|Reviewguy Online is proud to have the opportunity to talk with Jesse Cowell who has written and directed the film "Shades of Gray”. Made for only two thousand dollars this film has generated tremendous Internet buzz. We invite you all to explore a bit of the world of Director Jesse Cowell.
1. What is the premise behind the film Shades of Gray?
The story is about five guys get together to blackmail their former best friend for all the horrible, embarrassing and outright disgusting things he’s ever done to them.
2. Are there plans for a continuation of the story?
Because Shades of Gray was written more as a character piece than one dependant on a high concept type of plot, and by having six guys with extremely unique personalities – the really is no limit to how I could have them interact. And I’ve tossed around the idea of making Shades of Red, the true story of Dave’s chain-smoking anger, or Shades of Blue – the misadventures of the five guys now stuck in corporate America, but have to settle on which way I’d like the guys to go.
3. I’m one who believes that a lot of motivation for writings come from people we have met somewhere in our lifetime. With that said‚ is there a person or persons who would fit the profile for your main character Eric?
Eric is the combination of two things. First, he is the sum of all the times that certain friends have stood me up, made me look stupid, and really cared only about themselves. I’ve always felt that the worst thing about those type of friends is that they are usually charming enough to get away with it! So even if you wanted to get rid of them – you’d probably wind up missing them. And you wind up back where you started --- putting up with their nonsense.
Second, Eric is the guy I wish I could be, but have too much of a conscious to be. In all honesty, I wish for once I could not think of others (I am the complete opposite of Eric btw) and just be selfish for a day – maybe even a week. I don’t think I’m alone in this, to say that some people often feel cheated as they watch others live more freely – without a nice guy (or girl) honor code to bind them to playing by the rules. Certainly if ignorance is bliss, than Eric is the happiest man alive.
But seriously, I could never really be like Eric – I think it’s a kinda messed up way to be. So I guess I’ll just have to exercise my demons through my movies
4. Let’s talk about your cast for a minute. Excluding yourself‚ your cast is seven people strong. With the whole film costing two thousand dollars, it seems that you’d have to be sure to get the right person for each part. What traits did you look for in the actors who participated?
Energy. For sure energy. The people who were cast needed to be able to amp it up whenever needed and then play the opposite at a moments notice. They also needed to be non-generic (unless specified – ie the girl next door in Charlie) bringing something new and interesting to the screen. I didn’t want a bunch of white-middle class frat boys making fun of each other as we’ve seen that in everything from Porky’s to American Pie (that stuffs good too). For Shades, I wanted people who had something unique, not just in their acting styles, but in their personalities. So, when I auditioned actors – I wasn’t just looking for how well they played the part, but how interesting they were as people. In the audition process, a lot of time was spent chatting and getting to know the people, instead of having them read the script.
5. It seems that your parents were very influential in what direction your career has taken. How much influence has their careers had on yours?
My father’s instinctual street wise skills (he raced around New York taking pictures of fires and other mayhem) have always been influential on me as well as his amazing sense of composition in his photographs. He has always been very ballsy and had a pulse on everything that was happening all around him. I try to bring his sense of intensity and fire to everything I do.
My mother has been a more direct influence on my career with her hardcore determination to get the job done in her writing. Her latest book, Marrying Mozart is an amazing thing considering that she wrote it before/after and maybe sometimes during her regular day job. I always think to myself that if my middle aged woman can get up at 5am everyday and get writing – than I have no excuse but to do the same.
6. You’ve been inventive in your quest to have your film seen by as many people as possible with your "Play it Forward” distribution technique. Actually encouraging people who have seen your film to make ten copies themselves and give it to friends‚ much like an email chain letter. Has this technique worked to the degree you expected or would you distribute it in a different way if possible?
Play it forward” has just really started, but seems to be picking up steam and in some circles – anticipation (which is always good). I do try and be innovative in everything I do because I really don’t like to be told what I can and can’t do as far as progressing in my career. If I followed the normal route of living in LA and sending out query letters to agents, I’d probably still be sitting in my apartment waiting for my big break to come. This way I get to enjoy my film with an audience and interact with them on an almost daily basis. I may be poor financially at the moment, but not many feature film directors can say that they’ve had the pleasure of being at the ground level, with the people they made the film for.
7. What was the most innovative thing you’ve tried so far in getting the film seen?
The best thing I think I’ve done was to put the film online for people to enjoy (in a DVD like format) because as far as I can tell - it hadn’t really been done before (and got the ball rolling in the first place). One of my favorite responses to people seeing the film online has always been "I can’t believe THIS is on the internet.” Makes me smile every time. I, like many other filmmakers just want to seen and heard. I’m so thankful that I can apply my creativity towards making that happen and even more happy that people have enjoyed what I have to say. Hopefully people will have as much excitement to Play it Forward” as they have in downloading the movie. I'd love nothing more than to see it screened in theaters!
8. Where would the line start to get a DVD copy of the film?
Hands down. It starts with the people who have been the most vocal and supportive of the film. I have had fans send in music remixes, done the DVD cover, etc. These guys are awesome and it’s my pleasure to send them something that I made for them in the first place, even if the postage and material comes directly out of my pocket.
9. The name of the production company that produced your film is called Jeskid. Is this your own production company‚ and if so what other projects do you have in store?
Jeskid has been a nickname that people have called me for years, so I kind of adopted it for my production company (not to mention being a kid name Jes).
My team (myself and anyone I can get to help out), have recently have been focusing on getting Shades seen and doing a lot of writing for my next films. As of now, I have seven completed screenplays and an additional ten pitches I would like to get made.
10. It’s been said that your film possesses many of the same qualities as Director Kevin Smith’s Clerks‚ and that the cast is reminiscent of Ocean’s Eleven (source Micro Cinema Scene). With your own words‚ what film would yours most resemble‚ and why?
I liked Clerks very much and consider it an honor to be compared to it and others like it. I think my film probably most resembles a cross between Office Space, Half baked, and Old School. I must say though that Shades of Gray really is a hard film to peg as I feel like its got it’s on unique vibe.
11. Did either of these films (Clerks and Oceans Eleven) have any impact on your own work?
Of the two, only Clerks had a direct influence. Besides it’s freeness of raunchy speech, it really showed me that a grainy movie with almost no budget could break through as long as it was funny. I used this as a pure motivator to push harder and not give up along the way.
12. Let’s say you’ve scored a fifty million dollar budget for a film of your choice. What type of film would you direct (action‚ drama‚ etc)‚ and what would be your motivation for doing so?
I am a huge Sci-Fi fan and have several ideas/screenplays I’d like to do at that budget range. I’d also love to a few thrillers I’m interested in (I started out doing thrillers). Motivation would be easy. I’d be a kid in a candy store.
13. On behalf of Reviewguy Online‚ we hope for your continued success in your endeavors. Thank you Jesse.
Absolutely my pleasure :)