The movie follows 90-year old Janey as she writes and directs her latest original, socially relevant community theatre production for the small town in which she lives. Battling through the current recession, the colorful troupe of faithful townspeople cope with their own struggles by telling their story on stage.
We spoke to Janey’s grandson and the director of the movie.
How did you get involved in the film, sir?
I was home for Christmas in 2011 and Janey, who is my grandmother, and I were sitting outside talking before dinner. She was telling me all about the play they had just performed. I asked, “Do you have any ideas for the next play?” Of course she did! Janey rattled off all these pieces of an incredible idea explaining how hard the recession had been on the farmers and folks from small towns. The villain was a slick businessman from the big city. Instantly I knew we had to film that play, because she was telling the story of her own small town on stage. I typed the idea into my phone and walked into dinner. Some ideas fade away, but some get louder and louder. Eight months later, I was in the building of their community theatre filming auditions.
What was it that initially appealed to you about it?
I’ve always loved underdog stories. I think for many of us life is more difficult than we thought it would be. The people of Rio Vista were hit by the recession pretty hard. There is something radically transcendent in the human story of people coming together to fight for their way of life. While filming, the way they chose to rally the town was through telling their own story on stage. As a creative person myself, I can identify with their passion and struggle to share important stories.
I’m excited to tell stories that would otherwise not get told. The people in this community have been putting on these no-budget plays for so long that they couldn’t even see how amazing they are. Making a movie about them, in essence, held up a mirror for them to see themselves for how wonderful they are. It was a humbling moment to watch the film with all of them for the first time. I cried pretty hard.
Was it filmed in your neck of the woods or require you to relocate?
When we filmed in the autumn of 2012 I was living in San Diego. Janey and her troupe live in Rio Vista, a small town on the Sacramento River Delta an hour or so east of San Francisco. My parents live in Lodi, CA, which is about a 30-minute drive from Janey. Across four months of filming we stayed in Lodi and Rio Vista off and on. That is some beautiful hidden country in the middle of California between the big cities.
Can you tell us what it was like working with your real-life grandmother?
Janey is a peach. Filming a movie about my grandmother provided nothing but open doors. It was our access to the community. We were not introduced as “a group of filmmakers who want to film a movie about us,” but by Janey as, “this is my grandson and his friends, and they want to tell our story!” We were welcomed with open arms and hearts. I am glad this was the story of JMAP, but filming about people in your own family could definitely have provided a ton of challenges. For us, the goal wasn’t an expose-style of film, so we were helped out by the way people respected our family in the small town. My aunts and uncles all helped out in finding old photos and home videos for the film as well. Just like Janey draws on so many people to help make her plays a reality, this movie relied on the family and friends who believed in the story enough to contribute their talents and efforts.
How hard was it to edit down all the footage?
Our editor Brad Kester is a miracle worker. Once the plot was solidified, we would go back and forth on scenes to refine the way the feelings of the different characters were conveyed. It was a complex edit because there are really three main characters: Janey, all the members of the troupe, and the town. During editing, we played with different versions, changing the order in which you meet different elements of the story.
It’s releasing in L.A first. Any reason for that?
Los Angeles and New York City are still major launching points for new voices and young talent. The film is being released in Los Angeles, then expanding to San Diego and Atlanta. I am a transplant to Atlanta from Southern California, and have been chosen to be one of the Atlanta Film Society’s Filmmakers in Residence. I’ll be attending the Los Angeles and Atlanta Premieres and doing Q&A sessions. My favorite part of screening the film is getting to interact with the audience afterwards. We are hoping for a strong week in Los Angeles to help build positive word of mouth for the unrolling of the film in select cities and online.