Farmington High grad, screenwriter will present premiere of new film this week at festival

Jenni James staying busy with film and book projects, new restaurant despite pandemic

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • Screenwriter and novelist Jenni James is a 1995 graduate of Farmington High School.
  • Her new film, "Quarantine for Two" will be premiered at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 16 at the Farmington Civic Center.
  • She will lead a virtual class on screenwriting at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 15 as part of the Four Corners Film Festival.

FARMINGTON — Farmington High graduate Jenni James has refused to let a thing like the COVID-19 pandemic get in the way of her writing career.

The 1995 Farmington High School graduate — author of more than 50 novels and dozens of screenplays — has seen progress on many of her projects impeded over the last year and a half as TV and film production work slowed to a crawl because of the virus.

But James found a way to keep moving forward. When she returns to her hometown this week to take part in the third annual Four Corners Film Festival, she'll showcase one of those projects, as well as sharing her ideas on how others can follow in her footsteps.

Farmington native and screenwriter Jenni James will return to her hometown this week to premiere her new film "Quarantine for Two."

James will lead a virtual class on screenwriting at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 15. The one-hour session will cover the basics of how to pitch a project to producers and how to get a film made, then James will field questions from participants. To sign up for the class, visit filmfourcorners.com/film-festival.

And at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 16, James will be at the Farmington Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St., to premiere her new film, "Quarantine for Two." The romantic comedy features a cast of only two people and chronicles the birth and blossoming of their relationship during the pandemic.

James, who lives in Fountain Green, Utah, wrote the screenplay last year while she was sick in bed with a bad case of the virus. Two of her daughters had encountered young men they were interested in seeing, but with traditional dating impossible because of the pandemic, James came up with a list of 65 or so virtual date ideas, such as taking a virtual cooking class together.

"Quarantine for Two," a romantic comedy written by Farmington's Jenni James, will make its premiere this week during the Four Corners Film Festival.

When she posted the list on her Facebook page, the response was overwhelming, she said, and James quickly realized she had the idea for a new screenplay, which she knocked out in short order.

The small cast size made the project ideal for production during the pandemic, and "Quarantine for Two" was shot by the independent studio Tier 2 Media over a one-week period in August 2020 in Utah. James was part of the four-person crew, serving as set designer, caterer and script supervisor, among other functions.

Many of James' screenplays had been produced for films or TV, so the environment wasn't new to her. But the experience was by far the most involvement she's ever had in one of her projects.

"Oh, yeah, I'd been on a set before, but it was mostly for marketing," she said, explaining that her work on "Quarantine for Two" gave her an entirely new perspective. "I had no idea what I was getting myself into."

The film — which stars Whitney Palmer and Mason D. Davis, and was produced and directed by Kels Goodman — is set for a streaming and DVD release in the United States later this year. But James said streaming services in such countries as Spain, Germany and Canada already are offering it, and response to the film from those audiences has been encouraging.

The project is just one of many that features James' involvement. She'll be traveling to South Padre Island in October to help scout locations for a production of another screenplay she wrote, this one called "Love Unexpected." The film is set to begin production in March 2022.

Mason D. Davis and Whitney Palmer star in the Tier 2 Media production of "Quarantine for Two."

She has co-authored another script with "The Blind Side" star Quinton Aaron that the two have entered in a screenwriting contest at the Four Corners Film Festival. James said she met Aaron during the inaugural festival in Farmington two years ago, and he asked her to collaborate on the idea with him. The two sat down that night and scribbled out an outline on a napkin before later turning out the full script.

James also is planning a cruise to Mexico in a couple of weeks with her husband to research her new novel, the seventh installment in her bestselling "Jane Austen Diaries" series. James envisions the books becoming a television series, and she already has written the entire first season of six episodes as she continues to try to reach a deal with a producer.

"I'm very protective of the series," she said, explaining that while the project has drawn a lot of interest, she has shooed away offers from several producers because she disagreed with the direction of their proposals.

"A lot of them really wanted to sex it up," she said, explaining that she found those ideas unappealing because she intends to keep all her projects very family friendly.

The series is set in Farmington, and James plans to shoot it here — including at her alma mater, FHS.

"When the time is right, it'll happen," she said.

More:Farmington native Jenni James sees career as novelist, screenwriter blossom

James knows all about the uncertain timing of film and TV production. When the pandemic hit, she had several of her projects in various stages of production in such locales as Australia, Fiji, Phoenix and Canada, only to see them all shut down.

Another project she wrote, a Christmas film being done by the Salt Lake City-based film production company Mirmont Pictures, was postponed in February 2020. James has high hopes for that film, which was supposed to star "Rudy" and "Lord of the Rings" trilogy star Sean Astin.

All those postponements left the perpetually busy James with a little free time on her hands, so she responded by opening a restaurant with her husband in their Utah community. Shep's Grill features many of the entrees that James grew up with in the Four Corners — Navajo tacos, frybread, buffalo burgers and green chile cheese fries — along with a selection of made-from-scratch pies baked by James herself.

The demands of running that business have kept her operating at her accustomed breakneck pace. But James is eager for the pandemic to be over and see production work resume on her many other screenplays.

"I'm too busy to be really upset. I'm frustrated, but this is a long haul," she said, explaining that she learned early in her career on that publishers and film production companies work on their own schedule and that such delays are inevitable.

"It's kind of hurry up and wait," she said. "But I know the screenplays are good, and I know the interest is there. I'm going to play the long game. … You do what you can do and create what'll work in the current environment."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.