By Crystal Harrell

On June 22nd, the Palm Springs International Short Film Festival premiered “Unsettled” at the Regal as part of the 7 Deadly Sins programming block, featuring seven selections that touch on each cardinal crime: gluttony, lust, greed, wrath, sloth, vanity, and pride. “Unsettled” is written and directed by Bella Thorne, and is a true story based on the life of producer and lead talent, Jason Parks. The short film follows a young man who is drugged and abducted from a gay club, as he escapes and seeks to bring his tormentors to justice in a deeply conservative Bible Belt Oklahoma. Coachella Valley Weekly got the chance to speak with Jason following the premiere of “Unsettled” — highlighting his creative journey while filming and the healing process of reliving the trauma he experienced through art.

CV: Thanks so much for talking with us, Jason. ‘Unsettled’ got a great reaction from audiences at the Palm Springs Internation ShortFest. What was it like to be able to premiere the film in Palm Springs?

Jason: Viewing the short film on the big screen with an audience was a very cathartic feeling, because before I was able to gatekeep it and be selective on who saw it, but now that it’s out in the open, I feel this weight of 15 years of trauma and anger and sadness melt away. It was the craziest thing ever and it was beautiful.


CV: And it’s a personal story for you. What was the process like translating your experience to film?

Jason: It’s my true story, and I had a therapist after the events depicted in the film happened. The druggers were never found, so my therapist told me, ‘I think the only way you’re going to get over this is if you turn it into art.’ That’s kind of how I approached Bella. I told her about the whole situation and what happened to me, and what my therapist recommended, and she was 100 percent on board and wanted to help me every step of the way.

CV: And how was it working with Bella on a professional level during filming?

Jason: I could not have asked for a better director or writer because she knows me. When it came to the writing aspect, she wrote the script in my voice. This is my first major lead role in something, so it was definitely a lot for me to take in acting-wise. It just helped me in such a way to have the script basically be how I talk naturally. She was also just so supportive and caring, and made me feel safe. On the second day of shooting when we were doing a difficult scene, she surprised me and had the whole crew wear shirts that said, ‘I love Jason Parks.’ When I stepped on set and saw what everyone was wearing, I broke down crying because it was just so special and made me feel so seen and safe to go to those really dark places again. Everyone was so respectful, and Bella was on top of everything. I could not have asked for a better person to share my story with. I’m so grateful for her.

CV:  You were a producer and lead talent in “Unsettled”. From your perspective, what was the creative process like with these two different roles on set?

Jason: It was kind of nice in the fact that I helped with everything leading up to shooting producer-wise, and then I was able to switch into actor mode and not have to worry about all the producer stuff when we were shooting. I really wanted to focus on my individual performance to ensure that my story had all the visual elements that were needed to be powerful. We had a great team behind us and it was great. I couldn’t have asked for a better scenario for doing something like this.

CV: With this short film premiering in Palm Springs during Pride month, what do you hope audiences get out of the film?

Jason: My whole message that I want to come from this is that all survivors out there are seen and heard. I hear you. I see you. I’ve been through it. I understand what you’re going through. You’re not alone. And if I’m brave enough to relive this trauma on camera and put it out into the world, then I’m hoping that it gives you the strength to be brave enough to speak up for yourself in similar situations or just any traumatic thing that might happen to you and let you know that you aren’t alone–that there is somebody who understands how you’re feeling

CV: That’s an excellent message. Do you want to share any of your background experience as an actor in the industry?

Jason: I have more of a costume design background and have mainly been behind the camera, so it was a push for me. When I was younger, I would write my own scripts and act them out with my twin brother. I always felt a love for storytelling. I just fell into this fashion background, and all these gigs when it came to costume design was where I started. This was my first actual lead role, and it was daunting, it was scary, but I knew it was necessary. With Bella being an actor prior to directing, she already knew what I would be going through. As a director, she knew what I was going to experience as an actor to do these scenes. She would even do the stunts before me to see how it would feel. She took such good care of me and made it so effortless. We’ll be working on another project this year, and it’s pretty insane. We have an amazing cast attached, and I’m just so grateful that people want my story out there and believe in giving a voice to those who feel like they can’t speak.

CV: Thank you for sharing your story, Jason. We look forward to your future projects!