PIMPKILLAH: Indie Comic Book And Film Auteur Sarah Bitely On The Evolution Of An Amazing Idea

Back (L to R): Linda Burzynski, Xenia LeBlanc, Angelica Amor, Michelle Jubilee Gonzalez
Front (L to R): Christie Insley, Sarah Bitely (hood)

About five years ago I managed to interview stuntwoman, actress and producer Michelle Jubilee Gonzalez. It was through her I managed to build a rapport with several other veterans and up-and-comers in the industry whilst getting an angle going on covering the stunt field and it was a privelege to be able to exchange with her than as it still is now from time to time.

She's a talented singer as well - a fact that I was reminded of clean and clear when last year, I managed to screen one of her most recent short film appearances, Pimpkillah, courtesy of filmmaker and comic book creator Sarah Bitely. I think it quite surprised Michelle and that was sort of the feeling I got when I commented on one of her posts at the time.

Alas, the shortfilm has since gone public, marking a significant milestone for the budding filmmaker and comic book creator who moved from her hometown on the outskirts of DC/Baltimore in Maryland to Los Angeles, California in 2010. Her coming out party has assuredly been a well-lived one from production on through its Club Bahia premiere back in late 2017.

"Screening Pimpkillah in front of so many other filmmakers and friends was amazing." she says. "I was really excited to finally show it since it had been kind of under wraps for several months. It was relieving in a way to put it out into the world."

Sarah was also an aspiring actress from then on and during her youth, at one point citing a likening to twin celebs Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen of Full House fame and hoping to persuade an L.A. move in her parents with the hopes getting an agent. It didn't turn out that way, as she tells us, in the days that led up to her participation at the Maryland Ensemble Theatre by age fifteen - a move that would eventually play a major role in shaping her interests.

"I was in a play adaptation of Lord of the Flies as Simon, but my name was changed to Simone." she says. "I loved having a character to dive into and play that part but as I went into college I was nervous going into studying theatre as a concentration as I really didn’t have much experience on stage. I figured I’d go the behind-the-scenes route and major in filmmaking, that way I could just put myself in my films! I took a directing class my junior year and fell in love with storytelling and working with actors. I realized I was more into connecting viewers with the characters and giving them a chance to see new perspectives."

That urge to connect eventually spilled into her emergence as a comic book author and creator when she began writing Pimpkillah eight years ago as a feature film treatment for screenwriting class. Mired by not knowing what to do with her most recent brainchild except direct it, she spent the next few years refining it, honing in on her craft with inspiration from other works. (Fun fact: I f*ckin love Inuyasha myself).

"When I was young I'd beg my mom to get me 'Archie' and 'Sabrina the Teenage Witch' comics as we stood in line at the grocery store." she says. "As I got into my teenage years I really loved manga, I spent all my free time plowing through volumes of 'Inuyasha'. Then in my early twenties, I discovered Ed Brubaker and his comics - 'Criminal', 'Incognito', and 'Sleeper'. That turned out to be a pretty critical point for me in terms of comic books. I realized all comics didn't have to be for kids or fit the quintessential superhero story. Comics could be gritty and intense featuring flawed characters who aren't always 'the good guy'. Then I dove right into the 'Love and Rockets' comic series by Jaime Hernandez where I felt like I really got a handle on storytelling through a comic book
medium. I felt like Pimpkillah would be a cool comic book series and it would give me a chance to get a jump start on storyboards for the film. I took a weekly class in the back of Meltdown Comics where I wrote and drew my first comic book, a prequel to Pimpkillah."

I asked her about film favorites and we didn't delve much into this area. She does mentions few favorites though, adding "...Recently, I really fell in love with The Florida Project, I think that was my favorite film of 2017. My favorite film of all time is Mean Streets. You can’t beat 70’s Scorsese along with Keitel and DeNiro!"
Sarah also collaborated with a few different artists at this time before convening with artist Alfonso Ruiz who she described to us as "a perfect match" for their efforts, and pairing up for her last two issues, "Retribution" and "Transformation". This was only the star to how important she deems in the course of finding an fitting team, particularly since she was self-funding and self-publishing.

"...After finding the right artist to bring my vision to the page, I had to find the best letterer." she says. "Luckily I was referred to Taylor Esposito of Ghost Glyph Studios who’s lettering added tone and perspective to the artwork. My good friend, Irina Dessaint, helped me create my cover designs. I didn’t do any fundraising for the comic series since I was planning on saving the campaign for the film project so a lot of personal funding went into self-publishing. Until my last reprint I was using a local printer, Gotham Press but after they stopped printing comics I had to find a new spot. RA Comics Direct was my go-to."

Prior to filming and in the midst of her crowdfunding campaign, Sarah initially sought interest in top-tier stunt talent, action actress Tara Macken before scheduling became an issue. Quick to troubleshoot and with the aid of co-star, fellow stuntman and actor Terrence Julien, Sarah was fortunate to link to Michelle before long.

"We met up and instantly clicked, she loved the idea behind Pimpkillah and related to the character." she says of Michelle, and having cast her on the spot, would also hail a first in Sarah's craft as a filmmaker in bringing stunts and action to her directing resumé.

Sarah commented with praise for Pimpkillah fight coordinator and choreographer who won Best Hand-To-Hand upon the film's presentation back in April, adding a few more gems about the central stunt sequence as well. "It took about 7 hours to film that fight." shes says. "It was pretty intense! I’d never had stunts on my set before so it was exhilarating and a little scary. I had an amazing fight coordinator so I really have to thank Hymnson Chan for bringing that all together."

L to R: Terrence Julien, Michelle Jubilee Gonzalez and Hymson Chan
The burgeoning film director also spoke of the emotional weight carried with trying to pursue her goals with the Pimpkillah shortfilm as her creative priorities and hopes took a slight more daunting and personal turn.

"About a month before my campaign was set to go live, my father unexpectedly passed away. I was devastated," she tells us. "My dad was always so supportive of me and my endeavors. I knew he wouldn’t have wanted me to stop trying to make the film. Needless to say, this film is dedicated to him. The campaign went up as scheduled and I would say the hardest part about that was coming up with new and exciting ways to engage people from getting exposure through blogs or just on social media."

Between the comics and the actual short, to say the premise is pretty interesting would be a total understatment. Michelle takes on the role of urban badass Sloane Stone on who plummets into Los Angeles's prostitution ring on a tenacious search for her missing sister. Sloane soon adopts a clique of prostitutes to protect them from their abusive pimps and Johns as they compromise to continue making a living from the trade - a circumstance which, for hopes of better prospects, aids our anti-heroine's own efforts as she advances her vengeful war on the city's criminal underbelly.

Just nine minutes in with the actual shortfilm and given the set-up, it's pretty clear there's plenty more that can be done with Pimpkillah, which is exactly what the actress/director hope to achieve. I actually confirmed this as well with a replu Michelle as I was pestering her on another project that garnered my interest. I received Sarah's earlier on where she adds, "We have big plans for Pimpkillah in the future. Michelle and I are working on developing the concept into a television series. So stay tuned!"

It'd be a welcome feat to see some major backing with a series that mines the universe Sarah birthed into a passionate comic book IP. In addition, she's seperately developing a dark comedy in addition to just recently directing my first music video, "White Foam" for Los Angeles-based band, Tangients, as hopefully the first of forthcoming creations this summer.

We'll learn more eventually ahout what Pimpkillah entails, but there's a definite way you can follow its progress. Hit up the official Pimpkillah Facebook and Twitter pages and keep track of our heroine Sloane's dark adventures, as well as that of her dauntless creator.

Also, enjoy!


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