Making films wasn’t my first thought on what I wanted to do with my life. An artist, sure, but what kind I had no idea. I floundered around up in Santa Barbara for a decade trying to figure this out. After surviving Isla Vista I found myself downtown taking every art course offered at City College. I took about 12 pages worth when I found myself getting a DJ job at a local radio station. One day it clicked, I love sound, all sounds, pictures also, drawn or photographed. I should think about going to film school.
The first day I was there we had an assignment. Come up with a couple page story and do the storyboards. Everyone in class was happy, but not me. I never had to do storyboards nor had I written a story before. (This was that moment that happens to all filmmakers at some level), when it hits you right upside the head how much work it really takes to be good at this! On the other side of this coin, I felt as though I was never going to be able to learn everything in this art form, but how great that sounded to me - an art form that you can fall down the rabbit hole into, finding every answer you ever wanted to know about how movies are made, yet there will always be something more. A different challenge, a different story, a different genre, costume, location, lighting set up, lens choices, actors and on and on and of course, storyboards. I loved the sound of this, I really did!
I was lucky, I had an Aunt Mo who was in Accounting for Fox feature films. After I graduated I came down to Hollywood immediately because I found an interview, not a job, but an interview. It helps to know anyone in this town, anyone! Because of my Aunt I got the job, for two reasons. She found out it was even there in the first place, but also because she said, "bring a dozen Krispie Creams to the interview". I was hired later in the day. The next morning I had become a Post Production Assistant to Mark Romanek on his first feature film, ONE HOUR PHOTO. Let me stop you there, did you recognize the second 'lucky' in there for me? Post Production Assistant gets to have inter personnel conversations with the Director, Editor and all Assistants as well as be on the lot delivering and meeting people. I considered myself extremely lucky! This was the real film school, then, 9/11 happened.
People began to close ranks on job opportunities, at least for me, I was now in Hollywood and wondering what the hell do I do now? I delivered thousands of pizzas in High School and College so I took a job delivering mail around Los Angeles and you know what? I didn’t mind it. I got to settle my mind from a fast start and a quick burnout. Turns out the place I worked for, delivered everywhere. So I got to know Los Angeles by driving all around it. I delivered to plenty of famous people and eventually gas prices went up and so my paycheck went down and I needed a new start
TV came around through a fellow film schooler and I got into this; Vault, Pre-Production, run a dub rack, label tapes, baby sit associate producer's job for little pay, but it was a raise from delivery so I took it. It was here that I managed to save a hundred bucks here, a hundred bucks there and started putting together some short films that sucked, but I was finally learning how to make films that I wrote. It took me a little bit to get used to dealing with everything in front of the camera and behind the camera. Bottom line though, that’s what Directing is all about, your communications between the people in front of the camera and behind it to make your vision come to life.
I’d been writing ever since film school and I had a few feature scripts under the belt now and a few shorts films as well. I was also doing four jobs and learning them all at the same time. Writing, Directing, Producing, Editing and also I do Graphics. All my projects went this way, you know why? because no one else was going to do it for me. One true thing about making movies is, there is... 'No one' who will ever care about your project more than yourself, NO ONE!!! This cued me to write two things on a piece of paper that are still on the back of my front door. I see it every day when I leave home. In big bold red print I wrote, "It’s all in the desire!", and “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
Well I made some more okay short films, but had no time and money so I had to learn to be very economical and wasn’t allowed to shoot any coverage, none. On one film, I needed exactly 32 shots to make this eight page film and you know what this simple problem of 32 shots did? It forced me to become a better Director. Yes, what had happened was, I began to realize what was necessary to do this job correctly. Well, four jobs correctly. The experiment of editing in camera worked BTW. I actually only used 31 shots, not 32. You know how proud I was of this level of efficiency and you know who cared? No one. It was time to take the next step in learning how to make a good film. I had passed the hurdle of 'Okay' film making, finally!
After half dozen more shorts and feature scripts, I felt I was ready for a feature length film. That same week I got a call from my old friend Dan, also an actor in my early films, who was inviting me to a screening of his first feature film. We started talking and he asked me what my budget was. I told him five thousand dollars. He didn’t believe me at all, but told me if I could make a feature for that, then he would give us the money.
