It is 10:06 pm
Welcome to a another edition of “8 Questions with……”
I mentioned in my review of “A Single Mind”that I had I went into a Facebook group called “The Frugal Filmmaker” in the hopes of meeting some new talented directors to interview. When I say “new”,I mean to say that they are new to me.
As it turns out,it was a Catch-22 situation,I indeed met some wonderful directors like Jim Heffernan and others that I will soon post both reviews and interviews with and for that I am most grateful. But what pisses me off is when I reviewed Jim’s wonderful short film “Destroy All Sisters”,I posted my review in the same group as a way of showing support to the filmmakers in the group and then following up with a interview,like the one I am showing you now.
My post was removed from the group because I was accused of “self-promotion”. Its perfectly that reviews and interviews are NOT self promotion but promoting the work of others,in this case,of Jim’s work. Such narrow mindedness and maybe a shade of jealously may have driven that action but to suppress a fellow peer who is trying to get their work noticed is extrenely counter-productive and says a lot of the person’s own lack of progress and self-inflated ego.
That said,I found Jim Heffernan to be very sharp,talented both a pen and a camera. I knew after watching “Sisters”that he was a kaiju fan and wasn’t surprised to read his response to my questions about giant Japanese monsters!!
JIm is curently getting his feature filn debut,”The Angry World Of Brian Webster”in a couple of months and based on Jim’s work in “Sisters”,I have no doubt its going to be a hell of a debut.
Well since I am waaaay behind schedule,allow me to step aside and let “Crazy” Jim take his shot at answering his 8 Questions!!!
Please introduce yourself and tell us about current project.
My name is Jim Heffernan. I write, direct, and occasionally produce independent films out of Massachusetts, mostly in the Boston area.
I am currently in production on my second feature, “Late Night Habits”. It plays like a personal ode to insomnia. We’re taking the sort of intersecting storytelling format that was utilized in films like Linklater’s “Slacker” or Jim Jarmusch’s “Coffee and Cigarettes” and done to great effect in one of my favorite Simpsons episodes called “Twenty-Two Short Films about Springfield” and we’re turning it loose in all these different after hours spots like comedy clubs, late night diners, and what have you. It might be described like if someone made a midnight movie in the year 2020 inspired by the lyrics to Whodini’s “Freaks Come Out At Night”. It’s an excuse to blend a lot of different cinematic styles together and be a fly on the wall for a lot of unpredictable exchanges and moments.
We’re also about to launch the first home media releases of my first feature, “Angry World of Brian Webster” on DVD and Blu Ray in May and that has meant dedicating quite a bit of time into promoting and getting the product ready for rollout.
How has the pandemic affected you and how have you stayed creative and active?
On a personal level, it has been an adjustment for me as I am sure as it has been for many of us. Things were already pretty shaky prior to COVID so the added anxiety of the country shutting down and things coming to a screeching halt was a surreal situation though at certain points, there was an unexpected luxury to things stopping for a brief time that allowed for perspective I probably would not have gotten otherwise.
The pandemic has had a pretty substantial affect on my filmmaking options. Filming on my current project had to pretty much stop dead in its tracks. On the one hand, we lucked out in the sense that this feature is more of an anthology style production so there is wiggle room to roll with whatever punches are thrown at us. This was actually done consciously by design prior to rolling when COVID was not even close to being on the radar. I wanted to discuss the political climate of the times but I knew with filming this closely to an election year that we could have a new President and that we were operating in a society with a far quicker news cycle. My solution was to talk about specific ideologies while avoiding topics that might risk being dated by the time the film is released. My first feature took almost a year to film and several more to edit and put together so the one thing I am making a more concerted effort to is approach topics in a way that doesn’t date them. Things like war, prejudice, systematic corruption, and cultural divide don’t ever really go away, they just transition into different things. Not like I’m making an Oliver Stone picture next in terms of political messages. It’s still going to have a lot of the comedic energy of my prior projects but like a lot of my favorite exploitation directors, I’m going to bury a little bit of social commentary and personal expression in with the entertainment.
