Sunday, June 30, 2013

Screening Jake the Cinephile

On Friday, June 14th, I premiered the final cut of my new film Jake the Cinephile to my friends and professors at the Tisch School of the Arts, alongside Jordan Fein's film White Carpet and Nicole Cobb's film Athanasia's Waltz, both of which I worked on as Assistant Director. It was such an honor to screen my movies alongside two great films by two of my friends, and we were very lucky to have a large crowd come out to see the pictures. By the way, check out the second trailer for Jake the Cinephile below.

Jake the Cinephile Trailer #2 from Jack Kyser on Vimeo.

The feedback on Jake the Cinephile has been overwhelmingly positive, and I have been so moved to hear that many people are connecting with this character. My professor Laszlo Santha, who has always been a champion of my work, wrote that the film had "way above average confidence in every department," and he truly enjoyed the film, complementing my acting and directing. He found some faults with the second half of the film, but still felt "the first ten minutes [were] delightful," and the casting of my "love interest worked very well."

Professor John Belton, Professor of English and Film at Rutgers University, the respected author of five books including Widescreen Cinema and American Cinema/American Culture, and the recipient of a 2005-2006 Guggenheim Fellowship, wrote the following:

"The film got to me because it looks at the borderline between the pleasure of a purely private experience and the innate desire to share that experience with another. There is love of the movies that can be utopian and perfect (Mystic River) and we'd like our other relationships to be that perfect too. You are not afraid to take your character to painful places - to push utopian ideals of perfection to a messy space of lived experience. (I recall the elation I've often felt after watching a film and then walking out into the street and becoming overwhelmed by depression.) So, yes, you did take yourself to where the wild things are."

In addition, Professor Belton invited me to screen Jake the Cinephile for his Introduction to Film class at Rutgers University in the fall.

My friend Grant Rosenmeyer (The Royal Tenenbaums) wrote that he loved the film - that "it was even better than the script," and "Ben's cinematography was gorgeous, the story was clear, [the] direction spot on" and "the Scorsese references bled through with such affection and passion, and yet it was so unflinchingly you." Grant also wrote that he believes that there is a feature film to be made with this character, something even more along the lines of Taxi Driver.

"Cinema for Jake is not even a love anymore, it's an addiction," Grant wrote. "And like an addict, he's chasing the high he can't achieve. That high - the perfect moviegoing experience - is just a mirage, a placeholder for something more in his life: love, acceptance, a sense of belonging or intimacy that can finally defeat his fear of abandonment. We can see he needs love, but can he see it? By the end of the movie does he find love, or does he fuck it up the way he does in the short, but worse?" 

Additionally, my Advanced Production professor Yemane Demissie invited me to screen Jake the Cinephile for his Sight and Sound: Film class at NYU last week, and it was such a fulfilling and rewarding experience. His students really empathized strongly with the character and the material, connecting with Jake throughout the entire film - even when he is yelling angrily at Elizabeth, as they felt his pain and frustration so deeply. It was very exciting sharing the film with them. 

Many students remarked that they knew someone exactly like Jake - in fact, one student said she had seen people in the Cinema Studies department at NYU behave like Jake when trying to watch a movie in their theater. As film students, they remarked that they particularly enjoyed and understood the material. One student said that he knows a film is doing its job if it can make him feel every bit as uncomfortable as the character in the film, and this movie made him feel incredibly uncomfortable throughout. Another student told me he felt so strongly about everything Jake said, especially when he puts his heart out there to Elizabeth on her apartment stoop. 

The students had many different interpretations of the ending - one student said she thought the last shot, in which Jake stares at his reflection in the television screen, was hopeful, as he's finally watching a movie at home and not blowing up or starting the movie over again. She felt that the character did change over the course of the film - the climatic blow-up is probably the event that makes Jake finally examine his behavior and change. Another student interpreted the ending very differently - he felt that Jake was more imprisoned and alone than ever by the picture's end, and all of his horrible experiences and frustrations are represented by this small, crappy television in his bedroom, where he's forced to stare at him own reflection. This student realized, after Elizabeth points it out, that Jake has likely never had a "perfect experience" at a movie before, and that becomes clear at the end when he watches a movie alone on his crappy TV, which is the source of all of his frustration. 

