The Movie Waffler Interview - DONNA: STRONGER THAN PRETTY Director Jaret Martino | The Movie Waffler

Interview - DONNA: STRONGER THAN PRETTY Director Jaret Martino

jared martino
Director Martino on his new drama and upcoming projects.

Donna: Stronger Than Pretty is a romantic tragedy, an un-love story that spans three decades in the life of a gentle young woman, Donna, as she tries to live up to the traditions and expectations of her Italian roots and of the “American Dream”. That dream becomes a living nightmare and nearly breaks her until she finds the silent force of her inner voice and breaks free from a husband who refuses to be responsible to her, himself, their family, or even his own dreams.

Actor, writer, filmmaker and producer Jaret Martino talks about his latest film, Donna: Stranger Than Pretty, available now on Digital in North America (UK/ROI release TBA), as well as his other new and upcoming projects.

Donna: Stronger Than Pretty poster

You’re a triple threat. Has Covid affected your career at all?

Thanks so much! I’m grateful to say that we have been incredibly busy. The release of Donna: Stronger Than Pretty was eight years in the making from first draft, staged reading, short film and finally the feature film. We’ve also just released the bullying awareness film The Worst Day of My Life. In development we are working on narrative feature film Mrs. Santa, a documentary feature titled Holding Onto Hope - Pancreatic Cancer, and a series titled Worlds Apart starring GloZell and Reante Devon Brown.


You shot Donna long before the pandemic hit? So that was all good, I assume?

Yes we wrapped production prior to the pandemic so we have not been hit by this.


Now before we get to Donna, which is terrific, let’s backtrack. You’ve been acting - appearing in the likes of Teen Wolf and The Middle -  for a number of years. How do you feel acting prepared you for filmmaking?

Yes having a background as an actor played such a crucial role in having the insight on so many aspects of working with the talent. As well as the production experience to understand coordinating departments and creating the best flow and energy on set. Creating a team and in this case an extended family.

Donna: Stronger Than Pretty

Do you have a mentor? Maybe one of the directors on one of those shows that showed you the ropes?

I’ve been fortunate to meet so many mentors along the way that have shaped who I am today.  Larry Moss, John Cirigliano, Lori Tritel and the crew at James Franco’s Studio 4 have all been pieces of the puzzle. Understanding that “Art Is Messy” and getting comfortable with creating projects was a crucial part of my personal development as well as professionally.

When did you know you were ready to shoot your own movie?

I feel there really is never a time when you feel fully ready.  From what I hear from expecting parents it’s a similar feeling. Donna: Stronger Than Pretty really made her own way and became such a force in terms of how she wanted to enter the world. I truly believe this film would have been made no matter what energy I put in. Of course it’s a project that is incredibly personal and bringing awareness to domestic violence is an important reason I’m here on Earth. There are thousands of years of damage done to the collective psyche and projects like this are the controversial conversations that will propel change moving forward.


A lot of actors enter filmmaking or producing so they can fashion vehicles for themselves. Was that a thought with you?

Yes, James Franco at Studio 4 encouraged us to create our own content. As an actor it was one of the best things I could do. Learning the time and attention to detail it takes to bring any project to life is valuable. It takes the pressure off an actor to know that there are so many other important factors in shaping a project.


Right away, shooting a feature like Donna, you would’ve noticed a lot of differences to shooting a short film. Can you discuss that?

In Donna we span three decades so the amount of work and thought that went into doing justice with each time time period was a job in itself. It’s impossible to schedule in chronological order and beyond the costumes and wardrobe changes, it was also important to understand where the character was emotionally and how it related to the story in that moment. Luckily the majority of the cast and crew were along for the ride for almost the entire development and pre-production phase, so we had valuable time together that most productions never get.


It's a very powerful movie.  Your mother’s story I believe?

The film is dedicated to my loving mother, Donna, whose bravery, sacrifice, smile, and heart have shaped the man I am today, was realised to be used as a tool to inspire and empower other families to try to break free of negative conditioning, stereotypes, patterns, and cycles. It honours the strength of women all over the world and hopefully it will also encourage men to acknowledge and share their emotions with the women and children who love them.

May we unite in solidarity and collective spirit to spread love in the face of adversity and shift to a global consciousness that propels movement towards helping undo thousands of years of damage.

It is also dedicated, in loving memory, to all of the beautiful souls who have lost their lives due to domestic violence.


Real life inspired the film but but can you talk about some of your cinematic influences for the film?

I’m a big fan of  Jean-Marc Vallée. I enjoy the projects he’s directed and I've studied his work and try to incorporate aspects of his style within my projects. The juxtaposition in Donna: Stronger Than Pretty was the beauty of Long Island with the grittiness of this character driven story. Big Little Lies had all of those elements and the shots are stunning and the exterior becomes its own character that can help heighten and enhance the overall production quality. Sean Baker is also an old friend and I really love his spirit and respect his choices as well.

Donna: Stronger Than Pretty

Was the title role difficult to cast?

Thankfully we found our Donna on the very first round of auditions for the staged reading almost eight years ago! When Kate Amundsen walked in she not only looked like my mother when she was young, she also had some of her mannerisms, smile and heart. Kate has become so close to the family and we’re endlessly grateful to her commitment and strength at tackling this important role and topic.

How easy was it to get distribution for the film? I imagine, after all those award wins, relatively easy?

We’ve been working with a sales agent early on and yes the combination of it winning multiple awards and the fact that women’s empowerment is at the forefront moved things along quickly. It’s a subject that typically gets swept under the rug and many filmmakers that have covered it choose to play into the stereotypes and stigmas. We broke away from that cycle as it perpetuates the issue. More important to me than impressing Hollywood, I wanted to create a tool that would help other people escape their situations. It’s a movie for anyone that has ever felt the daunting feelings of fear and isolation. A much needed representation of what it means to break free of stereotypes, conditioning and patterns and the beautiful life that can be created from there. It may seem like a long road sometimes, however good does prevail. More than a movie, we are focused on creating a movement. “Women have to be #StrongerThanPretty….You look like a warrior to us”!