Atlanta native Jason Baustin went to American University to study film and media, and he decided to stick around the D.C. area and found a production company, Traveste Films. The 29-year-old Silver Spring resident’s latest short, On Top, won a directing award in August at D.C.’s World Music and Independent Film Festival. He answered a few questions about the film—-and you can ask him your own this evening on Twitter. Before you do that, you can watch On Top in its entirely at the bottom of this post.
Washington City Paper: The film is about a fictional prostitute. What prompted you to make a film with a prostitute as the lead character? Was your lead actress—-Nikki Estridge—-or anybody else skeptical about your motives?
Jason Baustin: Yes, the film is about a “working girl,” but I wouldn’t call her a prostitute; essentially she is a high-class call girl. It’s funny, there are so many euphemisms in regards to prostitution in our society. But I think prostitute, hooker, and streetwalker are words that really don’t fit the character in the film. Adriana [portrayed by Estridge] is successful, financially wealthy, and is truly passionate about her line of work. Adriana isn’t desperate, she genuinely enjoys her job. And that’s where the name of the film On Top comes into play; Adriana is on top, she’s untouchable because of the power she has acquired from her clients. Typically whenever you see a film about “working girls,” it always depicts them as down and out, abused, or addicted. I was interested in flipping that notion on its head and tell a story about a call girl who was content.
Yes, I think the film is edgy and a bit risque, but it’s not in bad taste. Once Nikki and the crew read the script, I believe they understood what I was trying to do with the film. But I think that’s what indie filmmakers need to do with their work in this current age of ubiquitous technology. It’s not enough to make a decent or average film, since digital has allowed anyone to become a filmmaker. You need to stand out and be different, and that’s what I tried to do with this film.
CP: Was there anything tough about controlling the tone? Any film about a high-class prostitute runs the risk of having a “late-night Cinemax” thing going on. It probably helps that your soundtrack doesn’t have any saxophone.
JB: Yes, I actually did hear the Cinemax remark from a friend, but in a good way. In the sense that he thought it was sexy and was of high-quality. But to be honest, my intention was never to make that type of film. On Top is not about the romantic encounters of Adriana, but rather I wanted to display her commitment, passion, and the challenges she faces in her chosen occupation—-which is something we can all relate to. In regards to the music, I selected songs that I thought were sexy, fun, and eclectic, which I thought represented the character well.
CP: It’s set in Baltimore. In some ways, it feels like an extension of the same world as The Wire or Homicide. Did you have any of those famous Baltimore shows in mind when you were making it?
JB: Since I’m not really familiar with those shows and don’t currently live in Baltimore, those weren’t really inspirations. The real reason I chose Baltimore was I have made strong relationships with other independent filmmakers in the area such, as Jeanie Clark with Steel Corset Productions and Michelle Farrell with Absolute Independent Pictures. Both women played an integral part in the production and really assisted me in making On Top a true Baltimore film. However, the more I visit Baltimore, the more I like it as a city and film destination.
Baustin will be taking more questions about the film tonight at 7:30 via his Twitter feed.
WATCH: Jason Baustin’s On Top: