Interview: Jacob Boyd, Writer-Director of the film ‘Jack French Suicide’

“Most of the time, I write late at night on my computer while listening to instrumental music on headphones, after my 2 year old son goes to sleep.”

PART TWO: The Interview

jacob looking forward
Photography by Heather Bass

Twilight Frequencies
Where did you come up with the new idea? Was this spawned from a true story?

Jacob Boyd
We made The Jack French Suicide specifically for a local film festival competition, where we were randomly given “mockumentary” for the genre. I wanted to avoid the obvious choice, which was to make a comedy like “Best in Show” or “This is Spinal Tap.” Our cast and crew consisted of only 4 people – Austin Webb, Jamison Stalsworth, Heather Bass, and I. We wanted to do something that would be different for us, and also for what viewers would expect a mockumentary to be. Jamison came up with an idea about guy who is going to kill himself live on the web, but then gets cold feet and tries to back out. Something about that idea really struck a chord in me. I went home that night and wrote a story and script for it. The movie was completely fiction, but inspired by the direction that certain aspects of culture seems to be going.

Twilight Frequencies
This latest project really sheds light on the inhumane evolution of society. The concept struck me as something that easily could happen, which kind of freaked me out a bit. Do you think the internet and people in general are leaning more toward a “hyper-apathetic” lifestyle, and why do you think this is happening?

Jacob Boyd
The internet is kind of like the wild-west. Even with social networks like facebook and myspace it’s still pretty anonymous. When you think about it, those sites are really just pictures and words; anyone can claim to be anyone that they want to be. That was part of the inspiration for the story. It may be a little bit of a stretch that 20 million people would subscribe to watch Jack’s online suicide, but it was not completely out of the question. If you’ve had much experience communicating with people online, you realize pretty quickly that people are much more open to expressing their real feelings while safely sitting behind a keyboard, compared to real life situations. Much like if there were a public hanging in downtown Knoxville, some people would show up. But if someone was to video tape the event and upload it to youtube, a lot more people would anonymously sit at home and curiously watch. With so many young suicide victims these days, I can understand the idea of “He/she is going to kill themselves anyway. Why should I try to stop them?” And not just with suicide, but I think many people don’t care about any situation that doesn’t affect them directly. I don’t want to speculate on why that is because I’m sure there are numerous reasons, and I’m probably guilty of most of them.

Twilight Frequencies
What’s the writing process like for you? Do you set a mood for yourself?

Photography by Heather Bass
Photography by Heather Bass

Jacob Boyd
Most of the time, I write late at night on my computer while listening to instrumental music on headphones, after my 2 year old son goes to sleep. I’ve tried to write to pop music, but I catch myself humming along more than writing, Usually I have an idea that I develop in my head for most of the day, before I sit down and try to write it out. Late at night is really the only opportunity I have to work in a quiet environment without distraction.

Twilight Frequencies
What compels you to make films?

Jacob Boyd
What I do is not what Hollywood does. They spend millions of dollars for a reason. What I do is no-budget film making, it’s that simple. We make a movie in a short amount of time with the 50 bucks I have in my back pocket, and most of that money is spent on pizza, I love movies. When I moved to Knoxville in 2001 I had no friends. I worked at a small business where I worked alone all day and went home, hung out with my girlfriend at the time, and watched movies. I have a deep connection with this art form from spending so much time with it, and a great deal of my needs were met from movies. Such as combating loneliness, and all the other awkward experiences that people in their 20’s face daily. I may or may not have the skill to express my love for film. I haven’t done enough work for me to tell yet. I do know that I have never more excited in my creative life than when I’m working on a new movie, whether it be shooting or at home writing. It’s fun for me. When I can work with talented people, and use music from musicians I love, I feel sorry for other people who don’t do this.

Twilight Frequencies
Is there anyone that influenced you to get into film – Famous or otherwise?

