thanks for taking the time to catch up with us, James, and congratulations on The Cleaning Lady! When did you first read the screenplay by Jon Knautz and Alexis Kendra, and what made you want to help bring their story to life? Had you seen the short film that the feature version is based on?
Jim Nelson: Thank you for your interest in The Cleaning Lady. I am an avid reader and had read several scripts written by Jon and Alexis. We were discussing the possibility of an independent filming of one of their projects, but nothing for sure. About two years ago, Alexis handed me the script for The Cleaning Lady as I was walking to my car to drive home (I live approximately an hour south of Los Angeles). I stopped to grab a bite to eat and thought I might read the first twenty pages or so. But I couldn’t stop reading. It grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I read the entire script in one sitting. I read it again the next day, called Alexis and said, “We have to make this.”
I watched the short proof-of-concept later and saw so much potential for this project. I believe it actually helped Jon formulate the feature film in his mind’s eye. He and Alexis fine-tuned the script a little and we switched Alexis into the role of Alice.
What was it like working with Knautz and Kendra (who also stars as Alice) on this film? Did you spend a lot of time on set while they were shooting?
Jim Nelson: Jon and Alexis are two of the hardest-working people I have ever met. As you know, this is an independent film project, so we did not have the power and money that comes with a studio project. We all wore several hats, especially Alexis. She has the strength of ten women and kept this production rolling.
I was on set for most of the shoot. I told Jon and Alexis I would help out as much as possible and nothing was beneath me. Well, be careful what you say to the on-set producer, because the next thing I knew I was getting up at five in the morning to go pick up an old used truck we needed for the next scene. (I complained, but deep down it was satisfying to contribute in my small ways to actual on-set production.)
In addition to Kendra, Rachel Alig is fantastic in The Cleaning Lady. What made her the right fit for Shelly?
Jim Nelson: Rachel is an accomplished actor. She is a pro. We needed someone that knew what it was going to take to play the role of Shelly—sitting in the makeup chair for hours, conjuring up her dark soul, extracting sympathy from the audience. I know this sounds corny, but it’s true, we knew she was Shelly the moment we met her.
Where did filming take place, and how many days did your team have to shoot The Cleaning Lady?
Jim Nelson: We were able to shoot the film in 28 days thanks to a meticulous schedule laid out by Jon. We shot most of the film at a ranch in the outskirts of Los Angeles. We also rented an apartment and house in Los Angeles for the interior shots.
If I’m not mistaken, The Cleaning Lady marks your debut as an executive producer. What did you learn from working in that role for the first time on this film?
Jim Nelson: I have quite a bit of experience working with rock bands and production companies, so I am quite familiar with the process, but this was the first time I took the lead for all financing, legal, and corporate matters. I can honestly say this is the most exciting and fun project I have ever worked on in my life.
I learned a very important lesson: it truly takes a team to be successful. You have to surround yourself with hard-working people, people dedicated to the project, people willing to go the extra mile, people passionate about their job. We were lucky to find and assemble the best crew any producer could hope for.
Looking back at making this movie, is there a favorite or memorable moment that stands out?
Jim Nelson: My favorite moment was the first time I saw one of JoAnne McGrath’s scenes played back. She plays young Shelly’s mother in some flashback moments. She is so convincing, and I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say this… you will HATE her!
Ultimately, what do you hope viewers take away from The Cleaning Lady?
Jim Nelson: That’s a hard question to answer without giving too much away, but I will try. I hope the viewers appreciate that Alice and Shelly are both “broken.” They are drawn to each other to fill a void. They are trying to help (fix) each other before the friendship spirals out of control.
I also hope the viewers have to sleep with the lights on after watching the film. Remember, your cleaning lady has a key to your home.
With The Cleaning Lady now On Demand, Digital HD, and DVD from RLJE Films, what other projects do you have coming up that you’re excited about, and where can our readers follow your work online?
Jim Nelson: I am currently working on a true crime docuseries about the McStay family murders. The family went missing in Southern California in 2010 and their remains were discovered four years later buried in the desert outside Victorville. The San Bernardino police arrested a man in 2015 and, after being in jail for almost four years, his trial is taking place as we speak. The working title for this project is Two Shallow Graves.