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October 18, 2023

Two decades after leaving Philly, director Jennifer Cram reflects on the path to her first film, 'Sick Girl'

The movie, which premieres Friday in theaters and on Apple TV+ and Prime, is a comedic look at how adulthood changes friendships in myriad ways

Entertainment Movies
Jennifer Cram Sick Girl Kevin Scanlon/Persona PR

'Sick Girl,' the first movie directed by Jennifer Cram, debuts Friday, Oct. 20. Cram, originally from Northeast Philly, wrote the script which she says was inspired by her own changing relationships with her friends as she got older.

Jennifer Cram has spent years working her way up in Hollywood, and she's about to see her efforts pay off. The first movie she has directed, "Sick Girl," premieres Friday.

The Lionsgate comedy, starring Nina Dobrev of "The Vampire Diaries," follows a woman who lies about having cancer in a misguided attempt at reconnecting with friends.

Cram wrote the movie about a decade ago, and it was filmed in the summer of 2019 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. While Cram praises her "gracious" and "professional" cast, she said the process of getting the independent film made was not easy, complicated further by pandemic and the writers' and actors' strikes.

"For a while it was scary, especially with the pandemic and everything," Cram said. "It got to a point sometimes where I was worried that (premiere) day would never come. So as much as I wish that I could celebrate with everyone — you know, we can't because of the (SAG-AFTRA) strike — but we are all still really excited. It's been a long time coming." 

In "Sick Girl," Dobrev's character, Wren, blurts out her egregious fib that she is sick in an attempt to stop her group of pals from being pulled apart by life's various responsibilities that come with age. Cram wrote from her own experiences with changing friendships.

"At the time, I was in a pretty similar situation to the girls in the film, where me and my friends were starting to get older and get married and have careers instead of just jobs and starting to have kids and move to different cities," Cram said. 

"And it was scary. It was the first time that adult life was really pulling us in these directions. And I feel like, a lot of times, one of the first things to fall by the wayside is things that you aren't obligated to do. And that can often be friendships that can start to be neglected, even though you don't want them to be or mean them to be. ... Friends are so important to me, and I couldn't imagine not having them in my life. And I think I wanted to explore that through writing." 

Cram credits Dobrev, also an executive producer on the film, with helping the film shoots run smoothly and being down to try anything in her role as Wren – even diving into a dumpster for one scene.

"I am so grateful to her," Cram said. "She was so professional. We were moving so quickly, and it was such a small movie. And she never complained. She was in there with everyone the whole time. She knew the scripts backwards and forwards."

The movie's cast also includes Wendi McLendon-Covey, who starred in "The Goldbergs," the sitcom set in Jenkintown, Montgomery Counnty.

"My mom is obsessed with (McLendon-Covey)," Cram said. "She was like, 'You got the mom from 'The Goldbergs!' I was like, 'I know, it's so funny.'"

Cram, 45, was born and raised in Northeast Philly, where her father retired as a battalion chief in the Philadelphia Fire Department. She graduated from Nazareth Academy High School, an all-girls Catholic school in Torresdale, before attending the University of Scranton, where she majored in communications and English.

"I always knew I wanted to work in entertainment, but I didn't know what I wanted to do," Cram said. "Growing up in Philly, we're not in the heart of all that entertainment stuff, and I didn't know anyone who worked in the business. So for a while, I just thought I vaguely wanted to be an actor."

Cram was the first in her family to graduate from college. Then she went to New York City, working at "The Montel Williams Show" before moving to Los Angeles. While in L.A., Cram landed a position as an assistant to John Papsidera, an Emmy Award-winning casting director, and she worked as a casting associate on films like "Inception," "The Dark Knight Rises" and "22 Jump Street."

In Los Angeles, Cram realized she no longer wanted to act, and pivoted to something she always loved doing: writing. After completing the script for "Sick Girl," Cram had no plans to direct "Sick Girl," until producer Cassidy Lunnen convinced her that she was the right one for the job.

"I almost felt like I didn't like earn it, because I didn't go to school for it and everything," Cram said. "And so I give a lot of the credit to (Lunnen) for believing in me and seeing that in me and kind of boosting me up and telling me I could do it. ... I lived with ('Sick Girl') for so long that I realize, now, it would have been very hard for me to walk away from it and give it to somebody else."

Cram has another project in the works, writing and directing a romantic comedy titled "One Big Love," which is scheduled for production 2024. For that film, she is working with Kevin Hart's production company HartBeat.

"I haven't met (Hart) yet," Cram said. "But there definitely is the Philly connection, for sure. I hope I get to meet him one day and talk to him."

Despite living in Los Angeles for the past 20 years, Cram said she keeps in touch with her Philly roots.

She frequently visits the city and the Jersey Shore, where her parents recently moved to Wildwood. With the actors' strike preventing the "Sick Girl" cast from celebrating the premiere in person, Cram said she'll be in Philly this weekend to watch the movie with her friends.

"My friends are having a little party for me at a bar there, and we're going to watch the movie and celebrate there," Cram said.

Starting Friday, "Sick Girl" will be in theaters and can be purchased through streaming services like Apple TV+ and Prime Video.

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