Interview with Jake Barsha

Uncorking the “Right Hook” with Dark Indie Filmmaker Jake Barsha

Some people just have a knack for sucking us in to a deeply disturbing drama where we don’t necessarily care about the main character but can’t stop watching until they implode onscreen. Like inviting Charlie Sheen home for Thanksgiving Dinner to meet your ultra conservative father who has a weak ticker and your mom who is a bonafide Born Again Christian/Tea Party toter. Nothing good will come of it, but we watch anyway.

Jake Barsha, one of the better directors-you-haven’t-heard-of-but-someday-soon-will, is just such a creative talent.  His tense off-kilter story telling with riveting dysfunctional characters and uncomfortable predicaments are a hybrid of David Lynch meets Stanley Kubrick. It’s out there, on the edge, and 100% built for indie film.

Jake Barsha’s aptly named “Right Hook Films” (http://www.righthookfilms.com) production shingle delivers micro-budget indie fare with a whallop. Barsha first unleashed EUGENE in 2009, the story of a lonely man teetering on a twisted path and garnered solid reviews for this dark art house drama. Barsha’s forthcoming THE FUNNY MAN, a tortuous tale of a demented comedian/serial killer with a deadly punch line, promises to be a bit more mainstream but just as demented as its predecessor. But enough set up … “ACTION!”

1. Introduce us to Jake Barsha.

(JAKE:)  I’m married and I live in Los Angeles. I started working in the motion picture production industry in 1998 as a Production Assistant and I’ve worked my way up. I’m a member of the International Cinematographer’s Guild. I didn’t go to film school. I have hands-on experience working on a variety of productions over the years, including commercials, television shows, promos, music videos and movies for companies such as Anonymous Content, Smuggler, FOX, Kandoo Films, Untitled, Moxie, Morton Jankle Zander, Sedna Films, Paramount Studios, Warner Brothers, Universal, Engine Room and Sony.

My biggest cinematic inspiration comes from the joy, adventure, adversity and pain I’ve experienced in my life.  I’ve always loved watching movies, and there are just so many great inspiring films it’s hard to pinpoint.  I love NIGHT OF THE HUNTER with Robert Mitchum, THE GUNFIGHTER with Gregory Peck, TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MARDRE, MAD MAX (the first one), THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY and tons of others. The weirdest thing about me is that I don’t drink or do drugs despite the fact that I grew up listening to hardcore punk rock music and live inLos Angeles….  I haven’t touched the stuff for almost ten years.

2. Your first feature film EUGENE, a tragic tale about a lonely, socially inept misfit, evoked memories of Lucky McKee’s indie iconic film MAY and Robert D Niro’s portrayal of Travis Bickle in TAXI. Both were dark psychological portraits of deeply isolated individuals with severe personality “quirks”. What was your inspiration for this film?

(JAKE:) EUGENEwas inspired by the darker side of our society, and people who search outside of themselves to feel connected. Most people have a first-hand understanding of their own basic human needs and desires, yet our laws imply that we feel safer and more comfortable criminalizing certain activities rather than embracing them as part of the human experience. The fictional character,Eugene, is a byproduct of repression and denial pushed to the extreme. EUGENE is definitely a portrait of a very lonely man. In hindsight, perhaps it could have been titled “The Lonely Man” instead of EUGENE. I recently watched a Korean movie called TIDAL WAVE; it was really cool because there was no confusion about what that movie was about, it was about a tidal wave.

3. These types of films live or die by the casting of their central “protagonist” – in your case, the brilliant selection of Stuart G. Bennett to portray Eugene. How did you find him?

(JAKE:) We met in Los Angeles through mutual friends. Stuart was looking to finance a feature length film project that would showcase his talent as an actor. I gave him the treatment for EUGENE, and it seemed like a good fit.  He liked it a lot, so I wrote the script. Stuart’s performance contributed to the story in an extremely unsettling way. I think EUGENE conveys a powerful emotion that people understand and recognize, and Stuart delivered that.

4. The supporting characters were also strong – namely Megan Lee Etheridge and Ryan Reyes as the young street couple unwittingly thrust into Eugene’s doomed love triangle. Explain what you were looking for in casting, and were you a bit afraid your movie would be too damn depressing to capture a mainstream audience?

(JAKE:) Depression gives contrast and meaning to our happiest moments. I wanted to find the most depressing actors I could find so that I would feel a little better about myself when we were shooting the movie… Just kidding, actually Megan and Ryan are amazing!

I was looking for actors that I could trust, and I trusted them completely. I knew that we probably wouldn’t capture a mainstream audience withEUGENE, so my focus was on telling the story in the most authentic way that we could. The movie required a tall order from the supporting cast especially with regard to the big sex scene and the violence and tension. Mutual trust was crucial. I’m very proud of what we accomplished. Our movie has feeling.