What was it like growing up in your home?
I grew up the middle child, only boy, in a house of three kids. Small house, lots of in-fighting among us, but an incredibly loving environment. I don’t know if to an outsider hearing some of the stories would be able to process the full of scope of our family dynamic but I feel like I would do anything for my family and I know through their actions, they would do anything for me.
How did your folks nurture your artistic side?
I don’t think there was this outwardly obvious “artistic side” to me at an early age. I had an obsession with movies but as a young kid who loved mostly horror and action pictures, I am sure at times, it read more like an infatuation with violent images than it did a love of the arts. When you pair that with the fact that I was kind of a shy kid who didn’t get very good grades and had trouble focusing, I can imagine people had me more pegged for a sociopath than a filmmaker. That being said, my parents were always unbelievably supportive of me. Though by the time they got around to getting me a camcorder as a teenager, I think I had briefly moved away from films and started doing less artistically focused stuff like prank tapes, hidden camera skits, and redubs of old Kung-fu movies.
How did you get your “Crazy Jim” nickname?
The “Crazy Jim” nickname was something that I was blessed with in high school. It graduated to a stage name when I started making videos for a local public access show called “Slackers on Parade” and needed a gimmick. I can’t recall the specific origins but I would do a lot of eccentric shit to amuse people in those days and somewhere along the lines, that became a moniker. I had a few less than enjoyable trial nicknames as a teen and knew quite a few classmates who were still learning to cope with ones they had been saddled with since some embarrassing incident in grade school so “Crazy Jim” was at least embraceable. In retrospect, I would have preferred “Handsome Jim” or “Big James Studd” but sometimes, you gotta work with what they give you.
What led you to the film industry and how did you get involved in it?
It was a gradual process. I had never been on a film set prior to completing my first feature and a lot of my connections within the film community came through relationships I developed as a result of doing films on my own. I had always felt like the quintessential “industry outsider” but there was this noticeable turning point where the feedback went from “you shouldn’t do it that way” to “how did you do it like that”. I tend to have a natural trepidation when it comes to people who are overly complimentary about certain things but then there are times where I realize I have been holding court in a coffee shop parking lot on a chilly winter night for a couple hours talking about industry inner workings and even though the people I’m talking to are showing visual signs that they are both very cold and very tired, they are still hesitant to leave. That’s kind of a hard thing to fake. So to circle back to your original question, I have no idea how I got involved in the film industry.
What does a producer do in the creation of a film project?
A producer’s role can vary depending on the size, scope, and demands of the project. On the films that I have also directed, it meant wearing pretty much every hat that nobody else wanted to. It can be an incredibly stressful and overwhelming experience.
What was your first producing experience like?
My first producing job (on “Destroy All Sisters”) very much came out of necessity. There was a crew of maybe four or five people tops and there was nobody available who wanted the job nor was there any actual money to pay them. I was still figuring out titles and crew positions at that point. I think I gave my friend, Katie, a co-producer credit on that one because she worked all the shoot days and did everything from running the slate to working the camera to keeping track of continuity.
What three lessons did you learn from your first gig?
The lessons I learned coming out of my early run of producing films was firstly, go with people who work hard over people who are talented. Hard workers will very often surprise you with how good they can become just by wanting it and being willing to do what it takes. I have known so many talented people through the years who have done virtually nothing to expand upon their talents and the time I wasted trying to build collaborative relationships with them is depressing.
Secondly, as a producer, try to be as accommodating to the talent’s needs as they have been to yours. What I mean by this, and I have this seen this first hand, is producers sometimes promise the world to get an hour or two of extra time on set or get something essential to their film and once they have it, they make no effort to honor the deal they made with the talent. Sometimes, honoring these deals takes longer than the talent would like. Some movies have a turnaround of a few months where others, and I have been apart of these, take many years. It’s a process and sometimes, people don’t want to hear that but it’s better to communicate honestly then ignore people who have dedicated their time and talent to working on your project.