Yemane asked me to address to use of popular music in the film, particularly the meaning of "I Am A Rock" by Simon & Garfunkel at the end of the movie. The song, Yemane believed, is meant to be taken literally, but also perhaps ironically, too. We discussed some of the other music in the film, as well, including "Sweet Dreams (Of You)" by Patsy Cline.

We discussed how you make a rather unlikeable or difficult character likable or relatable (the key, Yemane thinks, is to show their vulnerability). One student said it was difficult to dislike Jake because there's never anything malicious about his behavior - he is simply fighting for the things he loves, even when Jake berates Elizabeth and yells at her. We have these private moments in the film with Jake, such as when he's walking on the city streets, or alone in his bedroom at the end, and we get a profound sense of his deep loneliness and vulnerability. 

I was also happy to hear that my film incorporated elements of nearly every exercise the students are given in the Sight and Sound: Film course, including music, voiceover, three-point lighting, offscreen sound, parallel action and special effects lighting. 

More than anything, Yemane commended me for making such a bold movie that revealed so much about me, and it was a joy screening the film for his class.

I have received so many other kind comments from friends and professors who enjoyed the film (including one of my fellow Advanced Production students, the great filmmaker Eduardo Lecuona, who gave me the very kind shout-out on Twitter to the right). My friend and former Austin High School administrator Dan Fuchs also wrote that Jake the Cinephile is "both funny and troubling; Kyser is not afraid to laugh at himself, while simultaneously shining a light on the alienation many feel as we search for perfection in an imperfect world." The film "speaks to that part of all film lovers that longs for that mythical bygone time when going to movies could be a 'perfect experience.'"

Aside from my article on the passing of Roger Ebert and writing about some outstanding new films, I have not updated this blog in some time, and I am eager to share details about my final semester at NYU, shooting my senior thesis film You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory in April and many other events from the past few months. Before I close this article, however, I want to pay tribute to the wonderful Professor Geoff Erb, who passed away earlier this month. He was a champion of my work, inviting my crew and me to screen The Wheels for his freshman class last year, and asking me to be a part of his Advanced Television Production class my senior year. He was a great person and teacher, and I am so sad to hear of his passing. Professor Erb was the Cinematographer for Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, shooting over 130 episodes of the series. 

I was also very devastated to read of James Gandolfini's passing. What an extraordinary actor, who just last year delivered three of his best performances in Zero Dark Thirty, Not Fade Away and Killing Them Softly. He blew me away onstage in God of Carnage on Broadway in 2009, and I was lucky enough to meet him after the show. With his mesmerizing and natural performances in The Man Who Wasn't There, Where the Wild Things Are, Get Shorty, In the Loop and, of course, The Sopranos, he was one of the finest actors around. Just a few days after his death, Bruce Springsteen performed a beautiful tribute to Gandolfini by playing the entire Born to Run album live

The beginning to this summer involved a great deal of preparation for Jake the Cinephile, as Bobb finished his brilliant sound design for the movie, and we worked on mix sessions for the film at Tisch in the days leading up to the screening. Earlier in the semester, Bobb held an ADR session with Bethany McHugh, who plays Elizabeth in the film, and me, where we re-recorded some of our lines. 

In February, my film The Wheels opened Screening #2 of NYU's New Visions and Voices Intermediate Film Festival, screening at the Tisch School of the Arts along with several other films. I did not get to attend the screening, as I was heading out for the second weekend of my friend Morgan Ingari's senior thesis film shoot in Boston. I also took some time to finally mail out the beautiful poster Ben Dewey designed for The Wheels to IndieGoGo contributors. That film was completed more than one year ago, but better to send the posters out late than never! 

Finally, my film With Love, Marty - from my sophomore year of college - is now public on Vimeo, having screened at the 2011 Big Apple Film Festival, the Emerging Filmmakers Series in Rochester, New York and the 2012 World Music and Independent Film Festival in Washington D.C. You can watch it now!

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