Jacob Cooney is an independent filmmaker originally from Humboldt, California. He has made music videos, shorts and features, which include Eighty- Six, Fierce Friend and Grime. He currently lives in Los Angeles. http://www.jacobcooney.com/
Santa Monica, CA
March 17, 2011
LA 10:30am UK 5:30pm
Jake’s home in sunny Santa Monica. He is in the back office looking out the only window in the room, at a bush. A shrubbery to be exact.
You are promoting a new project called Grass Lake. What’s that about?
Grass Lake is an indie thriller. It’s about four friends who go on a fishing trip and find drugs and money in the lake and they bring the drugs and money back to the cabin where they’re staying at and in the middle of the night the dealers come to collect that money and all hell breaks loose. They start questioning each other, their motives. And its really about being faced with this opportunity good or bad that could make your life better and how far would you go to ensure that you take that thing home with you. Will you backstab your friends? Will you stay true to your morals? That kind of thing.
It seems that your preferred genre to date are psychological type thrillers. What attracts you to that?
I’ve always been I would say a horror fan. Since I was little just really loved the dark material. When I was younger it was definitely just straight horror but as I’ve gotten older and mature it’s been more of the thriller, the web of deceit kind of material that I’m currently into. It’s where everything for me lives and stays in the darker horror or thriller genre. Suspense. And then I like to work with every other genre within it, I could do a dramatic horror I could do a comedic horror but I always tend to stay within those realms.
Who or what are some of your influences?
Well the greats for sure. You know, Wes Craven. Frank Darabont, who started out more on adventure type drama with The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. But he’s always been into the dark Stephen king material and ever since I was probably ten or so, is the the guy that I follow closely. Frank Darabont, most recently did The Mist and The Walking Dead, so he’s really doing more of the darker stuff that I like. The zombies and the drama and just the weird, dark, dark material.
Is being an Indie filmmaker, in LA, in 2011, a good thing to be?
Chuckles. Uhhhh. For some people. For others it’s a really hard racket. In general right now it’s hard all the way around. Budgets right now for films are anything between $100,000 and $35,000,000. That middle ground is very hard at the moment because you either have people that want to fork out a lot of money to ensure they make their money back by doing a blockbuster type movie or you have the true indie people who are doing their movies for $25,000 and utilizing all of the things that they have, the talent they know, the equipment they got in their garage, to make the type of movie that they want. But when doing that, the question is about the distribution and the market of it. But the good thing about being an indie filmmaker is that there are a lot of ways to market and get yourself out there, especially with the internet and making your money from IndieGoGo, Kickstarter, other sites like that. It’s a give and take. You either make your big movies and hope to god that the overall audience loves them or you make your really small movies and cater to your niches, your niche group that you know is going to like it. But its very hard all they way around, ‘cause if you don’t have a project that’s sold beforehand, it’s a little bit harder to get investors behind you. Especially because investors right now are all about, what have you done? What have you sold? You really have to hit the pavement and be able to talk a good game and really believe in yourself to push your projects forward.
Once you acquire the funds, is the investor or producer now more creatively in control over the project?
I tend to produce as well as direct, especially with the smaller projects. The biggest thing is whoever you have on your team you need to know you work well with them and you trust them and you know you guys have the same vision for the project. As far as the creative control, it depends on the producer actually. There are creative producers out there and then there are more of the business producers, in my experience I have worked with both. I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to keep my creative vision pretty much 100% in tact without having to deviate from that since the producers that I’ve worked with all have the same vision for the project.
So it seems like today indie filmmaker’s have had to take on some ‘Guerrilla tactics’ and use different channels to detour around permits or paperwork. Have you ever been in a position where you had to do that?
Uh. A lot, actually. Location permits and insurance raises the budget of your project by thousands and thousands of dollars so what I tend to do is try and find locations where I know the owner and try to work the personal connection first. If I don’t know anybody for the specific project then I make sure I get on a good rapport with whoever is renting the apartment or owns the apartment, as an example. But I make sure I get on their good side and become a friend first so when we come in to shoot or we start talking about money and permissions and all that, it’s a little bit easier to make it happen with the budget that you have. As an example, for Grime when we were doing the first push to make it happen we needed an entire apt complex and just randomly found this perfect location. Driving down this main street in East LA area and looked off to the right down this side street, saw this building, went in and we just started talking to the building manager and owner. Probing a little and seeing what was there. A couple of days later we went back to talk some more and before we know it he was inviting us into his apt for a soda and we finally asked him about permissions and permits and in just spending time with him he ended up giving us 2 apartments and use of the entire building for $2,000. So that is how I like to do things, if I cant pay it outright I’d like to have a good relationship with whoever it is I’m asking for a favor. If I have the money to pay, ill just pay it and move on. That’s really the easiest thing to do. But as of lately the budgets haven’t been the highest or the most workable so in knowing that the next couple of projects are going to be that way you really have to be that stand up person, make friends and be out going. You either end up with another friend or another connection. And you can always go back and utilize that location or whatever it is again on another project so it just works out really well.