Lastly, credit and blame go hand in hand. When your name is prominently attached, it means people may assume you responsible for ideas that were more a result of collaboration than individual innovations you brought to the table. On the flip side, if it doesn’t work because of someone else’s flaws or limitations, that is going to fall on you.
Did you always aspire to become a film director and what are some of the biggest differences between producing and directing?
I was always fascinated with movies. I definitely wanted to make them before I really knew what a director actually did. As a kid, I can remember staging my own versions of movies with my friends in the neighborhood with the idea being that I would one day, get a camcorder and film them all. It didn’t quite come to fruition like that but the creative bug was always very much there.
At the independent level, the line between a producer and a director is a thin one. In wearing so many hats on my first two big films, the distinction between when I was acting as a producer and acting as a director was all but lost on me in the moment. Ideally, the director is the person who builds and maintains the artistic blueprint for taking the ideas from script to screen where the producer is the one who is responsible for facilitating that vision in terms of managing all the intangible elements and real life issues that come with a film production.
Can you share your experience in “The Streets Run Red”? Did you get to meet Lloyd Kaufman?
“Streets Run Red” was my second time working with Paul McAlarney, Dave Sullivan, and the Ungovernable Films crew. I had met Paul when I was working on “Brian Webster”. He had reached out to me to offer some help when I was just starting to get my feet wet and I was pretty much a nobody in the film community. He did the first real publicity on me and my films when I had virtually no internet presence at all beyond a social media profile. I had done some extra work on his prior film, “Ungovernable Force” where I played a mafia henchman and it was an absolute blast. Got to meet and act in a scene with Tony Moran, who played the original Michael Myers in unmasked form in “Halloween”. On “Streets”, I got to be a mental patient which entailed dressing up in a bath robe and running around like a maniac at the local park on a Saturday afternoon.
I had a title as “associate producer” on that one but I think that was a crowdfunding perk. At most, I might have pointed them toward certain talent or shared specific information about filming. Those Ungovernable Films shoots were a lot of fun. Love those guys. Haven’t talked to Paul in awhile but would always run into him at horror conventions or at premieres and chat with him for a bit. Great dude.
I did not get to meet Lloyd though I have, as of this interview, appeared in two films that he has also acted in. I’m a big admirer of his work and contributions to the independent film scene.
How did the idea for “Destroy All Sisters” come about?
“Destroy All Sisters” was born out of the frustration of playing the waiting game in getting “Brian Webster” off the ground. I had rewritten that script probably a half dozen or so times and was starting to interview cast and crew with the goal of getting it started, that summer. We had a couple producers on the line but nothing concrete. It was about April or May at this point and nearly every one of my connections did not materialize. I had been talking up this movie for a good couple years now and this was one of those times where I felt I had talked myself into a wall and coming out of another year with no progress would have been a real boot to both my self esteem and my credibility.
In the midst of figuring all this out, I was hanging out with my friend, Juli, who had been kind of an encouraging voice through all this, and a bunch of other mutual friends and she was telling me about some prank her younger sister, Amanda, had pulled on her and was actively plotting ways to even the score. It was some random brainstorming thing and led to her stealing a stuffed animal and holding it for ransom over social media. It was every bit as absurd as it sounds and while I don’t think I ever thought of it as a movie idea at the time, the more and more I watched these two interact and hear all the crazy stories they told, I think it started to be the nugget of inspiration to come up with something.
It checked off multiple boxes for a project I could make with no money in that I could utilize things I already had and customize to the strengths of the talent I had at my disposal. The idea of pranks intrigued me because it was something that could potentially look very interesting on screen and could be done for little money. I thought if I could come up with some funny dialogue and mix it with about a half dozen or so visual sight gags, I might have a formula to keep people interested for about the length of ten to twelve minutes.