5. How much did EUGENE cost to make, what camera did you shoot it on and how long did it take to film? What were your biggest challenges shooting on a shoestring budget?

(JAKE:)EUGENEwas made for about $200,000. We used the Panasonic HPX 500 and shot the movie in 18 days. Our biggest challenge was to do things in accordance with union guidelines and still achieve high-quality production value with what we could afford. Going union means a considerable amount of money and preparation is spent to meet certain guidelines. It may not seem like a big deal, but for a low-budget movie every dollar counts. It means sacrificing time to shoot certain scenes or equipment or a location that could drive home the story. It’s frustrating because I believe and support unions 100%; I’m a member of IATSE myself, but as an independent film maker it’s a huge challenge to do things by the book with a modest budget.

6. Tell us how the film fared on the festival circuit and any difficulty in picking up distribution. Did you have to search for a Sales Agent or did they find you?

(JAKE:)EUGENEpremiered at The Palm Springs International Film Festival and was the only American movie selected that year to participate in their New Voices/New Visions program. Around the same time it also got into San Francisco Independent Film Festival. I was really nervous because it’s such a dark movie, but it got into about a dozen festivals and received some very impressive reviews.

They said it was brilliantly disturbing; some people compared it to MIDNIGHT COWBOY and TAXI DRIVER. I was just blown away and really happy. It was nominated for best director in Hoboken and best screenplay at Strasbourg and got some other nominations, and finally won for best actor in San Diego.

Several sales agents contacted us immediately, before our premiere. By the way, if you make an independent feature, do yourself a big favor and hire the best sales rep that you can afford. Toward the end of our festival run our Producers eventually decided to hire a Sales Agent but it was late in the game and it was a very short-lived relationship. Our Producers pulled the movie away from the Sales Agent after two months and ultimately asked me to see if I could find distribution on my own without a Sales Agent. I’m grateful for the experience because I learned a lot, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

I found that most distribution companies are happy to hear from filmmakers. The first question they asked me was “who is in it?” – purely a matter of business. I somehow managed to get offers from four companies, but none of them involved an advance and it was only after a huge amount of legwork on my part. Our Executive Producer made the final call and decided which deal to go with.

It’s out on DVD, and you can buy it online (http://www.amazon.com/Eugene-Ryan-Reyes/dp/B002NB422G).

7. On to your latest endeavor – THE FUNNY MAN. Give us the logline and current status of the film.

(JAKE:) THE FUNNY MAN is about a bipolar comedian who derives pleasure from wearing a creepy sponge-like mask, video-taping his victims and demanding that they “say something funny”. It’s a psychological horror thriller in the vein of PSYCHO. The story involves an attractive young woman, an overbearing ex-boyfriend, a nightclub owner and his domineering wife, a nosy neighbor and her husband, and an actor/producer. They all find out the hard way that THE FUNNY MAN really isn’t very funny. I like to tell people that if you love unconventional stories, unusual characters, psychological thrills, and darkly twisted entertainment, then we are making this movie for you!

I’m doing a lot of pre-production work; locking down the cast and crew, locking in locations, equipment and at the same time securing additional funding. Most of the muscle behind THE FUNNY MAN, comes from an independent film company called Empire Films. They have signed on as Co-Executive Producers bringing a lot of infrastructure, equipment and will provide marketing support. A lot of  talented people are standing in support of THE FUNNY MAN prior to complete funding. A lot of people really love the screenplay.

Matthew Prater has signed on as one of the film’s Producers. Matthew has tremendous enthusiasm for the project, and offers the level of commitment one wouldn’t expect for a project that is not completely funded.

Danny Cahn is also on board; he’s the current president of the Editors Guild. Danny comes from a very prolific family of filmmakers and brings a great deal of experience to the project. His father Danny Sr. edited tons of TV shows including MAN FROM ATLANTIS and I LOVE LUCY and movies such as BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS and HEAVEN WITH A GUN. Danny’s uncle, Ed Cahn, directed a huge number of creature features for the studio factory system during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Coincidentally, Danny’s father is my grandfather’s nephew, so we are distant relatives. My grandfather, Leon Barsha, was also a very prolific filmmaker. Leon worked for the studio factory system as well, directing, producing, and editing close to 100 movies and TV shows (if not more) from the 30’s to the 60’s, including the iconic films LADY IN A CAGE and LONELY ARE THE BRAVE.

Watch THE FUNNY MAN concept trailer below:

[pro-player width=’530′ height=’253′ type=’video’]http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=R0lNIzKcbz0[/pro-player]

8. You are taking a rather unconventional advertising/funding approach – relying on the web and Social Media. How have the results been thus far?

(JAKE:) I don’t understand social media, but I love the concept. I’m definitely not a social media guru, but so far, the internet is the best avenue that we have to get the word out.  We have posted comments in group discussion on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. We have reached out to bloggers and writers, and established our own movie blog-site.