Jacob Boyd
Ethan Tickle. An old friend and the most creative person I have ever met.

Twilight Frequencies
Along that same line, as far as being influential, what other things give you the drive to be creative?

Jacob Boyd

I go through periods where I get really obsessed with different things. Pre-history, conspiracy theories, subcultures, whatever I’m into that week. I always try to have something in my life that I can feel fascinated by, and that I can learn as much as possible about. Not because it will necessarily benefit me in anyway, but because it interests me. I don’t make short films to impose myself into other people’s lives. I do it because it gives me that sense of fascination stronger than anything else that I’m into while I’m doing it.

Twilight Frequencies
This latest project was from the perspective of the film maker; I believe this was your first? Did you like that better, and is being in front of the camera something you might explore more down the road?

Jacob Boyd
This is the only movie I’ve done in front of the camera, and for right now, I hope the last. There is something fun and kind of funny about playing yourself in a movie, especially if it’s a slightly psycho version. I didn’t hate the experience, but I prefer to be behind the camera where I can see everything that is taking place, as its happening. With the next project that I’m working on, it will have to be that way.

Twilight Frequencies

Do you drink a lot of coffee?

Jacob Boyd
I like the taste of coffee. It goes well with cigarettes, and I smoke a lot of those.

Photography by Heather Bass
Photography by Heather Bass

I drink coffee most days, but I wouldn’t define it as “a lot.” I remember the morning we shot “The Jack French Suicide” I was so excited that I drank like 6 cups of coffee. I was frantically pacing back and fourth, babbling a million words a minute to Austin over the phone about the script I’d written the night before. That’s why it is great to have a creative partner like Austin. Even through all of my caffeine crazed bullshit, he still could relate to me, and advise me on what aspects of the story were good, and what parts were terrible. Austin has worked an every movie I’ve done as and actor or producer and has spent countless amounts of money on beer as we’ve talked, debated, and written films. He’s the most skilled guy I know. I think that we’ve had coffee together once.

Twilight Frequencies
Was there anything you had to give up in order to focus more on your creativity?

Jacob Boyd
Right after we finished our first movie “The Happydead”, I learned that I was going to be a father. I spent the past 2 years adjusting into fatherhood while doing film festival competitions once or twice a year. This was great because when we did make a movie, we did our best, like the Super Bowl for film geeks. Now, adjustments have been made, and we are ready to start making short films without time or creative restrictions. I didn’t have to give up anything for creativity. There are plenty of hours in the night.

Twilight Frequencies
In this latest film was the dialogue mostly improvisational? The line “Boo Fucking Hoo” had me falling out of my chair, especially with the context of the situation. Was that planned out, or just one of those great moments of spontaneous film?

Jacob Boyd
That line was written. A lot of the script changed when it hit the screen. I’d write different bits of dialogue and we’d just played it close. I’m not a strong actor, but I still wanted to have that improvisational quality, so we did a lot of improving to keep the lines from playing too staged. Jamison, who played Jack French in the movie, is a really good actor. He knew what the scenes needed to be, based on the script and simple direction, but the majority of his performance was created by him.

Twilight Frequencies
Are you into anyone else locally that’s doing similar work, or independent films in general?

Jacob Boyd
Jamison Stalsworth’s stuff is great. I was lucky enough to have his help on the last two movies I’ve done. He makes these really funny and really dark animations. He also does really creative live action short films. He has a very unique voice with his filmmaking style, and for my tastes, he’s my favorite in town. I also really like what Jeff Delany is doing. His shorts have a real depth to them, and they’re really dark and weird, I love that. Mitch Moore is another who consistently makes extremely well crafted movies that has a lot of heart, and deal with subjects that I think are important. Kelly Burke is another guy who always impresses me and makes me want to make better movies. His most recent “The Suffering” Starring Mike Stanley was a real stand out. Chip McCormack is great. Comedy is a tough genre and he’s the funniest I’ve seen locally. There are a lot of people around town that I think are very good, these are the first that come to mind.