I don’t recall when I started writing or when I presented the idea to them about doing it but at some point, I remember bringing a first draft over to Juli’s house for her to read and getting both some encouraging feedback and a general interest to actually doing it. I passed along the idea to both Amanda and our friend, Kristin, who I thought would be a great fit to play the cousin and everyone seemed game to do it. Scheduling was an absolute disaster but somehow, some way, we managed to squeeze a couple of script readings, rehearsals, and a screen test for a few of the messier pranks in while blocking out three days worth of filming over two weekends at the end of the summer. It didn’t go smoothly by any stretch but we got all the coverage we needed.
How did you decide to mix Godzilla with sisterly hijinks?
The Godzilla inspiration came in late on this one. I think the original working title was “Prank Wars”, which always felt way too generic. The title is an obvious ode to “Destroy All Monsters”, which was one of my favorite Godzilla flicks growing up but it also references “Destroy All Planets”, a Gamera movie retitled to cash in on the success of that movie. In the spirit of that, I thought it made for a neat homage that might attract the attention of my fellow monster movie fans. I also thought the title does a good enough job of selling the premise that even if you don’t get the references, there’s still an opportunity to hook you in.
And will we see a sequel sometime soon?
A sequel is something I think about from time to time. There is obviously the title card at the close of the short where you get “The End” but with a question mark. Now, this wasn’t so much done to hint at a sequel as it was to kind of callback to the ominous monster movie feel at the start. If we’re looking at this sisterly feud like an old time creature feature, it’s only appropriate to say, “Well, the menace has been vanquished… or has it?”. My view was always if I came up with an idea I really liked, the girls were interested in doing it again, and I thought enough people wanted to see it, I would do another one. I’ve played around with a few story ideas over the year and there is a direction I can see going with a potential sequel but nothing concrete has been put together yet.
Talk to us about your feature film debut “The Angry World Of Brian Webster”?
“Brian Webster” is the story of an aspiring filmmaker who has been frustratingly trying to piece together a low budget horror movie for several years. When things start to fall apart, that frustration leaks into other facets of life like his day job and his relationship with his girlfriend. As he slowly descends into madness and isolation, his well-meaning but somewhat absent-minded friends start cooking up some rather questionable plans to help him get back on his feet.
How did you come up with the idea?
The idea for it came out of this particularly nasty period in my twenties where I was really struggling to find direction creatively. I was dipping my toe in all these little different pools but none with any real success or consistency. I’d do a short film here and there with some friends and with each project, we’d either finish it and have something that didn’t quite necessarily reflect the kind of story we wanted to tell or someone would just outright abandon the project when we needed to get like one or two more scenes in the can. The ideas I was developing on my own where not catching the kind of interest I needed to get them off the ground and the scripts I would finish were often for these films that would have cost millions of dollars to make that I could not even get someone to read. Somewhere, this idea about an equally lost soul who couldn’t get anything finished on his own seemed inspired enough to get my pen moving.
You also had a major role in casting the film, how did you like that experience?
The casting process was both one of the most stressful and at times, most rewarding aspects of doing the film. A lot of time went into that. The majority of the auditions and casting decisions were done with my co-producer, Mark DeMeo. We would meet with new actors every weekend for about two months or so. I had rented out an office in a nearby plaza that had been the headquarters for my town newspaper. They were about to leave at the start of the summer and we were the only people in the building until the fall so we had the run of the place for about three months. There was an abandoned dance studio by the front that we used to hold auditions/rehearsals in. It helped give our whole operation a more professional feel than it actually was. The actual production office was just a small gutted room with a snowy mural on the wall. It makes a brief cameo in the film.
Casting was very hit and miss. Some weeks, we would get dozens of actors. Others we might get five or six scheduled with two or three no-showing. We were casting an ensemble comedy so we not only needed actors who could play the part but also had chemistry with each other. We actually didn’t have one of the ensemble parts cast by the time we started filming. Luckily, our lead, Chris Goodwin, turned us on to an actor, Emmanuel, who he had worked with before, that ended up being a good fit for the part and we were able to fill it with just days to spare.