The results have been great!

We created a Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/righthookfilms.thefunnyman,

It has more Facebook friends than I do!

A year ago, I made a series of videos about a deranged woman who invites a guy on a date, drugs him, and holds him captive in her sub-basement under the delusion that he is her new boyfriend.  It is called LEIDY’S NEW BOYFRIEND.   It’s a modern twist on the MISERY theme except, instead of the adoration of a psychotic fan, it’s the delusion of a non-existent relationship that drives the antagonist.

We put it up on sites like Youtube and Dailymotion for everyone to watch and enjoy for free. Eventually it was even picked up and distributed by a company called KoldcastTV. So far, it’s had close to one million collective views.Basically, that’s one million moments someone somewhere was exposed to an idea and it was not the result of an expensive professional advertising campaign. When we get underway with THE FUNNY MAN, we are going to release a number of short form segments, not actual excerpts from the movie, but excerpts pertaining to the story and characters. My goal is to offer something that is cool, and free for people to enjoy. If it leads people back to the movie, great, if not, that’s okay too.

9. Tell us about some of the cast you’ve assembled thus far.

(JAKE:) I’m thrilled about THE FUNNY MAN cast. Things could change, but if the balance of schedules permit, I have Leslie Easterbrook;  Mother Firefly in Rob Zombie’s hit THE DEVIL’S REJECTS.  She was also in Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN and at least another dozen recent horror features. Most people instantly recognize her from thePOLICE ACADEMY movies, but she was also in dozens of movies and classic American TV shows like LAVERNE & SHIRLEY, LOVE BOAT, and even THE DUKES OF HAZZARD.

I also have Domiziano Arcangeli. He is an amazing international actor and model with fans all over the world. Domiziano has acted in more than 100 films with film legends like Samuel L Jackson, Dennis Hopper, Sean Connery, Brett Halsey, Anita Ekberg, Mickey Rourke and Sir Laurence Olivier. Some truly legendary European genre directors have cast Domiziano in their films and his credits are vast.

Ryan Reyes, Matthew Prater, Laura Soares and magician Larry Frick have also joined the project and I trust all of them. I’m currently in the process of casting the lead roles, RACHEL and LEE (AKA THE FUNNY MAN).

10. Where will you shoot THE FUNNY MAN? Who is your Director of Photography. What is the budget for the film?

(JAKE:) I’m planning to shoot inLos Angeles, but I’m flexible. The Director of Photography is yet to be determined. Marc Levy did a wonderful job shooting my first movie, but he is in high demand now and might be booked. Finding someone with a great eye, who is willing to take chances is important to me. I know there are many amazing DP’s out there. Working as a Film Loader/Camera Assistant, I have had the benefit of working on a lot of commercials under some amazing A-list DP’s like Jeff Cronenweth, who was nominated for an Oscar for shooting THE SOCIAL NETWORK, and Paul Cameron whose work is mind blowing and innovative.  I’m fascinated by camera work and what some people are able to achieve. The budget is modest.

11. Tell us where we can go online to follow the twisted path of THE FUNNY MAN, and make a contribution to the film. Is there any other way that people can help you go from development to completion?

Yes, if you are interested in following the twisted path of THE FUNNY MAN, drop by our blog-site (http://righthookfilms-thefunnyman.blogspot.com/), and our Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/righthookfilms.thefunnyman).

Hit us up on Facebook, click “like”, send our links to a few of your friends, and look for the movie when it comes out. Feel free to write something dastardly on THE FUNNY MAN Facebook wall.

Alternatively, send us some good thoughts, we welcome all good vibes. Everyone who steps in on our Facebook page and posts a comment or tells a friend is making a welcome contribution, and it’s free.

If you would like to be become more extensively involved with the project and/or contribute to its development and completion drop by www.righthookfilms.com and contact me, I would love to hear from you.

Thanks Jake. I encourage our readers to step up to the plate to follow your progress and help Make Indie Happen. Please keep us posted as your attach your lead actress and “Funny Man” killer.

An award-winning indie comic creator and screenwriter, Bob Heske is currently writing/producing a micro-budget horror film called UNREST (http://www.indiegogo.com/unrest). Bob wrote THE NIGHT PROJECTIONIST, a vampire horror series to be published by Studio 407 (http://www.studio-407.com) with film rights optioned by Myriad Pictures. Through his Heske Horror shingle, Bob self-published his critically acclaimed horror series COLD BLOODED CHILLERS. Bob’s trade paperback BONE CHILLER (a “best of” CBC anthology) won a Bronze medal in the horror category at the 2009 Independent Publisher Book Awards. His “end times” anthology 2012: FINAL PRAYER  was also released in late 2009. Email him at info@coldbloodedchillers.com.

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