Surveillance: Directed by Jennifer Lynch (Daughter of David Lynch)

Jennifer Lynch, daughter of director David Lynch, made her feature helmingl debut at age 25 with “Boxing Helena,” which played at Sundance Fest in 1993. “Surveillance,” made 15 years later, is only her second feature. It premiered at the 2008 Cannes Festival in the midnight section to decidedly mixed reviews.

Can I Do a Thriller

Jennifer Lynch: Kent Harper wrote the original screenplay, which I then co-wrote with him. It started with an idea Kent had about witches. I didn’t respond to the witchs, but I responded to some of his other ideas, so I began to work on the script, which is now called ‘Surveillance.’ Its about two FBI agents trying to seek the truth in a situation where everyone is lying. It has humor and darkness where you wouldn’t expect it, and when the ultimate truth comes, you don’t see it coming. I wanted to see if I could do a thriller that’s a little more than just a thriller. It’s really about what is exciting about lying, why people don’t tell the truth about things.

The only person who is telling truth is the child (played by Ryan Simpkins), because she is not caught up in her ego about what people are thinking about her. She’s the least self-conscious of all the characters and also a real powerhouse.

Film’s Title

Lynch: Surveillance seemed the appropriate title for the movie. It is about people using surveillance cameras to watch each other. It’s not a one-sided thing. Even the watched know that they are being watched. It’s about how people change their stories based on what we see and what it is we assume about each other.


Lynch: I had always wanted Bill Pullman, but he wasn’t available at first and didn’t respond to the script the first time I sent it to him. But a few weeks before shooting, we had a scheduling mishap with another actor who was going to play the role, and I thought I’d kick myself if I didn’t ask him again. So he said, ‘Well, send it to me,’ and this time he said, “Great, I’ll do it.”

Julia Ormond called me after reading the script. She really wanted to go someplace with her character that she’d never gone before. I told her that if I pushed her in a direction that was uncomfortable, I would also catch her.

For the little girl, I wanted someone who really wasn’t a child actor. I wanted a real kid. It was my own daughter who inspired that character, and so I didn’t want a programd, blonde voice box. Ryan Simpkins came in, and she was really a joy to work with, so everything just fell into place.

Cinematographer Peter Wunstorf

Lynch: I was very specific. I wanted to use different film stocks and different way of handling film stock. The two cops, played by French Stewart and Kent Harper, are very bored, but they are legends in their own mind. They have too much power in the middle of nowhere, so the look for that is one of grandiosity, sepia-toned John Wayne if you will. For the drug addicts, played by Mac Miller and Pell James, it looks like they have been up all night on coke and are now in the sunlight, which is saturated. Everything the child sees is super sharp and super clear. And when all these people converge, that is when we start. I wanted the audience to know that they are lying right away. Hopefully, I’ve done it in a way that won’t be too distracting, because you never want to be reminded that something is being directed.

Impact of Boxing Helena

Lynch: After that movie, I took a breather. It was very sad. It was not my cut of the film. And then there was the trial and all that insanity around it. It became an incredibly blown up thing. I spent some time working on a novel, because my other love is writing and telling stories, and I was busy producing and shooting commercials and stuff. Then I became pregnant, and raising a child on my own became my priority for a while. Because of a car accident, I also had to have three consecutive spinal surgeries. Throughout that I was always writing, because it helped to deal with the pain. I am sober and refused to take pain medications. The art of distraction is the art of parenting and pain management. Finally, I got back to the point where I could walk comfortably and my daughter was old enough, so I could go back to work.

Being David Lynch’s Daughter

Lynch: My first film was like judging a book by it’s cover, which I’m intensely against. I used to be judged negatively because my parents were artists, and then I was judged because my father is a wealthy, successful director. Obviously, having a strong filmmaker’s last name gets you in the room, but then you have to deliver. “Helena” was so prejudged, it just became ridiculous. It didn’t have a chance.

Back to Work

Lynch: I feel more empowered this time. I was really ready to go back. I learned from father that as long as you’re happy with the work, you can’t worry about the judgments.

Cannes Festival

Lynch: This is my first Cannes. My brothers have both gone before with my father. But either I’ve been in surgery or taking care of my daughter. She’ll be coming with me, though. She’s 12 and she’s going to be my date. Even though the film is for audiences 18 and over, I hope they will allow her to walk the red carpet with me. She’s seen me in bed for so long, it would be nice for her to see me hold my head high.