This was an exciting time, but now I had to write a script for a five thousand dollar budget. If you write, then you know this, but if you don’t, writing a script is hard, yet very doable, but this doable factor reduces greatly when you only have a few thousand to work with. That said, ten days later I had my first draft. This is what 'desire' did for me. I was re-writing drafts two and three while I was casting. I needed a DP and a Sound Mixer to start the core crew with. I put up an ad, did dozens of interviews and found my key positions and my cast. Sounds simple right? It was a pain in the ass and much more work than you can explain easily to someone that hasn’t put together a feature before, but it got done.
We went from blank page to Production in 90 days flat. Production took 12 days and one night. We had a five person crew including me, shot with a hand held camera with three lenses and two 250 watt Photoflood light bulbs. 15 speaking parts, a dozen extras, nine locations and one year later, the picture was married to sound. We had finished our first feature film, 'The Day I Don’t Remember'.
The first feature was mostly talking heads, but it was finished and that’s a key part of becoming a film maker, finishing your projects! We had a screening for friends and family, with drinks and food after, it felt great, but what was next? The thing that made me think this way was that I had made a feature film that wasn’t going to win any Oscars, but I kept it tonally consistent. In other words, it felt like you were watching the same film from beginning to end and now I knew I could make a feature that didn’t suck. When you're making shorts, 5 or 10 or even 30 minutes long, you still haven’t made one 90 minutes long. It’s an important hurdle to get past, for me especially. Films can get to you mentally as a Director, there’s plenty to answer to and I loved it, so what could I do to keep improving, what could I do next to become a better Director?
I wanted to make a really interesting short as quick as possible, but take it seriously and try to make something that stood out. David Lynch, Kevin Smith and Park Chan-Wook films got in my head and I made, THE FULL WALRUS. Sounds creepy huh? Well it sure as hell was and it got me some love in the Horror community. Turns out my favorite genre Psych Thriller, has a very close cousin named Psych Horror. I had found my wheelhouse for storytelling.
'The Full Walrus' had a few grand behind it. Imagine that, a few grand on a short film, I felt so grown up...lol. So with this cash I brought in some toys I wanted to try my hand at. Fire, Smoke, Dolly, EZ-Rig, Red Epic with Ultra-Prime lenses. Fun camera, great look, but I had one last tool with this camera. The ability to do rock steady good looking slow motion, up to 300fps. I even found my first score composer and sound design crew from putting up an ad on Stage32. After this film I started hearing the same thing from many different people. Your films are always so interesting and super creepy, but in that good way. I’ll take that compliment, I’m sure it doesn’t bother Stephen King too much.
I’m on around a dozen scripts now and I’m feeling fairly strong as a story teller. A writer, that will take some more time. Somewhere in there I wrote, 'The Ice Cream Man'. This is now in Development at Samaco Films and will be our second feature film. I’m looking forward to having a chance to show people what I can do with a real budget, but also making some money for everyone involved. That’s very doable and so is being a Writer/Director!
- It’s all in the desire!
Jason A. Wallace is a Writer/Director in the Psychological Thriller/Horror genre. He received his B.A. in film production from Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara in 2000. Working as a graphic designer/artist he got his foot in the door by working as a Production Assistant on major studio films, in miniature SFX houses and minor studios.
He finished his first feature film (THE DAY I DON'T REMEMBER) in 2014. With a dozen feature scripts now, he had his eyes set on making the Psychological Thriller/Horror genre one to put his stamp on. His 2015 short film, 'The Full Walrus' gathered him some very supportive press from the likes of Dread Central, Modern Horrors, Icons of Horror and most recently from Tom Holland’s, Terror Time. Jason has also been named one of the top 25 short Horror film makers to watch.
He is currently developing his 2nd feature (THE ICE CREAM MAN) and recently is exploring the commercial and music video worlds. You can connect with Jason here on Stage 32 and check out his work at: www.filmgeekwallace.com
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