On the plus side, we happened upon a lot of great talent in these audition sessions and in a lot of cases, we were able to fill roles with actors who had come in to read for something completely different.
What directors influence you the most?
Narrowing down directorial influences is almost as hard to do as picking favorite films. The ones that jump out to me as influences on my most recent work are directors like George Romero in that he took the elements that he thought would work commercially and utilized them in a way that allowed him to express himself artistically. On a surface level, my film, “Angry World” has almost nothing in common with “Night of the Living Dead” but it’s one of the single biggest influences in terms of how it was put together. I put Spike Lee high up on that list for a very similar reason. He knows how to marry his distinct style to the specific message he wants to get across. His films have a very smooth rhythm to them that has inspired me a great deal in my own work. I think directors like Tarantino, Scorsese, John Woo, and Ishiro Honda are people whose filmographies and styles have been with me for so long, I am probably borrowing from them subconsciously at nearly every corner I turn. When I do comedy, there is always something I feel like I am stealing from John Landis. In his best comedic features, he had a way of understanding staging that was quite effective. He had a brilliant way of utilizing background actors and some of the smaller supporting players to create these great near flawless comedic set pieces. I have never had the budgets or the casts to pull things off quite on that scale but from him, I gauged the importance of the reaction in a comedy film.
If you could shadow one director, who would it be and why?
I think the director I would most want to shadow would be Joe Dante. Some thing about his sensibilities as a filmmaker has always intrigued me. He’s probably one of the last of those “Famous Monsters of Filmland” kids who came up out of the 50’s and eventually found his way into being a student of that Roger Corman school of film making that was happening over at New World Pictures in the 70’s. His work often has a very “old timey horror collector living in the San Fernando valley” aesthetic to it and I say that with the utmost admiration. I feel like there are a lot of curiosities I have about his process that I lack the ability to formulate into cohesive questions but would be informative to see firsthand.
Would you recommend directors do a couple of shorts before tackling a feature length film?
I think there is a lot to be said for doing short films ahead of features. It is a great way to hone your craft and learn structure and find out what works for you visually. The problem is there is something of a stigma attached to them. There isn’t much of a market for selling them and for whatever reason, most would rather watch a full-length feature than a short. For new and aspiring filmmakers, there is something more romantic and adventurous about tackling a feature. It’s the “skipping college to go right to the pros” approach. When they tell people you don’t need film school to make movies, what they often leave out is “but you do to get that knowledge and experience somewhere”.
I’ve kind of come around on short films as a way to embrace experimental storytelling. I’d like to try and do at least one in between every feature I do now. Once I got over the mental block I put up of thinking that a short film has to be that prototypical student film concept of the guy looking at the same bar of soap from a different angle, every day of the week, I was able to remove a lot of self-imposed restrictions I was putting on my own storytelling. You don’t just have to go to the film festival file for inspiration in creating short films. “Destroy All Sisters” was presented like a Chuck Jones cartoon with real life twenty-something women instead of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. I recently did a horror short that played tonally like a “Tales from the Crypt” episode. Long form music videos like “Thriller” and “Murder Was The Case” are short films. There is a lot of room to make short films feel just as epic and ambitious as features.
Do you feel streaming opening doors for indie films or closing them?
I have an arguably pessimistic viewpoint with regards to streaming. Like anything else, there are a lot of useful things about it. If you’re more of a casual film viewer who has limited physical space and doesn’t want to fill said space up with discs and videotapes and all that other junk, there is an extreme advantage to having all these movie catalogs available at the touch of a button for a monthly fee. It’s perfectly practical as a space-saving “alternative” to collecting a bunch of movies you pay $12 a piece for and only watch one. Where I find it problematic is looking at as the replacement for physical ownership of movies, which is where I seeing it heading.