Twilight Frequencies
Who are some relatively big name directors you enjoy?

Jacob Boyd
The Coen Brothers, Wes Anderson, Jean-Luc Godard, Paul Thomas Anderson, Mark Romanek. Just to name a few.

Twilight Frequencies

I know you also make your own music. What do you see yourself doing as a musician? Have you incorporated that in your films? Is there maybe an all encompassing project coming in the future?

Jacob Boyd
Music is another hobby. I don’t take it as seriously as I do short film, but it relaxes me and I love making instrumental electronic music. I have scenes in unproduced-scripts that call for that style of music, but who knows? It would be great to try it one day. Music is very important to the style of movie that I make. I am very inspired by music videos and silent pictures. That relationship between music and images is one of my favorite aspects of film, and there is a real magic that can happen when it is done well.

Twilight Frequencies
What was your first contest like? How did you feel once you finished the project, and submitted it? Do you get nervous when showing your films?

Jacob Boyd
The first competition I participated in was the 10 hour film festival in 2007.It was a nightmare. It was the first time I was making a “real” short film. I’d been writing and studying short film since 2002, but that was the first time I was making a short for something, besides amusing my buddies. We shot so much coverage, such an unbelievably unnecessary amount, because a 3 minute movie sounded like an eternity of time my first time out. Anyway, we finished editing and for some reason we couldn’t get the movie to burn onto a dvd. The deadline time was coming quickly, so we decided to take our editor’s entire desktop computer to the world grotto, where the festival was happening. We had worked hard on that thing and we weren’t going to sit on our hands and pass up even the slightest chance that it would be screened or judged. Fortunately, we were able to get the judges to watch it. We are the last entry of the night and the last movie to be shown. The audience had just sat through 30 or so, 3-5 minute movies, but they announce a 5 minute intermission so that our editor, Bronson Netherly, could plug his computer into the projector. After a few minutes the picture gets it hooked up, but cant get the sound to play. They decide to screen it anyway completely silent. The only short submitted with no sound. I am mortified sitting in a back room as the audience watches this silent movie, pulled up on some video editing program, with the screen size about half of what it should be. It finishes and a bunch of relieved people, including myself, anxiously waited for who is going to be given the awards for 1st through 3rd. Though the day was a perfect example of Murphy’s law, the judges saw something that they liked in our movie and we ended up winning 1st place.

From Left: Bronson Netherly, Austin Webb, Jacob Boyd, Leigh Ann Jernigan
From Left: Bronson Netherly, Austin Webb, Jacob Boyd, Leigh Ann Jernigan

I think we all felt a sense of validation to our work after that day. We won 3rd this past year for a short called True North. Someone told me that only one other team has placed 2 different years since the competition started. If that’s true, it’s pretty cool. If not, who cares? All the awards do is attract a few more viewers online. The movies are what they are whether some random judges like it or not.

Twilight Frequencies
Before you go, do you have any advice for aspiring film makers?

Jacob Boyd
If you love movies make something that you are proud to give back to this medium of art that you love. I’m not saying that the films have to look Hollywood or be a certain way, only that short films are important. We shouldn’t forget that. If you are being honest with your film and like what you, your cast, and crew are doing, don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. Most don’t have the desire to see a personal short film made by some random person when they can go to the theater and see a 200 million dollar movie. But there are many others who do. And I can’t wait to see your work.

Twilight Frequencies
Well, first off let me thank you for doing this. I really believe in your work, and think this latest project is not only a great piece, but the insight and premise sheds much light on something that seems more plausible lately. Thanks again Jacob, lets do this again sometime.

Jacob Boyd
Thank you. I appreciate Twilight Frequencies for covering music and film that is off the beaten path. Being a visual person, I enjoy the unique, almost visual perspective you give into your music reviews. You keep writing and I’ll keep reading. Thanks again. Take care.

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