Jonathan Rossetti and Julie Gearheard co-wrote Home, James, the 2013 deadCENTER Film Festival winner for Best Okie Film. The movie tells the story of a Tulsa photographer who falls in love with a girl with a drinking problem. The duo had a chance to talk to me at one of the festival parties about their movie and its appearance at deadCENTER.
How did the two of you begin working together?
JULIE: We both went to a school in New York called The Atlantic Theater Company, but then they had an additional kind of, not a Master’s Program, but a continuation in L.A., so we met there. We both figured out we were from Oklahoma, and then a few months later we each had an idea for a script and they kind of went together so we put them together and Jonathan really pushed to set it in Tulsa, rightly so I think. And that was that. Almost five years later we have a movie.
So you not only set it in Tulsa, but you made sure that Oklahoma is clearly shown in the movie?
JONATHAN: Absolutely. Tulsa plays a character in the film, and it wasn’t hard to get Julie to believe in setting it in Tulsa. It was pretty much a no-brainer once the idea was thrown out and we both really wanted to showcase the beauty of Tulsa and Oklahoma as a greater whole.
(To Julie) What was your story about?
JULIE: My story was about a girl in her 20s who was stuck doing whatever it is you do post-graduation – not really quite on her career path, just doing the 20s thing of staying out late, drinking, waking up hung over, and going to that day job. Just kind of on that hamster wheel of doing that and wanting someone to save her. I had seen a sign in a restaurant or something that said help wanted, and that is what stuck in my head of, not necessarily like she needed to find a career, but help wanted – get me out of this life that I am living.
(To Jonathan) And your story?
JONATHAN: I had heard of these sober driving services where you go to the bar, you drive your car there, you get drunk, you don’t want to drunk drive home, so you call this service. A guy shows up on a moped that folds up, puts it in the trunk of your car, drives you and your car home safely, takes his moped out of the car, out of the trunk, and drives away. You and your car are home, you wake up in the morning, your car is there, you safely got home, so sort of combining the ideas, so we were like what if…
JULIE: …he falls in love with this girl that has a drinking problem who he drives home.
JONATHAN: what is the biggest obstacle you can set up “oh my job is a sober driver and I fell for potentially an alcoholic”
JULIE: he wants to rescue her.
Obviously, the first step after writing the script is to figure out how to pay for it. How did you go about raising the money to pay for your movie?
JULIE: We did Kickstarter, which is a crowd funding website and we basically thought of what we think we can raise on Kickstarter, we came up with $50,000, and we thought that is really not a lot to make a movie on but I think we can do it and so that is what we did.
You raised that much money on Kickstarter?
JULIE: We did.
JONATHAN: By the skin of our teeth, but we did.
What do you think it was about your Kickstarter program that sold people on you guys?
JULIE: What we did was, we shot a trailer – I am using air quotes – before the movie was even made, so it is not even really a trailer. We came to Tulsa, and we did it with the cinematographer that ended up shooting the movie so that people could see what we were capable of. So it was like an audition of sorts, this is what we could if you give us your money, and because the trailer looked so great, I think people believed in what we could do.
JONATHAN: Also, I think admittedly it was a little naive of us to think that we both not only thought that the minimum we could make the movie for is $50,000, but we just thought the most we can raise is $50,000. Why we picked that number, I don’t know. I mean in retrospect, it was like, I don’t know how we got there, I don’t know what happened, there was no magic arrow or anything.
JULIE: I think something that, I don’t know if this helped us raising money, maybe it will help in the future projects, but what was really important to us was to thank everyone, whether they gave a dollar, $50, $1,000, we wrote personal thank you notes. I mean, we didn’t hand write, now thinking looking back we probably should have done that. But we sent personal emails, because I have given to Kickstarter campaigns and I will get a general “thank you,” like a group thank you, and I want to feel part of the project, maybe call me by name. so that is what we did.
Where did you find the cinematographer you used at?
JULIE: His name is George Su, he went to NYU, which I did as well, but we didn’t know each other there. He knew someone through the same Atlantic program that we did, through that group of people we did a short, and she recommended him because she had been in his thesis project back at NYU. He lived in LA, he had just recently graduated from AFI, a really reputable masters program. And then Jonathan, shortly after that short, had worked with him on a feature The Fall of 1980, and he was just a great person to work with.
What did you guys work on before you did this? You mentioned you had worked on a feature before.
JONATHAN: I did, I acted in the feature The Fall of 1980 that George was also the cinematographer for, I mean Julie and I had both done quite a bit of theater work, that is what our background was in NY, and mainly the bulk of that. I have done a little bit of TV, some feature films, and some smaller roles, this is by far the first leading role I have had.
JULIE: Yeah, the program we met in, there were about 15 actors in that program and after we ended, we all decided to form a production company. It was basically 15 actors that didn’t know what they were doing. So we all learned that way to do some stuff behind the camera, and along the way, met people like George that actually knew what they were doing. So yeah, this was our first feature as far as behind the camera, I mean, he had worked on that other one but this one was my first definitely.
It seems like a $50,000 feature length debut is baptism in the fire, I mean what was the experience like to get behind the camera and say we are going to make a feature length movie and it is our job to make sure it gets done?
JONATHAN: It was hard, I mean, no two ways about it.
JULIE: I wouldn’t do it again, but I am glad I did it. I think we only…
JONATHAN: You wouldn’t do it again for $50,000.
JULIE: No, not for $50,000, but I will definitely do it again for more money, but I think you only have one of those in you. We all shared a house in Tulsa, you know we weren’t in separate hotel rooms, with our own bathrooms. Three crew members got sick, and we had to cancel a day. You know at one point on set it is like we don’t have an AD or a production designer or a makeup person, so one person is doing all of those things. I don’t recommend it, but that is the only way we could do it. It was a great, yeah, baptism by fire. Definitely a great way to learn, very quickly.
JONATHAN: We only pulled it off because of tons of pre-planning. I mean, ultimately, our shoot was only 17 days. I think it has been just a little over a year since we got the money from Kickstarter, and are now world premiering, we turned it around really fast, but we pre-planned for a long long time. And, especially Julie with the producing and the pre-planning of laying everything out and like we had the road map to follow, it was just a matter or actually following it once we got out there.
JULIE: Actually, the producer [Erin Williams] of that feature we mentioned, The Fall of 1980, I realized partially through pre-production that I don’t know what I am doing, I am in over my head, so I asked her to help and she kind of held my hand the entire way. She has a little daughter, so unfortunately she couldn’t come to Tulsa with us, so I was on the phone with her every day. Then we also just relied on help, just friends working for free, a couple of our friends came out to Tulsa and bless them, worked for free. George worked for free.
JONATHAN: My wife costume designed, my family members made meals for us and brought them out.
JULIE: We only had one of these in us, I think they only had one use in them too. So, if we were to do it again, we would have to raise more money.
This is your world premier. How exciting is that?
JULIE: I don’t think it has really hit me yet, I mean I am excited but I think once I am walking into a theater where our movie is going to be, that is unreal. It is starting to settle in now, I am really excited that it can be in Oklahoma, really cool.
JONATHAN: We are amped to be able to world premier back home, and share it with Oklahoma.by