With regards to whether it opens doors or closes them for the independent filmmakers, I already see a lot of them being closed. YouTube has been tightening up the way it deals with content creators. Amazon is following suit by shutting down nearly all of the avenues for filmmakers outside of the studio system to self-distribute their content. NetFlix is telling us “if you didn’t shoot your film with one of these cameras using these specs, we’re not even going to look at it.” They don’t want us little guys who are shooting micro-budget films on our own dime in our best friend’s uncle’s backyard to share shelf space, literal or figurative, with their catalog. If our product is done poorly, we’re clutter. If it’s done well, we’re competition. Either way, if we’re not breaking bread with them, we’re an annoyance and they have the money and the power to make things very difficult for all of us.
What do you like to do when you have some free time? How do you unplug from the world?
Like a lot of people in my tier of the independent film scene, I have a full-time day job that allows me to pay the bills. When I’m not working and a pandemic isn’t actively keeping me locked down in my home, I like to go out with friends and grab a few drinks here and there. When the weather is nice out, I enjoy being outdoors. Not super handy but I do love to camp and pretty much anything that allows me to lounge out in the water either by myself or with a small group of friends. Reading and writing occupy a huge amount of my free time.
What film in 2021 are you looking forward to seeing the most and why?
The most obvious answer for most anticipated film, this year, is Godzilla vs. Kong. Monster movies have always kind of been my jam and even when they don’t hit it out the park, they are still pretty fun to experience, particularly on the big screen, where you get to hear every big sound effect on the loudest speakers possible. In general, very little from the upcoming film slate jumps out at me. Between everything going to streaming or being held back for a wider release until they figure out what’s going on with theaters, there is kind of slim pickings out there. More than anything, I am just really looking forward to getting back to the revival theaters. I would give anything to see a midnight movie at the Coolidge Corner out here in Massachusetts right now or travel to California and see a double feature at the New Beverly.
The cheetah and I are flying out to check out your newest film’s premiere but we’re a day early and now you have to play tour guide, what are we doing?
Tour guide planning in a post-lockdown Boston seems like a challenge but let’s take the proverbial stab at it.
The increased price in real estate has kind of turned Boston shopping into a more high-end experience than I was accustomed to growing up but there is still some fun to be had within city limits. For the more cultured tourist trip, two good spots are the Museum of Science (I can no longer swear by how good the Omni Theater inside is as I haven’t been since the 90’s but it used to be a great place to see documentaries) and when it’s in season and weather is nice, the New England Aquarium is a decent spot for aquatic sight seeing.
If it’s more a dinner and drinks excursion, there are some interesting bars and eateries in town. At the risk of sounding sour, some of the better spots have been closed down and sold to make way for new real estate opportunities but you can still get a small taste of the old Boston vibe and possibly find a good meal over at Faneuil Hall Marketplace. If it’s winter time, you may want to bring along a heavy jacket or prepare for some heavy drinking.
If I’m entertaining, my usual go-to spot for dining is just outside Boston, at a little place called Kowloon’s, directly off of Route One. Scrumptious North East-style Asian cuisine, which goes perfectly with a gentleman’s helping of flavorful Mai-Tai beverages. The drinks are a little pricey but the lounge-style atmosphere hits the right way as long as you stay out of the “boat section”. And it’s one of the few places in town that doesn’t close up too early.
You might also be inadvertently setting yourself up for a breakfast gathering out in Salem, mostly just as a personal excuse to grab breakfast, which I think is an underrated dining experience, these days. Plus I just like having an excuse to get up and have some French toast, sausage, and OJ.
I like to thank Jim for taking the time to do this slightly more then 8 Questions with us. We are very much looking forward to seeing where he will go next after he unleashes “Brian Webster” on us. Below you can various links to Jim and his work,we encourage you to check them out!!
Thank you for for supporting this interview and please feel free to share it and drop a comment below.