What is your process or style? What do you do when you are preparing to shoot a scene?
Well I like to do a fair amount of rehearsal during development and preproduction. I like to meet with each actor individually to talk about their character, what their thoughts are on the character, what they feel them as the actor can bring to the character to make it more of a dynamic presence and then I like to meet with everyone as a group and then talk about the group as a whole. I’ll use Grass Lake as an example, obviously each character in the film has his own thing going on, but as a group they’ve known each other for 25 years, they have their own relationships within this group of four people, so what I have done and will be continuing to do is talking about their character, getting that locked in with them so they can go off and work on what they want to work on with the character they’re playing and once we have everybody cast ill bring all four together so they can get to know each other, get comfortable with each other and then they can start having a dialogue about their potential relationships and their past and all that stuff. Once were shooting I’ll spend a good 45 minutes rehearsing and blocking the scene. We block out the scene, know what kind of point where we’ll be and then after that I let the actors go and finish makeup or rehearsing amongst themselves. I get with the DP and we light the scene, we bring the actors in and then we rock it out.
Well let’s see. Recently I sat down with my managers and chatted about projects and went through all my ideas that I have listed in a document. Every single one I have a reason for liking it or loving it. Ultimately I would like to do this little indie drama about a friend of mine, Jack Hanrahan who was a writer and a comic book artist. He wrote for [Rowan and Martin’s] Laugh-In, he wrote Inspector Gadget, Dennis the Menace, a bunch of stuff and I randomly met him when I was doing my thesis back in college. He was one of the lead actors in my thesis and we became really good friends. But his story is very, very turbulent. He was at the top of his game, won Emmy after Emmy after Emmy and at the end of his life he was homeless and destitute in Cleveland and ended up passing away in a homeless shelter. So that’s a story I want to tell, it’s a rags to riches to rags story. I want to infuse animation with live action and tell his life story. It definitely needs to be told, it’s very heartbreaking. You know he had to sell all of his Emmys to pay rent. Just crazy. Crazy story and I call that one Thin Ice Ground. On the flipside there’s one that I just finished writing with one of my writing partners called Extra Delivery and it’s a horror comedy about two elderly postman who have to save their town from an alien invasion. And its just every crazy idea we could come up with, we put into the script. I am so excited whenever I think about it. The thing I want to do is fill it with all these B movie horror icons that I grew up watching like Bruce Campbell and Clint Howard and Richard Riehle and I just want to go an make it. It’d be like going to summer camp. It would just be awesome.
Around the world Los Angeles has a reputation and there is a view of Hollywood based on the movies it churns out. As a resident of Los Angeles what is your honest opinion of Hollywood?
Laughs. I always wade towards the optimistic route. In general, I think that Hollywood is looking to make as much money as they possibly can, throwing out the worst ideas you can possibly make. On a personal note I think everybody has those dream projects that they just haven’t been able to make. Deep down there’s a lot of great stories but when you look at the surface it’s very commercial. That’s really my thought. We need to go back to the old days of Hollywood and really make those classics ‘cause right now those are definitely missing.
Final question. Is the director dead?
For me, no. I don’t think so. I would say on the bigger budgeted blockbusters maybe you need a person in that chair but do they actually have the vision for the movie? Sometimes, sometimes not. Sometimes it’s just really machine driven and they’re there just to make sure the machine keeps working. On the level where I’m at, and indie films, the director is most definitely not dead. ‘Cause more often then not we’re the ones spearheading the projects, especially if you’re writing and directing, the projects become your babies. You want to see them come into fruition the best way possible and its really your job to facilitate the project and get the right people involved, at the right time and shepherd it all the way to the finish line. Right now you just can’t be a director, you have to be a writer-director, or a writer-producer-director or a producer-director. That’s kind of where you have to live these days, you can’t just be one thing. But the director in my mind is not dead its just been incorporated into the bigger ideas and positions, like producers and writers as well.
Thanks Jake for sharing your thoughts!
You can follow Jake’s new project at twitter@grasslakemovie.
And thanks to Steven Hughes for helping me out with some super dope questions for this interview! We are back in Bristol for next week’s interview, till then I will be California dreaming…
"I feel that my job is to create an atmosphere where creative people can do their best work." John Frankenheimer